previous next

Chapter 5: helps to the revival-colportage.

So important was the work of Colportage in promoting religion among the soldiers that we feel constrained to devote to it a separate chapter. And the pious laborers in this department are eminently worthy of a place by the side of the most devoted chaplains and missionaries that toiled in the army revival. Receiving but a pittance from the societies that employed them, subsisting on the coarse and scanty fare of the soldiers, often sleeping on the wet ground, following the march of the armies through cold or heat, through dust or mud, everywhere were these devoted men to be seen scattering the leaves of the Tree of Life. Among the sick, the wounded, and the dying, on the battle-fields and in the hospitals, they moved, consoling them with tender words, and pointing their drooping spirits to the hopes of the gospel. The record of their labors is the record of the army revival; they fanned its flame and spread it on every side by their prayers, their conversations, their books, and their preaching. They went out from all the Churches, and labored together in a spirit worthy of the purest days of our holy religion. The aim of them all was to turn the thoughts of the soldiers not to a sect, but to Christ, to bring them into the great spiritual temple, and to show them the wonders of salvation. If any man among us can look back with pleasure on his labors in the army, it is the Christian colporteur

The number of religious tracts and books distributed by the colporteurs, chaplains, and missionaries in the army, we can never know. But as all the Churches were engaged in the work of printing and circulating, it is not [72] an over-estimate to say that hundreds of millions of pages were sent out by the different societies. And, considering the facilities for printing in the South during the war, we may safely assert that never were the soldiers of a Christian nation better supplied with such reading as maketh wise unto salvation; and certainly, never amidst circumstances so unpropitious to human view, did fruits so ripe, so rich, so abundant, spring up so quickly from the labors of God's servants.

Earliest in the important work of colportage was the Baptist Church, one of the most powerful denominations in the South. In May, 1861, at the General Association of the Baptist churches in Virginia, vigorous measures were adopted for supplying the religious wants of the army.

The Sunday School and Publication Board, in their report on colportage, said : “The presence of large armies in our State affords a fine opportunity for colportage effort among the soldiers. These are exposed to peculiar temptations, and in no way can we better aid them in resisting these than by affording them good books. To this department of our operations we ask the special, earnest attention of the General Association. Shall we enter this wide and inviting field, place good books in the hands of our soldiers, and surround them by pious influences? or shall we remain indifferent to the spiritual dangers and temptations of those who are flocking hither to defend all we hold dear?”

The Association cordially responded, and “recommended to the Board to appoint at once, if practicable, a sufficient number of colporteurs to occupy all the important points of rendezvous, and promptly to reach all the soldiers in service in the State; that during the war as many colporteurs as could be profitably employed, and as the means of the Board would admit, be kept in service; that special contributions to colportage should be raised from the Baptist churches, from the community, [73] and even from such persons in other of the Confederate States as may feel interested in the welfare of the soldiers who are gathered from various Southern States to fight their common battles on the soil of Virginia; that steps should be taken to secure the issue of a tract or tracts specially adapted to general circulation among the soldiers.”

The work was put in charge of Rev. A. E. Dickinson, who had already acquired a valuable experience and a high reputation as the Superintendent of Colportage under the direction of the General Association. He sent forth his well trained band of colporteurs into this new field, which they cultivated with the happiest results, and with a zeal and self-denial worthy of the cause of Christ.

One year after these labors were commenced, Mr. Dickinson said in his annual report:

We have collected $24,000, with which 40 tracts have been published, 6,187,000 pages of which have been distributed, besides 6,095 Testaments, 13,845 copies of the little volume called Camp Hymns, and a large number of religious books. Our policy has been to seek the cooperation of chaplains and other pious men in the army, and, as far as possible, to work through them. How pleasant to think of the thousands who far from their loved ones, are, every hour in the day, in the loneliness and gloom of the hospital, and in the bustle and mirth of the camp, reading some of these millions of pages which have been distributed, and thus been led to turn unto the Lord.

In his report for 1863, in the midst of the war, he says: “Modern history presents no example of armies so nearly converted into Churches as the armies of Southern defence. On the crest of this flood of war, which threatens to engulf our freedom, rides a pure Christianity; the gospel of the grace of God shines through the smoke of battle with the light that leads to heaven; and the camp becomes a school of Christ. From the very first day of [74] the unhappy contest to the present time, religious influences have been spreading among the soldiers, until now, in camp and hospital, throughout every portion, of the army, revivals display their precious, saving power. In one of these revivals over three hundred are known as having professed conversion, while, doubtless, there are hundreds of others equally blessed, whose names, unrecorded here, find a place in the ‘Lamb's book of life.’ ”

And in 1865, in reviewing the blessed work of saving souls amid the bloody scenes of four gloomy years, the Board said:

Millions of pages of tracts have been put in circulation, and thousands of sermons delivered by the sixty missionaries whom we have sent to our brave armies. If it could be known by us here and now how many souls have been saved by this agency, doubtless the announcement would fill us with surprise and rejoicing. Hundreds and thousands, we verily believe, have in this way obtained the Christian's hope, and are now occupying some place in the great vineyard of the Lord, or have gone up from the strife and sorrow of earth to the peaceful enjoyments of the heavenly home.

