American Civil War Home Chatroom Transcript (Oct. 29, 2006) "For God and Country: The Role of Religion in the Civil War": an online chat with author Michael Aubrecht (continued)


10/29/2006 9:15 pm (et) MAubrecht: Alright... on to the Yankees. OLIVER HOWARD: BATTLEFIELD BELIEVER:

10/29/2006 9:15 pm (et) MAubrecht: As a historian who "specializes" in the religious aspects of Civil War history, I have found that there are far fewer outward examples of spiritual zeal when examining the Union side. I'm sure most (if not all) of you have seen the Ron Maxwell films "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals." Obviously "G&G" is a blatant example, but I would like to refer to a scene from "Gettysburg" in which General Longstreet is sharing a cup of tea(?) with their British observer and discussing the differences in their ideology.

10/29/2006 9:16 pm (et) MAubrecht: At one point, Longstreet makes a candid comment saying, "I reckon we whipped you British twice." He then responds to the observer's laughter and reply by saying something along the lines of "We Southerners like our generals to be like our preachers… religious, and a little mad."

10/29/2006 9:16 pm (et) MAubrecht: Although these lines are quoted from a Hollywood script and obviously inserted as conjecture, they are (IMO) very accurate. Without a doubt, 19th-Century Southerners were more openly religious than their northern counterparts. For instance, I pass no less than five, 1800's-era churches on the way to work, and I only live a few miles away. This can also be seen in the way that they acknowledged their generals. In essence, both sides may have believed that their cause was the more righteous one - but the Confederacy REALLY believed that God was on their side and that the were soldiers in the "Army of the Lord."

10/29/2006 9:17 pm (et) MAubrecht: This resulted in a strong feeling of loyalty from the Southern troops, and an admiration (even at times, an adoration that bordered on hero-worship) of the commanders that was not as prevalent in the North. For example, the Stonewall Brigade would have happily followed their beloved Stonewall Jackson straight into the pits of Hell if asked. I highly doubt that Burnsides, or even McClellan, would have had the same "blind" obedience in their ranks. (Although the Battle of Fredericksburg may disprove my theory there?) In the end, Southern generals were looked at as "gods," while their Northern counterparts were mere mortals in the eyes of their troops.

10/29/2006 9:18 pm (et) MAubrecht: One Yankee officer did fit the bill and could have just as easily been attending camp service in a different colored uniform - if not for politics, a strong opinion against slavery, and a sense of duty toward preserving the Union. That man was Oliver Howard, who personified the Christian Soldier. Even in battle Howard was as much a moral crusader as a warrior, insisting that his troops attend prayer and temperance meetings.

10/29/2006 9:18 pm (et) Basecat: ?

10/29/2006 9:19 pm (et) MAubrecht: Yes Steve.. we were holding questions until the end of each topic. Is that cool?

10/29/2006 9:19 pm (et) Basecat: Sorry...and fine with me.

10/29/2006 9:20 pm (et) MAubrecht: Great - just a couple more blurbs.

10/29/2006 9:20 pm (et) MAubrecht: In 1857, Howard was a full-time soldier who was deployed to Florida for the Seminole Wars. It was there that he experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity and considered resigning from the army to become a minister. His religious proclivities would later earn him the nickname "the Christian general." On the outbreak of the American Civil War, Howard, an opponent of slavery, resigned his regular army commission and became colonel of the Third Maine Volunteers in the Union Army. Much like Jackson, Howard made spiritual strengthening a daily part of his troop's regiments.

10/29/2006 9:21 pm (et) MAubrecht: As the war progressed, a movement referred to as "The Great Revival" took place in the South. Beginning in the fall of 1863, this event was in full progress throughout the Army of Northern Virginia. Before the revival was interrupted by Grant's attack in May 1864, approximately seven thousand soldiers-10 percent of Lee's force-were reportedly converted. Dr. Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr., author of "A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies," reports that "The best estimates of conversions in the Union forces place the figure between 100,000 and 200,000 men-about 5-10 percent of all individuals engaged in the conflict. In the smaller Confederate armies, at least 100,000 were converted. Since these numbers include only "conversions" and do not represent the number of soldiers actually swept up in the revivals-a yet more substantial figure-the impact of revivals during the Civil War surely was tremendous."

