THE IMPACT OF

THE CIVIL WAR

Historians look for watersheds, certain events so important they set off new directions. World War I is an important twentieth century watershed. The Civil War is the most important watershed in United States history. Recent historians call that war the "Second American Revolution."

The Civil War's importance can be understood for at least five reasons. First, freedom for all men without regard to race, color, or religion provided the conflict's goals. Did Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence, "all men are created equal," really apply to all men? Second, the war decided between two disparate labor systems -- free labor as opposed to bonded labor. Third, it marked the advent of total warfare. Sherman's march to the sea illustrated that fact. Fourth, it marked the point at which sheer firepower controlled a battle's outcome. This forever changed military strategy. Fifth, it destroyed an entire southern culture.

While the Civil War preserved the Union, it did not preserve American unity. This section surveys the impact of the Civil War on the Restoration Movement.

I. The Civil War's Impact

Many restoration historians insist the movement can not blame the Civil War for its later nineteenth century discord. This is one of the most controversial topics debated amongst historians of the Restoration Movement. Leroy Garrett, for example, labelled it "social determinism." It is too simplistic to hold the war and its aftermath totally responsible, but to deny its impact is just as simplistic. North-South tensions affected the entire American social fabric before and after the war.

Tensions divided nearly all religious denominations long before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. Methodists divided first. Michigan Methodists withdrew from the national body to form the Wesleyan Methodist church in the 1840s because the mainline body refused to discipline slave owning members. Presbyterians divided into Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches over the same issue. Even the Baptists divided into Northern and Southern Baptists. Presbyterian churches reunited after the war but the Methodists and Baptists remain separated.

Most Restoration Movement historians emphasize that this movement remained united. In fact, some go so far to tell us that it was the only major religious group to do so. A recent article (1989) in One Body quotes A.T. DeGroot who said, "When war was dividing other groups, the Disciples maintained unity; . . ."

Nonetheless, the seeds of division existed in the Restoration Movement even before the war. Both positions on the slave question existed in the movement. Alexander Campbell advocated gradual emancipation and supported the aborted American Colonization Society which purchased slaves for African colonization. Strong abolitionist sentiment existed in the Northwest Territory, particularly in and around Indianapolis. The American Christian Missionary Society sent out outspoken abolitionist missionaries. Pardee Butler, an abolitionist, faced an angry mob bent on lynching in Atchison, Kansas. Instead they tarred and feathered him then set him adrift on the Missouri River.

Others tried to ameliorate the differences. Isaac Errett attempted to prevent division over slavery as early as 1856. Campbell wrote about it even earlier. In the 1845 Millennial Harbinger he wrote:

We are the only religious community in the civilized world whose principles. . . can preserve us from [division]. It may be. . . lawful and expedient to form an Abolition, or a Liberty, or a Pro-slavery party . . . But . . . Christian union and communion are not in the least to be affected by such parties, any more than by other political denominations.

To preserve the unity of spirit among Christians of the South and North is my grand object.

Even when it appeared a fight was imminent, the movement's leaders tried to keep everyone together. Alexander Campbell and others supported an anti-war party within the movement. Others donned blue or gray uniforms. Campbell's eldest son wore Confederate gray. Texas preacher, T.W. Caskey, carried a double-cylinder revolver and a Colt rifle. Barton W. Stone Jr. also fought for Dixie. In the north Disciples manned at least one whole regiment, the 42nd Ohio.

Information published in One Body shows that Churches of Christ concentrated in the south. It is no accident that southern states, voicing concern for "states' rights," reflected a Strict Constructionist constitutional view. These congregations could not remain untouched.

II. The War sowed deep roots for division

While the movement did not divide over slavery, the war and its aftermath created a climate for division.

With the exception of a few brief forays into the north, specifically the fight at Gettysburg, combat occurred south of the Mason-Dixon line. When the war dragged on in the face of almost fanatical southern tactics, the North developed a total war strategy. Northern strategists concluded the South's defeat could come only with the destruction of its economy, way of life, and manpower. In truth, the South surrendered only when reduced to shambles. War left the south's agrarian economy devastated. Union blockades and depressed cotton prices contributed to the South's defeat. The mule and the rifle allowed returning Confederate soldiers often became their sole possessions. War destroyed an already woefully inadequate industrial base and transportation system. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the South's major labor force. Once wealthy Planters and merchants found themselves reduced to poverty. Poor mountain folk found themselves even poorer. Edward Bridwell stated it well when he wrote:

Poverty and want haunted most southern homes. Families that had known to be secure and comfortable, pillar-lined homes and a staff of servants, were confronted with the struggle to survive. Lesser homes felt the bite of poverty even deeper.

The North recovered quickly. War left it almost entirely untouched. Its industrial economy churned out goods for national consumption at a rapid pace. Northern farmers, who used machinery, continued to produce huge cash crop yields. Food processors and merchants continued their trades as well.

As southern reconstruction progressed, the cities recovered faster than the rural areas. Even at that, urban prosperity lagged far behind that of the North. The poor majority resented the minority's prosperity. Those living in depressed areas could barely care for meetings or support ministers. Southern Christians could not afford travel to conventions. Organs or pianos were expensive and transportation costs raised their cost substantially. Southerners looking North heard their northern brethren built impressive, often pretentious buildings. Growing urban congregations, both North and South, built nice buildings.

The War's created horrendous casualties. One source reported:

Before Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in 1865, North and South together suffered over 600,000 casualties--more than the total loss of American life in all the other wars in the nation's history from the Revolution through the war in Southeast Asia.

The Restoration Movement was another casualty although most leaders denied it. Moses E. Lard, editor of Lard's Quarterly, boldly stated, "Not a rent in our ranks did the war produce." Lard failed to sense the impact of both the slavery controversy and the Civil War. Technically the movement did not divide probably because no national body existed to enforce compliance. I do agree with Disciple's historians, McAllister and Tucker:

Taking into account the total experience of Disciples in the Civil War, it is reasonable to conclude that they suffered an actual if not an official split.

Regardless of the complexity and ambiguity of the issue, the effect of the war on Disciples cannot be minimized. Seeds of discord, sown and cultivated, grew to full bloom with the separation of the Churches of Christ a generation later. The Civil War was nothing less than a watershed for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

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