Friday, August 17, 2012

God, Religion and the Lost Cause

"God and General Longstreet" is the title of the First Chapter of the book God and General Longstreet by Connelly and Bellows, first published in 1982. In it they provide insight into the religious element of the "Lost Cause" myth. Through the first ten years after the Civil War, Lee was considered to have been to blame for the loss of Gettysburg and no one was saying anything negative about Longstreet. The Myth changed all that. Why?

We know that it was widely if not totally believed in the South that God was on its side. From the pulpit and newspaper Southerners were regaled with the theological certainty that their cause was righteous and God would not let it fail. Fighting on the side of the South wasn't merely a military experience; it was a Religious experience as well. "The Great Revival that swept the Confederate camps in the winter of 1863-1864," Connelly & Bellows tell us "has never been appreciated fully by observers of the southern mind. It was a massive outburst of evangelical religion. . . In army camps from Virginia to Texas, Rebel soldiers by the tens of thousands became religious converts. In Virginia, whole brigades stood barefoot in several inches of snow to hear chaplains warn that the military reverses proved that Jehovah was angry with the Confederacy. Log tabernacles were erected in the lines of General Joe Johnston's army in Georgia. Before Sherman's bluecoats advanced on Johnston in the Atlanta campaign, the religious fervor had touched even the high command of the Army of Tennessee. During the spring of 1864, Episcopal Bishop Leonidas Polk, one of the army's corps leaders, baptized almost everyone in the upper echelons, including Johnston and Generals John Bell Hood and William Hardee."

Connelly and Bellows go on at some length developing the theological evolution in the South that provided the underlying assumptions demanding that they account for their failure to win the war after being assured by their Religious and Political leaders that God was on their side.

James G. Leyburn in The Scotch Irish, A Social History, tells us that King James in the 17th century in one of his attempts to subdue the warlike Irish transported Lowland Scots to Northern Ireland. These Scots had been evangelized by the Presbyterian John Knox. This is one of the ways one can tell whether his ancestors were Scot or Irish. If they came across the Atlantic as Presbyterian, they were most likely Scot. If they came across as Catholic then they were most likely Irish, although Highland Scots (too incorrigible to be sent by James to Northern Ireland) were also Catholic.

As Leyburn tells us, the Scots in Northern Ireland became very proficient in the making of cloth and managed to outperform and undersell British clothiers. That was intolerable to the British so they created taxes to favor the British and discriminate against the Scotch-Irish. As a result huge numbers of Scotch-Irish immigrated to the "New World." The Pennsylvanians were the only group who would take them in -- as long as they took land on their western border to provide a buffer against the Indians.

The Scotch-Irish thrived on that border. Fighting the Indians was no worse than the sort of fighting they'd done back in Scotland and Ireland. Their population grew and they moved south into Virgina and the Shenandoah Valley. It wasn't until they began moving west that they encountered religious difficulties. They started out as good John Knox-Presbyterians, but Knox demanded that pastors and preachers be educated; which took a long time, too long for the anxious Scotch-Irish who were seeking land and wives in the West. There was a dearth of Presbyterian Pastors that young Scotch-Irish men and women could go to to be married.

Enter Baptists, Methods and other "Arminian" pastors who didn't need to study for years to be a pastor. All they needed was "the call" to be a pastor or evangelist. And it was no longer God who decided who was to be saved (as John Knox taught) but the individual who must choose to accept "the call" (via an evangelist) to be saved. Then, if you did your part, God would do His. If you worked and fought, ye fellow Christians, God will make you victorious.

So when it became apparent to most that the South was losing, "nurse Cumming" wrote that Confederate sins "must have been great to have deserved such punishment. "Her conviction," Connelly & Bellows tell us "was no different from that expressed by Robert E. Lee in the winter of 1863, when he could see the tide turning on the eastern front. Lee mused, 'We do not know what is best for us. I believe a kind God has ordered all things for our good.' The same theology was expressed in 1863 by an Atlanta editor who mourned that while for a time the South must endure Yankee victories, 'we still believe, nay, have an abiding faith that HE chasteneth those whom he loveth, and that in HIS own good time, HE will deliver the South from its oppressors.'

"When God did not grant the deliverance, southerners felt that they were experiencing a vast calamity. Reading through the political and patriotic rhetoric of postwar military apologies or historical justifications for secession, one views something far deeper than the literary polemics of men who were confused, angry, and frustrated by defeat. In essence, the South was spiritually unprepared for Appomattox."

Comment: I had read the account of Hood being baptized by Polk in several books but not until reading this account by Connelly and Bellows did I read that this was part of a widespread "revival." Historians, objective though they strive to be are, most of them, not equipped to deal seriously with religious matters, but by not dealing thoroughly with the situation surrounding Hood's baptism, we are left with the false implication that Hood had lost his nerve. That this was a widespread revival puts an entirely different light on the matter.

Some Southerners seemed to be thinking (even during the Reconstruction period) that if they could cleans their hearts from iniquity, then God might even yet provide them a victory. I don't recall reading that the "iniquity" they believed they were guilty of was slavery. They looked elsewhere, and where many of them looked would have been declared theological heresy by their better-education Presbyterian compatriots (or maybe not. One wonders about Dabney). It was after Lee's death in 1860 that Jubal Early, Fitzhugh Lee, Charles Marshall, Walter Taylor, Reverend John William Jones and others began seeing and describing Robert E. Lee as "the invincible military leader," acquiring in the process an enthusiastic cult of followers.

Connelly and Bellows tell us that "The Inner Lost Cause movement . . . lasted for over fifty years although the prime emotional drive was demonstrated in the two decades after Appomattox.

". . . unlike the standard Calvinist [Presbyterians were Calvinists in those days] faith, the southern version, born out of frontier individualism, made man the prime agent of his own salvation [alluded to above as "Arminianism"]. The southern concept of the Trinity was not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but God, man and Satan."

What these Southern religious folk did with Robert E. Lee would have been declared "idolatry" in sounder Christian times. Whenever I think of Dabney contributing to the exhalation of Lee I wonder what he could have been thinking -- or did the myth-makers take his honest respect for Lee & Jackson out of context?

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