Religion and the American Civil War

By Randall M. Miller; Harry S. Stout et al. | Go to book overview

Preface

From the days of the Civil War and after, Americans have wrestled with the religious significance and effects of their "ordeal by fire." Many, in their American conceit, gave the war cosmic meaning, as Lincoln had done at Gettysburg. However they might have disagreed on the sanctity of their own cause and God's favor, countless preachers and politicians, among others, echoed the belief that the war not only touched and tapped America's soul but also pointed the way to the salvation of republican order and society everywhere. Historians, too, have noted the pervasiveness of religious language and symbols among soldiers and civilians and the ways Americans invoked religion to drum up support for their side in the war and to justify their actions during and after it. Yet, for all the recognition of religion's centrality in and to the war, surprisingly few scholars have undertaken extended, extensive studies of the subject. The need for such work led John M. Mulder, president of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a noted historian in his own right, for one, to ask what might be said about religion and the Civil War. As it turned out, plenty.

This book began with conversations among Mulder's colleagues at the Seminary and in the historical profession over two years. Those conversations soon bloomed into a major symposium on religion and the Civil War, co- sponsored by the Louisville Institute of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, thanks in large part to Joel Carpenter, who had participated in the early discussions on the need for such a symposium. The symposium was held at the Seminary in October 1994 and brought together many of the leading scholars of American religious history and the Civil War era, all of them charged only with the call to provide an original work on some aspect of the conference theme. The conversations there proved to be open and wide-ranging. The success of the symposium in turn spawned the book.

The Louisville site was fitting. The Seminary had played a pivotal role in reunifying the northern and southern "branches" of the Presbyterian church in

-v-

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