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REVIVALISM IN THE CONFEDERATE ARMIES Herman Norton the most publicized aspect of religion in the Confederate armies was the "Great Revival." Although chaplains (especially Protestants ) and other religious workers among the soldiers counseled the disturbed, visited the wounded, baptized the converted, solemnized the marriage ceremony of the betrothed, distributed tracts and Bibles, and undertook other general pastoral functions, they were best known for their activities in connection with the emergence, course, and consequences of revivalism. Several recognized authorities on the history of the war years of 1861-1865 convey the impression that the only religious activity of any consequence was the large-scale revival movement in the Confederate armies. E. Merton Coulter indicates that the revival movement was virtually the only item in the religious program of the armies.1 Clement Eaton comments on the importance and influence of "tremendous revivals of religion. . . ."2 William B. Hesseltines' A History of the South ignores the religious program of the Confederate armies except for a scant reference to the revivals.3 Henry Steele Commager, in a study of the Civil War as told by participants, includes two compilations about religion in the Confederate armies, both of which relate to the "great revival."4 Available information is insufficient to explain the cause of the largescale revivalism that permeated practically every Confederate military unit. Bell I. Wiley suggests four reasons why the revival swept through Dr. Norton is acting dean of the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University. 1 E. Merton Coulter, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865 (Baton Rouge, 1950), p. 527. 2 Clement A. Eaton, A History of the Southern Confederacy ( New York, 1954 ), p. 102. 3 William B. Hesseltine, A History of the South ( New York, 1936), p. 551. * Henry S. Commager, The Blue and the Gray (Indianapolis, 1950), II, 302-304, 414-416. 410 the armies. He mentions first the fact that the Southern churches had conditioned the soldiers for the reception of an evangelistic gospel by widespread and aggressive activities among the soldiers. A second influence was the circumstance that most of the soldiers came from communities where revivals were common, and they were thus emotionally conditioned to the revival appeal. A third fact was a succession of Confederate defeats which led to a feeling of dependence upon a power greater than military might. The fourth factor was the increasing confrontation of the soldier with the prospect of death on the battlefield.6 These, however, do not adequately account for the revival movement in the Confederate armies, since the same factors existed in the Northern military units, where no revivalism was reported. The soldiers in the Northern armies were also conditioned for the reception of a revivalist gospel by widespread and aggressive denominational activity. Assuredly , the soldiers from the land of the abolitionists were emotionally conditioned . Chester F. Dunham stated that the emotionalism of the Northern ministers, to which the potential soldiers were exposed, assisted in bringing on the war and when the war began equated it with the cause of Christ.6 Emotionalism did not reach a point in the South as it did in the North, where a chaplain baptized a cannon by immersion.7 Nothing approaching a revival movement appeared among the Confederate troops during the first eighteen months of war. Though the majority of those who entered the army had heard, in farewell civil ceremonies just before starting for camp, the voice of a minister invoking the blessing of God and exhorting them to be Christians, quite a number had no contact with organized religion or chaplains for several months. The most numerous reports of failure to find religious services, hear sermons, or see chaplains occurred from the initial stages of the fighting to the autumn of 1862. In most units there was no general religious interest. No organized religious program worthy of commendation existed, and certainly there was no evidence of an evangelistic awakening . Prior to the winter of 1862, only four isolated revivals had been reported, and the total number of conversions in these did not exceed fifty.8 The attitude and caliber of the initial crop of chaplains probably contributed to the failure of a revival movement to materialize during the 6...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 410-424
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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