Saturday, April 13, 2019

Just Finished Reading - God's Almost Chosen Peoples

While both sides called upon the Almighty to assist the successful pursuit of waging war for their respective causes, it could not be so. Only one could ultimately be victor. In God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War by George C. Rable, we learn how Union and Confederate citizens, soldiers, slaves, refugees, politicians, and ministers drew on their faith to help make sense of our nation's great tragedy.

With a thought provoking prologue, 20 instructive chapters, and an engaging epilogue, all covering 400 page of text, Rable has produced the most comprehensive historical account to present of religion's role in the Civil War.

Of course, many of the chapters that I found most interesting were those that dealt with the soldiers and their chaplains. "Fighting for God and Country," "Temptations of the Camp," "The Shepherds and Their Sheep," "Christian Soldiers," "The God of Battles, "Carnage," among others tells the thoughts and emotions of men in the field and also of their loved ones back home, who pled for God's protection of their loved ones in the army.

Starting his coverage in the years just before the conflict, ranging through those four difficult years, and going just beyond its close, Rable includes the major denominations of the period: Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Episcopalians, but he also makes sure that non-protestant religious groups such as Mormons, Catholics, and Jews also receive coverage. This work utilizes many popular, and thus published, sermons by some of the top ministers of the day, but the author's research goes much deeper to uncover many unpublished primary sources from everyday people to show the central part that religion played in mid-19th century American's lives.

Common themes of that period's citizens' and soldiers' concerns are those of the role of Providence in time of war, how sin determined reversals in fortune, and how the Almighty would ultimately judge who would win and who would lose. Some Northerners felt certain that the Confederacy would be judged harshly for its attempt to perpetuate the institution of slavery, while many Southerners believed that the Union would ultimately be held accountable for waging what they viewed as an unjust war on civilians and their physical and human property.

Extremely well written, thoroughly researched, and interpreted in an a engaging manner, God's Almost Chosen Peoples will remain the go-to source for understanding religion's role in the Civil War for many years to come. I highly recommend it.

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