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Prayer Meeting Revival 1857-1859
From Generals to Privates
Revival in the Confederate Armies
Revival and Log Chapels
Principles of Expansion
Tracts and Bibles
Legacy of the Confederate Revivals
THE LAST AMERICAN AWAKENING
The renewals of 1857‑1859 in the United States have been widely studied and touted by some historians as the Third Great Awakening because it seemed to kick off what has been called the Global Anglo‑Saxon Lay Prayer Revival 1857‑1895. Whatever the case, historians tend largely to overlook an important part of the story – the revivals that swept the Confederate armies during the War Between the States.
This mid‑nineteenth century refreshing was also the last of the nationwide American awakenings. Since that time, there has not been another national catharsis of sin, confession, and repentance. While there have been subsequent outpourings of God’s power with such names as Azusa Street, Latter Rain, and the Charismatic Renewal, and the Jesus Movement, none of them have swept the entire nation like the Great Awakenings did, affecting all ages, classes, and persuasions, shifting tectonic plates of social reform at all levels of society.
Not only that, but no one seems to be interested in why it petered out. The postwar nation, reeling from social, technological, and spiritual revolution, turned from the simple grace of the gospel of Christ to the self-righteous revengeful spirit of Reconstruction. Northerners, in national power like never before, exerted their new politico military power over the South. Southerners in the vise of corporate defeat, poverty, and rejection turned on the freed slaves in heretofore unheard-of strains of hatred and fear while at the same time creating overwhelming bitterness toward their old foes of the North. National spiritual awakening cannot spread when a root of bitterness grows up to defile many, and the Third Great Awakening came to an early end.
Purpose of Research
Since there has been much more work done on the Prayer Meeting Revival as it occurred in the North than on understanding the revivals which swept the Confederate armies in the South, this study will focus attention on that area as a part of the Third Great Awakening.
The Prayer Meeting Revival 1857‑1859
Like all major revivals and awakenings, the stirrings of the Spirit began with prayer in a tense situation in 1857. Gold, banks, railroads, and industrial plants had hearkened the golden age of American prosperity. "The great panic which broke out in Wall Street, October 12, 1857, was the handwriting on the wall. . . . Banks failed, business houses closed, railroads went into bankruptcy, and all business was at a standstill." Out of this chairos situation, the Lord was about to move powerfully on America again.
His move was a spontaneous, ecumenical, lay‑led prayer meeting movement led by an unknown inner city missionary in New York. Daily prayer meetings swept over New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and New England. Then the prayer fever swept into the South and west to Texas. Prayer for the nation, its leaders, and personal concerns were the rage and immediately reaped a harvest of souls in the North, continuing to win people to Christ later in the South.
The Prayer Meeting Revival was a setup. The nation was basking in its wealth when suddenly Wall Street collapsed, and businessmen lost everything. By God's design, He had set up a noonday prayer meeting on Fulton Street three weeks earlier under the auspices of an unknown inner city missionary. This chairos situation ignited by a felt need in business spontaneously combusted into a firestorm of prayer. Within weeks, the phenomenon had spread all over New York in daily multiple prayer meetings. On Fulton Street the intercessors filled three rooms simultaneously multiple times a day. Then the prayer craze spread to Boston, Chicago, Washington, Buffalo, Newark, Philadelphia, Kalamazoo, Louisville, and west through the rural South to Texas. People flocked to churches and converted.
The firstfruits of this revival began in Canada. Walter and Phoebe Palmer, revival leaders and holiness preachers, had the first drops of revival rain among Canadian Methodists in October 1857, in Hamilton, Ontario. Twenty-one converted the first day, one hundred on a Sunday, and more than three hundred in all. New York intercessors heard about the Canadian revival just a week before the Wall Street panic. The decision was then taken to hold the prayer meeting daily, and the same week news came of an extraordinary revival in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. . . .The week following, there was a great financial crash and an ensuing panic as banks failed, following a year of recession. The atmosphere was ripe for God to move.
Spurgeon in a Revival Year Sermon in 1859 asked, "Have you heard of the great 1858 American Revival? An obscure man laid it up in his heart to pray that God would bless his country." That man was Jeremiah Lanphier, a new inner city missionary in New York City.
