Author: Charles F. Irons

an associate professor of history at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina. He is the author of The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia (2008)

Religion during the Civil War

As many as two-thirds of all Virginians attended a Protestant church before the American Civil War (1861–1865). These men and women witnessed intense conflict within their congregations and denominational councils before, during, and after the war. All Virginia churchgoers saw their congregations torn asunder at least once during the sectional conflict, whether in the process of dividing from Northern churches before the war, when they sent their sons to fight, or upon the secession of black members from biracial communities. On a more ideological level, even many Virginians who were not connected with a particular church interpreted the Civil War in religious terms. All Virginians who faced death in the field or on forced labor projects—or who experienced the deaths of loved ones—wondered why God permitted such extraordinary suffering. In addition, white Virginians found Union victory a disturbing challenge to their belief that God had favored both slavery and the Confederacy. Black Virginians, on the other hand, found Union victory a resounding affirmation that God had heard their prayers.


E. G. Corprew (ca. 1830–1881)

E. G. Corprew was an African American pastor who, during the American Civil War (1861–1865), lobbied for emancipation in Virginia. He was a missionary for the American Baptist Home Mission Society and may also have served in the 1st United States Colored Cavalry, although the historical evidence is ambiguous. Following the war, Corprew became pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, and moderated the Colored Shiloh Baptist Association, the state’s largest and most important black Baptist association.


Colored Shiloh Baptist Association

The Colored Shiloh Baptist Association was a union of individual black congregations in central Virginia formed on August 11, 1865, just after the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865). A similar association had been formed in Norfolk the year before, but the Richmond-based Colored Shiloh Baptist Association was soon larger and more influential, with both groups helping to provide blacks the opportunity to worship on their own terms.