previous next

[490]

4 The acceptability and value of religious books and tracts among the soldiers.

I think I can safely say that I have never seen anything like it in our home communities; and I suppose all chaplains and distributers will render the same testimony, without hesitation. Never, in my view, was there such an opening for evangelism by the press. The word of God in the form of a pocket-Bible or Testament, was the first thing sought after, and the hymn-book came next; but it was generally necessary—this was my experience at least—only to show one's self, with a packet of tracts or religious papers, in the corner of an encampment and begin to give out some of them, and you would be very soon surrounded by an eager crowd, asking for something to read. And as on these and other occasions, a soldier would frequently ask not only for himself, but for some of his mess or of his other comrades; the novel spectacle was sometimes presented of even unconverted men, in camp, acting the part of distributers.

And, so far as I could see, the matter did not stop with merely receiving the books and tracts. They were generally read, and very promptly. Whether this ready reception and perusal of printed religious matter was due in any great measure or not to the isolation of men in camp and their want of something to occupy their minds, such was the state of facts; and it afforded a great advantage in operating for their spiritual benefit.

In many cases, as you probably know, the soldiers sent home tracts that pleased them, while, on the other hand, as I know, such publications were in many instances the missives of Christian love and solicitude from those at home to the sons, brothers and husbands in camp. You are also, no doubt, acquainted with the fact that soldiers sometimes learned to read, and even to write, while in the army; and I actually knew of more than one case in which a soldier acquired the ability to correspond with his wife or other friends at home. In the hospitals this work of education was quite considerably carried on. The demand there was great for spelling-books, etc., and my wife at one time prepared a little primer for soldiers (which it was designed to enlarge in another edition), at the request of the Evangelical Tract Society; and I was informed by our secretary, Mr. Miller, that there was a large call for it.

After saying what I have done under these heads, I would declare my own general experience as to what I may call the susceptibility of our soldiers to religious effort. I have never found any class of men so approachable on the subject of their salvation. I could talk with them about it almost anywhere; often did so on the cars. And here I found one of the admirable uses of religious tracts. A tract almost always afforded an easy way of introducing religious conversation, whilst it also answered the purpose of “ clinching the nail ” of what was spoken.

A word as to

5. The character of the piety prevalent in the army.

For the first year or so, as a general thing, the transition to camp-life seemed to throw a baleful influence over the morality and the religious character of young men going to the army. But a happy change seemed to take place afterward, owing, perhaps, in a good measure, to the fact that religious effort for our soldiers was so extended and systematized in the after years of the war. But I have always been disposed to think that the character of the chaplaincy improved, after the first year or so; did it not? And I have supposed this to be owing to the fact that some men went into the army as chaplains, at first, under the influence more or less, of the war spirit or other secular motives, who, in time, dropped off. The army lost some excellent ministers by ill health and other causes; but it “ sloughed off” a number of unfit ones after the first enthusiasm of things had worn off; and I suppose that most of those who remained or came in afterwards were men who had their eyes open to the rough realities of the soldier-minister's life and acted under true motives. For my own part, I am free to say that, with the exception of the


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
W. G. Miller (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: