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The Confederates Get Religion

        The generation that fought the war, North and South alike, was a deeply religious one. Chaplains were customarily attached to regiments of both armies, and numerous preachers visited the troops 'with or 'without official status. One of the most interesting features of the history of the Confederacy was the series of revivals that swept the armies, both East and West, throughout the war. There were a few revivals in the winter of 1861-62, but the "great revival" came in the Army of Northern Virginia in the winter and spring of 1863 and spread to the armies of the West. The Reverend John W. Jones, whose Christ in the Camp is perhaps the best history of this great revival, estimates that no less than 150,000 soldiers "got religion" that year. What is equally interesting is that the religious revival affected the leaders of the Confederacy as well as the rank and file. it was at this time that Jefferson Davis, Generals Bragg, Ewell, Hood, Hardee, and Joseph E. Johnston all entered the church. it is entirely possible that General Lee's deep piety played a role here.
        The two brief excerpts given here describe the great revival of 1863 in the Army of Northern Virginia. Benjamin W. Jones was a private in the 3rd Virginia Infantry Regiment; John Dooley a Virginia boy who left Georgetown College in 1862 to enlist in the famous 1st Virginia Infantry--a regiment whose history dated from 1661.

Religion In The Confederate Army

Camp Roper, Va., Feby. 20, 1863

My dear Friend:

        I hear that a great religious spirit and revival is spreading throughout Lees army, and some of the other armies of the South, and there are some evidences of it here, and in other camps about Richmond. Old professors that had become lukewarm in their zeal, are arousing to a sense of their duty, and many of the openly sinful are growing more temperate and reverent in their conversation and regard for religious things. There is less of cursing and profligacy, and much less of card playing in our Company now than formerly. The voice of prayer is often heard in camp among the men, and many commands now have regular, or at least, occasional, preaching. Many ministers have gone out as evangelists to the armies, and some have gone into the ranks as private soldiers, or have become regular chaplains in some command. Their example and teaching are exerting a wide-spread and salutary influence. Rev. J. W. Ward, of Isle of Wight, has preached to our Company once recently, and other ministers hold meetings near us occasionally.
        Almost nightly now, before the tattoo is sounded, we hear the voice of song in our camp, religious and revival songs and hymns. There are several men here who sing well, and these assemble together and pass an hour or two together at night very pleasantly. Sergeant N. B. Ponds tent is headquarters for these exercises, and doubtless, to some extent, this method of praise and prayer is doing good here and toning down some of the rougher vices of the men. May it lead finally to a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all the armies, and all the people of all the South. A soldier may fight and be a religious and God-fearing man, too.
        But let me tell you of a little incident that has really taken place in our camp lately--one of the little comedies, not altogether innocent, but wholly harmless, that are occasionally happening and which serve as safety-valves to let off the superfluous steam engendered by the life of confinement and idleness in camp.
        One of the songs that were being sung quite frequently, almost nightly in fact, by our religious choir was that somewhat eccentric refrain:

            "Scotland's burning! Scotland's burning!
            Cast on water! Cast on water!"

and so some of the prankish set among our boys conceived the idea of turning a little joke on the men in Sergeant Ponds tent. As a few of the tents had been fixed up with rude dirt chimneys for fireplaces, and Sergeant Ponds was one of these, it gave the boys a fine chance to play their game. And so one night, one of the smallest among the men, with a bucket of water in hand, was lifted up by a big, strong fellow to the top of the little stick chimney. And just as the choir rang out the alarm,

"Scotland's burning!
Cast on water!"

the little fellow on the chimney cast his bucket of water down upon the fire inside, which deluged the whole fireplace, put out the fire, and scattered the embers in every direction.
        Of course, too, it put a sudden stop to the song, and sent the men quickly out of the tent after the offenders. But not in time to discover who they were. Before they were fairly out of the tent, the boys had gained their own bunks, and were enjoying the fun at a distance.

      The choir soon saw the joke, and, as they could do no more, submitted quietly. But it is presumed that nothing more will be heard of "Scotland's burning" for some time.
        With a prayer for your continued safety and welfare at home, I remain,

Your friend, B. JONES,
"Under the Stars and Bars"

John Dooley Describes Prayer Meetings

        Perhaps this is the night for prayer meeting, for the parsons, taking advantage of this period of calm, are indefatigable in their efforts to draw the soldiers together to sing psalms and assist at prayer. Hundreds and thousands respond to their call and the woods resound for miles around with the unscientific but earnest music of the rough veterans of Lees army. In doleful contrast to the more enlivening notes of the initiated, the chorus of the 'Mourners may often be recognized; for conversions among the non-religious members of the army of Lee are of daily occurrence, and when they establish themselves upon the 'Mourners Bench, it is evident to all how deep and loud is their repentance. There is something very solemn in these immense choruses of earnest voices, and there are, I am sure, hundreds of these honest soldiers truly sincere in believing that they are offering their most acceptable service to God.
        Some of the parsons or chaplains are very zealous and persevering in assembling the soldiers to prayer; especially the chaplain of the eleventh Va. and the seventh. The latter is held in high esteem by all, whether members of religion or not; for, they say, in times of action, he is as bold as the bravest and is to be seen in the first and fiercest battles, consoling and assisting the wounded. 'Florence McCarthy of Richmond, chaplain of the 7th inf., is also distinguished for his preaching and zeal among the soldiers. They say he told his congregation the other day that when they heard the doors and windows of the church slamming while the minister of God was preaching, they might be sure that the devil was at work trying to hinder the faithful from listening to the divine word. Some might very naturally presume from this that his Satanic Majesty was most at large during the blustering month of March than at any other time in the year.

--DURKIN, ed., John Dooley, Confederate Soldier

Source: "The Blue and The Gray" by Henry Steele Commanger

This Page last updated 01/17/04


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