The Evangelical Tract Society, organized in the city of Petersburg, Va., in July, 1861, by Christians of the different denominations, was a most efficient auxiliary in the great work of saving souls. It was ably officered, and worked with great success in the publication and circulation of some of the best tract reading that appeared during the war. More than a hundred different tracts were issued; and in less than one year after the organization of the Society, it had sent among the soldiers more than a million pages of these little messengers of truth. The Army and Navy Messenger, a most excellent religious paper, was also published by this Society, and circulated widely and with the best results among the soldiers. Holding a position similar to that of the American Tract Society, this association was liberally [75] sustained by all denominations, and had ample means for supplying the armies with every form of religious reading, from the Holy Scriptures to the smallest one-page tract. Its officers, editors, agents, and colporteurs, were among the most faithful, zealous and successful laborers in all departments of the army. During the period of its operations, it has been estimated that 50,000,000 pages of tracts were put in circulation by it.

The Presbyterian Board of Publication, under the direction of Rev. Dr. Leyburn and other ministers of that Church, entered the field and did faithful service in the good cause. The regular journals of that denomination, a monthly paper-“The soldier's Visitor,” specially adapted to the wants of the army, Bibles, Testaments, and most excellent tracts in vast numbers, were freely sent forth to all the camps and hospitals from their centre of operations.

The Virginia Episcopal Mission Committee heartily united in the work, and spent thousands of dollars per annum in sending missionaries to the army, and in printing and circulating tracts. Rev. Messrs. Gatewood and Kepler, of the Protestant Episcopal Church, were the zealous directors of operations in Virginia, while in other States such men as Bishop Elliott, of Georgia, Doctor, now Bishop, Quintard, of Tennessee, and the lamented General Polk, gave the weight of their influence and the power of their eloquence, written and oral, to promote the cause of religion among our soldiers.

At Raleigh, N. C., early in the war, Rev. W. J. W. Crowder commenced the publication of tracts, encouraged and assisted by contributions from all classes of persons. In less than a year he reported: “We have published, of thirty different tracts, over 5,000,000 pages, more than half of which we have given away, and the other half we have sold at about the cost of publication-1,500 pages for one dollar.” This gentleman continued his labors in this good work throughout the war, and [76] furnished millions of pages of the best tracts for army circulation.

“The soldiers' Tract Association,” of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was organized and went into operation in March, 1862, and became a valuable auxiliary in the work of colportage and tract distribution. By midsummer it had put in circulation nearly 800,000 pages of tracts, and had ten efficient colporteurs in the field. Its operations steadily increased to the close of the war; and besides the dissemination of millions of pages of excellent religious reading, with thousands of Bibles and Testaments, two semi-monthly papers were issued, “The soldiers' paper,” at Richmond, Va.. and “The army and Navy Herald,” at Macon, Ga., 40,000 copies of which were circulated every month throughout the armies.

In addition to these, there were other associations of a like character successfully at work in this wide and inviting field.

The Georgia Bible and Colportage Society, Rev. F. M. Haygood, Agent, was actively engaged in the work of printing and circulating tracts in the armies of the Southwest.

The South Carolina Tract Society was an earnest ally in the holy cause, and sent out its share of tracts to swell the vast number scattered like leaves of the tree of life all over the land.

The presses in every great commercial centre were busy in throwing off religious reading of every description, and yet so great was the demand that the supply was unequal to it during the whole of the war. At Richmond, Raleigh, Columbia, Charleston, Augusta, Mobile, Macon, Atlanta, and other cities, good men labored day and night to give our gallant soldiers the bread of life; and still the cry from the army was, Send us more good books. At one period of the war the Baptist Board alone circulated 200,000 pages of tracts weekly, besides Testaments and hymn-books; and with the joint labors [77] of other societies, we may estimate that when the work was at its height not less than 1,000,000 pages a week were put into the hands of our soldiers.

Our readers will be pleased, we doubt not, to learn from the colporteurs themselves what they saw of the work of the Lord.