10/29/2006 9:22 pm (et) MAubrecht: According to some accounts, in the early stages of the war, revivals like the one Howard led were not the rule but the exception. Religion did not seem to have left home with the soldiers. The magazine "Christianity Today" recalled the trials and tribulations with living a Godly life while on campaign. It stated: "Day-to-day army life was so boring that men were often tempted to "make some foolishness," as one soldier typified it. Profanity, gambling, drunkenness, sexual licentiousness, and petty thievery confronted those who wanted to practice their faith. Christians complained that no Sabbath was observed; despite the efforts of a few generals like George McClellan and Oliver O. Howard, ordinary routines went on as if Sunday meant nothing at all. General Robert McAllister, an officer who was working closely with the United States Christian Commission, complained that a "tide of irreligion" had rolled over his army "like a mighty wave."

10/29/2006 9:23 pm (et) MAubrecht: Unfortunately, Howard's motivational efforts did not always transpire on the battlefield in the same manner that it did for Jackson's brigades. At the Battle of Fair Oaks (June1862) he was wounded twice in the right arm. The second wound shattered his bone near the elbow. It was amputated, and Howard spent two months recovering from his wounds before coming back. He was also given the Medal of Honor as a result of his own gallantry.

10/29/2006 9:24 pm (et) MAubrecht: According to an August 1864 issue of "Harper's Weekly": "General HOWARD has lost his right arm in his country's service. It used to be a joke between him and KEARNEY, who had lost his left arm, that, as a matter of economy, they might purchase their gloves together." One of Howard's most significant moments (in the field) came at Gettysburg, where he assumed command of Reynolds troops after he was killed.

10/29/2006 9:24 pm (et) MAubrecht: Most people are aware of that. After the war, he was appointed head of the Freedman's Bureau, which was designed to protect and assist the newly freed slaves. In this position, Howard quickly earned the contempt of white Southerners and many Northerners for his unapologetic support of black suffrage and his efforts to distribute land to African-Americans. He was also fearlessly candid about expressing his belief that the majority of white Southerners would be happy to see slavery restored. He even championed freedom and equality for former slaves in his private life, by working to make his elite Washington, D.C., church racially integrated and by helping to found an all-black college in the District of Columbia, which was soon named Howard University in his honor.

10/29/2006 9:25 pm (et) bluelady: enters the chatroom.

10/29/2006 9:25 pm (et) MAubrecht: Howard was also active in Indian engagements and subsequent relations in the West and is remembered as a man of his word and of strong moral convictions. As was quite common, many of the surviving commanders of the Civil War became "celebrities" in the public eye, and they often signed autographs. Howard routinely signed his "The Lord Is My Shepard." Much like Jackson was in the South, Oliver "O" is to be credited for his evangelistic efforts on behalf of the North, in addition to his activism on behalf of all minorities living in the U.S. at the time.

10/29/2006 9:25 pm (et) bluelady: sorry was out of town all day just getting back

10/29/2006 9:26 pm (et) MAubrecht: Are there any questions or comments on "the Christian general"? XXXXXXXXX No problem bluelady. Welcome.

10/29/2006 9:26 pm (et) ks: ?

10/29/2006 9:26 pm (et) Basecat: ?

10/29/2006 9:27 pm (et) MAubrecht: ks... then Steve :)

10/29/2006 9:27 pm (et) NJRebel: Why would you say that religion among the Union troops was not as prevalent and where there other examples such as Howard's in the Union forces, but perhaps not as obvious?

10/29/2006 9:27 pm (et) NJRebel: ?

10/29/2006 9:27 pm (et) ks: Just a comment. Delighted to see you mention Shattuck's work btw. :) Have read (in Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr.'s book on the Religious Life of the CW armies) that, prior to the 1850s, men who served in the army had been held in very low esteem among English-speaking Protestants. "They were considered so beneath contempt and such licentious, immoral rabble that their souls were hardly thought to merit saving." But by mid-century churchmen for the first time recognized the value of a "Christian" army as an effective fighting force and actually saw the armies as "seedbeds for religion, ready for missionaries to till." Fascinating reading about the revivals that took place in the field. And maybe you all knew that (about the army not being regarded as worth evangelizing prior to 1850s), but it was new info to me when I read the book. :) TJ recommended it to me MANY moons ago, back in WebAmerica days.

10/29/2006 9:28 pm (et) MAubrecht: That is a great book. Steve? Then NJ...

10/29/2006 9:29 pm (et) Basecat: Mine is a comment. Little Macs soldiers were very devoted to him while he was in command, and many remained that way even after he was gone. What changed their perspectives on him was the platform he was part of when he ran for President in 1864. I agree that many commanders of the AoP did not have the full confidence of the soldiers, but in Little Macs case they did. :)

10/29/2006 9:29 pm (et) MAubrecht: basecat?

