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Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era

edited by Ben Wright and Zachary W. Dresser. foreword by Mark A. Noll

Publication Year: 2013

In the Civil War era, Americans nearly unanimously accepted that humans battled in a cosmic contest between good and evil and that God was directing history toward its end. The concept of God's Providence and of millennialism -- Christian anticipations of the end of the world -- dominated religious thought in the nineteenth century. During the tumultuous years immediately prior to, during, and after the war, these ideas took on a greater importance as Americans struggled with the unprecedented destruction and promise of the period.

Scholars of religion, literary critics, and especially historians have acknowledged the presence of apocalyptic thought in the era, but until now, few studies have taken the topic as their central focus or examined it from the antebellum period through Reconstruction. By doing so, the essays in Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era highlight the diverse ways in which beliefs about the end times influenced nineteenth-century American lives, including reform culture, the search for meaning amid the trials of war, and the social transformation wrought by emancipation. Millennial zeal infused the labor of reformers and explained their successes and failures as progress toward an imminent Kingdom of God. Men and women in the North and South looked to Providence to explain the causes and consequences of both victory and defeat, and Americans, black and white, experienced the shock waves of emancipation as either a long-prophesied jubilee or a vengeful punishment. Religion fostered division as well as union, the essays suggest, but while the nation tore itself apart and tentatively stitched itself back together, Americans continued looking to divine intervention to make meaning of the national apocalypse.

Contributors:Edward J. BlumRyan CordellZachary W. DresserJennifer GraberMatthew HarperCharles F. IronsJoseph MooreRobert K. NelsonScott Nesbit Jason PhillipsNina Reid-MaroneyBen Wright

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Two of the most enduring rhetorical memorials of the Civil War—documents that have been much revered by ordinary Americans and much studied by scholars—featured bold statements about God’s dealings with the American people. In early 1862, the Atlantic Monthly published Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” with its jubilant...

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pp. xi-xiv

The editors have been extremely fortunate to have found an assemblage of gracious individuals and institutions without whom this project would have been impossible. The volume began with a symposium at Rice University in the fall of 2010, made possible by the support of the History Department and Graduate Student Association of Rice University. W. Caleb McDaniel...

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pp. 1-12

On February 2, 1864, a group of dignitaries met in the hall of the House of Representatives to honor the U.S. Christian Commission, a philanthropic organization formed for the relief of soldiers after the First Battle of Bull Run. Rev. Charles Cardwell McCabe, a liberated prisoner of war and fund-raiser for the commission, rose to sing before an audience...

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1. The Prophecy of Edmund Ruffin: Anticipating the Future of Civil War History

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pp. 13-30

Edmund Ruffin contemplated suicide on October 18, 1859. Anticipating a future of dependence and death, he concluded, “I have lived long enough” and “have no object whatever to strive for.” The next day John Brown saved Ruffin’s life. Newspapers for October 19 reported a failed insurrection at Harpers Ferry, orchestrated entirely by northern men. Ruffin...

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2. Spirit Politics: Radical Abolitionists and the Dead End of Spiritualism

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pp. 31-51

On June 30, 1858, abolitionist Parker Pillsbury wrote William Lloyd Garrison and readers of the Liberator that he had “just returned from attending one of the largest and most important Reformatory Conventions ever held in this or any other country.” In his report on the “Free Convention” held at Rutland, Vermont, Parker praised the “character and...

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3. “This Flattering Millennium Theory”: Denominationalism against Millennialism in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Crater

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pp. 52-71

James Fenimore Cooper’s late novel The Crater (1847) begins as an optimistic retelling of Robinson Crusoe. Cooper’s young Crusoe, Mark Woolston, is stranded with one companion on a barren volcanic island, about a mile in length, in the Pacific. Woolston cultivates his new home with tools and seeds found in the ruins of his ship—originally packed by...

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4. Millennialism and the Church of England’s Mission to Fugitive Slaves in Canada

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pp. 72-89

The story of millennialism in the Church of England’s Mission to Fugitive Slaves in Canada begins with an ending: the conclusion to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Addressing her readers directly, Stowe steps out of the fictional world she has created and ends her book with a call for the destruction of slavery and for the education of...

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5. Colonization and the Limits of Antislavery in Upcountry South Carolina

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pp. 90-109

South Carolina’s antebellum Associate Reformed Presbyterians (ARP) pursued the return of Christ with evangelistic action. But it was slavery, more than biblical prophecy, that provided the intellectual and spiritual creativity that energized the ARP encounter with millennialism. Emancipation and the eschaton informed one another for both white...

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6. The Great Indian Pentecost: Providential Revisions, Indian Evangelization, and the Taking of the American West

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pp. 110-128

On a sleepy day in July 1862, Thomas Williamson, missionary to Minnesota’s Dakota Indians, sat down to write. In a letter to his supervisor at the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), Williamson reflected on the moderate success of his day school for Indian children and the small crowd of Dakotas who assembled to hear...

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7. Providence Revised: The Southern Presbyterian Old School in the Civil War and Reconstruction

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pp. 129-153

The Civil War brought death and destruction to Americans as had no prior event in the nation’s history. With 620,000 men falling in combat or succumbing to wounds and infections, the search for an American—North or South—personally unaffected by the war’s casualties would be in vain. The devastation encompassed more than human lives, a fact...

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8. Emancipation and African American Millennialism

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pp. 154-174

It would be hard to overestimate the millennial importance of emancipation to African American communities during and after the Civil War. Nineteenth-century black Protestants attempted to locate themselves within God’s plan for human history—past, present, and future—by writing their own experience into biblical and supernatural narratives. For them, the...

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9. A Sharecropper’s Millennium: Land and the Perils of Forgiveness in Post–Civil War South Carolina

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pp. 175-193

Francis L. Cardozo read the hand of God on the Lowcountry landscape. “Providence,” he told his fellow delegates in South Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional Convention, “has not only smiled upon every effort for abolishing” the “hideous form” of plantation slavery. Providence also “has given unmistakable signs of disapprobation” wherever large plantation...

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10. “Two Divisions of the Same Great Army”: Ecclesiastical Separation by Race and the Millennium

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pp. 194-216

In the decades before the Civil War, white southern evangelicals worked strenuously to bring black southerners into their churches. They succeeded to a remarkable degree, in some states bringing more than one-half of the enslaved and free black populations into congregations controlled by whites. Writing in 1908, Rev. J. A. Whitted depicted the escape of African...

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11. “To Doubt This Would Be to Doubt God”: Reconstruction and the Decline of Providential Confidence

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pp. 217-252

"Reconstruction” (1867) was a millennial dream. It was also, in the hands of artists Horatio Bateman and J. L. Giles, a providential prophecy in pictorial form. Printed in 1867 just after Congress had passed the Fourteenth Amendment, this political cartoon imagined a sacred transformation of the United States. The national union of the antebellum...

List of Contributors

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pp. 253-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780807151938
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807151921

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 1 halftone
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War