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Revival In the Southern Army By Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

In today’s current events, we watch the destruction and the attempts to destroy our historical past  by vandalizing historical memorials designed to teach the present generation. George Santayana who was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist made a profound statement that we ready need to hear and allow to settle in our minds – he says, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 1 Another comment follows, come from Milan Kundera, a Czech-born
French writer, who said, “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.” 2 The profundity of these statement are that important. With the activity of today’s mindless efforts to erase history, we are in danger of losing our identity. We cannot interpret history based on our present values, nor can we force our present values on the history of the past, for that is a colossal mistake. We must learn from history, both the mistakes made and the decisions made.
With that said, the four year period during Lincoln’s War is worth repeating in American History on the topic of Revival in the Confederate camps. America is no stranger to spiritual awakenings. The “First Great Awakening” took place from the early 1730's and lasted to about 1760 when God’s mercy and grace came to the Thirteen Colonies. The “Second Great Awakening” God’s mercy and grace came to the United States and lasted for about fifty years. But it was the “Third Great Awakening” which began about 1859 and prepared America for the blood bath that would come in the years of 1861-1865. This Great Awakening gave birth to the great revivals which swept the armies of the Confederacy during “Lincoln’s War.” But what is interesting is that the resources are in abundance, when researching the camp revivals in the Southern Army versus researching the camp revivals in the Northern Army. A recorded statistic is that “By January, 1865, it was estimated that 150,000 soldiers in the Southern Army had been converted during
the progress of the war. At this time it was believed that more than one third of all the soldiers, both officers and privates in the Confederate armies, were praying men.” 3 Another remarkable statistic is that, “The number of enlistments in the Confederate army, according to Woodrow Wilson, a [Virginian] Southern historian of the highest authority, was 900,000.” 4

William Wallace Bennett was the Superintendent of the Soldiers
Tract Association – also served as a Chaplain in the Confederate Army – makes sure that we understand that “The war is forced upon us. We have always desired peace. After a conflict of opinions between the North and the South, in Church and State, of more than thirty years, growing more bitter and painful daily, we withdraw from them to secure peace—they send troops to compel us into re-union! Our proposition was peaceable separation, saying, ‘We are actually divided, our nominal union is only a platform of strife.’ The answer is a call for troops to force submission to a government whose character, in the judgment of the South, has been sacrificed to sectionalism.” 5

Bennett also stated this, “There is a strongly marked difference between armies of invasion and armies of defense. The former are often mere bands of butchers following at the heels of some ambitious leader. But when men fight for country, kindred, and home, they bear a moral character that lifts them above mercenary motives.” 6

What a mighty work of God, that He would awaken the souls of men, even in the brutal war that it was. Only God can move in the hearts of sinners. Men like Generals “Joseph Eggleston Johnston, Braxton Bragg,
John Bell Hood, and William Joseph Hardee” 7 were converted to Christ during Lincoln’s War. General Bragg was baptized by Bishop Stephen Elliot of the Episcopal Church. Dr. Charles Todd Quintard, who served as a Chaplain of the First Tennessee Infantry Regiment, gives us this narrative of the other three: “On the 8th of May, 1864,
while I was in Atlanta in charge of St. Luke’s Church and in attendance upon the hospitals, the following telegram come to me from Major Henry Hampton: ‘Can’t you come tomorrow? General Hood wishes to be baptized.’ It was impossible for me to go, but it was a great pleasure for me to learn afterwards that General Polk arrived with his staff that day and that night he baptized his brother General. It was the eve of an
expected battle. It was a touching sight, we may be sure,—the one legged 
veteran, leaning upon his crutches to receive the waters of baptism and the sign of the cross. A few nights later, General Polk baptized General Johnston and Lieutenant-General Hardee, General Hood being the witness.” 8

Perhaps some definition of terms are in order at this point, such as “revival” and “great awakening.” “Revival” is when God touches a community of faith, Christ redeemed church. In the 1915 Edition of “The  International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volume 4,” 9  we are told it literally means “to live again.” Even Webster tells us that it is “to recover new life or vigor,” “to recover from a state of neglect.” 10

The term “Great Awakening” tells us that God touches His church with a wider impact on society. For example – “For some months [Jonathan] Edwards labored at Northampton without success, but in 1733 a change in the attitude and demeanor of the youth was apparent. There was a disposition to be guided by pastoral teaching and advice, and a few months later the revival commenced. 1740 is the commonly accepted date for the Great Awakening, but in reality it commenced in New England in 1734 and continued, with some intermissions to be sure, for a period of eight years.” 11

The Spiritual Condition of the Confederate Army
At the start of the war in 1861 it seemed as though the soldiers for
both sides had left their Christianity at home and gone morally amuck. From her book, “The Civil War From A Southern Standpoint,” Ann Eliza (Hill) Snider, whose husband Henry Nelson Snyder served as a a Captain in the Confederate Army, gives us this account, “In the first months of the strife the call of the war trumpet was heard above all other sounds. The young men rushed to the camps of instruction, and, freed from the restraints of home and the influence of pious relatives, thousands of them gave way to the seductive influences of sin.” 12 Mrs. Snider furthers this narrative, “Legions of devils infest a camp. Vice grows in it like plants in a hotbed, and yields abundant and bitter fruits.” 13 In Dr. J. William Jones adds to this with his account, “A soldier writes as follows: ‘I belonged to a Virginia regiment, engaged in active service in the mountains, far away from friends and home. I was surrounded by wicked and thoughtless companions, who spent their time in gaming, drinking, and frivolous conversations.’” 14 It was not a pretty picture.

William Wallace Bennett records this in his work. “A Narrative of the Great Revival,” “‘The prevalence of vice,—drunkenness and profanity in our camps—is attributable to the officers themselves. By far the larger number of the officers of our Southern army are both profane and hard drinkers, where they are not drunkards.’

Another says: ‘There is an appalling amount of drunkenness in our army. More among the officers than the men. This evil is now on the increase.’

A surgeon writing from the army says: ‘I was greatly astonished to find soldiers in Virginia whom I had known in Georgia as sober, discreet citizens—members of the different churches—some deacons, and official members—even preachers, in the daily and constant habit of drinking whiskey for their health.’

An officer who had visited many portions of the army gave it as his opinion that with the exception of the reverse at Fort Donelson, we were defeated not by the Federals but by whiskey.

A distinguished General is said to have remarked [to Chaplain Sterling M. Cherry, Thirty-Seventh Georgia Infantry] that ‘if the South is overthrown, the epitaph should be Died of Whiskey.’” 15
The Outbreak of Revival

James Hugh McNeilly served as Chaplain to the Forty Ninth
Tennessee Infantry Regiment and made this most valuable statement, “It is remarkable that in the general histories of the great war of 1861-1865 between the States, as far as I have seen, there is scarcely a reference, certainly not even a meager account, of one of the most wonderful features of the war, the great revivals of religion that prevailed in the Armies of the Confederacy, especially in 1863 and 1864. Yet these profound religious movements did more than anything else to support and encourage the devotion of our people to their cause amid sufferings and sacrifices. And the same religious spirit enabled them to bear with patience their defeat and to set themselves to rebuild from the wastes and the ruin of the War.” 16

A supernatural happening took place. Bennett recounts, “Never were these divinely appointed means more fully tested than during the late civil war; and surely never were they found more effectual in turning men ‘from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.’ In the midst of all the privations and horrors of war ‘the grace of God appeared’ unto thousands and tens of thousands in the camp and in the hospital, ‘teaching them that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, they should live soberly righteously, and godly in this present world.’ The subjects of this revival were found among all classes in the army. Generals in high command, and officers of all lower grades, as well as private soldiers, bowed before the Lord of Hosts, and with deep penitence and earnest prayer sought the pardon of sins through the atoning blood of Christ.” 17
It was in the Fall of September, 1862, when what would become known as the “Great Revival,” fell upon the Army of Northern Virginia. In fact, in his marvelous book “Christ In the Camp,” Dr. J. William Jones records for us this very important point – “But any history of that army which omits an account of the wonderful influence of religion upon it—which falls to tell how the courage, discipline and morale of the whole was influenced by the humble piety and evangelical zeal of many of its officers and men—would be incomplete and unsatisfactory.” 18

