The Great Revival in the Southern Armies by W. W. Bennett

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Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Greetings Everyone!

I just recently finished reading a book titled The Great Revival in the Southern Armies, written by W. W. Bennett. Bennett was a chaplain in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, and published this book in 1876. Essentially, the book is an account of the growth of the Christian faith in the Confederate Armies throughout the entire war.

Now, please bear in mind that since this book is written from the perspective of a Confederate chaplain, it generally holds the Southern cause in a positive light while showing disapproval of the Union's actions. Be that as it may, Bennett does not at all attempt to skew the numbers with regards to conversions in the Southern Army, nor does he assert that the Union Army was without Christians.

Furthermore, there are moments in the book where Bennett describes some of the military victories and defeats that the South faced, as well as the physical deprivations of the Southern Army. He also spends a decent amount of time discussing the last days of General Jackson, as he feels that Jackson is one of the most well-known Christians in the Army.

So even though Bennett briefly touches upon issues such as the Southern cause, slavery, and battles, most of the time he talks about the spread of Christianity within the army, and the struggles of the various churches to provide enough Bibles and chaplains to the troops. He also describes many individual examples of conversion, most of which took place on the death beds of various soldiers and officers. In all honesty, many of these stories brought tears to my eyes, and I was greatly moved by these accounts of conversion.

I would like to go ahead and provide a few excerpts from the book that I found to be rather interesting or moving:

"In General Lee's army there was a captain who made a profession of religion. As soon as he found peace, he called his company together and told them that they had always followed where he had led them, and that he wished to know whether they were willing to follow him to the feet of Jesus and walk with him in the paths of righteousness. All, without a single exception, manifested a desire to follow the example of their leader."

Bennett gives an account of Col. D. H. Hill's leadership in the faith:

"[Colonel Hill] has cut off all spirits of every kind, and not a drop is to be had in camp; he is down on profanity; told us last night that he knew many regarded swearing as a sort of necessity attaching to a soldier; that it gave emphasis and eclat to the speech, but he said no greater mistake could be made; that, for his part, he would be afraid to trust to the courage of the man who had to bolster it up with whiskey and profanity. The God-fearing, moral soldier was the man to depend on. He spoke of Washington, Cromwell, and others of like caste."

Here is an account of a man on his death bed:

"Another, far from home, seemed near the grave. The tears flowed from his languid eyes when I asked him about his spiritual condition, and with trembling lips he replied, 'No hope.' He gazed at me wistfully, as I pointed him to the 'Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.'"

Here Bennett recounts how another fellow chaplain described General Jackson:

"You are aware that [General Jackson] is a man of God. On that memorable Thursday, in the hottest of the fight, he was seen by his men to fall upon his knees and there remain for several moments, with his right hand raised to heaven in the most earnest supplication. He is almost idolized by his men."

Bennett makes an interesting observation regarding the war in general:

"But the great anomaly of our war was, that while religion may have languished at home, in the armies it flamed out with a power and brilliancy unheard of before in the annals of civil strife and bloodshed."

Here Bennett quotes a proclamation by President Jefferson Davis:

"Again do I call upon the people of the Confederacy - a people who believe that the Lord reigneth, and that his overruling Providence ordereth all things - to unite in prayer and humble submission under his chastening hand, and to beseech his favor on our suffering country."

Lastly, Bennett describes the results of the revival in the Confederate armies:

"Up to January, 1865, it was estimated that nearly one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers had been converted during the progress of the war, and it was believed that fully one-third of all soldiers in the field were praying men and members of some branch of the Christian Church."

In the end, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning about the spread of the gospel within an army at war. This book is also of great benefit for those who are simply interested in the American Civil War, and how the people and soldiers of the Confederacy responded to the destruction of their land and ultimately the defeat of their cause.

On a side note, as an officer in the Air Force I can attest to the fact that many fellow officers and enlisted think that profanity and drinking (as well as other things) are 'cool' or 'necessary' for soldiers. I myself ask God for opportunities to witness to my fellow airmen, but it saddens me to think that the type of Christian leadership that existed in the Southern armies would be very much frowned upon in the military today. That is, an officer in today's military must be more careful about 'influencing' his subordinates one way or the other. Ordering one's subordinates to honor the sabbath, cease drinking/gambling, and cease profanity is not so easy today as it might have been during the time of the American Civil War. Secularism has certainly taken hold in the military as far as I can tell, and it greatly saddens me.

Anyways, I would rate this book 5 out of 5 for both its historical and spiritual value. I have no doubt that any Christian who reads this book will be greatly moved by it, and so that is why I would strongly recommend it (even for those who are not at all interested in American history).
 

