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The Great Civil War Revival: God at Work in Unlikely Places

Many returning soldiers went on to lead churches and influence their communities. Summers observes, “For while the Civil War was a great harvest of death and destruction, it also brought a harvest of souls to the church. Many of the men who survived the war continued to lead churches and revivals themselves after the guns were finally silenced.”[45] The concept of acceptance of God’s will in temporal defeat arose in the Confederate revival also. Shattuck observes, “Religion in the South made its most useful contribution to Southern culture only after the war ended, when it emerged as a convincing symbol of the value of spiritual victory in the midst of earthly defeat.”[46] The Church in America emerged as a transformative agent in both the North and the South, and later missionary movements might trace their origin to the personal piety of the soldier as he returned home to transform his community. The ecumenical and egalitarian nature of the revival led to a national sense of faith and social justice that influenced America profoundly over the next century.



God works in the horror of human destruction to accomplish purposes that go past immediate understanding. America in the 1860s failed to deal with underlying inequality and exploitation of an entire racial class. Polarized and dichotomist views of history or of current social conflicts rarely reveal the actual sin underlying the issue. The Civil War in a way functioned as a national release of guilt for both northerners and southerners, and God’s concern for the individual soldier points to His ultimate plan. The revivals of 1861-1865 formed a unique move of God that influenced America in many ways. God works in the horror and pain of human society within a fallen world in the darkest of times, and the Civil War revival points to hope for a move of God today when Christian leadership seems hopelessly compromised and politics seem likewise hopelessly polarized. Therefore, let us pray with hopeful expectation that a move of God arises without the painful loss of war.





[1] Mark A Noll, “The Bible and Slavery,” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford, 1998), 46-47.

[2] Ibid., 44.

[3] George M. Frederickson, “The Coming of the Lord: The Northern Protestant Clergy and the Civil War Crisis,” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford, 1998), 119.

[4] Gardiner H. Shattuck, A Shield and a Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987), 2.

[5] Ibid., 4.

[6] Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson, “Introduction,” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford, 1998), 7.

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Category: Church History, Winter 2017

About the Author: F. Wesley Shortridge, D.Min. (Evangel University, 2016), M.A. (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, 2010), B.A. (Central Bible College, 2009), is the founding pastor of Liberty Community Church in Bealeton, Virginia. Facebook LinkedIn

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