Also, Dr. Jones makes an intriguing point by he saying, “So far as I have been able to learn, the first revival of much interest which
occurred in the army at this time was in Trimble's Brigade, and especially in the Twelfth and Forty-fourth Georgia Regiments. Rev. A. M. Marshall, who had been a gallant private in the Twelfth Georgia, had been a short time before commissioned chaplain in his regiment, and, like other chaplains promoted from the ranks, proved himself as faithful in the chaplaincy as he had been as a soldier, and as he has been as a pastor since the war.

As soon as the army went into camp, near Bunker Hill, in the Lower Valley of Virginia, Mr. Marshall began a series of special services, which at once developed decided interest. He called Rev. James Nelson, of the Forty-fourth Virginia, and myself [Jones] to his aid, and was especially fortunate in having Dr. Joseph C. Stiles, who was then preaching in Lawton's Georgia Brigade, to preach for him once every day. Large crowds attended the meetings, numbers presented themselves for prayer, there were a number of professions of conversion, and the work had developed into a revival of increasing power, when it was interrupted by the active campaign which culminated in the great victory of First Fredericksburg.” 19

It does need to be mentioned that there were four areas that evolved during Lincoln’s War in the Southern Army. And really these areas are identified as ministries and were used in a mighty way by God. The first ministry was the Confederate Chaplain and easily this individual made the largest contribution to the meticulous record keeping of names and places and events during the “Great Revival.” These records often reflected an intimate personal touch detailing camp meetings along with accounts of spiritual decision made by Confederate troopers. After the war many of these men wrote memoirs, reminisces and autobiographies about their experiences during the war.

But it was the duties of the chaplain that gives us the best picture of their contribution to the Confederate Army. This contribution can be liken to that of two book ends, from one end, the teaching of Bible classes to the caring for a dead body. From serving as a courier to the duties of  a postal clerk, carpenter, nurse, gunrunner and a soldier. These men also represented their prospective Religious Denominations like: Southern Baptist Thomas Henderson Pritchard of Gordon’s Corps in the Army of Northern
Virginia; Episcopal James Battle Avirett of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry; Methodist Enoch Mather Marvin who served in the Arkansas and Texas Divisions, Army of the Trans-Mississippi and; Presbyterian Lachlan Cumming Vass of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia Infantry Regiment.

The second ministry was that of the Colporteur, who distributed
religious literature: Bibles, Hymnals, Tracts and Prayer Books. The third ministry was the Missionary who was a church pastor under the direction of their denomination ministered to the soldiers as a chaplain. The fourth ministry was the Evangelist who also was under the control of their church denomination preaching in the nearest Confederate Army Camps. But all in all, “An estimated six hundred Southern pastors served as Army chaplains during the war.” 20 These chaplains were commissioned under the command of the Confederacy. Also, it has been estimated that there were 1,000 to 1,300 men who served as chaplains in the Southern Army. 

The attempt has been made to show that these activities of ministries were all put in place, based on and only on the providence of God. Point is – it was God who brought this “Great Revival” to the Southern Army. It was not, in no way, man made. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can regenerate and change the soul of a man. That is what took place in the middle of this brutal war that Lincoln brought on. I find this quote as profound, “To look back upon the progress of the divine kingdom upon earth is to review revival periods which have come like refreshing showers upon dry and thirsty ground, making the desert to blossom as the rose, and bringing new eras of spiritual life and activity just when the Church had fallen under the influence of the apathy of the times.” 21

The man who wrote this was Edward McKendree Bounds, who served in the Confederate Army as a Chaplain in the Third Missouri Infantry Regiment. He was captured and released twice and for most of his life, before and after the war, he pastored and ministered as a Methodist preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church South. He was an attorney and a prolific writer of twelve books, on the topic of prayer.

I direct us to the conclusion on this matter of “Revival.” Revival is the result of prayer, seeking God’s grace and mercy. Yes, prayer was the cause for this “Great Revival” in the Southern Army. In fact, E. M. Bounds makes this theological point, “We can never expect to grow in the likeness of our Lord unless we follow His example and give more time to communion with the Father. A
revival of real praying would produce a spiritual revolution.” 22 Charles Haddon Spurgeon furthers this point by saying, “Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God.” 23 In God’s Word, Lamentations 3:41 reminds us, “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” 24
Let that seer in our minds: prayer precedes revival and; prayer comes before spiritual revival or spiritual awakening. “Dr. J. William Jones, in ‘Christ in the Camp,’ mentioned that ‘in riding along the trenches by sundown, one sees almost every one hundred yards a company of worshipers met either to hear a sermon or to engage in a prayer meeting.’ At times the soldiers built stands and seats, and even erected log churches. No church bell called them to service, but only a bugle call or the singing of some familiar hymn. The numerous baptisms and conversions indicated strong religious feeling. The high and the low were effected. Lee, Jackson, and
other generals were known to have strong religious convictions. [Arthur Lyon] Fremantle stated that he witnessed the baptism of General Bragg at the field quarters of General Polk. The religious wave was also felt by Jefferson Davis, who was baptized and confirmed at Richmond during the spring of 1863. In the war society of the South religion played a leading role.” 25

Indeed, it was a movement of mercy and grace by Almighty God. It was not a philosophical movement nor was it was a feel good movement. And above all it was not in any way a man-made movement. It was a God changed people movement in Jesus Christ.

Lasting Effects of the Great Revival

We need to be reminded that “...revival was not confined to the soldier in camp. In the towns in Virginia where military hospitals were located there were gracious displays of the power of God in the salvation of souls. The convalescent soldiers flocked to the churches and crowded the altars as humble penitents.” 26

Sterling McAlister Cherry who served as Chaplain in the Thirty Seventh Georgia Infantry stated, “I have preached several times during the month at the Methodist church in Dalton. The revival there is increasing in interest all the while. In two weeks a large number have professed faith, and 53 have joined the Church.—The Baptist and Presbyterian churches are densely crowded every night, and both report excellent meetings with many awakenings and conversions.” 27 Now remember earlier, it was Chaplain Cherry who stated who described the Southern Army as drunk and profane and “that ‘if the South is overthrown, the epitaph should be Died of Whiskey.” It was God who changed hearts and souls of men, all based on His mercy and grace.

William Wallace Bennett tells us that, “Quotations could be made 
from the reports, resolutions and other actions of the Southern Presbyterian General Assembly, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the Southern Baptist Convention and other church organizations, furnishing the strongest testimony for the genuineness, extent and permanence of this army work. But after all, the best evidence of the genuineness of the revival is to be found in the after lives of professed Christians, and of the young converts, which testimony is not lacking in the career of the Confederate soldier during and since the war.” 28

At the conclusion of his book Dr. Bennett states us, “In all the churches of the South there are earnest, devout and active Christians, who date their spiritual birth from some revival in Virginia, in the West, or in the far South. And before them vividly rises the rude camp church, the gathering throngs from the various commands, the hearty singing, the simple and earnest prayers, the tender appeals of the loved chaplain, urging all who stand on the perilous edge of battle to fly for refuge to the Friend of sinners, the responsive approach to the place of prayer, the sobs, the groans, the tears of men who could look steadily into the cannon's mouth, the bright faces, the shouts and hand-shaking, and embraces of new-born souls—these are the bright spots to which memory returns and delights to dwell upon in that dark period that drenched the land in blood and put a load of grief upon every household.” 29

Bennett also says, “The Army Revival gave to the South multitudes of faithful men, and they are now in all the Churches the living proofs of its genuineness and power.” 30