Rev. Dr. Ryland, of the Baptist Church, writing of his labors in Richmond, says: “Many cases of deep and thrilling interest have come under my observation. Some were fervent disciples of Jesus, who, during the war, having maintained their integrity, gave me a cordial welcome to their bedside. Others were rejoicing in recent hope of eternal life; and many others exhibited marked anxiety about their salvation. Since the battle of Seven Pines, I have conversed with probably five hundred who, having passed through the recent bloody scenes, have told me with different degrees of emphasis that they had resolved to lead a better life. All these battles [the seven days fighting around Richmond], with their hairbreadth escapes and their terrible sufferings, have produced a softened state of mind, which harmonizes well with our efforts to evangelize. I have almost from the beginning of the war been laboring as a colporteur in the hospitals of Richmond; and my impression is, that the results of this work are infinitely greater and more glorious than many believe.”

Rev. W. M. Young gave a like testimony: “I have seen scores of instances in which the reading of tracts had been instrumental in the conversion of souls. Yesterday, going up Main street, I was hailed by a soldier sitting on the pavement, ‘Parson, don't you know me? Under God I owe everything to you. While languishing in the hospital you gave me a tract, ’ Christ found at the lamp post, ‘ which has brought joy and peace to my soul. If God spare me to go home, I expect to devote my life to the public proclamation of the gospel.’ ”

Rev. Joseph H. Martin wrote from Knoxville: “While [78] I was opening a box of tracts a soldier said, ‘ Some of those tracts were given to our regiment at Chattanooga, and never before in my life have I seen such an effect on men. Many have given up swearing, and I among the number, through the influence of these silent but powerful preachers.’ ”

Rev. Mi. D. Anderson says: “I met a young man wounded, and began to talk with him on religion. He said, ‘O sir, don't you remember that at the camp-meeting at-- you spoke to me on the subject? Do get down and pray for me.’ He has since been converted, and is an active co-laborer with me. An old marine who had weathered many a storm, and was lying sick in the hospital, seemed astonished that I should urge upon his attention the claims of the gospel. ‘How is it that you, a young man, should be so concerned about me, a poor old sailor?’ He said that rarely, if ever before in his life, had any one spoken to him about his soul. His interest in divine things increased until, I think, he became a true Christian. He died a most happy death.”

Rev. B. B. Ross, of Alabama, writing to Rev. A. E. Dickinson, says: “I am just from a pleasant tour among the hospitals in Mississippi, where I found 3,000 sick. They are greedy, yea ravenous, in their appetite for something to read. Under the labors of your colporteurs there has been a revival of religion at Quitman, and there is also a revival in progress at Lauderdale Springs. The surgeons have been especially kind to me-at times calling my attention to certain cases of the sick, at others making appointments for me to preach.”

Rev. S. A. Creath, Army of Tennessee: “I am still following up the army, trying to be of service to them. At Atlanta I saw 3,000 sick men. Started to work this morning before sun up, and by 9 A. M. had distributed 20,000 pages of tracts. Several have professed religion, and the Lord's blessing seems to be on us.”

“I have been a month,” wrote a colporteur from Richmond, [79] “laboring in this city, during which time I have distributed 41,000 pages of tracts. I preach almost daily in the hospitals; and a notice of a few minutes will give me a large congregation. Never in my life have I witnessed such solemn attention to the preached word. Oftentimes I meet with soldiers who tell me that they have become Christians since they entered the army, and not unfrequently I am asked by anxious inquirers, what they must do to be saved. ‘O; how encouraging to a soldier is a word of sympathy,’ said one of the sick men to me.”

Another from Petersburg writes: “I have been for some weeks devoting my time to the hospitals in this city. The noble men are so fond of having one to talk with them about the Friend of sinners, and the heavenly home, that my heart is made to rejoice with theirs. The other day I was reading a few tracts to a sick soldier, and while reading one on ‘The Blood of Christ,’ he became so happy that he shouted, ‘Glory to God!’ Another said, ‘ When I first came into the hospital I was sad and dissatisfied, but since I have been here I have learned of Jesus, and thank God even for tribulations.’ ”

A colporteur from the army at Corinth, Miss., writes: “I have distributed 70,000 pages of tracts here, and feel much encouraged. The officers grant me free access to the camps, and commend my work. Oftentimes have I seen the men throw aside their cards to take up the tracts I would place on their table, saying that they played only because they had nothing to read. There are many pious men here, and they warmly co-operate with me.”

From Savannah, Ga.: “The Testaments and tracts have effected good — some have made a public profession of religion, whilst others are deeply interested in divine things. We need more tracts and more Bibles.”

