The Great Revival During the Civil War

The book “A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed during the Late Civil War” was written by William B. Bennett in 1877, twelve years after the wars end but based on his personal observations and documented records. He noted that waiting twelve years gave time for passions to cool and prejudices to abate. As a Chaplain he had first-hand experience in the South’s army and left others to write about the Northern army. He attributes the Revival to the distribution of the Word of God and faithful preaching, but notes the South’s defensive posture and desire for self government caused a unified fervor across the spectrum of Southern society and its army from privates to Generals. There was great desire for Bibles among the troops, but shortages of testaments and Chaplains. He quotes a letter from General Jackson requesting Chaplains from all Christian Churches saying, “Denominational distinctions should be kept out of view, and not touched upon…I would like to see no question asked in the army what denomination a chaplain belongs to, but let the question be, “Does he preach the gospel?” An entire chapter is devoted to the revivals furtherance through “Colportage”, which were people who brought books, tracts and publications to the soldiers. Estimates of the Evangelical Tract Society’s operations are that fifty million pages of tracts were put into circulation. Many other tract societies also supported the soldiers with religious writing. One Colporter tells of being harassed and cursed while leaving tracts among a coarse group of gamblers and years later meeting one of the men who had been so abusive, but who now was saved and asked with tears for forgiveness while attributing his restoration to the tracts. 

The book is filled with actual stories and testimony of salvation and Christian piety in the midst of war and death, through all the campaigns of war. One brief account of the Southern mind frame, with excepts from leaders, both spiritual and political, details that slavery existed in the first century and was secondary to faith in God. Also there existed sectarianism in the North, extreme national division, and a prevailing national wickedness among the people at the start of the war. One soldier was thankful for the Colporters saying, “I would not take thousands for this tract. My parents have prayed for me, and wept over me; but it was left for this tract to bring me, a poor convicted sinner, to the feet of Jesus. Oh sir, I feel today that I am a new man, and have set out for Heaven.”

This book is not really for the causal modern day reader as it documents in great detail hundreds of death bed experiences, most with last words attributing faith for Heaven and thankfulness to Christ Jesus. Generals, Officers and soldiers give witness to the revival and change faith in Christ produces. It details the war, defeat suffered by the unwavering Southern army, death and desperation, but God’s mercy in salvation through the Gospel.

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