The display cases, located on the fourth floor of the Southern Baptist Convention building in Nashville, Tenn., illustrate what caused the war – particularly the issue of slavery – how Baptists reacted and served as chaplains and how Baptists responded after the war.
Bill Sumners, director of the library and archives, told Baptist Press that when he began looking through collections for items pertaining to the Civil War, he found more than he anticipated.
As a starting point, Sumners wanted to reflect how the issue of slavery divided Baptists in America.
“We have one case that has some of the documents and some of the other dialogue that was going on in Baptist circles about slavery and the events that happened in the 1840s when the Southern Baptist Convention was organized,” Sumners said.
Documents, publications and other writings illustrate the divide between those who supported slavery and those who did not.
“We have records that show how in many places in the South slaves and slaveowners worshipped in the same church,” he said. “You had churches where well over half of the congregation was black and maybe only 30 percent of the congregation was white.
“So you had the slavery issue that separated Baptists, but you had Baptists in the South who worshipped in the same building – maybe not in the same pew – as their slaves,” Sumners said. “We wanted to set the stage for what was going on in Baptist life because there was some debate going on in Baptist circles about the moral rightness or wrongness of slavery.”
The 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War is shown from a Baptist perspective in a display by the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives at the Southern Baptist Convention building in Nashville, Tenn.
The next two display cases tell about what went on during the war from a Baptist perspective.
“We have a list of missionaries that the Home Mission Board appointed, and there are various chaplains who were appointed to the Confederate Army,” Sumners said, adding that Baptist statesman I.T. Tichenor was among them.
Also, many books have been written about the role of religion in the war, and some of those are on display. Sermons preached by chaplains, some handwritten and some typed, are included.
The final case in the display illustrates the effects of the war, Sumners said. Baptists and many Southerners in general struggled with questions such as, “What did we do wrong?” “Were we not faithful enough?” “Were we not good enough?” “Were we not the right kind of people?” and “How do we make sense of this devastation?” Sumners said.
Photographs of burned churches as well as examples of how Baptists wrote about the war are on display. Items belonging to J. William Jones, a chaplain in Robert E. Lee’s army and author of “Christ in the Camp: The True Story of the Great Revival During the War Between the States,” are included.
The Civil War display, which was featured on the front page of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, will remain indefinitely, Sumners said. Anyone who is interested is welcome to visit the building to see the display, he said.
Around Christmas, a group of about 20 people, “both black and white folks,” toured the SBC building and were particularly intrigued by the display, Sumners said.
“It is a topic a lot of people have family stories about or have a connection with or just enjoy the study of Civil War history,” he said.