A war which began as a fairly colorless constitutional dispute over secession was transformed by a tidal wave of “millennial nationalism” into a crusade with no off switch. If religion did not exactly drive Americans to war, then war drove Americans to religion as the justification for its lethally expensive costs.
“The war’s staggering human cost demanded a new sense of national destiny,” wrote Faust, “one designed to ensure that lives had been sacrificed for appropriately lofty ends.” A nation guided by There is not much questioning the cultural power of religion in America in the Civil War years.
They never think of God or that they have a Soul.” Or if soldiers did have thoughts about God, they were liable to be blasphemous ones.
An Ohio cavalryman, disgusted by an “old cust of a Preacher” who claimed “God has fought our battles and won victorys,” concluded that the preacher must surely have “lied like For every Northern divine claiming God’s favor for the Union, and every Southern one claiming God’s favor for the Confederacy, there were far more who could not make up their minds what to say about slavery.
Unable to discount the burden of holiness, the South was doomed to resist beyond any point of reason, until its back had been broken on the war’s wheel.* * *These descriptions of the moral intoxication into which Americans drank themselves in 1861 fit the Civil War seamlessly into a larger pattern of American war making, since Americans love to imagine that when they fight, they fight for right, rather than for treacly political advantage.
But so does everyone else, at least since the heyday of absolute monarchies.
If there is one sober lesson Americans seem to be taking out of the bathos of the Civil War sesquicentennial, it’s the folly of a nation allowing itself to be dragged into the war in the first place.
After all, from 1861 to 1865 the nation pledged itself to what amounted to a moral regime change, especially concerning race and slavery—only to realize that it had no practical plan for implementing it.
In the Union Army, religion seemed to have just as meager a grip, despite the numbers of “praying men.” “It is hard, very hard for one to retain his religious sentiments and feelings in this Soldier life,” admitted one New Jersey surgeon.
“Every thing seems to tend in a different direction.