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Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Church of the Confederacy

I finally knocked off a long time objective in my list of Richmond landmarks, the St. Paul's Episcopal Church. This was the spiritual home of the cream of Richmond society and the political and military heirarchy of the confederacy. It's easy to imagine the generals in their dress uniforms and the politican in their finest displaying themselves for God and country. It's kind of an awkward celebrity. It's not fashonable to take pride in the spiritual underpinnings of slavery. Today's southern churches have taken great strides to put those days behind them, but during that time many of today's denominations were established. There was no Southern Baptist church till it split with it's northern members over the issue of slavery. Churches alternately confirm or challenge the beliefs of it's members. Too much of one makes them essentially meaningless, too much of the other and you might not have a church. It would be self serving to say the church had abandoned it's mission and sold out the the fears, prejudices and economic self interests of its members. The confederacy was full of true believers. A queer split of conscience allowed them to believe they were defending their liberty to deny it to others. Not such an uncommon mental block really, then or now. The Antebellum South was a very complex society, much more diverse than commonly perceived today. It was dominated by aristocratic slave owners, but simultaneously most white Southernors did not own slaves and many did not support secession or civil war. The Confederacy had it's share or mini civil wars inside it's own borders. The behind the lines drama of the Confederacy is not commonly told. Most of my study and interest have followed the story of the Army of Northern Virginia and the titanic battles with the Army of the Potomac. It is high drama and still fascinates me. More complex and confusing are the day to day functioning of civilian life throughout the rest of the South. I've never really considered it deeply. Cold Mountain was my first real exposure to life beyond the front lines. I've since read a few other stories that dealt with how people coped with life during the war. It a much richer subject than I ever imagined. People then were at the same time much the same and wholly different than they are now. Human nature hasn't changed much, family traditions, religion and culture have much in common too, but this was a society just entering the industrial age. Communication and transportation were changing, but much of life moved no faster than a man or a horse could walk. Labor was predominantly done by man and beast, education and literacy was sporadic and isolation was very common. It's a difficult world to comprehend, still is really.

Well enough of this. I really do want to break these down into smaller bites (bytes?). I think I bit off a little too much here. Lots more where this came from. I'm surrounded by this stuff. Maybe I'll tell you about Maggie L Walker next, but not now. See ya round, enjoy the pictures.

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