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Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War

James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt

Publication Year: 2007

During the American Civil War, the Mennonites and Amish faced moral dilemmas that tested the very core of their faith. How could they oppose both slavery and the war to end it? How could they remain outside the conflict without entering the American mainstream to secure legal conscientious objector status? In the North, living this ethical paradox marked them as ambivalent participants to the Union cause; in the South, it marked them as clear traitors. In the first scholarly treatment of pacifism during the Civil War, two experts in Anabaptist studies explore the important role of sectarian religion in the conflict and the effects of wartime Americanization on these religious communities. James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt describe the various strategies used by religious groups who struggled to come to terms with the American mainstream without sacrificing religious values—some opted for greater political engagement, others chose apolitical withdrawal, and some individuals renounced their faith and entered the fight. Integrating the most recent Civil War scholarship with little-known primary sources and new information from Pennsylvania and Virginia to Illinois and Iowa, Lehman and Nolt provide the definitive account of the Anabaptist experience during the bloodiest war in American history.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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List of Tables and Maps

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

The research for this volume rests on decades of work in dozens of libraries and archives, and has thereby incurred debts too numerous to mention. References in the notes and bibliography acknowledge the many resources on which we drew. Special thanks go to the Spruance Library of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and the Montgomery County ...

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INTRODUCTION. Religion, Religious Minorities, and the American Civil War

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pp. 1-16

Peter Hartman hurried home to his family’s farm outside Harrisonburg, Virginia, carrying the Rockingham Register. It was November 1860, and Peter’s father, David, had sent his son to town for a copy of the county’s weekly paper. Like other families throughout the United States, the Hartmans were keeping a wary eye on political developments ...

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CHAPTER 1. Politics and Peoplehood in a Restless Republic

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pp. 17-38

In 1799 Thomas McKean, a Revolutionary War leader, won a contentious race to be Pennsylvania’s governor, and soon the “Mennonist Society” of western Lancaster County addressed an open letter to the new executive in the German-language newspaper Der Lancaster Correspondent. The Mennonites began by complimenting ...

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CHAPTER 2. Our Country Is at War

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pp. 39-55

On July 3, 1861, John F. Funk, the young Mennonite-reared lumber entrepreneur and Chicago Sunday school promoter, left home for an evening political rally. Less than three months earlier, South Carolina’s attack on federal forces at Fort Sumter had sparked sharp reaction in both the North and the South, silencing calls for compromise and setting the stage for continued confrontation. Independence Day took on new significance in this context, and rallies...

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CHAPTER 3. Conscription, Combat, and Virginia’s “War of Self-Defense”

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pp. 56-75

Already by the summer of 1861 the pressure on Mennonite young men in Virginia to participate in the war had intensified. The Confederate victory at the first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) buoyed Southern spirits, but the months that followed also made it clear that the federal government in Washington, D.C., was committed to crushing rebellion no matter how much time, ...

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CHAPTER 4. Negotiation and Notoriety in Pennsylvania

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pp. 76-96

In the summer of 1862, Union military fortunes in the East looked dismal. Maj. General George B. McClellan’s slow drive in April and Peninsula Campaign—ended with high casualties and strategic failure in a late June series of engagements known as the Seven Days’ Battles. For their part, Southern forces had also sustained heavy losses—and indeed, ...

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CHAPTER 5. Patterns of Peace and Patriotism in the Midwest

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pp. 97-122

Nearly all the dutch are consciencious,” Eli J. Hochstedler com-cousin, Samuel S. Yoder, of Holmes County, Ohio, and although Yoder too was from an Amish family, neither man shared his parents’ nonresistant convictions. “Woe unto the souls who cause the innocent blood to be shed of the patriots of our free & beloved Country!!!” Hochstedler cried. In ...

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CHAPTER 6. The Fighting Comes North

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pp. 123-142

The Confederate military’s successful counteroffensives in the Southern partisans and increasingly gloomy editorial comment in the North. As frustration and impatience mounted in his political back-yard, Abraham Lincoln began discussing more openly his own sense that any Federal victory would have to include, in some way, the destruction of ...

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CHAPTER 7. Thaddeus Stevens and Pennsylvania Mennonite Politics

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pp. 143-162

In June 1863, as the Army of Northern Virginia marched triumphantly into southern Pennsylvania, Lee’s troops—otherwise under orders to limit their looting of Yankee property—took time to locate a Chambersburg ironworks owned by Thaddeus Stevens. The prominent Republican leader lived in Lancaster but happened to be visiting his Franklin ...

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CHAPTER 8. Did Jesus Christ Teach Men to War?

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pp. 163-183

Deacon Jacob Nold was frustrated with his fellow Columbiana County, Ohio, Mennonites. Federal conscription had been in place for several months, but it was proving difficult to organize a mutual aid plan to help draftees cover their exemption fees. Writing in October 1863 to his minister friend Johannes ...

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CHAPTER 9. Resistance and Revenge in Virginia

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pp. 184-196

The first months of 1863 offered several encouraging signs to those symbolic—if strategically limited—victories, recapturing Galveston, Texas, in January and foiling a Union attack on Charleston, South Carolina, in April. A month later, in Virginia, outnumbered soldiers under General Robert E. Lee decisively defeated Federal forces at the cross-...

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CHAPTER 10. Burning the Shenandoah Valley

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pp. 197-215

On Tuesday, June 7, 1864, Gideon Hildebrand stopped at the Augusta County, Virginia, home of his parents, deacon Jacob R. and Catherine Hildebrand. Gideon was in the area on a fifteenday “horse detail” from the 1st Virginia Cavalry, which he had joined in February. But military maneuvers closed in on the area, and Gideon’s opportunity for rest and family was short-lived....

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CHAPTER 11. Reconstructed Nation, Reconstructed Peoplehood

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pp. 216-234

Thursday, April 13, 1865, was a bright and sunny day in Johnson County, Iowa, when 52-year-old Daniel P. Guengerich, an Amish farmer who had emigrated from Waldeck, Germany, in 1833, went to town on business. There he learned “the glorious news of the surrender of Gen. Lee and his army.” Back home, Guengerich’s nearly 22-year-old son, Jacob, eagerly embraced those ...

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pp. 235-240

Shortly before the 1862 federally authorized state militia draft went into effect, the Sonnenberg Mennonite Church of Wayne County, Ohio, convened a special meeting to discuss their collective response to the war. That gathering produced a remarkably articulate petition, which the church presented to the Wayne County Military Committee, who in turn forwarded it to Governor David Tod. There is no record of any other Mennonite or Amish congregation hold-...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 241-242


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pp. 243-314


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pp. 315-340


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pp. 341-353

E-ISBN-13: 9781421403908
E-ISBN-10: 1421403900
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886720
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886724

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 24 b&w photos, 6 maps
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 608073242
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War

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Subject Headings

  • Pacifists -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Amish -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Mennonites -- United States -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Mennonites -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Anabaptists -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Religious aspects.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1861-1865.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects
  • Amish -- United States -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • War -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- History -- 19th century.
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