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Chapter 15: Tennessee and the Church.

Rev. M. B. Dewitt, Chaplain of the Eighth Tennessee.
To one who had an active part in the great struggle of the war between the States, the religious element must ever be an important factor. Indeed, to the thoughtful general reader and to the historian it must have great significance. The reason is simple and ample. It may be unhesitatingly said that no people ever entered into a mighty conflict of arms with a clearer apprehension and deeper appreciation of their constitutional, natural and religious rights and obligations than did the citizens of those States which withdrew from the American Union and formed the Confederate States of America. They inherited from their forefathers those great qualities and views of life which combine to constitute the finest character of an intelligent, courageous, patriotic and God-fearing people. They drank the essence of freedom and faith from their mothers' breasts, and their noble aspirations and invincible honor were kindled from the teachings and examples of their fathers.

It is not too much to say here, that doubtless no part of the world was ever more thoroughly permeated by the spirit and power of the doctrines of the Bible than that part of the United States which has been long distinctly and historically designated as ‘the South.’ The brave people of this broad region believed in God and in His written word, and the foundations of their commonwealths were laid in faith in the Author of their lives and liberties. The Christian religion was as substantially a reality to them as the delights and comforts of home, and the blessings of free government under wise laws. The Church in its various branches had its organizations and [270] services in every portion of the territory, and the homogeneity of population, by reason of but small influx of foreign irreligious elements, assured the transmission of the dear old beliefs from sire to son without serious admixture of diluting skepticism. The power of religion among the Southern people was never greater than at the very period when came the awful crisis of internecine war.

Keeping these leading facts in mind, it is scarcely to be wondered at that, when the actual call to arms was made, the universal sentiment of the South was a solemn appeal to heaven for the rectitude of its purposes and devout prayer to God for His abiding presence and blessings in the mighty struggle. The very initiation of preparations, enlistments of men, organizations of companies and regiments, contributions of clothing, supplies of food, and every step taken for war, witnessed religious services in churches all over the land, besides innumerable smaller gatherings for prayer, with special reference to the departure of the beloved husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, friends and neighbors to join the army. A profound sense of dependence on the divine providence was a common feeling throughout the Confederate States. It is to be admitted that while this is true, it is also true that a large number of the young men of the South were at first almost swept off their feet by the intense excitement created by open hostilities. Many went wild with the sentiment of resistance to the combined attempts of the United States government and the various Northern States to force the South into submission to Federal authority, and the natural exuberance of youth was released from the common wholesome restraints of home and ordinary social life by separation from them, and by the formation of military camps where thousands of volunteers were assembled for preparation to enter active service. It did not require a long time to bring very general seriousness of mind when burdens began to be laid upon [271] the young shoulders and when much sickness prostrated large numbers, and many deaths occurred before a blow had been struck for the cause. The older heads and the preponderating Christian sentiment felt the responsibility of the hour from the beginning, and in this record we shall see that the very leaders of the great movement were men who had found God and sought His favor both privately and publicly.

A very grave mistake was made by great numbers of people in supposing, at first, that the war would be ended in a short time. This mistake added to the excitement in youthful minds so that they were in a hurry to enlist and do some fighting, for fear that the contest would be but ‘a breakfast spell’ and they get no part in it. A gradual real and powerful change came by reaction, and volunteers became experienced veterans enlisted for the war; laying everything upon the altar of country and facing the stern future without fear. A conviction forced itself into the common consciousness that a long, desperate and bitter struggle was before the people of the South. The wise, the rich, the rulers and the people, the small and the great, became deeply engaged in solving the problem of national life, and of the rights and freedom of States and men. The extreme gravity of the situation impressed the entire population, so that from the date of the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of the United States in 1860, to the end of the war in 1865, a great volume of prayer ascended to the God of our fathers.

