They Read the Same Bible:
Bibles from the American Civil War

Americans of the 19th century were a Bible-reading people.  As Abraham Lincoln noted, pondering the meaning of the Civil War in his Second Inaugural Address, both sides “read the same Bible.”  The Bible was accepted as the Word of God, an authority and guide for life.  As solders faced physical hardships, separation from their loved ones, the horrors of battle, and the possibility of debilitating wounds or death words from Scripture often gave them spiritual strength for the difficult times.

Soldiers of the 7th Regiment Outside Washington D.C.; all photos are from the  Library of Congress.

After Confederates took Fort Sumter, on April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to “maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union.” Among those responding to Lincoln’s call was the 7th Regiment of the New York militia. Leaving New York on April 19 for Washington, D.C., they reached Annapolis Junction, Maryland April 24-25. For the following month the regiment guarded the Capital buildings and Washington environs. At the end of May they occupied Arlington Heights, the region surrounding Robert E. Lee’s home.

 

 

Chaplain S.H. Weston. Weston preached to the House of Representatives while in Washington,
D.C. When the regiment returned to New York in June 1861, he preached on “The March of the 7th Regiment”
and the Providence of God.”

 

 


This New Testament, published by the American Bible Society, 1860, was presented to Private H. Lindeman of the 7th Regiment of the New York State Militia at  Annapolis, Maryland on April 27, 1861.

 

 

The Souldier’s Pocket Bible

The Souldier’s Pocket Bible has a fascinating history connecting the American and English Civil Wars.  Originally published in 1643 during the English Civil war, the booklet is a collection of 125 verses from the Geneva Bible translation to encourage soldiers in Oliver Cromwell’s army.  Only three original copies of this pamphlet are known.  Antiquarian George Livermore discovered one in 1854; he later reprinted it for use by soldiers in the American Civil War.

  The Christian Soldiers Penny Bible is for the most part the same as The Souldier’s Pocket Bible, though somewhat enlarged and with a different title.  in The Penny Bible, the texts are quoted from the King Jame Bible, with some slight alterations.

American Bible Society and Bible Distribution

Numerous organizations worked to provide Bibles and spiritual nourishment to the troops, North and South.  At its annual meeting, May 9, 1861, President Frelinghuysen of the American Bible Society (ABS) stated: “While there is much to alarm and afflict us in the political agitations of our country, on thing is our special comfort in the cause of the Bible Society: We are still one, bound together by the bonds of Christian kindness, animated by like hopes, earnest in like purposes and cheered by the same sympathies.”

The ABS had 16 printing presses operating in New York.  The first year of the war the society printed 370,000 more Bibles than the previous year.  During the war the ABS distributed a total of 760,773 Scriptures to the armed services and 823,566 additional Scriptures through the Christian Commission.  Some 300,000 Bibles, New Testaments, or portions were distributed throughout the South, though the wartime blockade often hindered distribution in the South.

This 1861 New Testament is the first edition printed by the American Bible Society specifically for distribution among Civil war Troops.  Knowing Soldiers would have difficulty carrying about the normal size Bible, the ABS printed user-friendly pocket size New Testaments.  During the Civil War, the ABS distributed over 1.5 million Bibles to both Union and Confederate soldiers.  This copy obviously went to a southern soldier.  A poem pasted inside the cover reads:

Farewell, dear friends and neighbors,
I bid you all adieu.
Our country is now invaded
By a vile northern foe.

My friends and neighbors gone before
Hard trials to endure.
They cry ahead for many more
Their rights to secure.

While foes invade our sunny land,
The land of the brave and the free
We’ll meet her loud demand,
Who’er those foes may be.

May the God of battles rule and reign
Throughout the Southern land,
While absent are our rights to gain,
From the oppressor’s hand.I leave my home with aching heart,
My country to defend;
With friends and parents now must part,
Where shall my troubles end?Weep not for me, my friends most dear
When I am laid away.
I trust in God we shall meet
In everlasting day.