Born in Coxsackie, upper New York in 1809, Lanphier had been converted in 1842 in Broadway Tabernacle (which had been built by the great revivalist, Charles Finney, ten years earlier). He was a man of prayer, an effective speaker and a man with plenty of energy. Burdened by the need around him, he decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer meeting every Wednesday in Fulton Street. He had some hand‑bills printed inviting "merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers and businessmen generally" to join him in "call upon God." It was timed to last one hour, with the usual proviso for such mid‑day meetings that people were free to come when they could and go when they must.
Lanphier opened the doors for the first meeting on 23rd September, 1857, at noon and waited for the people to come in. "Five minutes went by, twenty minutes, twenty-five, thirty, and then at 12:30pm he heard a step on the stairs and the first person joined him. A few moments later there was another, and another until they numbered six and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday the six had increased to twenty; on the third week there were forty intercessors," says Edwin Orr in his great book The Second Evangelical Awakening.
In the Chicago 1858 prayer meetings, an unknown YMCA prayer meeting leader named Dwight L. Moody attended all the meetings and was deeply impressed spiritually. His story need not be told.
Like so many times before, the lay‑led, ecumenical Church had to be rediscovered. The awakening which started in 1857 had no great leader and no denominational leanings. It spread affecting city after city and universities like Baylor, Wake Forest, Emory, Yale, Amherst, Oberlin, and Michigan without a denominational label or toothy celebrity. In New York lay missionary Jeremiah Lanphier offered a prayer meeting at the North Dutch Reformed Church. In Philadelphia it was a twenty‑one year old businessman affiliated with the YMCA. In Boston it was a Charles Finney, one of the old guard moving off the scene. In countless cities and towns like Savannah, Georgia, an unnamed faithful one began interdenominational prayer meetings. "They were progressive in their theology, catholic in their sentiments, and thoroughly in tune with the current belief that American society must become the garden of the Lord."
Nearly all these people rose from the periphery of the deep and wide Christian movement in the United States. Jeremiah Lanphier was a lowly urban missionary sent in to deal with poor that the church members, abandoning the city for the suburbs, were paying him to do for them.
The charge by Charles Finney and others that slavery kept revival away from the South is mistaken. Edwin Orr quotes Bishop Candler's official statistics showing that in the years 1858‑1860, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, grew by over 100,000 as did the Baptists. "That being so, the revival in the South produced almost as many converts proportionately as the Northern States recorded."
Unfortunately, because of revisionist and Hollywood history and the years of oppression of Southern African Americans through a racism bred in fear during Radical Reconstruction, I must stop here and make a few statements concerning why the average Southern soldier went to war. Southerners did not go to war to protect an outdated and evil system of slavery.
The popular and revisionist claim that the Confederate soldier fought to perpetuate slavery is without historical validity. Outside from the small class of slave owners or radical abolitionists in the North, the assertion that these men enlisted and fought to defend the curse of human servitude did not come from their lips. Even a cursory examination of the period reveals that the typical Southern soldier was a simple farmer, although the common ranks held laborers, clerks, bankers, college students, and merchants. The vast majority of soldiers did not own slaves, nor ever hope to.
The 1860 Census shows that only around 10% of heads of households in slave states even owned one slave. Of that 10%, only 3% of slaveholders owned more than 50 slaves. Would 90% of the population give their lives to protect the interests of 1 in 10 Southerners? The Hollywood image of the land of wealthy plantations was hardly real. The greatest leaders in the army were strongly opposed to slavery. General Robert E. Lee owned no slaves and promptly freed those willed to him through his wife's estate, publicly stating that: "The best men of the South have long been anxious to do away with this institution." The fact is, racism and slavery are not just a Southern problem. They are a national problem – a national sin that needs continued corporate repentance.
So what did Southerners give their lives for? When the political, economic, and social rigmarole boiled down, the answer lies in areas of unshakable belief in three absolute truths which I have space only to mention here: Inalienable rights given by the Creator to
1‑Individual liberties/ self-determination,
2‑ an abiding love for community and state,
3‑ the solidarity of the family unit.
Southerners saw in the growing liberalism and centralization of the federal government a greater and greater inability for them to protect these areas by remaining in the Union. "Historians who wish to understand Southern persistence in character would do well to consider this evidence, and be less concerned with explanations of Southern particularity which derive from slavery alone."
Revival in the Confederate Armies
With their trust in God and straining hopes for independence, the Southern soldiers experienced tremendous revival during the War. Chaplains of the period estimated as much as one quarter of the Confederate armies experienced the rebirth of salvation during the four year conflict. The main revival seems to have been in the Army of Northern Virginia, but in 1863‑64 the Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia, experienced a revival which converted thousands. The detachment of Longstreet's corps in 1863 from the Army of Northern Virginia to aid the Army of Tennessee might have introduced elements of revival to the western army.
"Churchmen in the North remained oblivious to the awakening going on at the same time in the Southern armies. . . . Particularly during the period between the battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Confederate prayer meetings and open‑air revivals multiplied." Denominational papers, newspapers, and government and military officials reported and extolled the revival among the troops.
Principles of Expansion
Life and death dynamics were important as the revival broke out in the Confederate camps. Daily prayer meetings precipitated by the juxtaposition of events. "'Religion in the army' was a peculiar type or phase of piety modified in manifestation by the extraordinary circumstances amid which it sprang up." Battles and the threat of death at any time by a sharpshooter made the average soldier a willing listener to the proclamation of the way to heaven. During the fall and winter of 1862‑63, 1863‑64, and 1864‑65, Confederate troops attended daily meetings for worship, evangelism, and prayer. Rev. A.E. Dickinson, Superintendent of Colportage for the General Association of Baptist Churches of Virginia wrote in December 1863:
Modern history presents no example of armies so nearly converted into churches as the armies of Southern defence. On the crest of this flood of war, which threatens to engulf our freedom, rides a pure Christianity; the Gospel of the grace of God shines through the smoke of battle with the light that leads to heaven; and the camp becomes a school for Christ.
Making this time even more precipitous was the condition of the Southerners just before these revivals. Up to the First Battle of Manassas, everyone both on the field and at home was praying, but after the fantastic defeat of the Union forces, everyone figured the war was practically over. By spring Britain and France would have recognized the Confederacy and the North would have been forced to grant independence. As a consequence, the praying stopped and the drunkenness, profanity, and vice took over the army. The chaplain of the 23rd North Carolina wrote for the North Carolina Baptist newspaper, the Biblical Recorder: "While Lincoln may slay his thousands, the liquor‑maker at home will slay his tens of thousands."
Hugh White, a divinity student at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, enthusiastically joined the 4th Virginia Regiment at the beginning of the war, but he wrote his family that his time in the army had only strengthened his belief in total human depravity.
The Confederate military disasters of early 1862 brought the nation literally to its knees again in prayer, and in the autumn of 1862 and winter of 1863 over 15,000 conversions inundated Lee's Army. "There had been wrought a moral and religious revolution which those who did not witness it can scarce appreciate." There was such a change that Rev J.M. Stokes, chaplain of Wright's Georgia Brigade witnessed: "There is less profanity in a week now, than there was in a day six months ago. And I am quite sure there are ten who attend religious services now to one who attended six months ago."
Conversion growth during this awakening in the Southern armies was anywhere from 45,000 to 150,000. Hard numbers are hard to come by. The Army of Northern Virginia alone saw between 15,000 and 50,000 profess faith in Jesus Christ. A total estimate of over 100,000 might be a fairly accurate figure. For perspective , 10 percent of Lee’s army were reportedly converted by the time of Grant’s attack at the Wilderness in May 1864. And throughout the whole period 1857‑65 across the South, denominations grew as much as 25%.
J. William Jones's estimates of conversion growth in the Army of Northern Virginia are as follows:
August 1863‑January 1864 5,000
January 1864‑May 1864 2,000
May 1864‑April 1865 4,000
Hospitals all four years 2,500
Federal Prisons Unknown (Point Lookout, Fort Delaware, Elmira, Johnson's Island, etc.)
Jones' Original Total 15,000
William W. Bennett, head of the Methodist Soldier’s Tract Association, in his 1877 work, The Great Revival in the Southern Armies, writes “up to January 1865, it was estimated that nearly one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers had been converted during the progress of the war, and it was believed that fully one-third of all the soldiers in the field were praying men and members of some branch of the Christian Church.” Jones, therefore, later modified his number in a second edition of his book for the Army of Northern Virginia to 50,000. Gardiner Shattuck in the periodical Christian History published by Christianity Today estimates between 100,000 and 200,000 – nearly 10 percent of the military. There was still a great deal of wickedness in the army, and no doubt some conversions were spurious, but that has been usual since Iscariot, and newly converted leaders filled the seminaries after the war. The revivals continued through the summer and autumn of 1865 in the South, and these conversions are not included in the total.
Chaplains in the Confederate armies provided spiritual leadership for their men. He led worship and prayer services, communion, baptisms, revival meetings, funeral services, consoled the dying and wounded, distributed Christian literature, and corresponded with home churches of the soldiers. Worship services focused on preaching God’s Word. Stonewall Jackson wrote to the Southern Presbyterian General Assembly pleading for chaplains who preached the gospel:
Every branch of the Christian Church should send into the army some of its most prominent ministers who are distinguished for their piety, talents, and zeal; . . . . Denominational distinctions should be kept out of view, and not touched upon. And, as a general rule, I do not think that a chaplain who would preach denominational sermons should be in the army. His congregation is his regiment, and it is composed of various denominations. I would like to see no question asked in the army of what denomination a chaplain belongs to; but let the question be, does he preach the gospel?”
Services regularly lasted up to three hours. Sermon topics most often stressed Christian virtues, warning of the temptations of alcohol, gambling, and profanity, proclaiming the transforming power of God’s grace, emphasizing the uncertainty of life, reminding sinners of eternal punishment without Christ. When Abner Hopkins, a chaplain of the Stonewall Brigade, held a special service for those using profanity, so many came that many stood outside in the rain.
Singing was a great part of the worship services, though as one soldier put it, some “could not discern the notes of a pipe organ from the sound of a grist mill” or the sound of a squealing pig from a violin serenade. Popular hymns were “All Hail the Power,” “Amazing Grace,” “How Firm a Foundation,” Lee’s favorite, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” “Rock of Ages,” “There is a Fountain,” and “When I Can Read My Title Clear.”
Confederate Congress authorized the President to appoint chaplains in early May 1861, at a pay grade of $85 a month, halfway between a first and second lieutenant, but without a rank. In August chaplains were allowed one ration per day, the same as a private. After bitter debates in Confederate Congress, Mississippi Congressman Wiley P. Harris succeeded in reducing chaplains’ pay to $50 a month, arguing that they preach once a week and have the rest of the week free. Others agreed on the principle that preachers should not be paid at all. A year later, under pressure from churches and ministers, Congress raised the pay to $80 a month. Appointments were slow, particularly because the administration created unnecessary problems by appointing chaplains who did not fit the denominational majority of the regiments. For example, one regiment was appointed a Roman Catholic priest of whom only six of the 600 in the regiment were Catholic. Two Episcopal priests were appointed to a regiment split equally between Baptists and Methodists. Prospective chaplains, therefore, preached several trial sermons, met with officers and enlisted men, and then were recommended by the commanding colonel for commission. Unfortunately, without a set of guidelines or qualifications, anyone could be a chaplain. One brigade chaplain was court-martialed for desertion to the enemy. Some drank whiskey “for their health.” Mosby’s brigade chaplain created scandal by often dancing to tunes like “Sugar in the Gourd” and “All around the Chicken Roost.” Some chaplains bought up foodstuffs at low prices and peddled them back to the soldiers at a profit. A Virginia farmer turned down a chaplain’s request for forage because he did not have a horse. Thereupon, the chaplain appropriated a steed from the farmer saying Jesus Christ took an ass from his owner to ride to Jerusalem. His commanding officer reprimanded him pointing out, “You are not Jesus Christ. This is not an ass, and you are not on your way to Jerusalem. The sooner you restore that horse to its owner the better it will be for you.” By the middle of the war, denominations began to screen chaplain applicants, and it was the beginning of the current practice of denominational endorsement as a precursor to military chaplaincy. "
From Generals to Privates
The Great Revival won many to Christ including top commanders in the field. John Bell Hood, crippled from multiple battlefield wounds, was baptized in the fall of 1864. Henry Lay, Episcopal bishop of Arkansas, describes the scene: “Unable to kneel, [General Hood] supported himself on his crutch and staff, and with bowed head received the benediction.”
Ambrose P. Hill was led to the Lord on the field of Second Manassas by his commander Stonewall Jackson.
Although the Davis administration was not as supportive of organized religion as it could have been, many of the Confederate military leaders were superb. Of particular note are generals Robert E. Lee, T. J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and Leonidas Polk. Lee and Jackson did all within their power to encourage the spreading of the Gospel in the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson himself encouraged the troops to keep the Sabbath holy and attend worship services. He would usually try to avoid battle on the Sabbath, or, if not possible to do so, would try to set aside a subsequent day of rest. Jackson was frequently seen in prayer--both before and during battle. He always acknowledged God as the author of his military victories.
The Confederate’s Army of the Tennessee, retreating towards Atlanta, had also experienced the fires of the Great Revival. During their retreat from Dalton, Georgia, Rev. C. W. Miller tells of a Confederate brigade called together for worship in a field. They read the Bible aloud, sang a song of praise, and began to pray. While one of the soldiers was praying aloud, and his comrades were kneeling in silence, they all heard the distant report of artillery and were soon greeted with the burst of a 32-pound cannon shell overhead. More shells shrieked towards them, and shrapnel fell nearby, but the men continued their prayers as if there was no danger. Finally the chaplain pronounced the benediction and everyone calmly sought cover.
One chaplain recounted the sight of changed hearts at Chinbarazo hospital in Richmond, Virginia: “No sight could be more touching than to stand near the chapel and see the wounded and the pale convalescents hobbling and creeping to the place of worship at the sound of the bell.”
A Floridian by the name of Major P. B. Bird, when mortally wounded in the trenches of Richmond near the end of the war, considered his relationship with the Lord and said “But for leaving my wife and children, I should not feel sad at the prospect of dying. There is no cloud between God and me now.”
Soldiers often talked of their mothers. During one prayer meeting, a young soldier cried aloud “O that my mother were here!” When asked why he wanted to see his mother, he replied “Because she has so long been praying for me, and now I have found the Saviour.” Another wounded Christian soldier asked a friend to “Tell my mother that I read my Testament and put all my trust in the Lord....I am not afraid to die.”
Most of the nightly meetings were organized by the soldiers themselves and conducted either by a clergyman or ministers on the front. Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia formed the Army Christian Association which held prayer meetings three times a week. One wag said that Stonewall Jackson's command in the Valley was more like a protracted meeting than a marching army. The Confederate armies operated less like a professional force today and more like "a patriarchal Scots clan, an extended family made up of men connected by blood and marriage, common enterprises, and a common foe.
Revival and Log Chapels
One of the first revivals occurred in Trimble's Brigade, especially the 12th and 44th Georgia Regiments, camped at Bunker Hill, Virginia. A.M. Marshall, the chaplain, hosted preaching services every night in the woods. When Generals Jackson and A.P. Hill found out about them, they modified the military rules in order to accommodate the meetings. Sixty to seventy came forward each night for prayer; forty-five professed Christ, and 75‑100 inquired into salvation. The revival was cut short by the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Possibly earlier, however, another awakening began, according to Hugh Roy Scott. "During the month of October 1862,” he writes, “it was my privilege to witness one of the most remarkable spiritual awakenings that has ever occurred in this country." On October 4, 1862, the reserve artillery under Brigadier General Pendleton camped at Camp Nineveh, twelve miles from Winchester, VA, on the Front Royal Road. One month of meetings were held at night around a large campfire. On the first night, six came forward for baptism. The first was a troublemaker to the officers; the second was the most notorious sinner in the company. The third was the most unpromising man in his company; the fourth was an amiable and moral young man, and the fifth and sixth were of the bravest and best men in the army. A light rain began to fall in the dark and a hush came over the whole countryside. Then a seventh came forward – a youth. A prophetic night for the first revival: Camp Nineveh, their coming out of the darkness to the light of the campfire to be saved, seven the number of completeness, all seven came from different ways of living, and the gentle rain of revival in the Holy Spirit was falling.