DeniseM

Puritan Board Freshman
I read this book a few years ago, and really enjoyed it also. Have you read Christ in the Camp I have it sitting on a shelf, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. My husband and I found both books being sold by some reinactors at the Civil Wars Days of an old Colonial style village.
 

Rufus

Puritan Board Junior
It happened to an extent in the armies of both sides, by the end of the war both sides were equally convinced God was on their side. I understand that many will point out the Unitarianism of the Northeast, however the Midwest was Trinitarian. And I happen to have southern sympathies.
 

Zach

Puritan Board Junior
It happened to an extent in the armies of both sides, by the end of the war both sides were equally convinced God was on their side. I understand that many will point out the Unitarianism of the Northeast, however the Midwest was Trinitarian. And I happen to have southern sympathies.

There was also a high Catholic presence in the Union Army because of the large number of Irish immigrants. There is actually a monument to a Priest at Gettysburg near the Angle. I believe he was a Priest with the famous "Irish Brigade" but I don't remember off the top of my head. I worked at Gettysburg NMP this summer and I think the Park library had a copy of this book. I might look into it if I end up going back next summer.

Denise, does Christ in the Camp deal with both Union and Confederate armies? I will admit to having Unionist sympathies and would be more interested in reading about faith on both sides than just the Rebels.
 

Unoriginalname

Puritan Board Junior
I just finished God's Almost Chosen Peoples which is a religious survey of both the North and the South. It is rather disturbing how much Christianity was wrapped in the American (and Confederate) Flag during that era. The author pointed out how the way you looked at the overall piety of the armies seemed to be colored by your presumptions about whose was the righteous cause. I really liked it.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
When you read the letters of the era, you get a sense of a profound faith that colored all areas of life. The "Bible Belt" likely comes out of this time followed by another 75 years of deprivation by the average (read non-slave owning, non-rich) southerners. To give you a reference point: the northern Presbyterian church abandoned sound doctrine much more quickly than the southern, though I'd readily agree that a sense of sentiment likely kept the southern church together well after portions of the denomination showed decay.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Eric:

George Rable's God's Almost Chosen Peoples is a superb book. I reviewed it last year in the Mid-America Journal of Theology. Sorry, we only have up through 2009 online. It's the best book of its kind: completely even-handed, written by a distinguished historian from the South who has won both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln prizes.

Zach, you would very much appreciate this book. I highly recommend it.

Peace,
Alan
 

DeniseM

Puritan Board Freshman
Denise, does Christ in the Camp deal with both Union and Confederate armies? I will admit to having Unionist sympathies and would be more interested in reading about faith on both sides than just the Rebels.
I believe Christ in the Camp also deals with the Confederate army primarily. I haven't read it yet though, just heard good things about it.
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks everyone for your responses! I myself was hoping to read Christ in the Camp as soon as possible. I also will gladly take the advice of Professor Strange and others by getting hold of God's Almost Chosen Peoples.

In all honesty I have not read very much regarding any revival in the Union Armies. I don't doubt that this took place, but I would probably make the case (just from general reading of history) that the revival was more profound and widespread in the Confederate Armies. The reason I say that is very simple. Generally (and this is a general statement), people tend to turn to God under great times of stress, duress, trial, and defeat. We see this very often in the case of Israel, where they would experience defeat and oppression, cry out to God, and be delivered (this happened more often during the time of judges). I am not saying that victorious armies don't see revival, but it just seems more likely that an army fighting for its survival, starving, outnumbered, and losing ground every day, is an army that is more likely going to cry out to God for deliverance.

Although I am sympathetic to the Southern cause, I am very much interested in the role and importance of faith as viewed by both the North and the South.
 

Zach

Puritan Board Junior
Eric:

George Rable's God's Almost Chosen Peoples is a superb book. I reviewed it last year in the Mid-America Journal of Theology. Sorry, we only have up through 2009 online. It's the best book of its kind: completely even-handed, written by a distinguished historian from the South who has won both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln prizes.

Zach, you would very much appreciate this book. I highly recommend it.

Peace,
Alan

Thanks for sharing, Eric, and thanks for the recommendation, Dr. Strange. I assume you are unable to post your review because it was published in the Journal? I will definitely try to get my hands on a copy of the book.
 

Unoriginalname

Puritan Board Junior
Eric:

George Rable's God's Almost Chosen Peoples is a superb book. I reviewed it last year in the Mid-America Journal of Theology. Sorry, we only have up through 2009 online. It's the best book of its kind: completely even-handed, written by a distinguished historian from the South who has won both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln prizes.

Zach, you would very much appreciate this book. I highly recommend it.

Peace,
Alan
I actually bought the book because you spoke highly of it on another thread.
 
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