Christianity and the Civil War: From the Editor — What PBS Didn’t Tell You

MORE THAN 12,000,000 Americans watched each episode of PBS’s acclaimed series on the Civil War. Filmmaker Ken Burns created a visual feast with gripping illustrations, stirring music and sound effects, and marvelous commentary by historian Shelby Foote and others. The Civil War series quickly achieved the highest rating of any limited-episode series PBS had ever shown.

As great as that series was, however, it often overlooked one of the most significant aspects of the war. Religion.

Massive revivals broke out among Civil War soldiers, leading to hundreds of thousands of conversions. In many units, chapels were packed night after night.

Before the war, the religiously motivated abolitionists had made slavery a national issue that wouldn’t go away.

Three of the country’s largest denominations—the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists—all split over slavery or related issues. Great southern Senator John C. Calhoun knew that these denominations “formed a strong cord to hold the whole Union together.” When they split, he accurately prophesied that “nothing will be left to hold the States together except force.”

And how had the nation’s 3–4,000,000 slaves endured their years of bondage? Largely through their widely held Christian beliefs.

But PBS, though occasionally touching on something religious, didn’t tell us all this. Its expert researchers somehow chose to overlook the important role of religion in the war. It’s like overlooking an elephant in your living room.

Not that many other sources will correct the omission. Writes historian Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr.: “The single aspect of the war that the [National] Park Service has failed to highlight . . . is the impact of religion on the soldiers. Orientation films and shows at visitor centers never note how important religion was . . . Civil War soldiers gathered in great numbers around campfires to participate in revivals, not just to see minstrel shows.”

Christianity during the Civil War—it’s a fascinating story. We hope this issue of Christian History helps to keep it from being forgotten.

People often ask me, “I love the historical photographs and illustrations in Christian History. How do you find them?”

The answer is a person, Mary Ann Jeffreys. Months before we publish an issue, Mary Ann uncovers scores of photographs and paintings. She helps select the fifty or sixty that earn the right to be seen by our readers.

Then Mary Ann goes to work again, contacting the museum, archive, or photo collection that holds each image. Will they grant permission for us to use it? Can they supply a suitable photograph or transparency? Many images turn up in Paris or Munich. With the help of FAX and translators, Mary Ann tries to bring them home. All fifty must arrive before our issue ships to the printer.

It’s not a task for the timid. But Mary Ann is used to challenges. A missionary to Indonesia for fourteen years, she is a wife and mother of two. In her spare time, she has written and compiled a book: The Frugal Foto Finder’s Sourcebook, a guide for those who, like her, search for reasonably priced pictures of religious or historical topics.

I could say more about Mary Ann, but I’ll let you flip through the issue. Her work speaks for itself. CH

By Kevin A. Miller

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #33 in 1992]

Next articles

Lincoln’s Life — And Key Religious Statements

A Lincoln chronology.

Mark A. Noll

Headed for Heaven or Hell?

How would Lincoln answer? His political opponent, a famous frontier preacher, wanted to know.

the Editors

Christianity and the Civil War: A Gallery of Firebrands and Visionaries

Leading people in religion and politics during the Civil War era.

Mark Galli

Christianity and the Civil War: A Gallery of Other Key Figures

Some people of influence during the Civil War.

the Editors
Show more

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