The national recognition of the superintending providence of God was made so early in the strife that Jefferson Davis issued a call for a day of fasting and prayer, to be observed on June 13,186, only a few weeks after the opening of hostilities. This call by the President of the Confederate States was honored by the churches throughout the Southern States, and it created a deep sense of the needs of the country. Such proclamations [272] were made from time to time by our Christian President until the close of the strife. A characteristic order of General Lee was one for the careful observance of the Sabbath day, as far as it was possible. The second section of this ‘General Order, No. 15’ is in these words: ‘He [the general commanding] directs that none but duties strictly necessary shall be required to be performed on Sunday, and that all labor, both of men and animals, which it is practicable to anticipate or postpone, or the immediate performance of which is not essential to the safety, health, or comfort of the army, shall be suspended on that day.’ He followed this with orders to all officers commanding to ‘give their attention to the maintenance of order and quiet around the place of worship, and prohibit anything that may tend to disturb or interrupt religious exercises.’

Of all the great leaders in the Confederate armies, it is doubtless true that many persons, North and South, held the opinion that Gen. N. B. Forrest was the most reckless and wicked. The famous cavalier issued a general order from Tupelo, Miss., May 14, 1864, in which he said: ‘The major-general commanding, devoutly grateful to the providence of Almighty God, so signally vouchsafed to his command during the recent campaign in west Tennessee, and deeply penetrated with a sense of dependence on the mercy of God in the present crisis of our beloved country, requests that military duties be so far suspended that divine service may be attended at 10 o'clock a. m. to-morrow by the whole command. Divine service will be held at these headquarters, at which all soldiers who are disposed to do so are kindly invited to attend. Come one, come all. Chaplains, in the ministrations of the gospel, are requested to remember our personal preservation with thanksgiving, and especially to beseech a throne of grace for aid in this, our country's hour of need.’ [273]

A very brown clipping lies before the writer, which is an article from the ‘Army and Navy Herald,’ published during the war, headed ‘Forrest and Providence,’ in which the above ‘General Order, No. 4’ is printed, and the editor says: ‘The general is far from being a Christian, it is true, in many of his moments of excitement, but no man is more truly a believer in the God of the Bible and Providence, or more ready to acknowledge his wrongs and his faith.’ Let it be written here that that belief, which was theoretical in his head during the war, became, after its close, experimental and practical by his public profession of it, in uniting with the church in Memphis, of which his devout wife was a member.

What has been recorded above is given simply as examples of the spirit and course of the great body of the leaders in both civil and military circles of the Confederate States, and it is scarcely necessary to say how positive, consistent and constant was the religious life of Stonewall Jackson, Leonidas Polk, Joseph E. Johnston, D. H. Hill, J. E. B. Stuart, A. P. Stewart, and others in all the fearful days of conflict. The President of the Confederacy and all in authority under him, the governors of all the States, and the people with them, promoted every enterprise by financial and personal aid and by giving whatsoever of opportunity and liberty may have been practicable in war, in order to secure the direct religious welfare of soldiers and citizens.

This survey of the general spirit of the government and all under it on this great subject, prepares us for considering more specific, united and individual efforts toward the same important end—the religious interests of the people. It way be truly stated that it is impossible to set forth a faithful and full view of the religion of the Confederate army. The present writer honestly believes that history presents no accurate or ample parallel. The stern piety and invincible principles of Cromwell and his forces in war with Charles 1 of England are freely [274] admitted and much admired, but they had no such happy influence on men and communities as the tender and refining power of the faith of the Confederate soldiers had on them and this country. The religious devotion of Havelock, John and Henry Lawrence, ‘ChineseGordon, and other great English heroes, was circumscribed too greatly by conditions to produce anything like a national result in India and elsewhere. Even our own revolutionary fathers, while led by the wisdom, the patience, the faith and constancy of George Washington, to whom the world is indebted for American freedom and institutions, left us no such general record of religious fervor and faith in God as had their grand illustration in the armies of the Confederate States. From the inception of the war between the States of the Union, chaplains were provided for by civil authority and by the action of regiments, brigades and other portions of troops, and were enlisted with the men in all sections of the Confederacy. Missionaries to the soldiers were commissioned by all the great Christian denominations, among whom were many of the ablest and most consecrated preachers in the South. It would simply be invidious to mention names, because of the number and influence of the men who were representative of the pulpit and people of all the churches. Many of these men worked right through the war from first to last, and while some dropped out, others died, and some were recalled, the vacancies were rapidly filled, additions were made from time to time, and the ministry of the gospel in one way or another was effectively continued until the surrender. The fact is, that the army was permeated with the power of the Christian religion by preaching, by distribution of Bibles and religious literature, by systematic evangelization, by special services of all kinds, by correspondence of friends at home, and in other ways not essential to mention. Great and general earnestness among the people was exhibited to promote and maintain religious life and [275] moral conduct among the soldiers. Regular Bible societies were organized for the publication, sale and gift of Bibles, with a special reference to dissemination in the army. Religious newspapers were established in many places, and many thousands of copies were regularly circulated, week by week and month after month, so as to provide fresh and attractive reading matter of good character for the noble boys who were deprived by war of all the privileges enjoyed in life at home. Tract societies printed and published tens of thousands of pages of religious reading, so that by one agency alone, 84,000 such pages were distributed and readily received and read in one month; millions were thus given out and used, and there is no possible estimate to be made of the sum total of the amount eventually provided, or of the good done by this Christian service.

Striking facts, like the following, occurred: The American Bible Society, with headquarters in New York, made a number of donations of Bibles, 20,000 at one time, for our Southern soldiers, and the British and Foreign Bible Society of London donated through a Confederate agent, at one time, 10,000 Bibles, 15,000 New Testaments, and 250,000 parts of scriptures, and it is safe to say that there was no difficulty in finding readers for as many copies as could be brought to the armies. To give further impression of the work done, and to record a word of credit due, I quote from Rev. W. W. Bennett's book, ‘The Great Revival in the Southern Armies,’ who says that the General Association of Baptist churches in Virginia was the first organized body to plan for religious literature to be distributed to the men in camps, and that in May, 1861, the second month of the war, it directed its Sunday school and publication board to proceed at once to provide and disperse through trained colporteurs the results of its efforts in that direction, so that Dr. Dickinson, the superintendent, reported at the end of one year: ‘We have collected $24,000, with which forty tracts have been published, [276] 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.’ Giving report in 1863, the superintendent said: ‘Modern history presents no example of armies so nearly converted into churches as the armies of Southern defense. 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 smoke of battle with the light that leads to heaven, and the camp becomes a school of Christ.’ It was but a short time, after what the Baptists thus started, until Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians and other denominations were vigorously pursuing the same pious work, and many Union organizations and individuals did likewise. One earnest North Carolina preacher published and gave away, by the help of friends, more than 2,500,000 pages of tracts in less than a year, besides selling at cost about the same number. This kind of beneficent service greatly aided the systematic labors of the ministry of the gospel in all parts of the Confederacy, and as the mighty conflict of war deepened, most powerful and practical results followed in the conversion of many thousand soldiers to Christ as their Savior, among whom were hundreds of officers, from the rank of general down to that of corporal of the guard.

Let it here be recorded that an institution was established in accord with all these religious movements, which seems to have been a sort of culmination of the grand denominational and other enterprises for the promotion of morals, intelligence, good order and Christianity in the Confederacy. That was the organization or covenant known among all the army ministers as ‘The Army Church.’ In brief, it was agreed by men of different denominations that administration of sacraments and reception of men into the fellowship of the church would [277] be recognized by all ministers as authoritative and acceptable. This had a fine effect, and promoted union and earnestness in the cause of religion.

In illustration of what is meant, on one occasion the Rev. W. Burr of Tennessee, a Methodist minister, held services and men were converted whom he received in communion of the churches, and afterward reported his work, part of which was to the writer of these lines, who, as a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, accepted the names given to him as if they came from a pastor of his own denomination. This course was pursued in a great many instances, and besides the benefit derived from influence exerted on the new converts, many other happy effects resulted from the work of the Army Church, among which may be mentioned that of the wide extension of the spirit of Christian charity and co-operation ever since the war. Many a brave soul lived to get home after the surrender, to report for duty in the warfare with sin and all wrong, having been equipped for it by his enlistment during the war in the South in the army of the King of Kings.

