Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"this company is the worst Co. to swear and gamble..."

Lately, I've been slowly reading through Rable's God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War. I came across an interesting passage the other day. Rable writes on page 90: "During the first two years of the war, soldier attendance at often infrequent religious services remained shockingly low." As many of you know, I've studied two regiments in details (and read about others). The war was already over a year old when the 58th North Carolina Troops was mustered into service (July 29, 1862). They went the next year without a chaplain. In late 1862, while stationed at Cumberland Gap, William Horton (Company I) wrote to his sister that “this company is the worst Co to swear and gambel you ever seen in your life. They play Cards day and night…” Interestingly enough, their chaplain, John W. Rabey, was listed as a deserter of the 26th North Carolina Troops when he was appointed chaplain of the 58th North Carolina Troops.

In stark contrast to the 58th NCT, and to Rable's statement, is the 37th North Carolina Troops. Albert L. Stough was a Baptist minister and was appointed on November 20, 1861, the same day the regiment was organized. Stough was "zealously engaged in the cause, [and] his labors were greatly blessed." Stough reported in the Biblical Reporter in February 1862 that the "religious interest in the 37th regiment was " very strong and attentive."  Stough asked for more "religious reading matter…  " and praised the work being made to circulate "Bibles among…" the soldiers.  “ The enterprise is glorious in its orgins…" he wrote, and thought that "the interest of our country, the happiness of our families, the preservation of pure religion, requires alike our exertions in supplying the destitute with the Gospel of the Son of God."  He closed his letter with "Pray for us.  Pray for our unfortunate nation, that we may have a speedy and honorable peace."

The interest regarding religion in the 37th North Carolina Troops went unabated through much of the war, while the lack of interest maintained itself in the 58th North Carolina Troops.  This leads to a few questions that I can’t answer right now: Did this level of interest have something to do with when the regiments were formed? The 37th North Carolina was formed of men in the second wave of enlistment in late 1861, and the 58th North Carolina was largely made up of men forced to voluntarily enlist because of conscription in 1862. Did it have something to do with place? Probably not - since sixty percent of the 37th North Carolina came from the same counties as the 58th North Carolina. Did it have something to do with class? That would be hard to answer. Was the Army of Northern Virginia more religious than the Army of Tennessee?  Well, that's a good question. I look forward to working out these questions as I work on more regimental histories. 

No comments: