Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Churches Remember: ‘I am really glad I came’

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Civil War soldiers noted how Fredericksburg's church steeples gave it it distinctive skyline. (The Free Lance-Star)

In Sunday’s Free Lance-Star, my colleague, Mike Zitz, penned this fine story on the multifaceted “Churches Remember” program held Saturday by the historic churches of downtown Fredericksburg.

Each event in this daylong extravaganza for the Civil War sesquicentennial, planned by a particular church’s members, was different.

Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) presented “Miss Julia Remembers,” living history told through the personage of Julia Frazier, a church member who was born into bondage on a Spotsylvania County plantation in 1854.

St. George’s Episcopal Church sacrificed presenting its own past to host the day’s keynote address by Dr. George C. Rable, the nation’s leading scholar on the role of religion in the Civil War.

The Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg introduced visitors to the stories of Jane Beale, the town’s best-known Civil War diarist, and the church’s wartime minister, the Rev. Beverly Tucker Lacy–who became unofficial chaplain to Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s 2nd Corps.

And on and on, with each event a distinct joy for the audience. The combined effect was like a progressive dinner for mind and soul.

“I found it inspirational,”  Roxanne Hanson of Stafford County said of the morning’s presentation at Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site). “It was a great way to start out these programs. I am really glad I came.”

Of the whole “Churches Remember” program, National Park Service historian John Hennessy said it demonstrated the nexus between faith and freedom, showing people a bigger and different picture of the Civil War.

It is unique among all the Civil War sesquicentennial efforts being held across America this year, he said.

Religion was intertwined with all aspects of the conflict, noted  Hennessy, chief historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

“God was a secessionist in some eyes, but, of course, faith also fueled those who sought freedom,” he told the audience at St. George’s Episcopal Church.

At St. George’s, scholar George C. Rable explained how religion helped sustain and comfort both North and South in their war efforts.

Both societies held a providential world view, said Rable, author of “God’s Almost Chosen People” and the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama.

Time and again through the nation’s bloodiest war, Union and Confederate clergy, citizens and political leaders invoked the idea that “God is on our side,” he said.

But as the fighting ground on, claiming the lives of some 800,000 combatants (according to the latest scholarship), some families found it harder to believe that those deaths meshed with the godly notion that “Thy will be done,” Rable said.

President Abraham Lincoln, in his powerful and moving Second Inaugural Address in 1865, put such reckonings about the war as beyond human analysis, he said.

“The Almighty has his own purposes,” Lincoln his countrymen.

Saturday culminated with a special program, “Voices from the Storm: City of Hospitals,” at Fredericksburg Baptist Church that mixed song, drama, narration and a light show.

Two years in the making, Saturday’s  “Churches Remember” program launched what will be a 3-year-long set of events.

In 2013, “Churches Remember” will focus on Stafford  County’s wartime churches.  In 2014,  Spotsylvania County churches will relate their Civil War histories.

Saturday provided a lot of food for thought, so expect more blog posts to come.