“The Politics of Faith During the Civil War”. by Timothy L. Wesley. LSU Press, 2013. $45.
We are now halfway through the four-year sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.
We have not done, state-by-state, half of what we should have done by now.
Many books have appeared, the predictable ones, such as the new bloated Gettysburg tome, being of the type too many publishers and readers crave.
A major advance over the kinds of books published during the centennial in the 1960s is that many deal with long neglected aspects of the war, such as Marouf Hasian Jr.’s “In The Name Of Necessity: Military Tribunals And The Loss Of American Civil Liberties” (paper edition, 2012); “Ruined by This Miserable War: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868” (2012), edited by Carl A. Brasseaux of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; Patrick Steward and Bryan McGovern’s “The Fenians: Irish Rebellion in the North Atlantic World, 1858-1876” (2013).
Although George Rabble, T. Harry Williams’ student at LSU, gave us “God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War” (2010), there have never been enough studies of the role of religion. Timothy L Wesley agrees.
“The Politics of Faith During the Civil War” is an excellent analysis of the political motivations of religious leaders of every sect, north and south. Wesley presents new insights about the scope and perceived abuse of their power that prompted the first great effort in this country to censure or limit, sometimes with violence, freedom of religious expression.
The power of Wesley’s study would have been enhanced had he given more attention to the immediate effect of religious oratory, combined with political oratory, in antebellum and Reconstruction eras for context.
Consequences of combative abolitionist agitation and of the Fugitive Slave Act incited ferocious debate among denominations north and south. Denominations such as Baptists and Methodists broke apart before and during the war, making reconciliation more difficult, especially in the South of the Lost Cause.
During the rest of our Civil War sesquicentennial, Americans would do well to enhance their readings about battles and leaders by marching along historical roads less traveled.
David Madden is founding director of the United States Civil War Center at LSU. He has written several books and many articles on the Civil War, including the novel Sharpshooter, and The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction, forthcoming.