Even before a convention of the people of North Carolina passed an ordinance of secession on the first day that it convened, May 20, 1861, preparations were being made for war. In the previous month, for example, the Governor of North Carolina had ordered the seizure of all Federal property in the state. The General Assembly, on May 2, 1861, made it illegal to administer to state officials “any oath or affirmation to support the constitution of the United States.” And on April 29, 1861, my great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Hackney, Jr., was asked to chair a meeting for the purpose of establishing a “Home Guard” for Chatham County, where he lived. His report about that and another meeting several days later was published on May 22, 1861, in the same issue of Raleigh’s State Journal newspaper that announced the passage of secession.
Hackney and three others were appointed to visit Raleigh for a conversation with the governor about this company, which was being formed by those too old for or legally excused from service in “the regular army.” Hackney was elected 3rd lieutenant of the company, and together with the others:
The company pledged themselves, by resolution, to protect the peace and security of the District, and to look to the interest of those who may volunteer in the service of their country, and especially to take care of their wives and children. . . . The company by resolutions, pledged their services, their fortunes, their honors, and their lives to protect the institutions, and the civil and religious freedom of their native land.
On the same page of the State Journal that Hackney’s report appeared, there was a summary of a report from the Southern Baptist Convention. The newspaper noted the importance of that document, which “approves of the Southern Confederacy,” as “an expression of sentiment from the largest religious denomination in the country.” It goes on to state that “[the report] will form a bright spot in their history, and be an honor to them for all generations to come.” But that was a false prophecy.
The Southern Baptist Convention had been formed in 1845 when white Baptists in the South withdrew fellowship from Baptists in the North after a slave-owner had been forbidden from becoming a missionary. 150 years later, the “messengers” of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, acknowledged that historical reality, apologized for their failure to support the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and stated that they “lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and . . . recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past.”
Similar tensions and strained relationships emerged within other traditions too.
As noted in the May 29, 1861, issue of the North Carolina Standard newspaper, the Rev. Dr. William Norwood, Rector of Christ Church (Episcopal) in Georgetown in the District of Columbia, refused to allow the prayer for “the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority” to be read in worship for his congregation. Like the rest of his colleagues, Dr. Norwood, a native North Carolinian, had received explicit instructions from his bishop to continue to use that prayer and been warned that failure to do so would be in “willful violation of his ordination vow.” Later that same year, he resigned as the Rector of Christ Church and moved to Richmond, Virginia.
Even the Moravians in North Carolina, who were collectively and culturally further removed from the centers of power than both Southern Baptists and Episcopalians, wrestled with politics and prayer. The records of the Board of Elders for the Salem Congregation (Moravian) in Salem (now Winston-Salem) include this description of a discussion on April 17, 1861, about praying for the President of the United States:
The prayer for the President and the Union in our litany was spoken of. For a considerable time it was prayed every Sunday, and its repeated omission of late has been remarked upon. The Board did not come to a determination whether or not it should be regularly used under the circumstances.
Like Salem, Bethania was another Moravian town in North Carolina. And like other ordained ministers in this Christian tradition with German roots, the pastor of the Bethania congregation kept detailed church records, including a congregational diary. The Rev. Jacob F. Siewers’ last entry in that diary for 1860 refers to a worship service on January 31 with lots of hymn singing and a simple meal together called a lovefeast. It was a custom to gather in the church on New Year’s Eve for that service in order to enter the New Year with prayer. He concludes the entry with his own prayer, which is a heartbreaking plea to God for mercy in the coming storm of 1861:
Cloudy and miserable under foot. . . . About 8 P.M. we had the lovefeast at Bethania; there were several pieces sung by the choir. In spite of the high water and miserable roads there was quite a number in attendance. . . . After 12 a prayer was offered, and the Text of New Year’s Day read. Thus closed this eventful year, with heavy clouds lowering around the destiny of our Beloved Country. May God, our God in Mercy spare us from the fearful results of Disunion and Civil War, and cement us again in peaceful Brotherhood, and Christian Bonds as a nation.
The storm of violence, of course, did eventually appear on the horizon, beginning with the first major battle of the Civil War in Virginia in July of that New Year. What it revealed, however, were not only divisions between North and South but also between the Confederate government of North Carolina and the administration of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and between North Carolinians loyal to that Confederate government in Raleigh and those who resisted it to protect their loved ones and their livelihoods. That tension between citizens left behind in their communities and the Home Guard, which supposedly existed to protect them, was very high in the “Quaker Belt” of the central piedmont, where Quakers, Moravians, and Wesleyan Methodists dominated the religious landscape, where I was raised, and where most of my ancestors lived in the Old North State.
And they lived on both sides of that divide. While my great-great-great-grandfather served as an officer in the Home Guard for Chatham County, I have other ancestors who were born to Moravian parents in Forsyth County and were drafted as enlisted soldiers in “the regular army.” But there are clues this was not their war, and their cousins would take that disaffection with rebellion to another level of resistance.