Religion and the American Civil War

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

10
Days of Judgment, Days of Wrath

The Civil War and the Religious Imagination of Women Writers

ELIZABETH FOX-GENOVESE

Just as war tests the spirit of combatants, so does it test the imagination of civilians, especially women, who live intimately with its terrors and deprivations. For them, as much as for combatants themselves, war notoriously shatters the assumptions and practices of everyday life, thrusting those who experience its fury into a maelstrom for which their previous lives have not prepared them. The magnitude and rapidity of the changes promote the sense of a world turned upside down. Monumental disruptions of the unremarkable flow of everyday life lend even the most ordinary events an aura of significance. Suddenly, that which always had been taken for granted is called into question. Habits become challenges, and instinctive attitudes and beliefs fall open to scrutiny and doubt.

Accordingly, we should not find surprising the many attempts by American women to make sense of civil war through the prism of religion. For both sides, the waging of the war and the endurance of its pain were informed by religious conviction. From the start, northern abolitionists had announced their cause as a crusade, and even as secular purposes gained ground among the Republicans, the sense of the religious justification for antislavery persisted. Southerners, for their part, knew that their defense of slavery derived from biblical teaching, and they took second place to none in their conviction that the defense of their section's independence derived from religious imperatives. Even as the tide of war turned against the South, southern ministers preached fast-day sermons enjoining their countrywomen and men to understand that

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