10/29/2006 9:30 pm (et) MAubrecht: Please don't misunderstand me. It was not my intent to say that the Unionists were not religious. I am speaking in terms of public persona and obvious religious fanaticism and zeal.

10/29/2006 9:31 pm (et) NJRebel: Michael, sorry for not putting the question mark in previously on my question.... Therefore, I am re-presenting it here:

10/29/2006 9:31 pm (et) NJRebel: Why would you say that religion among the Union troops was not as prevalent and where there other examples such as Howard's in the Union forces, but perhaps not as obvious?

10/29/2006 9:31 pm (et) Basecat: Not taken that way Michael, just feel using Little Mac as an example in terms of devotion is not the best choice. :)

10/29/2006 9:32 pm (et) MAubrecht: Clearly the South's generals were portrayed as Christian heroes. Howard (to me) is the closest thing to a "Jackson" if that makes sense. I have yet to find another commander (at that level) who carried himself and his men like "Old Testament" warriors.

10/29/2006 9:32 pm (et) bluelady: I hope you all don't forget about EHRhodes and how important he thought religion was not only to his regiment but to the Union cause.

10/29/2006 9:33 pm (et) MAubrecht: He is a good example blue. Howard is more "obvious" of a choice. I have been asked repeatedly at book signings if I ever intend to write a Christian book on a Yankee general. If I do get around to such a project, Howard will certainly be my choice.

10/29/2006 9:34 pm (et) MAubrecht: Does that answer you too NJ?

10/29/2006 9:34 pm (et) Basecat: Makes a lot of sense, and it is a fine comparison. Howard gets a bad rap, IMHO in terms of his bravery.

10/29/2006 9:34 pm (et) ks: Moderator's note... :) As we began tonight I said we'd keep this formally informal. It's easiest to address questions and comments if you'll post a ? when you'd like to address a comment or question to Michael. Helps keep us on topic as well. Thanks...

10/29/2006 9:35 pm (et) NJRebel: Michael, it does in a way... However, any reason why the Union forces were perceived as not being as religious as those in the South?

10/29/2006 9:35 pm (et) MAubrecht: Yes Steve. GREAT point too. Howard gets little credit. And especially for what he did after the war. I can think of no veteran who did more for minorities than Howard. His efforts on behalf of blacks and Indians are second to none among U.S. commanders.

10/29/2006 9:36 pm (et) MAubrecht: I think it's all a matter of perspective NJ.

10/29/2006 9:36 pm (et) NJRebel: I will agree with you on that....

10/29/2006 9:37 pm (et) MAubrecht: The South (IMO) was holding on to an ideology that was more traditional. The North represented change: corporations, commerce - not necessarily bad things - but different things, and change is often perceived as a threat.

10/29/2006 9:37 pm (et) MAubrecht: Also, remember that I'm in Central Virginia, and my perspective is very southern influenced.

10/29/2006 9:38 pm (et) MAubrecht: The way that history is interpreted here in Fredericksburg, is probably different from what someone in Boston would interpret.

10/29/2006 9:38 pm (et) MAubrecht: Although neither is any less spiritual than the other.

10/29/2006 9:38 pm (et) Basecat: ?

10/29/2006 9:38 pm (et) MAubrecht: Yes base..

10/29/2006 9:39 pm (et) Basecat: In terms of the North Michael, you hit it right on the head. The two Cs...Corporations and Commerce...that was more of a focus up North at that time, IMHO.

10/29/2006 9:40 pm (et) NJRebel: ?

10/29/2006 9:40 pm (et) MAubrecht: Yes NJ

10/29/2006 9:41 pm (et) NJRebel: Corporations and much of a threat in terms of religious viewpoint were those two areas seen in the South?

10/29/2006 9:42 pm (et) MAubrecht: I think (and just my own opinion) that those institutions were viewed as potential pathways to greed. They represented a different value system.

10/29/2006 9:42 pm (et) MAubrecht: Money being a "root" of evil and ungodly lifestyles.

10/29/2006 9:43 pm (et) MAubrecht: I think the South (strictly in religious terms) looked at the movement toward a more industrial and secular society as a threat. In some ways - it is similar to the way that the Middle East looks at our Western culture today.

10/29/2006 9:43 pm (et) NJRebel: Good point, Michael. Thanks.

10/29/2006 9:44 pm (et) MAubrecht: More great stuff. Thanks again... moving on.