New Themes in the "Old Time" Religion of the Civil War Era
For most of the twentieth century, scholarly works on religion during the Civil War Era were dwarfed in number by studies of religion's place in Colonial America and the American Revolution. Occasional works appeared about religious aspects of the Civil War. In The Almost Chosen People (1959), William Wolf dealt with the unconventional religion of Abraham Lincoln and in American Apocalypse (1978) James Moorhead assessed how mainstream Christians in the North leaned upon millennialism and morality in justifying the war. Slightly more common were studies of religion in the Old South, in the reform impulse in the North before the war, and in the formation of the "Lost Cause" afterward. In Broken Churches, Broken Nation (1985), C. C. Goens chronicled how slavery and sectionalism splintered America's leading Protestant denominations in the 1830s and 1840s. John R. McKivigan's War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865 (1984) highlighted the disruptiveness of the slavery question within America's Protestant churches, examining the polarizing impact that abolitionists had within their respective faith traditions. Charles Reagan Wilson's Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause (1980) described how postwar clergymen mixed Christianity with white supremacy and Confederate memory in the creation of a new theology of Confederate righteousness. All of these efforts contributed to understanding the prominence of religion during the Civil War Era. But the studies had not yet achieved the critical mass to constitute anything like a scholarly canon.
The historiographical dearth of attention to the subject remained evident to the organizers of the Louisville, Kentucky, symposium in 1994 which resulted in the publication of Religion and the American Civil War. The organizers asserted, "Despite the uncontested and unrivaled centrality of the Civil War in American history, despite its importance for both the history of the South and the history of African Americans, and despite its nearly mythic place in the popular mind … surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the war as a religious experience and event." The historians who assembled at that conference—among them Drew Gilpin Faust, George Frederickson, Eugene Genovese, and Mark Noll—issued a scholarly call to arms to begin the process of restoring faith to understanding the men and women who lived and died during the Civil War Era. Since then, their call has been answered.
In the subsequent decades, the number of scholarly collections and monographs on religion in the Civil War era has grown, reaffirming that faith permeated every aspect of life during the 1850s and 1860s. In assessing the role that faith played in the partisan discord of the 1850s for example, a number of historians have forged a political history of religion during the age. Others have of late commenced an intellectual and cultural history of belief during the period. Lastly, in their efforts to document the place of religion in the lives of individual men and women from all walks of life, on both the battlefield and home front, scholars recently have constructed an impressive social history of religion during the Civil War Era.
The new academic interest in religion during the Civil War Era began with investigations of clashes between believers over the issue of slavery and what those conflicts wrought for the secular nation. Most notably, historians have paid close attention to the ways in which national churches and denominations contributed to the political rupture of the country. Along with Goens's Broken Churches, Broken Nation, Richard Carwardine's Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (1993) helped establish interest in this vein. Carwardine documented how evangelicals shaped the political culture of the day by fomenting adversarial politics in pursuit of their religiously determined agenda, ultimately contributing to the demise of the party system in the mid-1850s. In Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (1997), Mitchell Snay examined the divisive impulses of religion in the Old South, where it fostered southerners' sense of sectional distinctiveness and allowed them to cast sectional politics in moral terms. The historians in Religion and the Antebellum Debate Over Slavery (1998), edited by McKivigan, further contributed to the understanding of religion's role in the disintegration of the political nation during the Civil War era by looking at the interconnectedness of slavery, sectionalism, and denominational schisms from a variety of geographical and denominational perspectives. More recently, John Patrick Daly's When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Cause of the Civil War (2002) continued the investigation into how faith and national politics shaped each other. Daly assessed evangelical Southerners' application of scripture in their claims that slavery and the southern society it underpinned offered the nation its best hope of fulfilling God's vision for America.
Along with this political history of religion, scholars have begun to craft an intellectual and cultural history of religion during the Civil War era. Mark Noll's The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (2006) commenced the historiographical study of Christian intellectual life of this period by unraveling the scriptural foundations and theological complexities of Christian America's relationship with slavery and race. Noll introduced a comparative analysis by considering what European intellectuals and church leaders thought of American Christianity's problems and promises. Harry S. Stout added Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War (2007), in which he assessed the Civil War in the context of "just war" theory. In Righteous Armies, Holy Cause (2002), Terrie Aamodt concentrated on the influence of postmillennial thought on the coming of the war. Postmillennialists believed that Christ would return to Earth after Christians had perfected society and enjoyed a thousand years of peace. Aamodt pointed to postmillennial thinking as a driving force behind the northern antislavery movement, convincing northerners that a war to defeat the forces of evil (slavery) was not only inevitable, but also desirable.
More recently, the essays in Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era (2013), edited by Ben Wright and Zachary Dresser suggest that Christian eschatology profoundly influenced how Americans engaged their world in the Civil War era. The essays in Apocalypse and the Millennium were wide-ranging, from the prophecy of a purifying civil war and southern independence in Edmund Ruffin's popular antebellum novel to the influence of the Biblical concept of Jubilee, the sacred time of celebration and freedom, on African Americans' expectations of emancipation. In their collective breadth, the essays show how the providential and apocalyptic thought that pervaded American life in this period stoked anticipation of revolutionary change and shaped how people navigated the tremendous upheaval of the period.
Finally, in important cultural histories of Civil War era America's relationship with death and dying, scholars such as Drew Gilpin Faust (This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, 2008) and Mark A. Schantz (Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America's Culture of Death, 2008) showed how religious faith framed Americans' reaction to the death and destruction of the Civil War and how that death and destruction modified forms of religious expression. Faust suggested that the scale of casualties soon led to an epistolary convention in soldiers' letters to the homefront to recast their colleague's deaths, as good, heroic, and, above all, pious. Schantz held that antebellum attitudes toward death facilitated the war's carnage. Literary tropes and cultural practices valorizing death as the heroic realization of Heaven in the afterlife left Americans resigned to death's inevitability and enamored by its romantic symbolism. Faust, conversely, believed the war inaugurated a new culture of death, a necessary reaction to the realities of the war and a fundamental transformation in how America deals with loss. Both accounts gave testament to the ways religious thought and spiritual were so indispensible in helping Americans make sense of the war's staggering violence.
In recent decades, no subcategory has thrived more robustly than the social history of religion. Gardiner Shattuck's A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies (1987) examined the spiritual differences between Yankee and Rebel soldiers that influenced the war. Most importantly, Rebel soldiers came from a religious background that emphasized individuality and the separation of religion and civic life, while Yankee troops entered the war convinced that church and state could work together to redeem both humanity and the state. The revivalism that flourished during the war served the Federal effort by reminding soldiers that their military service would bring about a complete and righteous victory. Southern soldiers felt no such conviction, and instead looked to religion for individual solace, confidence of salvation, and the reassurance that their defeat was virtuous and their sufferings cleansing.
Shattuck helped start a line of inquiry into the religious beliefs and practices of soldiers that has been taken up over the years in such offerings as Steven Woodworth's While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers (2003). Unlike Shattuck's work, Woodworth's study was predicated upon the religious similarities of northern and southern soldiers, and made much of the tendency of men in both armies to conflate patriotism and salvation. In Soldiers of the Cross: Confederate Soldier-Christians and the Impact of War on their Faith (2005), Kent Dollar traced the religious trajectory of nine Confederate soldiers, supporting Shattuck's claim that while religion did not fuel the South's war effort as it did in the North, it nevertheless heartened Southerners in defeat. David Rolfs, in No Peace for the Wicked: Northern Protestant Soldiers and the American Civil War (2009), offered a comparable examination of Federal troops, documenting the many ways in which northern soldiers reconciled their participation in the Civil War with their Christian beliefs by imagining the Union as a holy entity.
Although no study of the devoutness of black soldiers have yet appeared, a number of recent works on African American troops have been sensitive to religion in the lives of their subjects. Keith Wilson in Campfires of Freedom: The Camp Life of Black Soldiers During the Civil War (2002), highlighted the cultural give-and-take of camp life in steeling the military performance of black soldiers. No collective experience informed the service of African American soldiers more than did their religion, as evidenced by the tendency of black troops to utilize sacred hymns and spirituals as marching tunes.
