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CIVIL WAR RELIGIONINTRODUCTION war, especially ctvtl war, inevitably blights every facet of society. The horrors of the battlefield and the loneliness on the home front are surely the major products of human conflict. But war stretches its tentacles and consumes much more than the lives of soldiers and the hearts of their loved ones. Economics, politics, education, social stability , national progress, all suffer—oftentimes irreparably. And when war becomes a sword that cleaves a Christian nation into two parts, the worship of God is consequently distorted, lessened or intensified, depending upon the factors present. On the eve of the American Civil War, Professor James W. Silver has stated, "The primary purpose of existence with most people was eternal salvation. Therefore, it was deemed essential that the individual should conduct his everyday affairs in harmony with the wishes of a just and stem God." Douglas S. Freeman has pointed out that many of the men who participated in the war "kept religion in the same sanctuary of the heart with patriotism and love of home. Acceptance of traditional Christianity was almost universal. Mild and reverent deism was viewed with horror. Doubt was damnation. Agnosticism was service to Antichrist. What was believed was professed." Thus could a Confederate soldier reassure his wife of his well-being by writing in February, 1862: "When we lay all upon the altar of our country, The God of Nations wül give us a permanent happy existence . How near akin is patriotism to religion." Commensurate with the secession of South Carolina in December, 1860, came a breakdown in several churches of a predominantly Protestant America. Indications of such a disintegration were evident several years before the embryo of a Southern Confederacy was conceived . Once the Northern and Southern wings of the same sect were organized, ministers and outstanding laymen labored diligently to justify and strengthen their own—and peculiar—religious stands on national issues. This special issue of Civil War History is devoted to the role religion played in both secession and war. That five of the seven articles contained herein are byproducts of graduate theses reflects 349 the growing interest in, and importance attached to, this heretofore neglected phase of Civil War history. Haskell Monroe and W. Harrison Daniel discuss the effect of the secession crisis on Southern Presbyterians and Baptists. Willard Wight then outlines the devotion of Southern churches to the Confederate cause. How the various faiths ministered to the armies is the subject of two articles. One, by James Henry, sketches the work of the underrated Christian Commission; the other, by Herman Norton , recounts the rededication to God that swept through the armies, notably the Confederate forces. The slim war diary of Father Joseph O'Hagan of the Excelsior Brigade is supplemented by the unusual war letters of a soldier in the 38th Alabama Infantry. Studies of Johnny Reb and Billy Yank have shown that the majority left much to be desired insofar as religious fervor was concerned. However, many soldiers on both sides never faüed to read their Testaments and to recite their simple prayers. Aided by the piety of their chaplains and homefolk, their faith was sustained through four years of trial and tribulation. Perhaps religion was less widespread by 1865 than it had been in 1861; yet its roots where it still continued to exist were deeper and more firmly imbedded. In this Christmas season, when world peace is threatened by a rising tide of opposition, our plight seems not so dissimilar to that of those Americans of a century ago who marched into battle to defend the right as they saw the right. Their faith was their foundation; so should it be ours. Yet, echoing their hymn, we too will survive the storm: Oh, God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home. The Editor 350 ...


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pp. 349-350
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