Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Booknotes: A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood

New Arrival:
A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War by James P. Byrd (Oxford UP, 2021).

From the description: "In his Second Inaugural Address, delivered as the nation was in the throes of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." He wasn't speaking metaphorically: the Bible was frequently wielded as a weapon in support of both North and South."

James Byrd's A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood demonstrates the influential force of the Bible on the attitudes and beliefs of the politicians, soldiers, and civilians of both sides. More: "From Massachusetts to Mississippi and beyond, the Bible was the nation's most read and respected book. It presented a drama of salvation and damnation, of providence and judgment, of sacred history and sacrifice. When Americans argued over the issues that divided them -- slavery, secession, patriotism, authority, white supremacy, and violence -- the Bible was the book they most often invoked. Soldiers fought the Civil War with Bibles in hand, and both sides called the war just and sacred. In scripture, both Union and Confederate soldiers found inspiration for dying-and for killing-on a scale never before seen in the nation's history."

Struck by the great variety of Bible verses favored by those residing within the two warring sections, religion historian Harry Stout's jacket blurb also notes that Byrd employs "an innovative and exhaustive quantitative compilation and analysis of scriptural references" (a task undoubtedly assisted by modern mass digitations of Civil War-era letters and diaries) to identify and contextualize the most telling biblical passages cited by each side's proponents.

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