Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North

By Howe, Daniel Walker | The Catholic Historical Review, Autumn 2015 | Go to article overview

Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North


Howe, Daniel Walker, The Catholic Historical Review


Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North. By Steve Longenecker. (New York: Fordham University Press. 2014. Pp. xiv, 246. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-8232-5519-1.)

Steve Longenecker clearly loves the subject he writes about here, and the reader benefits accordingly. He treats the religious life of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the years immediately before, during, and after the great battle that made the small town famous. Gettysburg religious life-or rather lives, for diversity is emphasized-displayed remarkable variety, and Longenecker treats every denomination he covers with interest and respect. Each of the varieties of Gettysburg Christianity was represented by a single congregation. (There was no synagogue.) The records of these parish churches form a substantial part of the sources for this study. The author also delves into the histories of individual families and persons, enabling him to alternate between chapters describing general developments and brief divertimenti focused on particular individuals, usually obscure, often with poignant stories. He points out that Gettysburg had many immigrants and children of immigrants, so that ethnic differences often compounded religious ones.

The most conspicuous development identified by Longenecker among the mainstream evangelical Protestant churches-Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran-is their gradual religious "refinement," a response to the growing prosperity of the middle class in Victorian times. This refinement took such forms as more expensive physical plants and clerical training, pipe organs, choirs, and Sunday schools. But much of the author's interest lies in the denominations that were not exactly mainstream.

Among Gettysburg's various denominations were the Roman Catholics, most of them German by birth or ancestry. Longenecker describes them as "on the edges of the mainstream" (p. 87). He goes on to describe the distinctive qualities of Catholic religion that put them on that edge, including emphasis on sacraments, devotions, use of Latin, and especially authoritarianism rather than republicanism. He goes on to discuss antebellum anti-Catholicism and the Know-Nothing political part}', which drew support from both the major parties, Whigs and Democrats, of that era. …

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