Monday, December 13, 2010

George C. Rable's "God's Almost Chosen Peoples"

George C. Rable holds the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama. He is author of Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics, and Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which won the Lincoln Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War, and reported the following:
From page 99:
On rare occasions, officers issued orders to curb swearing. At least twice Oliver Otis Howard who was widely known as a Christian general admonished the troops under his command. As late as March 1865 Howard still maintained that “every insult to Him [God] is a scourge to ourselves and invites disaster to our noble cause.” In one Union company the rule was that any man caught using profanity would have to read a chapter from the Bible aloud. An especially impious fellow in a short time had finished Genesis and Exodus and was well into Leviticus, perhaps not the best example of the policy’s deterrent effect. … Both Federals and Confederates told and retold stories of men who had been killed on the battlefield or even struck dead in their tents with vile blasphemies on their lips.
These passages on page 99 and especially General Howard's comment connect to the major themes of God's Almost Chosen Peoples. Popular understandings of how the Almighty shaped the destinies of individuals and nations may not have always been profound, but such beliefs were pervasive. Northerners and southerners, blacks and whites often spoke in remarkably similar ways. References to God’s will filled diaries, letters, conversations, and presumably many people’s thoughts. Powerful beliefs about divine providence, human sinfulness, and the righteous punishment for both nations and individuals deeply shaped how countless Americans interpreted the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War. Exultation followed in the wake of battlefield victories as both Federals and Confederates claimed to discern divine favor in the war's course. Defeats of course reflected divine wrath, but in either case, the great Jehovah was the god of battles. Countless Federals and Confederates would interpret the outcome of each engagement (and eventually the war itself) as a judgment of the Lord. In short, the American Civil War became for a many a "holy war."
Learn more about God's Almost Chosen Peoples at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue