Civil War
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Time Period
1861  - 1865
Description
The primary cause of the Civil War revolved around the expansion of slavery into the new territories of the United States. Moral opposition to slavery grew in the North, but Southerners depended on slave labor for its economy. Abolitionist preachers failed to convince southern clergyman of the evils of slavery, and schisms occurred among the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists.

Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 escalated southern fears over national abolition. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union and ten other states followed, forming the Confederate States of America.

The war began on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter in South Carolina and ended on April 9, 1865 in Virginia, when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Some 620,000 soldiers and at least 50,000 civilians died in the war. Later that year, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery.
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Narrative
The primary cause of the Civil War revolved around the expansion of slavery into the new territories of the United States. Moral opposition to slavery grew in the North, but Southerners depended on slave labor for its economy. Abolitionist preachers failed to convince southern clergyman of the evils of slavery, and schisms occurred among the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists.

Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 escalated southern fears over national abolition. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union and ten other states followed, forming the Confederate States of America.

The war began on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina and ended on April 9, 1865, in Virginia, when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Some 620,000 soldiers and at least 50,000 civilians died in the war. Later that year, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery.

Religion, Slavery and the Civil War

Slavery was a contentious issue during both the Colonial Period (1607-1763) and Founding Period (1783-1791). The earliest abolitionists in the United States were Quakers, who held the first anti-slavery demonstrations in Germantown Philadelphia in 1688 and banning slavery among Philadelphia members in the 1750s. Evangelical Christians experienced a shift in attitudes toward slavery during the First and Second Great Awakenings (1730s-1770s; 1790s-1840s), as thousands of Americans underwent religious conversion experiences. However, some prominent revivalists (e.g., George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards) remained in support of slavery.

Abolitionism continued into the 19th century as southern slavery persisted. Debates raged in the 1830s-1840s, as Philadelphia pastor and abolitionist Albert Barnes failed to change the minds of southern clergymen, who continued to publish Christian apologetics for slavery.

Meanwhile, issues of slavery led to schisms among the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians. First, the Methodists experienced tensions in 1844 after Georgia Bishop James O. Andrew refused to release slaves he acquired through marriage. Northern abolitionists were outraged and southern Christians defended slavery on a biblical basis. In 1844, the General Conference held a debate over the issue and decided to divide the denomination into northern and southern churches. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, officially formed on May 1, 1845.

The Baptists soon followed suit, as the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) formed on May 8, 1845, due to a debate regarding whether slaveholders could be missionaries.

Finally, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) formed as a result of southern Presbyterians withdrawing from the main national body of Presbyterianism during the Civil War. After Confederates fired on Fort Sumter (April 12-14, 1861), the General Assembly of the northern Presbyterian Church met in Philadelphia and declared its loyalty to the United States, made possible because most of the southern delegates were not present. The decision was a "slap in the face" to southern presbyteries, who seceded from the main national body and formed the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States (later named the Presbyterian Church in the United States) in December 1861.

During the Civil War, religious congregations continued to reflect the political tensions of the time, particularly among contested areas of the Upper Confederacy and Border Union. Some church buildings in these areas were shared by both northern and southern factions of the same religious group, including Methodists and Presbyterians. This led to conflicts, including a case in Missouri where the American flag from a northern Methodist service was ripped down and trampled on by a southern Methodist. In other contested areas, like Virginia and northern Kentucky, ministers were arrested and some faced deadly violence for what they said or did in opposition to the sentiments of their locality. When California Presbyterian minister William Scott failed to express overt support for the Union, angry crowds shouted "hang him" and "down with the traitor." He resigned not long after and fled to England.

Even after the Civil War ended in 1865, tensions in religious communities remained, and reconciliation was a slow process for Protestant denominations that split over slavery-related issues. For the Methodists, the northern and southern factions of the Methodist Episcopal Church finally reunited in 1939, 94 years after their initial schism. It would take more than a century (1983) for the Presbyterians to reunite into a single religious denomination. The Southern Baptist Convention never sought to reunite with northern factions of Baptists and is now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
Biographies
Ireland, John
Dabney, Robert Lewis
Movements
Abolitionism
Photographs

Attack of the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg- Painting by Don Troiani; Courtesy of the National Guard (CC BY 2.0)

The Battle of Shiloh- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-04037

Encounter between the Monitor and the Merrimac- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-04044

The Battle of Antietam- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01841

The Surrender of General Lee- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-02394
Book/Journal Source(s)
Wesley, L. Timothy, 2013. The Politics of Faith During the Civil War. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.
Web Source(s)
https://www.nps.gov/gett/learn/historyculture/civil-war-timeline.htm
National Park Service, "Civil War Timeline."
http://www.nps.gov/apco/the-surrender.htm
National Park Service, "The Surrender Meeting between Lee and Grant"
Web Page Contributor
Sandi Dolbee
Affliated with: Former Religion and Ethics Editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune
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