One more thing before I close, “Why should we even look at or study the topic of revival?” Again this term literally means, “to live again.” When the study of revival takes place we learn that the one and true living God, sovereignly and powerfully breaks into human history, with the good news of His salvation. And it is there that we begin to see God’s people coming under deep conviction of sin and the turning away from their sin, in genuine repentance. In Biblical repentance it always involves a recovery of biblical truth,
especially the truth about how sinners are reconciled made right to a Holy God. Also, it involves a recovery of the centrality and the authority of God’s Word over all of life. The renewed sense of God’s presence, His  power, His holiness and His truth is then spilled out of the church and into the world, resulting in many genuine conversions to Christ.

After Dr. John William Jones delivered an address – General Lee “approached the minister and said with great warmth: ‘I wish, sir, to thank you for your address. It was just what we needed. Our great want is a revival, which shall bring these young men to Christ.’” 31 And that my friends is what is so needed in American today.

End Notes

1   George Santayana, The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress, Volume 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), 284.

2   Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, Remembering Cuba: Legacy of a Diaspora (University of Texas Press, 2001), 20.

3   Frank Grenville Beardsley, A History of American Revivals (New York: American Tract Society, 1912), 249.

4   Oren F. Morton, A History of Pendleton County, West Virginia (Franklin, W. V., 1910), 484.

5   William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies During the Late Civil War (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger,1877), 88.

6   William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies During the Late Civil War (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger,1877), 17.

7   Henry Thompson Malone, The Episcopal Church In Georgia 1733-1957 (Atlanta: The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Atlanta, 1960), 104.

8   Arthur Howard Noll, Doctor Quintard, Chaplain C.S.A. and Second Bishop of Tennessee; Being His Story of the War (1861-1865) (The University Press of Sewanee Tennessee, 1905), 96.

9   James Orr, The  International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (NAARAH-SOCHO), Volume 4 (Chicago: The Howard Severance Company, 1915), 2587.

10   Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), 702.

11   Frank Grenville Beardsley, A History of American Revivals (New York: American Tract Society, 1904), 25.

12   Ann E. Snyder, The Civil War From A Southern Standpoint (Nashville: House of the M. E. Church, South, 1890), 272.

13   Ann E. Snyder, The Civil War From A Southern Standpoint (Nashville: House of the M. E. Church, South, 1890), 273.

14   J. William Jones, Christ In the Camp or, Religion In Lee's Army (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1887), 40.

15   William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies During the Late Civil War (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger,1877), 36.

16   S. A. Cunningham, Confederate Veterans, Volume 21 (Nashville, 1913), 230.

17   William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies During the Late Civil War (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger,1877), 18.

18   J. William Jones, Christ In the Camp or, Religion In Lee's Army (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1887), 5-6.

19   J. William Jones, Christ In the Camp or, Religion In Lee's Army (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1887), 283.

20   Beth Barton Schweiger, The Gospel Working Up: Progress and the Pulpit in Nineteenth-Century Virginia (Oxford University Press, 2000), 97.

21   E. M. Bounds, Purpose In Prayer (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1920), 145.

22   E. M. Bounds, Purpose In Prayer (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1920), 93.

23   C. H. Spurgeon, Morning By Morning or Daily Readings For the Family or the Closet (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1866), 285.

24   English Standard Version Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 1488.

25   S. A. Cunningham, Confederate Veteran, Volume 30, No. 1 (Nashville, 1922), 181.

26   Ann E. Snyder, The Civil War: From A Southern Standpoint (Nashville: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South, 1890), 281.

27   J. William Jones, Christ In the Camp or, Religion In Lee's Army (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1887), 582.

28   Clement Anselm Evans, Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History, Volume 12 (Atlanta: Confederate Publishing Company, 1899), 165.

29   William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies During the Late Civil War (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1877), 427.

30   William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies During the Late Civil War (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1877), 402-403.

31    John Esten Cooke, A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1883), 493.


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