Religious Revival in Civil War Armies

Some time ago, my friend Patty had visited the Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton College in Illinois.  She told me about a religious revival display that she had seen.  I was immediately interested in what she had had to say, as I had done an Honors Thesis on The Great Awaking and it’s relevance to The Revolutionary War.

She and I both were surprised to learn of what became known as; “The Great Harvest: Revival in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.” I was so intrigued by what she was telling me that I did a little research of my own.  And, because we are saluting veterans all week, I thought it appropriate to follow through on this claim of spiritual revival in the troops and contrast that with what is happening today.

In 1862, the editor of the Macon Daily Telegraph wrote; “Oh for a revival throughout the Confederacy!” At that time the south was experiencing difficult times. And the southern army was, for the most part, an army of very young men. These boys signed up for adventure, with a sense of patriotism. What they found was a rather different reality; harsh conditions, depression, and disease.  Many of the young men turned to fast women, gambling and drinking. 

At www.greatamericanhistory.net GordonLeidner wrote about the religious revival within the Civil War armies.

Leidner writes: “During the American Civil War, several significant spiritual revivals took place in both the northern and southern armies.

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.

Abraham Lincoln recognized the value of religion as a stabilizing force in the Union army, and did all within his power to provide for organized spiritual guidance to soldiers.

On May 4, 1861, he ordered all regimental commanders to appoint chaplains for their units.

Lincoln also provided as much support as he could to the United States Christian Commission, an inter-denominational organization that was dedicated primarily to the spreading of the Gospel in the Union armies.

Chaplains and religious leaders sent out a constant stream of letters to their home churches, begging them to send “our best men--holy men” to assist in evangelizing and ministering to the troops.

Southern Christian leaders made every effort to acquire Bibles and tracts for their soldiers. In fact, British and even some northern Bible societies responded generously.

Northern soldiers were fortunate in that northern Christian leaders were better organized and more willing to ignore their denominational differences from the very start.

With the support of both the Lincoln administration and the War Department, they organized the U.S. Christian Commission--a civilian "army" of men and women that lived in or near the army camps, passing out religious tracts and Testaments, organizing worship services, acting as nurses in the hospitals, and doing their best to spread the Gospel.

Although revivals took place throughout the war, it was during the late Fall of 1863 through the Spring and Summer of 1864 that what was subsequently called the ‘Great Revival’ or the ‘Great Harvest’ occurred.”

The revival took place within both thenorthern and southern armies.

Gordon Leidner continues on this site: “According to J. William Jones, Confederate Chaplain, ‘virtually every Confederate brigade was affected--and approximately ten percent of the soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia accepted Christ.

 Night after night troops participated in prayer meetings, worshipped, and listened to sermons. The gatherings 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.

Confederate soldiers would form “reading clubs,” in which soldiers would pass around a well-worn Bible, sharing the Gospel.

When the soldiers would see Jones approaching camp they would cry out “Yonder comes the Bible and Tract man!” and run up to him and beg for Bibles and Testaments.

U. S. Christian Commission records show that similar events were happening in the North’s principle eastern army, the Army of the Potomac, at the same time. Brigade chapels were so full that many men were frequently turned away.

It is estimated that over 100,000 Confederate and somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Union troops accepted Christ during the Civil War--roughly ten percent of the men engaged.

One chaplain recounted the sight of changed hearts at a 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.”

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.”

J. W. Jones, travelling through the South after the war, spied a crippled veteran working in a field, guiding a plow with his one good arm. Recognizing him as a man he had known in the war, he stopped to talk to him and provide some encouragement.

This particular young man had left college and a promising career when the war broke out, had been wounded in battle, and was baptized by Jones during the war.

Jones says “to see him thus, then, his hopes blighted, his fortune wrecked, and his body maimed for life, deeply touched my heart....

I shall never forget how the noble fellow, straightening himself up, replied, with a proud smile:

‘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 love.’”

I would encourage you to continue reading at this site; www.greatamericanhistory.net.