The Southerners constructed log chapels for their meetings. In 1861‑62 a few commands had well constructed chapels, viz., the 17th Virginia Regiment which was first, the 10th Virginia Infantry, and the 13th Virginia Infantry. In the winter of 1862‑63, on the Rappahannock River, there were a larger number, the Stonewall Brigade having the largest. During the winter of 1863‑64, when the revival swept through the camps, there were forty log chapels on the Rapidan River. The greatest revival swept through the camps on the return of the army from Gettysburg and resulted in thousands of conversions. During the winter of 1864‑65, there were over sixty log chapels in the Richmond and Petersburg lines, as the men divided up the cutting, hauling, and building responsibilities.
Bennett believed the southern army camp had truly been "a school of Christ," where pious generals like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee led their men both in battles and in prayer meetings. The "moral miracles" that had taken place among Confederate soldiers were the most magnificent of all time; they truly became the "'silver lining' to the dark and heavy cloud" of the South's defeat.
Bennett wrote: "In the army of General Lee, while it lay on the upper Rappahannock, the revival flame swept through every corps, division, brigade, and regiment. [One chaplain explained]: 'The whole army is a vast field, ready and ripe to the harvest. … The susceptibility of the soldiery to the gospel is wonderful, and, doubtful as the remark may appear, the military camp is most favorable to the work of revival. The soldiers, with the simplicity of little children, listen to and embrace the truth. Already over two thousand have professed conversion, and two thousand more are penitent. … Oh, it is affecting to see the soldiers crowd and press about the preacher for what of tracts, etc., he has to distribute, and it is sad to see hundreds retiring without being supplied!' 'I never saw men who were better prepared to receive religious instruction and advice. … The dying begged for our prayers and our songs. Every evening we would gather around the wounded and sing and pray with them. Many wounded, who had hitherto led wicked lives, became entirely changed. … One young Tennessean, James Scott, of the 32d Tennessee, … continually begged us to sing for him and to pray with him. He earnestly desired to see his mother before he died, which was not permitted, as she was in the enemy's lines, and he died rejoicing in the grace of God.'"
J. William Jones's Christ in the Camp described what he had seen while chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia. "On the bloody campaign from the Rapidan to Cold Harbor in 1864, when the army was constantly in the trenches or on the march, and fought almost daily, Bryan's Georgia Brigade had a season of comparative repose, while held in reserve, when they had from three to five [religious] meetings a day, which resulted in about fifty professions of conversion, most of whom … [were] baptized in a pond which was exposed to the enemy's fire, and where several men were wounded while the ordinance was being administered."
“Never since the days of Nehemiah have men had a better 'mind to work' on the walls of Zion, and in two to six days the chapel was finished, and the men were worshipping God in a temple dedicated to his name. . . . In many of these chapels there were circulating libraries and daily prayer meeting, Sunday schools, literary societies, YMCA meetings, etc. And some answered the double purpose of church and school.”
Though some soldiers could not read, most could. The schools were mainly for the study of Latin, Greek, mathematics, French, German, etc. The University of Virginia students in 1865‑66 were so educated from war schools in the log chapels, that they started university at an advanced course.
Tracts and Bibles
Early in the 1857‑59 revival, newspapers carried daily news of what was going on in the prayer meetings, and vision for revival spread over the whole country. In the army revival, daily prayer meetings and tracts kept the revival going. Chaplains wrote regular articles in denominational newspapers for the people at home to hear the latest revival news. Often the news sparked revival in Southern churches as well.
Tracts, Bibles, and Scripture portions were a major part of the ministry of the military chaplains. The South before the war had depended on Northern publishers to print tracts or Bibles, but once the war was on, President Lincoln declared Bibles and Testaments contraband of war. Without presses themselves in the South, Dr. William J. Hoge, a Presbyterian scholar and pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, was sent to England to procure Bibles, Testaments, and portions. He procured at no limit of credit 10,000 Bibles, 50,000 New Testaments, and 250,000 portions. Most of them, however, were captured in running the blockade and were scattered through the North as souvenirs.
The demand for Christian reading among the converts and reawakened Christians in the Confederate army was phenomenal. Numerous tract societies and denominations went to work on tracting. Here are only a few examples of the kind of work these many societies were doing. The Evangelical Tract Society printed 50 million pages of tracts. Private citizen W.J.W. Crowder of Raleigh, NC, had 5 million pages distributed in one year. The Soldiers' Tract Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, from March 1862 to midsummer passed out 800,000 pages of tracts. The Army & Navy Herald printed 40,000 copies a month, and at one point the Baptist Board was distributing 200,000 pages weekly plus testaments and hymnbooks. In 1862‑63 alone, the Sunday School and Publication Board gave away 30,187,000 tracts, 31,000 Bibles and testaments, 14,000 "Camp Hymns," thousands of donated Christian literature, and religious papers without number. The Southern Methodist Episcopal Soldiers' Tract Association, in their 1863 annual report noted the distribution of 7 million pages of tracts, 45,000 soldiers' hymnbooks, 15,000 soldiers' almanacs, 15,000 Bible readings for soldiers, 15,000 Bibles, Testaments, and Gospels, 50,000 Soldiers' Paper's and 20,000 copies of the Army & Navy Herald. Jones estimates that at the height, there were one million pages of tracts distributed a week. Still, the supply was unequal to the demand.
Tract titles included, "Don't Put it Off," "All Sufficiency of Christ," "Self dedication to God," "The Act of Faith," "The Sentinel," "Motives to Early Piety," "Come to Jesus," and "A Mother's Parting Words to Her Soldier Boy." Not always were Bibles used in the conventional way. One soldier from Maryland wrote in the South‑western Baptist, "I had my Bible in my right breast pocket, and a ball struck it and bounced back. It would have made a severe wound but for the Bible."
Legacy of the Confederate Revivals
In the Confederate army, sectarianism was nonexistent. Chaplains, colporteurs, and missionaries all worked together from all evangelical denominations. Dr. William J. Hoge wrote about an incident at Fredericksburg in the spring of 1863 with Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade: "We had a Presbyterian sermon, introduced by Baptist services, under the direction of a Methodist chaplain, in an Episcopal church." Rev. Enoch Martin, a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, after the war, organized an Arkansas regiment into the "Army Church, in which membership was open to men of all evangelical persuasions. Since both war and spiritual fervor made sectarian lines seem less important, the idea spread through the whole army."
The Confederate Revivals in large part created what became the Bible Belt in the South. The revivalistic, missionary Christianity predominant in the South since 1875 owes much to this wartime awakening." They encouraged solders to abandon behaviors like card playing or swearing and adopt habits of prayer, Bible reading, and strict Sabbath observance. In the North, their military revivals were at a peak at the end of the war. Their military success encouraged them to new pursuits – converting huge numbers of new immigrants to their cities and dealing with oppressive social conditions with a Social Gospel, as liberal theologians cut away at Christian orthodoxy.
In the South,
nothing was left except faith in God. Southern believers spoke of the benefits of
adversity and the deceit of temporal prosperity. The poverty and hardships of
the post-war South taught patience, hard work, forbearance, and Christian
humility. J. William Jones told about a soldier he had baptized in the army and
met again after the war. Though from an affluent family, the soldier had lost
everything—his money, his property, even his right arm in battle. When Jones
saw him, he was working as a farmer, eking out a meager living. Still, the man
wanted no pity: "'Oh, Brother Jones, that is all right. I thank God that I
have one arm left and an opportunity to use it for the support of those I
Addicott, Jeffrey F. "Values and Religion in the Confederate Armies." Confederate Veteran. Hattiesburg, MS: November‑December 1990, pp. 28‑38.
Bacon, Leonard Woolsey. A History of American Christianity. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925.
Bradford, M.E. "The Theology of Secession." Southern Partisan. Vol. XI. Columbia, SC: Fourth Quarter 1991, pp. 20‑25.
Cairns, Earle E. An Endless Line of Splendor: Revivals and Their Leaders from the Great Awakening to the Present. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986.
Jones, J. William. Christ in the Camp; or Religion in Lee's Army. Richmond: B.F. Johnson & Co., 1887.
Orr, J. Edwin. The Second Great Awakening in America. London: Marshall, Morgan, & Scott, 1952.
Timothy L. Smith. Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid‑Nineteenth Century America. Nashville: Abingdon, 1962.
Strickland, Arthur B. The Great American Revival: A Case Study in Historical Evangelism with Implications for Today. Cincinnati: Standard, 1934.
Whittaker, Colin. Great Revivals: God's Men and Their Message. Marshalls, 1984.
Copyright 1997-2003 Gene Brooks.
Updated November 13, 2003.