Revivals occurred more or less equally in both the Union and Confederate armies,
in all theaters of the war, and throughout most of the conflict. Some historians
have suggested that they began in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and became
most noticeable beginning in the spring of 1863, though they occurred before
then, as well. In fact, revivals generally followed an army's first experience
of heavy fighting and high casualties. A Confederate chaplain was not alone in
writing that it was a well established pattern that "scores of men are converted
immediately after great battles."
In Virginia, heavy and sustained fighting on a very large scale began with the
in the spring of 1862. Several weeks later, as soon as the tempo of military
operations allowed, the stirrings of revival began in both the Union and
Confederate armies. Both chaplains and the soldiers themselves cited two reasons
for the increased religious activity. First, many of the men were thankful that
they had survived battle. "What cause for gratitude to God that I was not cut
down when my comrades fell at my side," wrote a Confederate soldier. In
addition, their proximity to death and suffering brought to mind questions of
their own mortality and afterlife. After witnessing the death of a fellow
soldier, a Pennsylvania soldier wrote, "The fact that I must die became to me
living and real."
Revivals in the armies took different forms. In 1862 a Georgia soldier serving in
Virginia wrote that although there had been none of what he called "revival
meetings"—large, enthusiastic, often highly demonstrative religious
services—nevertheless a strong religious movement was in progress, characterized
by nightly prayer meetings in many regiments and a large upsurge in Bible
reading among the troops. At other times the army revivals included more
traditional displays of heightened religious interest. During the first months
of 1864, delegates of the United States Christian Commission, an organization
established by Northern churches to minister to the spiritual and material needs
of the soldiers, set up a tent in the Vermont Brigade of the Union's Army of the Potomac. Though
the tent could hold two hundred men, it hosted overflow crowds at nightly
meetings, with many men unable to get close enough to hear the preaching.
Services lasted an hour and a half, with a short sermon followed by a lengthy
experience meeting in which many soldiers took part. Similar meetings were
taking place throughout the Army of the Potomac that winter, as well as in the
camps of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The revivals in the armies continued until combat operations made them
impractical, then they sprang up again when the campaigning stopped. The Civil
War was the occasion for a series of revivals, occurring in both armies from
1862 until 1865, interrupted by the fighting of battles. The new faith that the
soldiers found through these revivals helped to sustain them amid the carnage
and hardship of war and may have mitigated somewhat the demoralizing effects of
warfare on the men who waged it.
Linderman, Gerald F. Embattled Courage: The Experience
of Combat in the American Civil War. New York: Free Press,
McPherson, James M. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men
Fought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press,
Miller, Robert J. Both Prayed to the Same God: Religion
and Faith in the American Civil War. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman &
Woodworth, Steven E. While God Is Marching On: The
Religious World of Civil War Soldiers. Lawrence: University Press
of Kansas, 2001.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Woodworth, S. E. Religious Revivals During the Civil War. (2012, May 10). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Religious_Revivals_During_the_Civil_War.
- MLA Citation:
Woodworth, Steven E. "Religious Revivals During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities,
10 May. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 17, 2009 | Last modified: May 10, 2012
Contributed by Steven E. Woodworth
, a professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.