Religion in the Union armies

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pfcjking

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Christianity and Revival seems like a prominent topic when writing about or discussing the Army of Northern Virginia, but rarely anywhere else, especially never any Yankee military formations. The ANV seems to have been full of Christian leaders such as Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, and converts like Ewell. (He is the best example I can think of at the moment.)
Other than the Irish Brigade, I have never heard of much religion at all in the Union Army.
Is this an example of passive, unaddressed Lost Cause mythology?

I'm not saying that the Christian presence in the Southern army is a myth. I'm saying that the lack-there-of in the Union army is probably a myth.

What say you? Any takers on this topic?
 

diane

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There was the Christian Commission, an inter-denominational group dedicated to keeping the Gospel in the Union army. Lincoln appointed chaplains for the Union armies and paid them a good salary, and also supplied Bibles and other religious literature. The chaplains had to be ordained by some Christian religion, usually Protestant but there were some Catholic as well.

Curiously, the South didn't do that but left it up to individual commanders, and the cost was picked up by that commander. Stonewall Jackson was always handing out religious tracts and Bibles, and holding prayer meetings. Many had services. I think the South had more reverends who were also soldiers. D C Kelly was known as the Fighting Preacher - he was Forrest's chaplain.
 
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jackt62

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I think it was sometime in 1863 that the Army of Northern Virginia experienced a large scale religious revival that swept through the ranks. Don't know if that was also attributable to any particular southern religiosity in contrast to the north.
 

brass napoleon

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The ANV seems to have been full of Christian leaders such as Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, and converts like Ewell.
I would say the vast majority of leaders in the Union army were also Christian, although there were probably few in either army who were as public about it as Jackson. I would guess that for most of these officers, including Lee and Stuart, you wouldn't know their religious beliefs unless you studied them in depth.
 

chellers

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The OP seems to be about Christianity and Revival in the North or lack thereof. Let's please stay on that topic.
Thanks for your cooperation.

Posted as moderator
 
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Andersonh1

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I think it was sometime in 1863 that the Army of Northern Virginia experienced a large scale religious revival that swept through the ranks. Don't know if that was also attributable to any particular southern religiosity in contrast to the north.
It was 1863, and there was a smaller revival in the Union ranks that year as well, I think.

http://www.americancivilwarforum.com/christian-revival-in-the-confederate-armies-1863-1865.-370.html

"Though the customs of the Victorian Era were much different and appear extremely prudish compared to today’s standards, the people of the antebellum South were no more nor less religious than any other section of the country. Yes, there were pious men found in the South as everywhere else, but it does not appear that they were in any greater numbers than anywhere else.

The early months of the American Civil War saw the assembly of armies that consisted of thousands of young men that had never before been away from home. Army chaplains complained that “seductive influences of sin” and “legions of devils” infested the camps. Among the sins were “spiritous liquors,” card playing, gambling, and profanity. Early in the war, one Confederate soldier said that “if the South is overthrown, the epitaph should be ‘died of whiskey.’”

Though there were provisions made for chaplains in the Confederate Army, their pay was lower than that of other Confederate officers, and that of chaplains in the Union Army. Lincoln had ensured that there would be a chaplain in every Union regiment, but that same provision was not made for the Confederate Army. There were a lot of issues in the attempts to form a legitimate chaplain’s corps in the Confederate Army. It is not known how many unpaid missionaries accompanied the army, and many pastors served as part-time missionaries. Conditions and provisions for chaplains improved when General Robert E. Lee took command in June 1862.

The beginning of the Great Revival appears to have started in the winter of 1862-1863 in Fredericksburg and the rest of the Lower Valley, and Chancellorsville, though its roots were earlier in the war. Some have narrowed it down to the first service performed at the Williams Street Methodist Church in Fredericksburg by the chaplain of the 17th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, of Barksdale’s Brigade, Rev. William B. Owen. He was soon joined by privates Clairborne McDonald and Thomas West of the 13th Mississippi, and they appeared to be filling the fairly large church seven nights a week. It was written in a letter by private William H. Hill of Company H, 13th Mississippi, that: “From 40 to 50 soldiers are at the mourner’s bench every night” waiting to be “saved” from their sins.