Rev. J. A. Hughes thus speaks of his labors at Atlanta: “In going among the thousands in the hospitals, [80] I have met with many things to gladden my heart, and to cause me to love the work. I find a number of Christians; some tell me that camp-life has had a very unfavorable influence on their religious character; others say it has been of great service to them, that it has bound them closer to the Saviour, made them more acquainted with their own weakness and sins, and afforded them a fine field in which to labor for the souls of their fellow-men. Some few hesitate to take a Testament, though they will accept a tract. One man positively refused a Testament but took the tract, ‘A Mother's Parting Words to her Soldier Boy,’ by the reading of which he was deeply moved and became a true penitent, asked me to pray for him, and finally died in the triumphs of faith. To a young man who felt himself a sinner I gave ‘Motives to Early Piety.’ He was led to Christ, whom he publicly confessed. A soldier said to me on the street, ‘ You are the gentleman who gave me a tract the other day. I had read it before, at home, but never has the reading of that book so affected me as of late; away from home and friends, it is doubly sweet.’ Three have professed conversion from reading, ‘Why will ye die?’ several from reading ‘A Mother's Parting Words.’ A soldier told me ‘ The Call to Prayer’ had roused him to a sense of his duty as a professor of religion.”

Rev. Joseph E. Martin, from Chimborazo hospital at Richmond, writes: “We have had lately sixteen conversions. One young man was very anxious to learn to read. I procured him a spelling-book, and in a few days he learned so rapidly as to be able to read the Testament. He has since professed religion. A middle-aged man from Georgia has learned to read since he joined the army, and has committed to memory almost all the New Testament with the book of Job.”

Another faithful laborer says: “A young man said to me, ‘Parson, you gave me a book, (Baxter's Call,) which I have been reading, and it has made me feel very unhappy. [81] I feel that my condition is awful, and I desire to find peace.’ I pointed him to the Lord Jesus. While passing through a hospital with my tracts one poor, afflicted soldier wept piteously and said, ‘Sir, I cannot read; will you be good enough to read some of those tracts to me?’ I read several, and among them, ‘A Mother's Parting Words to her Soldier Boy.’ ‘Oh,’ said he, ‘that reminds me so much of my poor old mother, who has faded from earth since I joined the army.’ He wept and seemed greatly affected.”

Rev. George Pearcy, writing from Lynchburg, Va., says: “I collected from Sunday Schools and individuals above a hundred Testaments, a few Bibles, and some books and tracts-these were placed in three large hospitals for the sick soldiers. There have been as many as 10,000 soldiers in the encampment here, hence it is a most interesting field for usefulness. Many soldiers have the Bible or Testament, and love to read it. A good number are members of Churches. Far away from home and kindred, they are delighted to receive the visits of a brother Christian, and get something to read. All receive the tracts, and read them with delight. The Lord has blessed the work. He has poured out his Spirit upon many. Several have died in the triumphs of faith. It was a great pleasure and privilege to speak to them of the Saviour, and witness their trust in him during the trying hour. One who died a week ago, said, in a whisper, a short time before he breathed his last, when the nurse held up the tract, ‘Come to Jesus,’ ‘I can't see.’ He was told it was the tract, ‘Come to Jesus,’ and that Jesus says, ‘Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.’ ‘Thank the Lord for that,’ he replied. ‘Have you come to him? and do you find him precious?’ ‘Precious, thank the Lord.’ ‘ He has promised never to leave nor forsake his people.’ ‘Thank the Lord for that;’ and so he would say of all the promises quoted. One young man. to whom I gave a tract, told me that at [82] home he was a steady, sober man, never swore; but that becoming a soldier, he did as many others did-threw off restraint, and did wickedly; ‘ But now,’ said he, ‘ I have done swearing, and will seek the salvation of my soul.’ ”

“When I joined the army,” said a soldier to a colporteur, “I was a member of the Church, and enjoyed religion, but since I came into camp I have been without anything of a religious character to read, and assailed on every side by such temptations as have caused me to dishonor my religious profession. 0, sir, if you had been with me, and extended such aid as you now bestow, I might have been kept from all the sin and sorrow which, as a poor backslider, I have known.”

One who had visited the hospitals at Richmond wrote: “The field of labor opened here for the accomplishment of good is beyond measure. An angel might covet it. At three o'clock services were held in the main hall of the hospital. It was a most imposing spectacle to see men in all stages of sickness — some sitting upon their beds, while others were lying down listening to the word of God-many of them probably for the last time. I do not think I ever saw a more attentive audience. They seemed to drink in the Word of Life at every breath.”