An American Bible Society New Testament, published in 1861, was given to Pvt. William Jones of Onega County, Illinois, 31st Illinois Infantry Regiment.  Jones saw service at the Battles of Forts Henry and Donalson, the siege of Vicksburg, Kennesaw Mountain and the Battle of Atlanta.

Walter G. Jones was a private in Company C, 8th NY Cavalry.  The Testament he carried in his pocket saved him during two battles, as seen inthe photo below.  The bullet in the upper corner was shot at Cedar Creek, Virginia, October 19, 1864. The bullet in the center hit him during the battle of Appomattox, after which Lee surrendered, April 8-9, 1865.

 

The New Testament of Charles W. Sperry of Company G 122nd Illinois Infantry was published by the American Bible Society in 1858,  Cpl. Sperry served from 1862 to the end of the war, often protecting railroads in Tennessee and Alabama against the attacks of Nathan B. Forrest and Gen. John Hood.

 

This New Testament, printed in 1863 by the American Bible Society, belonged to Jesse Bakley.  Bakley was a member of Co. C, 9th New Jersey, which was the last New Jersey regiment to lave the state in 1861, but the first committed to battle.  Bakley served throughout the war.  Most of his company’s actions were in the Carolinas, but it did see action at Cold Harbor and Petersburg in Virginia.  In 1869, Bakley gave the Testament to his 10-year-old daughter Lizzie.

This New Testament, printed by the American Bible Society in 1860, is inscribed inside, “George C. Ward, June 10, 1861.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Soldier by Rev. A.A.E. Taylor was published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication in 1863.  It was “Dedicated to the Soldiers of the republic. May they all enlist in the Army of the Lord, and become good soldiers of Jesus Christ.”  After this dedication, Rev. Taylor develops the work of the solder of Jesus Christ in ten brief chapters focusing on the spiritual warfare and battle of all Christians.

 

 

 

Dr. Jesse C. Shannon received this New Testament from the New York Bible Society when he was a POW at Fort Columbus, Governor’s Island, New York.  Shannon was a 1sty Lt. in the North Carolina Defenders, having enlisted in May 1861.  He was part of the defense of Fort Hatteras, which fell to the Union forces August 29, 1861.  Shannon was among the captured officers sent to Fort Columbus.  Released in a prisoner exchange, Shannon then became Assistant Physician to the 32nd North Carolina Infantry.  As part of Lee’s Army of the Potomac. the 32nd fought at Gettysburg to Cold Harbor, was with Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley, and ended the war at Appomattox, surrendering on April 9, 1865.

 

Inside front cover of New Testament received by Lt. Shannon at Fort Columbus, when a Prisoner of war.  Shannon wrote the date of his capture when Fort Hatteras fell and was surrendered to Comd. Stingham.  Next to the U.S. flag he wrote “Tyrant’s Flag.”

 

United States Christian Commission

Membership in the YMCA shrunk as many of the young men went off to war.  Several northern YMCA’s joined together to form the United State Christian Commission, which worked among the soldiers, both north and south, especially supplying Bibles and religious material.  Abraham Lincoln encouraged the Commission in its work.  This soldier’s hymn book, published by the Boston YMCA from the press of the American Tract Society, was one such publication. Printed on the back of the title page is the encouragement:

Dear Reader – The circumstances that now surround you are different from any previous ones, and your peril is much greater, you need therefore a greater friend.  Other friends are now away: you need one always near.  Other friends are weak; you  need a strong friend.  Such a friend is Jesus.  He will never leave thee nor forsake thee.  He will support thee and bless thee in health.  He will make thy bed in sickness.  He will go with thee through the dark valley.  He will give thee a crown of eternal life.  Could you ask for more?  Then believe in Christ, and accept him, and all these things are yours.

The Chrisitian Commission distributed 1.5 million portions or complete Scriptures, one million hymnbooks, and over 39 million pages of tract.  Spiritual revivals occurred in both the Northern and Southern armies during the war.

