: Baptized in blood: the religion of the lost cause, 1865-1920 (9780820334257) : Charles Reagan Wilson : Books
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Baptized In Blood: The Religion Of The Lost Cause, 1865-1920

by Charles Reagan Wilson
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Product Details

  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publishing date: 01/10/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780820334257
  • ISBN: 0820334251


Charles Reagan Wilson documents, for the first time, that for over half a century there existed not one, but two civil religions in the United States, the second not dedicated to honoring the American nation. Extensively researched in primary sources, Baptized in Blood is a significant and well-written study of the South's civil religion, one of two public faiths in America. In his comparison, Wilson finds the Lost Cause offered defeated Southerners a sense of meaning and purpose and special identity as a precarious but distinct culture. Southerners may have abandoned their dream of a separate political nation after Appomattox, but they preserved their cultural identity by blending Christian rhetoric and symbols with the rhetoric and imagery of Confederate tradition.

"Civil religion" has been defined as the religious dimension of a people that enables them to understand a historical experience in transcendent terms. In this light, Wilson explores the role of religion in postbellum southern culture and argues that the profound dislocations of Confederate defeat caused southerners to think in religious terms about the meaning of their unique and tragic experience. The defeat in a war deemed by some as religious in nature threw into question the South's relationship to God; it was interpreted in part as a God-given trial, whereby suffering and pain would lead Southerners to greater virtue and strength and even prepare them for future crusades. From this reflection upon history emerged the civil religion of the Lost Cause. While recent work in southern religious history has focused on the Old South period, Wilson's timely study adds to our developing understanding of the South after the Civil War.

The Lost Cause movement was an organized effort to preserve the memory of the Confederacy. Historians have examined its political, literary, and social aspects, but Wilson uses the concepts of anthropology, sociology, and historiography to unveil the Lost Cause as an authentic expression of religion. The Lost Cause was celebrated and perpetuated with its own rituals, mythology, and theology; as key celebrants of the religion of the Lost Cause, Southern ministers forged it into a religious movement closely related to their own churches. In examining the role of civil religion in the cult of the military, in the New South ideology, and in the spirit of the Lost Cause colleges, as well as in other aspects, Wilson demonstrates effectively how the religion of the Lost Cause became the institutional embodiment of the South's tragic experience.

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  • An objective look at the religion of the Lost Cause...
    From Amazon

    ~Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920~ is a very candid reflection upon the religious affections of the wounded south in the aftermath of the military extirpation of the Confederate States government following the Civil War. While the North dashed southern hopes for independent nationhood, it did not dash the sense of chosenness that southerners possessed. A myth represents an understanding or interpretation of something--be it an event or cause. The status of being mythical need not mean that it is false by any means. Indeed, it may be said that there is a modicum of truth to the religion of the Lost Cause. The Southern sense of having a special place in God's providential plan may have been insular and arguably chauvinistic. Nonetheless, the Civil War and subsequent military defeat of the former Confederacy was also an occasion for religious revival. It inculcated a deep sense of humility amongst pious Christian southerners. The `Religion of the Lost Cause' at its core embodied the conceptualized Christian ideal that `when we are weak, He is strong.' It was in defeat that Christian southerners found triumphant on a transcendent plane. It is a testament to the uniqueness of Christianity that such humility can come in the face of defeat. The southerners could draw comparisons to their being vanquished by northerners just as the ancient Israelites recognized God's disciplining hand in their perils at the hands of the Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians centuries beforehand. By the late eighteenth century a southern civil religion had taken shape in the unique postbellum, post-Reconstruction social order of the New South: "The second organizational focus for the Southern civil religion was the Christian churches. The religion of the Lost Cause and the Christian denominations taught similar religious-moral values, and the Southern heroes had been directly touched by Christianity. The God invoked in the Lost Cause was distinctly biblical and transcendent. Prayers at veterans' gatherings appealed for the blessings of, in J. William Jones' words, the 'God of Israel, God of the centuries, God of our forefathers, God of Jefferson Davis and Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, God of the Southern Confederacy.'" To some northerner Christians, such words sound positively fanatical, and served as evidence of southern hubris and arrogance past off as religious piety. But to southerners, their sense of being the elect of the elect was deep rooted in their religious affections and conscious. After the war, southern heroes were as esteemed as the Knights of King Arthur's roundtable and the disciples of Jesus Christ. "To Southern ministers, Stonewall Jackson was like a stern Old Testament prophet-warrior." Jackson's death was the occasion for his martyrdom, for he faced death with a sense of solemnity and imbued with hope in the promises of God. Wilson writes, "One of the greatest religious lessons of Jackson's life was the example of his death. Wounded accidentally at the battle of Chancellorsville by one of his own soldiers, Jackson survived long enough to exhibit faith in the face of death. Robert Lewis Dabney sketched the death scene in his 1866 biography of Jackson, writing that the General possessed `perfect peace' as he approached death." His final hours were spent in the company of his chaplain, and as pain increased he petitioned his wife to console him with the singing of Christian hymns. His dying words were "Let us pass over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees." Afterwards, Jackson like other pious Confederate leaders would merit a special place in history. Ministers could appeal to these figures like Jackson and Sam Davis as moral exemplars of Christian piety. The southern character evolved slowly but steadily following the American Revolution, independence, the adoption of the 1787 Constitution, the Jeffersonian era, and onward past Andrew Jackson. "By 1830 the formerly liberal political South of Thomas Jefferson had become conservative," notes Wilson. This conservatism was felt in her deep underlying religious affections, adulation of chivalric virtue, good manners and morals. By the post-Reconstruction era, the character, political and spiritual life was indelibly shaped by the humility of Confederate defeat following its failed bid for independence. In the aftermath, a Lost Cause myth emerged with inherent religious overtones. The South and its people possessed an obvious sense of chosenness, and its religious leaders came to see Confederate military defeat as an occasion for religious piety and humility. It was in defeat, that the American South attained its triumphant exaltation ironically. In scholarly fashion, Charles Wilson Reagan thoroughly examines this Lost Cause myth, and elucidates upon how it has been appropriated, used and abused through the years. Wilson surmises, "Anthropologists, psychoanalysts, literary critics, and folklorists agree that a myth is an attempt to unify the contradictory, ambiguous experience of a people. In this view, myth is not irrational but is an attempt to impose one's will on a world that is not always logical." Certain facets of the Lost Cause Religion were definitely prone to melodrama, irrationality, and embodied the fallacy of making a devil of one's enemies. It is worthy of examining some of the Christian church's statements on the Confederate defeat. "The idea that Confederate defeat was a form of discipline from God, preparing Southerners for the future, was fundamental to the belief in ultimate vindication." A report of a Southern Presbyterian church committee held as such in 1865: "proposing that God had sent disasters to the South in order to develop, `that spirit of liberality which distinguished the primitive churches, in like poverty, and which may be the means of uniting us as one common brotherhood for any trials or triumphs He may have in reserve for us.'" That same committee later added that God's chastisement, could yield "fruits of humility, submission, love, and forbearance," which could have more lasting efficacy than any amount of money, in the [promotion] of "the interests of his kingdom among men." "Suffering was a crucial element of `the moral economy of the world,' said William Nelson Pendleton, because without it `virtue could not be what it is.'" The defeat of the South although punctuated by spiritual revival was also the occasion for loosened morals. Southern men bewildered by defeat, humility and poverty often turned to vice and sin. Wilson notes, "Prophets of the Lost Cause warned of mammonism and worldliness in the 1880s, but they went beyond this general criticism in later years, to engage in a wide-ranging discussion of the cancer spreading through the South." Rum and strong drink became the ire of Christian ministers. Southerners remonstrated that the South was being poisoned by the north, as though a conspiracy was at work, but it seems such scapegoating may have been more an excuse for moral failure than an objective reality. Wilson doesn't shy from revealing the darker side of southern culture, including its racism guised behind Christian religious piety. The advent of the Ku Klux Klan came at the behest of bewildered southerners overwhelmed by the humility of defeat. They saw the South as threatened by black immorality. The Klan considered the necessity of a moral check against black immorality by the superior antebellum social order which countenanced slavery and social stratification between blacks and whites. In their mythology, northern scalawags spurred the immorality and lawlessness of blacks as a punishment against the vanquished Southerners. This was a source of consternation to white southerners, and the vigilante-prone Klan provided an outlet for aggression. Much to the chagrin of some southerners who would just assume that the memory of the Klan be conveniently forgotten, Wilson elucidates: "The Klan, in truth, was a vital organization of the religion of the Lost Cause. The original Klan began as a social fraternity among six bored ex-Confederates, all of good family, educated and active church laymen..." The motivations leading to the rise of the Klan also culminated in the push for segregation. Ironically, blacks and whites were quite integrated and intimate under the times of slavery, but without the perceived social control of slavery, "[t]he ministers of the Lost Cause accepted segregation as a substitute for the discipline of slavery, but their vision of Southern identity did not hinge only on race... the religion of the Lost Cause taught that the two fundamentals of the Southern identity were religion and regional history." Wilson's account is fairly objective. Nevertheless, my one limited criticism is that while southerners are characteristically viewed as having a mentality that God is on our side, little mention is made of the northern religious inclinations and its nationalist ideology, which often begged similar inclination. The eccentric Unitarian New Englander Julia Ward Howe's jingostic Battle Hymn of the Republic could impugn southerners as "the grapes of wrath" to be "trampled underfoot," by the victorious Union Army. It is granted that southerners often cast their struggle in terms which exemplified pride, in which they cast themselves as possessing moral one-upmanship over their northern counterparts. (However, it wasn't sheer conceit as there was a modicum of truth to their piety surpassing that of their northern counterparts in aggregate.) For example, the Presbyterian sage Robert L. Dabney shunned the perceived materialism of the industrialized North, which stood as a fateful warning to southerners of the perils of abandoning one's spirituality. Dabney cautioned his fellow southerners that "the surest way to retrieve your prosperity will be to BECOME LIKE YOUR CONQUERORS," in embracing a gradual industrialization of the South. One Presbyterian minister Benjamin Morgan Palmer was even more skeptical, and dismissed industrialization itself as a recipe for materialism, and he presciently foretold "the impending crisis... would be follow by the swift decay of virtue..." as "[t]he spirit of materialism infused into all transactions of business and common life, is the Angel of Pestilence dropping the seeds of death from its black wing wherever it sweeps. It is subtle and dangerous spirit which is at the bottom of that fearful demoralization that has spread like leprosy over the land."

  • An Extraordinary Eye-Opener!
    From Amazon

    Wilson's Baptized in Blood is a brilliant book, one of which I was required to read for a graduate history course on religion in the American south. Although I was born and grew up in the south, I nevertheless was a foreigner there. There was much in the psychology of southerners which made no sense to me. Reading Baptized in Blood was an extraordinary eye-opener! Though I am yet and always will be a stranger in the land of my birth, through the cogent narrative Wilson provides, I understand more deeply now the mythic, psychological origins of the many peculiar and bizarre thoughts, feelings and behaviours of southerners. Southerners REALLY and TRULY BELIEVED that GOD was on their side, in the prosecution of the civil war, and have had to reconcile their defeat as best they could. The inability to let go of that loss goes far in making southerners what they are.
    Baptized in Blood is well worth the reading of anyone who seeks to understand the post-civil war period, and/or the social and political psychology of the American south.

  • Brilliant Look at Civil Religion in the South
    From Amazon

    Charles Reagan Wilson's work brilliantly describes the civil religion (as described by Geertz) of the "Lost Cause" that was pervasive in the Reconstruction and Early Modern South.

    Wilson argues that this civil religion was a combination of Christian and Confederate symbols. According to Wilson this civil religion was formed out of Confederate ministers attempts to reconcile defeat in the war with the Will of God and (as the ministers believed) Confederate righteousness.

    Significant in this study is Wilson's look at the role that White Supremacy played in this civil religion. He looks extensively at the role of racism as embodied in groups such as the KKK.

    All in all, the work is a brilliant look at ideas pervasive in the reconstruction and early modern south, ideas which have been influential in formation of the modern New South.

  • Explains the history and hypocrisy of the religious right
    From Amazon

    This book discusses the theological basis of southern slave society. Anyone who questions the religious self-righteousness of the southerners should read this book because it highlights the contradictions inherent in the hateful southern society and the teachings of Jesus Christ. I have acquired a much greater understanding of the history of the religious right, and, being a southern black trying to understand the hatred around which I live, this book enlightens my perspective.

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