Religion and the American Civil War

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

Introduction

The essays in this collection originated at a conference on Religion and the Civil War held at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in October 1994. The question before the participants can be simply stated: What, if anything, did religion have to do with the Civil War?

In organizing the conference, we recognized that, like the social history of the Civil War, the religious history of the war has yet to be written. To be sure, a few books treat interesting corners of the total subject (for example, studies of religious ideology by James Silver on the Confederacy and James Moorhead on the North), and excellent monographs detail religious aspects of the conflict leading up to the war, as well as religious features of the war itself (revivals in the military camps, the religion of Stonewall Jackson, the role of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, the services of chaplains). And several scholars have attempted to find the soul of Lincoln and to link it to American civil religion. Regarding the war, recent work by Drew Gilpin Faust and Eugene D. Genovese is particularly noteworthy in highlighting religious concerns of, respectively, southern women and southern slaveholders (themes that they develop further in this volume). Yet the sort of sustained, productive attention that has been paid to religion in the colonial period, the Revolutionary era, and the modern age is simply not present for the Civil War. Despite the uncontested and unrivaled centrality of the Civil War in American history, despite its importance for both the history of the South and the history of African Americans, and despite its nearly mythic place in the popular mind (as seen in the massive continuing interest in Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, as well as the huge popularity of the Ken Burns PBS series), surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the war as a religious experience and event. Historian Maris Vinovskis's prescient question--"Have social historians lost the Civil War?"--applies with equal, and perhaps more urgent, force to historians of religion.

There are, undoubtedly, many reasons for this surprising lacunae, but our concern was less with understanding the silence than breaking it. Our approach took us to many corners of the war as each contributor to this book was asked

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