A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War

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When Abraham Lincoln expressed gratitude for the northern churches in the spring of 1864, it had nothing to do with his appreciation of doctrine, liturgy, or Christian fellowship. Collectively, the churches earned the president's admiration with rabid patriotism and support for the war. Ministers publicly proclaimed the righteousness of the Union, condemned slavery, and asserted that God favored the federal army. Yet all of this would have amounted to nothing more than empty bravado without the support of the men and women sitting in the pews. This outstanding book examines the Civil War from the perspective of the northern laity, those religious civilians whose personal faith influenced their views on politics and slavery, helped them cope with physical separation and death engendered by the war, and ultimately enabled them to discern the hand of God in the struggle to preserve the national Union.

From Lincoln's election to his assassination, the book weaves together political, military, social, and intellectual history into a religious narrative of the Civil War on the northern home front. Packed with compelling human interest stories, this account draws on letters, diaries, newspapers and church records along with published sources to conclusively demonstrate that many devout civilians regarded the Civil War as a contest imbued with religious meaning. In the process of giving their loyal support to the government as individual citizens, religious Northerners politicized the church as a collective institution and used it to uphold the Union so the purified nation could promote Christianity around the world. Christian patriotism helped win the war, but the politicization of religion did not lead to the redemption of the state.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An extremely well researched and forcefully written study of a badly neglected subject. Sean Scott provides readers with much fresh information on the Union home front while offering an often searing critique of northern civil religion. An important contribution to both Civil War and American religious history."-George C. Rable, University of Alabama

"This fine book shows that northern civilians thoroughly merged religious and political energies before and during the Civil War. The author draws on a wide range of relevant sources (private writings, newspapers, publications from clerics, church and denominational records, and the collected works of Abraham Lincoln) to make his case...The result is a significant advance in our understanding that the Civil War (as Chicago editor Joseph Medill put it) was experienced by many Americans as 'a religious contest . . . a war for Christian civilization, for God's pure truth and man's universal brotherhood, against ignorance, depravity, and slavery allied.' The author's clean prose and fresh perspective should appeal to general readers as well as scholars." -Mark Noll, Notre Dame University

"In this seminal work Sean Scott makes a signal contribution to the rapidly developing literature on religion and the Civil War by giving an almost daily narrative of churched northerners grappling with what they must do to mobilize support for the war effort, effect emancipation, and create a new kind of community through common sacrifice but also through the purging of those who sinned against God and his chosen instrument-the Union. By looking at the northern home front, Scott enters a much understudied terrain and reorients understanding of religion's central place in American culture, politics, and interest. He shows, in a word, that God counted above the Mason-Dixon Line. Students of American religion, the war, and more will find his book instructive." -Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's University

"Deeply researched and written with subtlety and skill...."—Edward J. Blum, Christian Century

"...a valuable contribution to our understanding of the northern home front."American Historical Review

"A model of [an] important break-through in historiography."—Church History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195395990
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/3/2010
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sean A. Scott is assistant editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. "If God Saves Not Our Country It Must Be Lost"
Providence, Secession, and the Outbreak of War
Chapter 2. "Until the Great Sin . . . Has Been Removed"
God's Chastening, the Sacred Union, and Emancipation
Chapter 3. "Try to Live the Life of a Christian"
The Personal Faith of Women on the Home Front
Chapter 4. "Christian Patriotism" in Flush
Political Preaching, Antiwar Dissent, and Summer Thanksgiving
Chapter 5. "Exhorting You to Be Faithful to God and to Men"
Fatherly Counsel and the Path to Christian Manhood
Chapter 6. "Discord Sown among Brethren"
Church Division and Bible Appropriation
Chapter 7. "Earth Has No Sorrow That Heaven Cannot Cure"
Civilian Perspectives on Death and Eternity
Chapter 8. "God Be Thanked the Nation and Humanity Were Saved"
Retribution against Traitors, the Reelection of Lincoln, and the Termination of War
Chapter 9. "How Mysterious Are the Ways of Providence"
Civilian Attitudes toward the Assassination of Lincoln

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