J. William Jones, Confederate chaplain and author of “Christ in the Camp”, notes that about the same time, similar occurrences were taking place in Trimble’s Brigade, in the 12th and 44th Georgia Regiments, after the army’s return from the Maryland Campaign.

Soon the Spirit moved to the other churches in Fredericksburg, then to Chancellorsville, over the next year, throughout the Army of Northern Virginia. By the winter and spring of 1864, according to Jones, nearly every regiment in the ANV was affected...and approximately ten percent of the soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia accepted Christ, well over 100,000 men. Night after night troops participated in prayer meetings, worshipped, and listened to ministers proclaim the good news. Virtually every gathering ended with soldiers coming forward to accept Christ or receive prayer. When a pond or river was nearby, the soldiers would frequently step forward for baptisms–regardless of how cold the weather was.

There are tales of Chaplain Jones having holes cut in ice-covered ponds, baptisms in clear view of enemy pickets and videttes, and baptisms under fire, with some of those participating being wounded.

During the revival, Jones told of how Confederate soldiers would form “reading clubs,” in which soldiers would pass around a well-worn Bible, sharing the Gospel. Always hungry for scarce Testaments and religious tracts, the soldiers would see Jones approaching camp and cry out “Yonder comes the Bible and Tract man!” and run up to him and beg for Bibles and Testaments “as if they were gold guineas for free distribution.” Jones would quickly exhaust his supply of reading material, and sadly have to turn away most of the men. “I have never seen more diligent Bible-readers than we had in the Army of Northern Virginia.”

Which brings up another issue, the problem of attaining Bibles, Testaments, and Tracts (religious leaflets). Prior to the war, the entire printing industry, including the printing of Bibles, was located in the North. Bibles and Testaments, along with all other printed matter, were declared to be contraband of war soon after Ft. Sumter, so began the problem of acquiring Christian printed material. Bibles and Testaments were ordered from England, but few made it through the blockade. But as in most other things in the Confederacy, necessity attained results, and at its height, more than a million tracts a week were being printed and distributed, along with many thousands of Bibles, Testaments, soldiers’ hymnbooks, Bible readings, etc.

And the revival was not limited to enlisted men. It is well known that Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson were both pious, devout men, but during this time many Confederate officers were baptized, including A.P. Hill on the battlefield of Second Manassas, and Dorsey Pender.

By the end of the war, it is estimated that 100,000 Confederate soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia alone surrendered to the Lord.

And the revival was by no means limited to the army in the East. There were signs of this revival in the Army of Tennessee even before Longstreet’s Corps joined it for the Chattanooga campaign, but the Spirit of revival surely came with Longstreet’s men. Estimates are that another 50,000 men from the Western armies were baptized. General Braxton Bragg had been baptized in mid-1863.

After the Battle of Missionary Ridge, the Army of Tennessee moved to Dalton Georgia for winter quarters. The soldiers built many churches while there. During that time, General Leonidas Polk baptized Generals J. E. Johnston, William J. Hardee, and John Bell Hood. Hood, unable to kneel due to his amputated leg, supported himself on a crutch and bowed his head.

I should add that one of the things that I was able to teach to my pastor is the fact that while this great revival was going on in the Confederate Army, there was a similar revival in the Union Army. It is estimated that around 100,000 soldiers of the Union Army converted or reaffirmed in the name of the Lord during this time. The revival was so strong during the Chattanooga campaign, hundreds of men were baptized in the Chickamauga Creek as they crossed on the way Atlanta.

There are theories on why the revival in the Union Army did not have the long term effect that it did in the Confederate Army, and I will not go into them here.


So what was the effect of the great revival? Literally thousands of new churches were founded throughout the South after the war, creating the “Bible Belt”. By 1870, the number of churches and church membership had more than doubled from their number in 1860. I have read that there are more existing churches in the South that were founded from 1860 to 1870, than there are that were not founded during that period.
 
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pfcjking

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I guess my point is that it seems to be a common theme when reading about the ANV, but hardly ever mentioned when discussing the AOP.
 

diane

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There was a big revival around the end of 1863 in the AoP. Several brigades set up places of worship and services, a lot of people were baptized and saved. I've sometimes wondered if this had anything to do with the recruitment of black soldiers. The black soldiers were very religious - one remarked on carrying his rifle in one hand and his Bible in the other. He wasn't alone!
 
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Pat Young

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Without getting too far afield, there was a great deal of religious diversity in the Northern armies. Sure there were "Puritans", but there were plenty of non-Calvinist Protestants, Freethinking Germans, Irish German and Latino Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, etc. And, as with any demographic of men in their 20s, a lot of guys who had other things to do on a Sunday.
 

NedBaldwin

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Christianity and Revival seems like a prominent topic when writing about or discussing the Army of Northern Virginia, but rarely anywhere else, especially never any Yankee military formations. The ANV seems to have been full of Christian leaders such as Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, and converts like Ewell. (He is the best example I can think of at the moment.)
Other than the Irish Brigade, I have never heard of much religion at all in the Union Army.
Is this an example of passive, unaddressed Lost Cause mythology?

I'm not saying that the Christian presence in the Southern army is a myth. I'm saying that the lack-there-of in the Union army is probably a myth.

What say you? Any takers on this topic?
Interesting. I think this is the case of seeing just what we look at. I havent spent that much time studying the ANV so the idea that it is associated with Revival is new to me.

I had seen things the opposite. Think of the Battle Hymn of the Republic -- there was a religious theme to the Union cause and there were 'revivals' at different times in the Union armies. By law of Congress passed in the summer of 1861 every regiment was supposed to have a chaplain who was supposed to tend to the moral and religious condition of the regiment.
 

SquirrelHudson

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When faced with the long periods of boredom punctuated with extreme moments of terror that they were exposed to surely would drive any man to want to turn to religion.


This is an interesting post because we all know how prevalent Christianity was for the Confederate side but I agree that I don't see much about it on it on the Union side.
 
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Fascinating subject. Not so much dealing with the issue of "why" Northern religiosity in the army has been less emphasized but with the subject in general, these two essays from Princeton and Yale are worth considering.

Religion: Northern Perspective

Was the South somewhat correct in its own assessment as to the faith and fervor of the North?

For the South, this “chosen” status not only presumed ultimate victory in what would turn out to be a long and bloody conflict, but also put God’s imprimatur on the Confederate national identity. In fact, the South claimed to be a uniquely Christian nation. The new Confederate Constitution, adopted on February 8, 1861, and ratified on March 11, 1861, officially declared its Christian identity, “invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” Southern leaders chose as their national motto Deo Vindice (“God will avenge”). Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaimed that the time had come “to recognize our dependence upon God … [and] supplicate his merciful protection.”This national acknowledgment of religious dependence, as the South frequently pointed out during the war in both the religious and the secular press, stood in stark contrast to the “godless” government of the North that ignored God in its constitution and put secular concerns above the sacred duties of Christian service and the divine commission.

Religion; Southern Perspective

This on revival tries to speak of northern soldiers and yet (somehow!) ends up with more southern anecdotes, reinforcing the question raised in the OP
http://www.greatamericanhistory.net/revival.htm

EDITED TO SAY THAT THE FOLLOWING SECTION INTENDED TO SUGGEST REASONS WHY NORTHERN RELIGIOSITY WAS NOT POPULARLY "VISIBLE" IN POST WAR WRITINGS WHILE SOUTHERNERS' REVIVALS ETC. WERE OFTEN MENTIONED

It occurs to me that physical location may have something to do with it. Southern armies fought in their own backyard - the northern boys were far from home. (I recognize that many Confederates were "far from home" too). But the civilian populations, preachers and churches were available to southern boys - not so much for the northern.

Then again, my understanding is that southern religiosity was somewhat more homogenous. Protestantism was overwhelmingly Baptist, Methodist and Episcopalian with the first two in particular being strongly evangelical in their bent. Catholics - Jews - others were represented in the south but less so than in the north, where larger waves of immigration had delivered varying thought and practise. Lutherans, Catholics and (of course) Jews were less evangelical in approach. Not that there wasn't evangelicalism in the north but it was less of way of life, so to speak.
 
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rpkennedy

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When faced with the long periods of boredom punctuated with extreme moments of terror that they were exposed to, I'm sure it would drive any man to want to turn to religion.


This is an interesting post because we all know how prevalent Christianity was for the Confederate side but I agree that I don't see much about it on it on the Union side.
There was also a rejection of religion by many veterans after the war. Something along the lines of, no God would have allowed such a terrible thing to have happened.

R
 

7thWisconsin

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Well, I know Winter encampments can get boring, but I doubt the blue bellies would have built this magnificent chapel without being devout Christians.
My wife's g-g-grandfather was in the regiment that built that! It's a pity it's gone now. Remember a large tract of the northeast was called the "burned over district." Every religious movement and revival from the first great awakening, through the second great awakening to the birth of the Latter Day Saints had blown through there in the 100 years before the war. People were somewhat sceptical of the latest movement. Certainly upstate New York was a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment, which was almost always seen as a religious issue. The reform movements were also birthing the theology known eventually as the "social gospel," the notion that Christian sentiment should also strive to redeem society. This movement is still with us today. The great revival preacher Charles Finney, was still writing and preaching. The gospel hymn writers P.P Bliss, William Bradbury and George F Root were cranking out hymns we still sing, along with the popular music of the war. Certainly individuals came to personal faith. Frederick Ray, of the 7th Wisconsin, attended revival services in Philadelphia while recovering from his Gettysburg wound. He describes coming to faith in his diary. There was also significant revival activity in the 1870s, which really gives us revival as we still know it: popular song music, emotive preaching for decision, etc.
 

Dutch Mudsill

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One regiment from my locality was the devout 100th PVI aka "The Roundheads". They were very proud of their connections with the Scottish Covenanters and Presbyterian Puritanism. Each man was said to carry his bible in his breast pocket.
 
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Blessmag

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Often letters home describe church visits, such as this one from Little Rock:

:In Camp 1 ½ miles from Little Rock

Sunday Sept. 20. 1863

This A.M. I & many others went to Church in the City, a permit having been granted to do so. Some others & I went to the Presbyterian Church where there were a few residents present & very many Soldiers & Officers so that the house was crowded, but all had seats. The Sermon was of moderate length & ability, and very guarded and non-commitall. The music was quite good (so far as I could judge) both vocal & instrumental. The instrument was a melodion. A China missionary was to preach at 3 P.M. but I did not feel well enough to go if I could as I had some feaver & trouble in my head. The day was pleasant & sunny. We had a religious service this P.M. by Mr. Peake”.[1]


[1] (Civil War Journal of James B. Lockney)
 

Blessmag

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And another:
"In Camp near Little Rock

Sunday Sept 27 1863

This morning we had inspection about 9 A.M. soon after we started to town for the purpose of attending Church. We went to the Presbyterian Church where we went last sabbath. Some of the boys went to the Catholic & others to the Methodist Church. We bought about 2.00 worth of gingerbread about ¾ of it for our squad. The baker made some pies today & sold them for 10 cts. We will soon be able to get a plenty of soft bread. We hear talk of the paymaster, as the Co. are signing the books for pay. This P.M. the Chaplin of the 3 Iowa held religious service in our Regt. I think he is a good man & probably a Methodist. "
Civil War Journal of James B Lockney
 
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