 

 

 

Bibles for the Confederacy

Before the Civil War, all major publishing houses were in the  North.  With the tightening of the northern blockade of the South during the War, the South experienced a dearth of Bibles, even though the American Bible Society attempted to distribute Bibles to both sides in the conflict.  The Confederate Bible Society was organized in 1862: “To devise a plan for giving this Book of books to the world – let us give the New Testament at least to our soldiers – and may God speed the holy work and hasten the day when the Bible shall be the creed of every people, the text-book of every statesman, the constitution of every nation, the joy and excellency of the earth.”

 

                                   This is one of eleven known remaining copies of the New Testament issued by the Confederate Bible Society during the Civil War.

 

By 1863 there was a definite shortage of Bibles in the South.  Rev. Moses Hoge decided to try and break through the blockade, sail for England, and obtain additional Bibles for the Confederacy.  The British and Foreign Bible Society doubled the number of Bibles requested and agreed to supply 10,000 Bibles, 50,000 New Testaments, and 250,000 Psalms and Gospels.  The Scriptures were sent through several different blockade runners.  Though 3/4 of the shipments reached the Confederacy, many were also captured or sunk in the sea.  Those captured on the Minna were later sold at auction.

Leaders on Both Sides are Bible Readers

William H. Seward, former governor of New York and Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was a former Vice-President of the American Bible Society.  In 1856 he had noted the importance of the Bible in the United States: “I know not how long a republican government can flourish among a great people who have not the Bible; the experiment has never been tried; but this I do know: that the existing government of this country never could have existence but for the Bible.  And further, I do, in my conscience, believe that if at every decade of years a copy of the Bible could be found in every family on the land its republican institutions would be perpetuated.

Abraham Lincoln had grown up reading the Bible, and he continued his

Sojourner Truth and President Lincoln with the Bible given to Lincoln by a group of black pastors.

regular Bible reading in the White House, as noted by numerous visitors.  When a group of black pastors gave a Bible to the President as a gift during the War, he sent them a note of thanks and stated, “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man.  All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book.  But for this Book we could not know right from wrong.  All most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.

In 1957, an 1852 edition of The Believer’s Daily Treasure, published by the religious Tract Society, was found with the distinctive signature “A. Lincoln” in the front.  Lincoln rarely signed his books; his signature indicates he valued the book in some particular way.  The book is a collection of Scripture verses and an inspirational poem arranged for every day of the year.  The book has since been republished in facsimile with an introduction by Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg.  The reading for April 14, the date Lincoln was assassinate din 1865, was:

Confederate General Robert E. Lee regularly read his Bible and from the Episcopal Prayer Book, a practice he continued during and after the War.  He said, “I prefer the Bible to any other book.  There is enough in that to satisfy the most ardent thirst for knowledge: to open the way to true wisdom and to teach the only road to salvation and eternal happiness.  It is not above human comprehension and is sufficient to satisfy all its desires…The Bible is a book in comparison with which all others in my eyes are of minor importance, and which in all my perplexities and distresses has never failed to give me light and strength.”  After the War, when President of Washington College, Lee also served as President of the Rockbridge Bible Society.

Different Sides and Many Languages
New Testament in German printed by the ABS in 1860.

Soldiers of many different ethnic origins could be found on both sides during the Civil War.  Chaplains were diligent in furnishing Bibles in the preferred language of the soldiers where possible.  The largest immigrant group represented was the German, with over 200,000 native Germans fighting for the Union.  The American Bible Society printed Bibles for immigrants in numerous languages.  The ABS even had agents distributing Bibles to immigrants at their European ports of embarkation.

French New Testament printed by the ABS in 1863
Chaplains of the 9th Corps in Petersburg, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soldiers spent more time in camp than they did on the battlefield, and soldier’s letters are replete with references to their Bible reading during that time:

“I have read five chapters in the Testament today.”  “I have finished reading the book of John.”   “I must now read some in the Testament.” “My Testament is my only companion.”

Small travel Bible printed by the American Bible Society in 1861.

 

Printed by the American Bible Society in 1864, this Bible belonged to George Bensley, whose photo tintype is on the cover.