Religion and the American Civil War

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

13
Christian Soldiers? Perfecting the Confederacy

REID MITCHELL

And standing hem this day I charge the historian of these times that he shall not W to tell to future ages that the Southern soldier was a Christian warrior, and that he was brave, he was irresistible, because his faith was in God and in the justice of his cause.

--REV. H. MELVILLE JACKSON, D.D., 1887

The Rev. H. Melville Jackson got his wish.

The figure of the Confederate soldier as Christian soldier has had a powerful hold on our imagination. It remains a crucial part of the myth of the superiority of the Confederate soldier, itself one of the most enduring components of Lost Cause mythology. While historians of the Civil War might disagree with the relationship between Confederate Christianity and Confederate irresistibility, some arguing that the impact of religion on military service has been exaggerated, the Confederate Christian soldier himself endures as an article of faith.

He endures in the popular mind. He also lurks in the historical literature. In The Life of Billy Yank, Bell Irvin Wiley, still the preeminent scholar of Civil War soldiers, contended that Confederate soldiers were more religious than Union ones. On this point, later historians seem to be content to echo Wiley. For example, Gerald F. Linderman, discussing the importance of religious faith in both armies, nonetheless describes religion as "pervasive in the Confederate armies" and "less conspicuous" in the Union. In a recent book review, Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr. accepts that "southern soldiers were generally more pious than their northern counterparts." 1

-297-

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