The following creed was adopted by one section of the Army Church, and it presents an excellent view of the existing conditions in spirit and comprehensive thought. It is copied from ‘The Army and Navy Herald,’ February 15, 1864:

Articles of Faith and Constitution of the Church of the Army, Trans-Mississippi:

The Christian men in the army, believing that the habitation of God by His spirit constitutes the Church, agree, for their edification and for the conversion of their fellowmen, to organize the Church of the Army, with the following articles of faith and constitution:

I. We believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

II. We believe in one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. [278]

III. We believe in the fall in Adam, the redemption by Christ, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.

IV. We believe in justification by faith alone, and therefore receive and rest upon Christ as our only hope.

V. We believe in the communion of saints and the doctrine of eternal rewards and punishments.

The Christian men who have been baptized, adopting these articles of faith and constitution in each regiment, shall choose ten officers to take the spiritual oversight of the same. Of the officers so elected, the chaplain, or one chosen by themselves for that purpose, shall act as moderator. The officers will meet once a month and oftener, if necessary, and in the exercise of discipline will be guided by the directions of Christ. They will keep a record of the names of all the members and the manner in which their ecclesiastical connection with this Church is dissolved.

Some features of the religious state in the army were full of interest. Sunday-schools and Young Men's Christian Associations were organized and carried on with marked results in many regiments. The men took deep interest in the study of the Bible, and not only did chaplains and missionaries conduct the meetings, but many officers and privates acted as officers and teachers in the classes and services. Discussions of scripture truth became thoroughly interesting and full of instruction. This gave subjects of conversation for the camp, the bivouac, and the march, and without doubt suggested thought and comfort in the hour of pain and weakness as the result of battle. Sympathetic services of prayer were held in regiments, company by company, besides the regular public worship on Sundays for the whole regiment. Separate Bible classes of congenial spirits were formed and conducted. At least one instance is noted of an antiswear-ing association formed, that in the Third battalion of Virginia reserves. The prevailing influence led to a large cessation of profanity, gambling, and even of card playing. It is not surprising that schools were held in which soldiers learned to read and write, but it is astonishing [279] that men actually studied for the ministry of the gospel amid such scenes as the soldier's life daily presented. This occurred both in camp and in prison. It was a grand thing to witness the lives of such men as Lieut.-Gen. A. P. Stewart of Tennessee, and Brigadier-General Lowrey of Mississippi, whose religion was so practical that they not only lived worthily, but the former, as an elder in his church, assisted the ministers in conducting communion services, distributing the sacramental elements, leading in prayer, addressing the men in exhortation, etc., and the latter, as a minister himself, preached to his men, instructed inquirers, baptized believers, and gave all practicable aid to his chaplains and their work. These are only examples of the conduct of leaders.

It was always an important occasion when the army went into winter quarters, for then there was every opportunity for much religious work. Those of us who participated in it can never forget the excellent spirit which prompted the general and regimental officers to make details of men to fell, saw up, hew and adapt trees, rive boards, prepare timbers as needed, and build churches and chapels for regimental and brigade worship. Large shelters on posts and beams, open all around, were provided in places for brigade services, where in good weather great audiences gathered, and where series of meetings were held in which thousands were converted to Christ. In the summer of 1863, while the army of Tennessee under General Bragg was resting and recruiting along the base of Missionary ridge near Chattanooga, Wright's brigade of Tennesseeans made a large brush arbor, where the three chaplains in that command, Rev. W. H. Browning, Tilman Page and the present writer, held a series of meetings for five weeks, in which we estimated that 225 men became Christians, and we quit the work to enter upon the famous campaign which culminated in the great battle of Chickamauga. There is no doubt that scores of those converts fell in that awful conflict, heroically [280] illustrating two grand principles—patriotism and piety. Similar Christian service was done throughout the army, and the effect of it was most powerful, both in the support it gave to fidelity to the flag of their country in all the perils of war to its close, and the courage it imparted to their tried souls in the stern, dark days which followed the final surrender of our arms, and through which Confederate soldiers, as citizens of the United States, having returned to peaceful pursuits of life at home, exemplified the power of Christian principle and the honor of exalted manhood. Looking backward over the thirtythree years of post-bellum history, there is no reason to be ashamed of the patriotism and piety of the Confederate soldier-citizen.

As the present history emphasizes the part which Tennessee bore in the great scenes of the civil war, it is important to give some definite view of the service rendered to her 115,000 soldiers by the churches of Christ through their ministry. All the best enterprises carried forward for the army's good were promotive of the welfare of Tennesseeans in common with others; but the specific work of preaching and holding many and manifold services was done by Tennessee chaplains and missionaries with earnestness and constancy to the day of surrender. The following list of names is given in the alphabetical order of churches as far as is known to the writer. Earnest efforts to procure a fuller list have failed of signal results. Sincere thanks are extended to Rev. J. H. McNeilly, D. D., and Rev. S. M. Cherry, of Nashville, for special favors. There may be errors in initials and church relations in the appended list, and it is not supposed to represent all, or nearly all, the religious influence exerted on the soldiers of the army of the Confederate States from Tennessee, but the names given are those of men who gave themselves fully to the cause of Christ for our men in the awful conflict. Some names are added which represent great religious benefits to the [281] soldiers because of the character of the men who bore them in the military service of the Confederacy, although they were ministers. Of course, it is impracticable to estimate the value of Christian men in the army who were not preachers, because of its general effects, as there were many of those good men, officers and privates. Would that a .complete roster of our chaplains and missionaries could be had.

Chaplains and missionaries.

BaptistW. T. Bennett, Twelfth Tennessee; C. S. Hearn, Fifth Tennessee; L. H. Milliken, Thirteenth Tennessee, chaplains. R. W. Horton, Nineteenth Tennessee; W. H. Whitsett, Fourth Tennessee cavalry, now one of the most eminent men in the church.

Cumberland Presbyterian—B. W. McDonald, missionary, army of Tennessee; Aaron Burrow, Forrest's old regiment cavalry; J. W. Poindexter, Sixteenth Tennessee; E. B. Crisman, Seventeenth Tennessee; David Tucker, Eighth Tennessee; M. B. DeWitt, Eighth Tennessee; G. L. Winchester, L. Dickey, W. W. Hendrix (commands not known); B. M. Taylor, Twenty-third Tennessee.

Methodist Episcopal South—J. B. McFerrin, missionary, army of Tennessee; S. M. Cherry, chaplain and missionary, army of Tennessee; A. Tribble, Fourth Tennessee; F. E. Pitts, Eleventh Tennessee; J. A. Ellis, Twentieth Tennessee; R. P. Ransom, Sixteenth Tennessee. W. Burr, Twenty-eighth Tennessee; T. Page, Fifty-first Tennessee; W. H. Browning, Carter's brigade; A. W. Smith, Twenty-fifth Tennessee; J. Cross, W. Mooney, J. P. McFerrin, J. W. Johnson, R. A. Wilson, F. A. Kimball, F. S. Petway, M. L. Whitten, P. G. Jamison, J. G. Bolton, J. W. Cullom (commands not known).

Presbyterian—J. H. Bryson, missionary, army of Tennessee; W. Eagleton, R. McCoy and R. Lapsley, chaplains [282] to hospitals; J. B. Chapman, Thirty-second Tennessee; J. H. McNeilly, Forty-ninth Tennessee; J. B. Mack, Fifty-fifth Tennessee; H. B. Bonde, captain and chaplain.

Protestant Episcopal—C. T. Quintard, First Tennessee, and missionary, army of Tennessee, and Rev. Mr. Schrevar (command not known).

Ministers as officers.

(Very imperfect list.) Col. D. C. Kelley, Methodist; Col. W. M. Reed, Cumberland Presbyterian; Lieut.-Col. J. W. Bachman, Presbyterian; Maj. J. D. Kirkpatrick, Cumberland Presbyterian; Adjt. W. L. Rosser, Presbyterian; Capt. W. A. Haynes, Cumberland Presbyterian. There was, it is thought, a Colonel Miller, Baptist, and many others not now remembered. These may be taken as examples.

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