While God Is Marching on: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers (Modern War Studies) . University of Kansas Press, 2001.
by Steven E. Woodworth
They read the same Bible and prayed to the same God, but they faced each other in battle with rage in their hearts. The Civil War not only pitted brother against brother but also Christian against Christian, with soldiers from North and South alike devoutly believing that God was on their side.
Steven Woodworth, one of our most prominent and provocative Civil War historians, presents the first detailed study of soldiers’ religious beliefs and how they influenced the course of that tragic conflict. He shows how Christian teaching and practice shaped the worldview of soldiers on both sides: how it motivated them for the struggle, how it influenced the way they fought, and how it shaped national life after the war ended.
Through the diaries, letters, and reminiscences of common soldiers, Woodworth illuminates religious belief from the home front to the battlefield, where thoughts of death and the afterlife were always close at hand. Woodworth reveals what these men thought about God and what they believed God thought about the war.
Wrote one Unionist, “I believe our cause to be the cause of liberty and light . . . the cause of God, and holy and justifiable in His sight, and for this reason, I fear not to die in it if need be.” With a familiar echo, his Confederate counterpart declared that “our Cause is Just and God is Just and we shall finally be successful whether I live to see the time or not.”
Woodworth focuses on mainstream Protestant beliefs and practices shared by the majority of combatants in order to help us better understand soldiers’ motivations and to realize what a strong role religion played in American life throughout the conflict. In addition, he provides sharp insights into the relationship between Christianity and both the abolition movement in the North and the institution of slavery in the South.
Ultimately, Woodworth shows us how opposing armies could put their trust in the same God while engaging in four years of organized slaughter and destruction. His compelling work provides a rich new perspective on religion in American life and will forever change the way we look at the Civil War.
“It is exemplary in many ways—not least in its utterly respectful attitude toward popular religion.”–Journal of American History
“A pioneering and often insightful work on an important subject.”–Journal of Military History
“Entertaining and informative.”–Civil War Book Review
“A genuine contribution to the literature on the world of Civil War soldiers.”–James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
“Fills a longstanding gap in our understanding of the Civil War. Tough-minded exposition, veins of wit, and arresting insights make this highly accessible, dazzling work a delight and inspiration to read.”–Bertram Wyatt-Brown, author of The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War
“A sweeping study that moves to the forefront of all books treating faith among Johnny Rebs and Billy Yanks.”–James I. Robertson, Jr., author of Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend
“One of those rare works that displays impressive scholarship but grips the emotions as well.”–Marvin Olasky, editor of World Magazine
STEVEN E. WOODWORTH is associate professor of history at Texas Christian University. He is the author of Grant’s Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg, Civil War Generals in Defeat, and a two-time winner of the prestigious Fletcher Pratt Award, for his books Davis and Lee at War and Jefferson Davis and His Generals.