Religion and the American Civil War

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

11
"Without Pilot or Compass"

Elite Women and Religion in the Civil War South

DREW GILPIN FAUST

One of the most notable and distinctive features of the Old South, we have long been told, was its overwhelmingly Protestant and, in particular, evangelical character. From Virginia to Texas, from soon after the Revolution to the Civil War, a shared religious orientation united the vast majority of blacks and whites, rich and poor, women and men into a single culture of belief and behavior. At a time when immigration, economic development, and expansion were introducing diversity and conflict into northern life and religion, the South clung both to traditional social forms and common religious orientation. As sectional strife and Civil War approached, the political and cultural spokesmen for the white South celebrated the region's freedom from the dangerous and divisive "isms" of feminism, atheism, and abolitionism. Its religious unity and strength, secessionists argued, would prove as important as the strongest battalions in establishing southern independence. 1

Yet neither God nor the Confederacy's bravest legions would ultimately deliver the anticipated triumph. Four years of civil war would reveal more than just the South's economic and military weakness in comparison to the more populous and industrialized North. Social conflict and emerging class divisions among whites undermined unity on both home and battlefront, while on plantations across the South slaves waged their own war against their masters and the larger system of human bondage. 2 The Civil War would demonstrate underlying fissures in the South's religious harmony and uniformity as well. The region's much vaunted evangelical unity would prove to be in part at least a rhetorical formulation--a prescription as much as a description--a generali-

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