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THE SUSTAINING FAITH OF AN ALABAMA SOLDIER Robert Partin recently historians of religious life in the South during the Civil War have concentrated their attention upon such subjects as the general work of churches, the publication of religious literature, and the activities of Confederate chaplains and have, to a large degree, neglected the religious beliefs and personal experiences of the common soldier. Even when considering Johnny Reb's religion, some of these historians have devoted more space to his vices than to his virtues.1 Since it seems to be generally admitted that it was the individual faith—the virtues and not the vices—of the men in the ranks which made religion a powerful factor in sustaining the morale of the Confederate armies,2 perhaps the religious life of a Confederate private-sergeant—taken largely from his personal letters—3 has interest to students of the Civil War period. Hiram Talbert Holt, the writer of these letters, was born July 16, 1835, in Choctaw Corner, Clarke County, Alabama. Before the Civil War he was a schoolteacher and operator of a "little farm." He owned no slaves.4 On September 1, 1859, he married one of his pupils, Angeline Caroline DeWitt, the "Dear Carrie" of the letters. Dr. Partin, who has directed several graduate theses on the Civil War period, is professor of history at Auburn University. 1 Even Bell I. Wiley's scholarly The Life of Johnny Reb (Indianapolis, 1943) contains far more material on sin than on virtue; and David Donald, in "The Confederate as a Fighting Man," Journal of Southern History, XXV ( 1959), 178-194, pictured the Confederate soldier as a member of "armed mobs," without individual military virtue. The world religion is not even mentioned in this article. 2 See Wiley, Johnny Reb, p. 191; Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography (New York, 1947), III, 241. 3 Hiram Talbert Holt to Angeline Caroline Holt, April 11, 1861-February 17, 1864. These letters are the property of Miss Alma DeWiH, granddaughter of Holt, Port Joe, FIa., formerly of Fulton, Ala. For permission to use the letters and for information furnished about the Holt family, the writer is most grateful to Miss DeWitt. Hereafter, all letters cited, unless otherwise noted, are from Holt to his wife; only the date will be given. 4 There are only two references to slavery in the letters. On Dec. 2, 1861, in a letter to his wife, Holt implied that he did not feel it his duty to fight while some "who 425 426ROBERT PARTIN Holt's army career covered a three-year period. He enlisted as a private in the Suggsville Greys, a volunteer company from Clarke County, sometime before March 4, 1861. From soon after March 4, 1861, until after February 26, 1862, he was stationed at Fort Morgan and nearby Fort Gaines. Sometime during the early spring he was made first sergeant of his company and around April 1 was sent to Fort Pillow, Tennessee, where he was under bombardment for eighteen days and nights. However, he was evacuated before the fort fell and returned to the vicinity of Mobile. On June 12, 1862, he was assigned as first sergeant to Company I, 38th Alabama Infantry; and with this regiment, during the spring of 1863, he was transferred to the Army of Tennessee.5 With the 38th he took part in the skirmishing around TuIlahoma , in the retreat across the mountains and rivers to Chattanooga, in the battle of Chickamauga, in the early phases of the fighting on Missionary Ridge, and in the fighting around Dalton, Georgia. During his three years in the army, Holt wrote 138 letters to his wife and a few other members of his family. These letters, which span the period April 11, 1861—February 17, 1864, contain an enormous amount of material on personal, military, political, and, especially, religious subjects . Like most men in the Confederate army, Holt had an orthodox evangelical Protestant background; in his basic creed he differed little from his companions in arms. However, in his religious practices, and certainly in the recording of them, he was an unusual soldier. Many Confederate soldiers were never church members, some had...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 425-438
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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