Along with studies of the religious life of soldiers in the ranks, numerous works have featured military chaplains and civilian evangelicals who attended to the religious requirements of the troops. Although each study is unique, they have in common their portrayal of the hardships and challenges faced by dedicated religious captains to meet the spiritual needs of men faced death and destruction. Warren Bruce Armstrong examined Union chaplains in detail in 1998's For Courageous Fighting and Confident Dying: Union Chaplains in the Civil War, while John Wesley Brinsfield does as much for their Confederate counterparts with The Spirit Divided: Memoirs of Civil War Chaplains: The Confederacy (2005; Brinsfield and Benedict Maryniak followed that effort with a similar treatment of Union chaplains two years later). Rebel and Yankee chaplains of every ilk---black and white, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant---share the pages of Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains (2003), edited by William C. Davis, et al. Albert Isaac Slomovitz's The Fighting Rabbis: Jewish Military Chaplains and American History (1998) includes a fascinating chapter on the role of Jewish chaplains during the Civil War. The best consideration of black chaplains during the war remains Edwin Redkey's "Black Chaplains in the Union Army" (1987), which appeared in Civil War History more than twenty-five years ago. A major work on African American chaplains remains overdue.
In other ways however, scholars have been wide-ranging in their treatments of African American religion during the Civil War Era. Historians have examined faith in the lives of free and enslaved African Americans before the war and in the emergence of an activist and nationalist strain of black Christianity afterward. David F. Swift's Black Prophets of Justice: Activist Clergy Before the Civil War (1989), for instance, showed the collective, prophetic nature of African American religion that fueled black ministers' commitment to prewar African American elevation. Daniel Fountain's Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870 (2010) and Reginald F. Hildebrand's superb The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation (1995) considered religion in African American life during the Civil War Era. Fountain's provocative study maintained that most enslaved African Americans did not embrace Christianity until the post-emancipation era, while Hildebrand chronicled the postwar enlargement of a religious tradition (African Methodist Episcopalism) that thrived in large part because it seemed to fulfill prewar African American religion's most essential prophesies of salvation. These and other works remind that a particular kind of Christianity taught African Americans to anticipate and prepare for the shared redemption of their people, although some perhaps embraced Christianity later than others. Granted, more must be done on African American military chaplains and soldiers and black religious leaders on the home front, but the offerings of David Swift, Reginald Hildebrand, and others nevertheless comprise a rich and growing literature on black religion during the Civil War Era.
Particularly characteristic of recent scholarship on religion in the Civil War era is its eclecticism, especially as they feature religious denominations. James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt's Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War (2007), Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn's Jews and The Civil War: A Reader (2010), and Bruce T. Gourley's Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War (2011) are a few of the many valuable works authored of late that explore the Civil War experiences of distinct (and often comparatively smaller) faith communities. But while many groups of believers have found their way into the literature on religion during the Civil War era, such cannot be said of women. Occasionally taken up as secondary considerations in works like Drew Gilpin Faust's Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the Civil War (1996), the subject of female piety during the war has yet to be addressed in a dedicated monograph. The best studies of women and religion during the Civil War Era remain Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's "Days of Judgment, Days of Wrath: The Civil War and the Religious Imagination of Women Writers," and Drew Faust's "Without Pilot or Compass: Elite Women and Religion in the Civil War South," both of which appeared in Religion and the American Civil War in 1998.
If incomplete, the comparative heterogeneity of recent works on religion in the Civil War era is nonetheless heartening. Part and parcel of this pluralism in the literature is a newfound attention to the home front. Recognizing that the Civil War involved broad societies and not just armies, historians have turned their gaze to the civilian ministers and congregants who themselves looked to the heavens for divine guidance and understanding during its darkest days. The importance of religion on the home front is a major theme of George C. Rable's God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (2010). Even more representative of this trend are two more recent offerings. Sean A. Scott's A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War (2011) privileged the "average" northern believer at every turn, be they laypeople or clergy, while Timothy Wesley's The Politics of Faith During the Civil War (2013) investigated the home front debate over political preachers and the related issues of wartime religious liberty, minister loyalty and disloyalty, and African American clerical activism. The shared supposition of these and other recent works on religion on the home front is simply the primacy of faith in the lives of Americans of the day, be they preacher or pauper, man or woman, northerner or southerner, and black or white.
Over the last two-plus decades and thanks to the collective attention and impressive labors of a growing number of historians, the void of scholarship on religion during the Civil War era has been substantially filled. Religion now plays a significant role in how we historicize the American Civil War. Importantly, the historiography of religion that has emerged, characterized by particular sensitivities to the political, intellectual and cultural, and social importance of religion during the age, reminds us that faith must not be studied as a peripheral force, especially when contemplating mid-nineteenth century Americans. For the largest part of Americans of the period, religion must be assessed as a vital agent—and for many, the central agent—of individual causation and action, the force that most determined how individual Americans perceived and participated in the Civil War.
 William J. Wolf, The Almost Chosen People: A Study of the Religion of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Doubleday, 1959; James H. Moorhead. American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860-1869. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978; C.C. Goen. Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Civil War. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1985; John R. McKivigan. The War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865. New York: Cornell University Press, 1984; Charles Reagan Wilson. Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1980.
 Randall M. Miller, et al., Eds. Religion and the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998; 3.
 Richard Carwardine, Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1993; Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1997; John R. McKivigan, Religion and the Antebellum Debate Over Slavery. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1998. See also McKivigan's War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984; John Patrick Daly, When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Cause of the Civil War. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002. By including theological, theoretical, and philosophical viewpoints and concerns, Daly's When Slavery Was Called Freedom is in ways an effective intellectual history as well.
 Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2006. Noll, Phillip Shaw Paludan, and Eugene Genovese each considered pre-Civil War and wartime biblical interpretations and other theological disputes of the period in earlier works, but such considerations were part of much more broadly conceived books and isolated chapters. See for instance Mark A. Noll, "The Bible and Slavery," in Religion and the American Civil War; 43-73; Phillip Shaw Paludan, "Religion and the American Civil War," in Religion and the American Civil War; 21-40; and Eugene D. Genovese, "Religion in the Collapse of the American Union, " in Religion and the American Civil War, 74-88; Harry S. Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War. New York: Penguin, 2007; Terrie Dopp Aamodt, Righteous Armies, Holy Cause: Apocalyptic Imagery and the Civil War. Macon, GA.: Mercer University Press, 2002.
 Ben Wright and Zachary W. Dresser, Eds., Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2013; Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008; Mark A. Schantz, Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America's Culture of Death. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.
 Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr. A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1988.
 Steven E. Woodworth, While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2003; Kent T. Dollar, Soldiers of the Cross: Confederate Soldier-Christians and the Impact of War on their Faith. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005; David Rolfs, No Peace for the Wicked: Northern Protestant Soldiers and the American Civil War. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2009;
 Keith P. Wilson, Campfires of Freedom: The Camp Life of Black Soldiers During the Civil War. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000.
 Warren Bruce Armstrong, For Courageous Fighting and Confident Dying: Union Chaplains in the Civil War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998; John Wesley Brinsfield, Ed. The Spirit Divided: Memoirs of Civil War Chaplains: The Confederacy. Macon, GA: Mercer University, 2005: Benedict R. Maryniak and John Wesley Brinsfield, Eds. The Spirit Divided: Memoirs of Civil War Chaplains: The Union. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2007; John W. Brinsfield, William C. Davis, Benedict Maryniak, James I. Robertson, Jr., Eds. Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003; Albert Isaac Slomovitz, The Fighting Rabbis: Jewish Military Chaplains and American History. New York: NYU Press, 1998; Edwin S. Redkey, "Black Chaplains in the Union Army." Civil War History, Vol. 33, No. 4 (December 1987), 321-350.
 David F. Swift, Black Prophets of Justice: Activist Clergy Before the Civil War. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1989; Daniel Fountain, Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2010; Reginald F. Hildebrand, The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.
 James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt, Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007; Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn, Eds., Jews and the Civil War: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2010; Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2011; Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2004; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, "Days of Judgment, Days of Wrath: The Civil War and the Religious Imagination of Women Writers." Religion and the American Civil War, 229-249; Drew Gilpin Faust, "Without Pilot or Compass: Elite Women and Religion in the Civil War South." Religion and the American Civil War, 250-260.
 George C. Rable, God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2010; Sean A. Scott, A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War. New York: Oxford Uiveristy Press, 2011; Timothy L. Wesley, The Politics of Faith During the Civil War. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2013.