Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era
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
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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 deal-ings with the American people. In early 1862, the Atlantic Monthly pub-lished Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” with its ju-bilant explanation of what warfare to restore the Union represented: it was nothing less than “the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Three years later, in March 1865, at the heart of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address was a more reflective meditation on divine purpose: “If God wills that [the war] ...
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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 Uni-versity in the fall of 2010, made possible by the support of the His-tory Department and Graduate Student Association of Rice University.W. Caleb McDaniel and Randal Hall offered valuable advice at each stage of the process. The editors are very pleased to recognize their shared advisor, John B. Boles, whose decades of service to Rice fostered the atmosphere of collegial Luke E. Harlow deserves special recognition for his mentorship and as-...
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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 philan-thropic organization formed for the relief of soldiers after the First Bat-tle of Bull Run. Rev. Charles Cardwell McCabe, a liberated prisoner of war and fund-raiser for the commission, rose to sing before an audience that included Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax, Vice President Hanni-bal Hamlin, and the guest of honor, President Abraham Lincoln. McCabe had famously led Union captives of Richmond’s Libby Prison in a celebratory rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” upon hearing of the Confed-...
1 The Prophecy of Edmund Ruffin: Anticipating the Future of Civil War History
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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 insur-rection at Harpers Ferry, orchestrated entirely by northern men. Ruffin hoped this proof of Yankee intentions would “stir the sluggish blood of the south.” It certainly stirred Ruffin. He dove into the most productive and re-warding year of his life. Determined to watch Brown die, Ruffin made hasty travel plans for western Virginia and by late November was on his “way to the ...
2 Spirit Politics: Radical Abolitionists and the Dead End of Spiritualism
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On June 30, 1858, abolitionist Parker Pillsbury wrote William Lloyd Gar-rison and readers of the Liberator that he had “just returned from attend-ing one of the largest and most important Reformatory Conventions ever held in this or any other country.” In his report on the “Free Con-vention” held at Rutland, Vermont, Parker praised the “character and quality” and the “large brains and full hearts” of the convention participants. “The most numerous class” among these participants, he noted, were Spiritu-alists. Spiritualism had burst on the American scene a decade earlier, quickly attracting thousands of adherents who believed that communication and com-...
3 “This Flattering Millennium Theory”: Denominationalism against Millennialism in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Crater
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J ames Fenimore Cooper’s late novel The Crater (1847) begins as an op-timistic 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 its Quaker owners to help the crew in “civilizing the people of Fejee.” Woolston literally builds the landscape, packing together a combination of ashes, hog and goat feces (from animals that survived the shipwreck), and guano scraped from the island’s rocks. Soon an underwater eruption helps his construction ...
4 Millennialism and the Church of England’s Mission to Fugitive Slaves in Canada
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The story of millennialism in the Church of England’s Mission to Fugi-tive Slaves in Canada begins with an ending: the conclusion to Har-riet 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 emancipated slaves. Both goals are set out in prophetic language, laced with the hope that there was still a day of grace in which to act: “This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? ...
5 Colonization and the Limits of Antislavery in Upcountry South Carolina
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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 spiri-tual creativity that energized the ARP encounter with millennialism. Emancipation and the eschaton informed one another for both white and black members. This essay examines two interwoven case studies emanat-ing from the ARP religious community in Abbeville District, South Carolina. These cases possess overlapping themes: the moral dilemma of slavery, provi-dential deliverance, and millennial mission. These themes are not unique in the ...
6 The Great Indian Pentecost: Providential Revisions, Indian Evangelization, and the Taking of the American West
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On a sleepy day in July 1862, Thomas Williamson, missionary to Minneso-ta’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 In-dian children and the small crowd of Dakotas who assembled to hear his Sunday afternoon sermons. Williamson noted that he expected the mission, which counted only a few dozen converts despite two and half decades of ef-Williamson was wrong. Just one month later, in August 1862, four young Dakotas killed a handful of settlers in the village of Acton. After lengthy discus-...
7 Providence Revised: The Southern Presbyterian Old School in the Civil War and Reconstruction
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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 that the southerners who worked to rebuild houses, public buildings, roads, and bridges in the years following the war knew all too well. War tore apart many of the personal and institutional connections that had bound people in antebel-lum America. Sectionalism and war split most of the national denominations ...
8 Emancipation and African American Millennialism
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It would be hard to overestimate the millennial importance of emancipation to African American communities during and after the Civil War. Nine-teenth-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 clearest intersection of divine history and human history was the emancipation of southern slaves in 1862–65. The event carried many theological meanings. It proved to them that God was on their side and at work in the world. The event and its many commemorations emboldened their belief that God had already ...
9 A Sharecropper’s Millennium: Land and the Perils of Forgiveness in Post–Civil War South Carolina
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Francis L. Cardozo read the hand of God on the Lowcountry landscape. “Providence,” he told his fellow delegates in South Carolina’s 1868 Con-stitutional Convention, “has not only smiled upon every effort for abol-ishing” the “hideous form” of plantation slavery. Providence also “has given unmistakable signs of disapprobation” wherever large plantation holdings continued, by “blasting the cotton crops in that part of the country.” Providence seemed to be reshaping the state’s agricultural and cadastral map before his eyes, replacing staple production with fields of grain and replacing extensive plantations “of no service to the owner or anybody else” with a “sys-...
10 “Two Divisions of the Same Great Army”: Ecclesiastical Separation by Race and the Millennium
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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 American Baptists in North Carolina from these forcibly integrated religious communions following the Civil War as an eschatological event, rejoicing that Carolina blacks at last had their prayers answered and were able to “worship God under [their] own vine and fig tree.” While the pioneering black Baptist ...
11 “To Doubt This Would Be to Doubt God”: Reconstruction and the Decline of Providential Confidence
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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 Four-teenth Amendment, this political cartoon imagined a sacred trans-formation of the United States. The national union of the antebellum era—upheld by pillars of slavery—was undercut first by Confederate secession and then by federal emancipation. The reconstructed nation would be built upon new pillars of justice, liberty, and education. Harmony would replace hate. Northern and southern whites would shake hands on the earth below, and in ...
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Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 1 halftone
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War