by Mort Kunstler
Despite a hefty measure of scoundrels, shirkers and skeptics, the ranks of the Civil War soldier were thoroughly leavened with believers. Nineteenth century American society was firmly founded on the Judeo- Christian world-view and a Biblical faith was openly expressed in the ranks—even in official military reports. Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, whose river-borne naval forces helped open the Southern heartland to Federal advances, was a faithful Christian who conducted worship services for his sailors aboard ship. General Stonewall Jackson personally distributed salvation tracts to his soldiers. General Oliver O. Howard, a Federal corps commander, earnestly discouraged gambling and drunkenness among his troops, and his concern for freed slaves led to the establishment of Howard University. General Robert E. Lee personally insured that Jewish troops in his command were excused for Sabbath worship, and issued orders calling for periods of prayer and fasting in his army. Said Lee: “I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.”
“I derive great comfort from the precious promises of Our Lord & Savior,” wrote a Southern infantryman in 1862—sentiments repeated in countless soldier letters. “May God give me faith to sustain me under every trial. . ..” In a typical letter written the same year, a Northern cavalryman agreed: “I am trying to become a more devoted Christian, a better Man—and the best Soldier I am capable of becoming.” More than a quarter-million copies of a Gospel tract called Parting Words were distributed through the Southern armies, and the U.S. Christian Commission donated more than a half-million Bibles to Northern troops during a single year of the war. In 1862 and 1863, the Southern armies were transformed by a revival akin to the Colonial-era Great Awakening. It produced tens of thousands of new Christians, spurred a wave of campground worship services, and launched countless prayer meetings. In the Confederate Army of Tennessee, an average of 40 soldiers a night professed newfound faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in a single two-week period. On the Virginia front, a joint baptism organized by Southern soldiers on the Rapidan River attracted a group of Northern troops to the opposite bank. Spontaneously, men from both sides joined in a hymn-singing at water’s edge. From the front lines to the backwaters of the war, soldiers North and South regularly paused from the ways of war to open the Lord’s Day with a sunrise worship service—expressing a common faith amidst an uncommon conﬂict.
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