25 January 2008

Opposing Spirits

As my interest and research in the War Between the States is primarily regarding the influence of faith and Christianity, I am now reading two books in this genre: Kent Dollar’s Soldiers of the Cross: Confederate Soldier-Christians and the Impact of War on Their Faith and John Wesley Brinsfield Jr.’s The Spirit Divided – Memoirs of Civil War Chaplains – The Confederacy.

Thus far, I am impressed by how each author is handling the subject—objectively and respectfully. So many historians, writers, and commentators today seem to be on a crusade to mock, impugn, and otherwise ridicule the faith of Americans, particularly the faith of Southern Americans. Many pooh-pooh the fact that slaveholders and those who fought for the Confederacy could, in fact—as many noted scholars have written—be “friends” to their enslaved brethren and attempt to uplift their spiritual condition despite the evils of slavery.

As Dr. Brinsfield writes in the preface of his book:

“Even as I was compiling and editing these records, new insights began to emerge. Many of the Confederate chaplains wrote that they opposed secession and submitted to it only when was inevitable. At least two of these memoirs date from 1861 to 1864, before the war ended. Moreover, some of the ministers who became chaplains were active in ministry to slaves. They spoke out both before and during the war against the neglect and abuse of those held in bondage. For example, Rev. John L. Girardeau formed a large mission church for slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, before the war; Rev. Isaac Tichenor criticized the abuses of the slave system before the Alabama Legislature in 1863, and Chaplain Charles Oliver preached to black laborers in the Army of Northern Virginia in 1864 and believed more needed to be done for them. While these efforts may appear trivial in the face of the enormity of the entire slave system, they do reflect that a social conscience was not completely lacking among the Southern chaplains.” (My emphasis)

Brinsfield experienced the same thing that I did while researching my book about Stonewall Jackson’s Christian faith and his black Sunday school. Unfortunately, a strange, vehement hatred of anything associated with the Confederacy (and even Christianity) clouds the objectivity of many modern historians. This is unfortunate as it tends to destroy their credibility when they might otherwise have something worthy to contribute to the topic.

Brinsfield concludes his preface with this paragraph:

“It has been a privilege to compile and edit these memoirs as some of the best written by eyewitnesses during or after the war. The chaplains who wrote them deserve to be remembered. They should be counted among the finest clergy America has produced, for they were not only heroes on the battlefield, but also heroes of the faith. That is why their biographies and their memoirs are included in these pages.”

Additionally, along these same lines, many secular historians and writers sneer at the concept of “heroes”—even though they often speak glowingly of some of the baser elements of modern society; revealing that they too have heroes, but not the ones that traditionalists would admire. The Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons, Lees, and Jacksons are all Eurocentric demons who oppressed the masses while any person who tends to have an anti-Western culture philosophy or position can be counted on to receive their flowery accolades.

While I am certainly no scholar, it does not take a genius to see this rather transparent attack on Western culture and, more specifically, America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. I don’t think that some of these historians realize how obvious their bias is. Christian readers will understand the spiritual implications and reasons behind this phenomenon, but it is nonetheless—at least for me—a curious thing to observe.

1 comment:

Steve Shea said...

It is great to see the stories of these chaplains getting told. My g-g-g uncle, Joseph Thomas Jarboe, was a Confederate Chaplain, so I have a direct interest in the subject. Chaplain Jarboe left his pastorate in Ohio (he was from
Kentucky) to make his way to Tennessee to join a regiment there in 1861.

He owned no slaves, but I can only imagine what he felt as he watched
the events of 1860 and early 61 unfold. Our family came to these shores aboard the Ark and Dove in 1634. These were the first settlers into Maryland. Jarboe's own line was siginificant in Maryland. During the 'Claiborne and Ingles Rebellion' in 1645-1646 against Lord Baltimore, Leonard Calvert took refuge in York, Virginia. While in York he met and enlisted several men to help him regain his power in Maryland. One of these was John Jarboe (later a Colonel and an Assemblyman) - Chaplain Jarboe's g-g-g-grandfather who likely came to Virginia some time in the early 1640s. John Jarboe immigrated to Maryland in 1646 as part of the
Maryland militia. The family went on to serve during the War for
Independence, and again in 1812 (nearly all as commissioned officers). Francis Scott Key was Jarboe's wife's cousin.

It is thoroughly lost on today's generation the depth of feeling that most Confederates had for their nation. Their families made the nation and made sacrifices we in our 'gilded age' cannot fathom. They then watched as bayonet-wielding soldiers marched into Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri and points South and shredded their Constitutional
liberties. As you point out, they may not have been for secession - who could have desired it - but were left with no desirable choice. The United States they helped form was dead either way; the Confederacy at least sought to preserve the old paths they held dear. It amazes me that literally millions are convinced that over a quarter-million Southerners out of 9,000,000 (combined black and white population) or about 3% (2.7 million from today's Southern states) died solely so that
slavery could live on.

Thanks for doing what you do. In some way it keeps a light shining on the truth. These were noble men (and women) who sacrificed far more than any of us could imagine for Constitutional rights precious few today are even aware of.