And thanks to Gordon Leidner for the stories I just shared with you.

I’d Like to point out that these soldiers had a president that understood the need for spirituality- for God.  Especially during a time of war.  And he prayed for them.  Fervently.

Here is a quote from President Abraham Lincoln:

"I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient… One stormy night I tossed on my bed, unable to sleep as I thought of the terrible sufferings of our soldiers and sailors. I spent an hour in agonizing prayer."

How does our current administration meet the spiritual needs for our troops? I went to David Barton’s web site to find a list of this administrations hostilities toward our military.  See www.wallbuilders.com. Here are just a few:

Acts of hostility toward people of Biblical Faith, and Acts of hostility from the Obama-led military toward people of Biblical faith:

  • March 2015 - A decorated Navy chaplain was prohibited from fulfilling his duty of comforting the family (or any member of the unit) after the loss of a sailor because it was feared that he would say something about faith and God. He was even banned from the base on the day of the sailor's memorial service.
  • March 2015 - A highly decorated Navy SEAL chaplain was relieved of duty for providing counseling that contained religious views on things such as faith, marriage, and sexuality.
  • March 2014 - Maxell Air Force Base suddenly bans Gideons from handing out Bibles to willing recruits, a practice that had been occurring for years previously.
  • July 2013 - An Air Force chaplain who posted a website article on the importance of faith and the origin of the phrase "There are no atheists in foxholes" was officially ordered to remove his post because some were offended by the use of that famous World War II phrase.
  • June 2013 – The Obama administration “strongly objects” to a Defense Authorization amendment to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed religious rights of soldiers and chaplains, claiming that it would have an “adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.” YEAH I’M NOT KIDDING IT REALLY SAID THAT.
  • June 2013 – At a joint base in New Jersey, a video was made, based on a Super Bowl commercial, to honor First Sergeants. It stated: “On the eighth day, God looked down on His creation and said, ‘I need someone who will take care of the Airmen.’ So God created a First Sergeant.” Because the video mentioned the word “God,” the Air Force required that it be taken down. 
  • February 2012 – The Air Force removes “God” from the patch of Rapid Capabilities Office
  • September 2011 – Air Force Chief of Staff prohibits commanders from notifying airmen of programs and services available to them from chaplains.
  • September 2011 – The Army issues guidelines for Walter Reed Medical Center stipulating that “No religious items are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.”

Quite the contrast – wouldn’t you say? There were actually several more examples that I could have llisted but did not have room for here.  Think about how hungry those men fighting during the Civil War were. They hungered for encouragement, inspiration, and peace.  They passed around a worn Bible – desperate for an encouraging word. Desperate for comfort they knew they could only find in that book. 

I am now a spokesperson for Memory BibleStick distributed by Faith Comes By Hearing. I want so much to help our soldiers in this way. If you are honest with yourself – whether you are a religious person or not – if you can help to encourage a young man or woman serving your country- even in this way – wouldn’t you do it?

I am certain that you can see the need for this type of encouragement, this inspiration, and spirituality for our troops.  We are all smart enough to know that.  If those young men fighting during Civil War times were running towards the preacher with the Bibles – hungry for the words that they knew would bring them comfort and hope – we too have young men and women right now who are hungry for the same.

Please help me with this effort -- is really important to me.  Please go to www.roseunplugged.com to order the Bible Memory Stick, made to military specs. The Military BibleSticks are given free of charge to active duty U.S. military chaplains.  They are currently unable to keep up with the weekly requests that continue to flow in from chaplains.  This results in troops having to wait months to receive their own BibleStick. IS that what we want? Certainly not. 

This is an outreach that is using me to help get the word out. Will you help me meet their current needs? 

Please go to www.militarybiblestick.com or look to the front page of the website and click on the banner; “Faith Comes By Hearing”.

Their toll free number is:  1.800.800.2555

Currently there is a request that has been made by the 101ST Airborne for 10,000 units.  Let’s be sure they get them!