“Some time since,” says Rev. A. E. Dickinson, “it was my pleasure to stand up in the presence of a large company of convalescent soldiers in one of our hospitals to proclaim salvation. During the reading of a portion of Scripture tears began to flow. I then announced that dear old hymn,--

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins, &c.,

the reading of which seemed to melt every heart, and the entire audience was in tears before God. Every word in reference to spiritual truth fell with a soft, subduing fervor on their chastened hearts.” [83]

Lately a colpoteur at Lauderdale Springs, Miss., was distributing tracts, and a captain approached him and asked for one. “Select for yourself, captain,” said he. The captain looked over them, and selected “Don't Swear,” and began to read it aloud to the soldiers standing around, pausing occasionally to comment on the points made in the tract. When he had finished, he exclaimed, “I am done swearing. Take this,” handing the colporteur a ten-dollar bill, “and send it to aid in bringing out another edition of this tract.”

The soldiers themselves were often the most successful tract distributers. A private in a Virginia regiment, all the time that his command was near Richmond, sold the daily papers to his comrades, and with the profits bought tracts which he circulated among them. It was truly a noble sight to see this pious young man, after a long walk to the city, and after having sold his papers, worn down with fatigue, coming with the proceeds to purchase religious reading for his fellow-soldiers.

“When I entered the army,” said a soldier, “I was the chief of sinners. I did not love God, nor my soul, but pursued the ways of unrighteousness with ardor, without ever counting the cost. I studiously shunned preaching and our faithful chaplain, lest he should reprove me; and when he was preaching in the camp I would be in my tent gambling with my wicked companions. One day he presented a tract entitled, ‘The Wrath to Come,’ and so politely requested me to read it that I promised him I would, and immediately went to my tent to give it a hasty perusal. I had not finished it until I felt that I was exposed to that wrath, and that I deserved to be damned. It showed me so plainly where and what I was, that I should have felt lost and without a remedy had it not pointed me to that glorious Refuge which has indeed been a refuge to me from the storm, for I now feel that I can trust in Christ.”

The history of this little tract is the history of thousands [84] of like character that preached silently but powerfully and successfully, in camp and hospital, in tent and bivouac. The following incident is a simple, truthful, and touching illustration of the good that may arise from the humble work of a tract distributer:

Richard Knill did not become a subject of the grace of God until he was twenty-six years of age. A sermon preached by his pastor, in which various extracts were given from “Buchanan's Christian Researches in the East,” had a powerful effect on the heart of Knill, and he resolved to prepare himself for the work of a missionary.

While he was considering the question of future duty, opportunities for usefulness, presenting themselves in various directions, he was not backward in improving them. On one occasion he heard that a military company of a thousand men were about to be disbanded and sent to their homes. He resolved to distribute among them the choicest religious tracts, with the hope that they would benefit not only the soldiers themselves, but the families and the homes to which they were about to return. “ I proceeded,” he tells us,

to the grenadiers, who were all pleased, until I came to one merry andrew kind of a fellow. He took the tract and held it up, swore at it, and asked, “Are you going to convert me?”

I said, “Don't swear at the tract; you cannot hurt the tract, but swearing will injure your soul.”

“ Who are you?” he exclaimed. “ Form a circle round him,” said he to his comrades, “ and I will swear at him.”

They did so; he swore fearfully, and I wept. The tears moved the feelings of the other men, and they said, “ Let him go; he means to do us good.”

So I distributed my thousand tracts, and left them in the care of Him who said, “My word shall not return unto me void.”

Many years after I had taken leave of these soldiers, I returned from India to my native country and visited [85] Ilfracombe. There I was invited to preach in the open air, a few miles distant. Preparations were made for my visit, and during the time that I was preaching, I saw a tall, gray-headed man in the crowd, weeping, and a tall young man, who looked like his sol, standing by his side, and weeping also. At the conclusion of the service they both came up to me, and the father said:

“ Do you recollect giving tracts to the local militia at Barnstable, some years ago?”


“Do you recollect anything particular of that distribution?”

“ Yes, I recollect one of the grenadiers swore at me till he made me weep.”

“ Stop,” said he, “ Oh, sir, I am the man! I never forgave myself for that wicked act. But I hope it has led me to repentance, and that God has forgiven me. And now, let me ask, will you forgive me?”

It quite overcame me for the moment, and we parted with a prayer that we might meet in heaven. Is not this encouragement? May we not well say, one tract may save a soul.

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 People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1865 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
March, 1862 AD (1)
July, 1861 AD (1)
May, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: