Did Your Civil War Ancestor Turn to His Faith for Comfort?

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Richmond, Va. St. John's Church. (Library of Congress photo)

Richmond, Va., St. John’s Church. (Library of Congress photo)

The Union grip on Petersburg in early 1865 had made the men of the Army of Northern Virginia near captives behind their defenses. They were often exposed to the elements in severe weather. They did not have enough to eat. And death daily stalked them.

Brothers John and William Poore and their comrades might have found some comfort in the nightly prayer meetings that had been a feature of army life since the war began. As weary and hungry as they were, soldiers sought refuge in their faith at these meetings.

This aspect of the lives of soldiers, in both gray and blue, is too often overlooked by historians. Faith is important for understanding how John, William and the other men bore up under such privations and for understanding the actions they took after the war.

For hundreds of other brave men, faith offered little help to ease the gnawing ache in their bellies. So they deserted.

Lieutenant Colonel James Henderson Duncan, who commanded William’s 16th Mississippi Regiment, reported to his superiors that hunger drove most of the men who deserted. He explained that “unless something is done soon to remove this evil, which of all others weighs most heavily on the minds of the troops, I fear that the number of desertions will be greatly increased . . . .”

Events proved Duncan correct. Soldiers deserted individually and in groups by the thousands. The Confederacy had few if any new recruits to replace them. This meant that when Union Gen. U.S. Grant began the expected offensive in the spring, John, William and their remaining comrades would be greatly outnumbered.

Do you have evidence that your Civil War ancestor turned to his faith for comfort in the trials he faced? How did the war affect his faith both during the war and afterward?

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