Rev Dr. Robert Ryland
During my research of the Prayer Meeting Revival, I came across this letter from the pen of Reverend Dr. Robert Ryland which he wrote to his son upon his joining the Confederate army. It contains so many interesting and powerful statements that I had to share some highlights with you!
At Home, July 17, 1861
My Dear Son:
It may have seemed strange to you that a professing Christian father so freely gave you, a Christian son, to enlist in the volunteer service. My reason was that I regarded this as a purely defensive war. Not only did the Southern Confederacy propose to adjust the pending difficulties by peaceful and equitable negotiations, but Virginia used again and again the most earnest and noble efforts to prevent a resport to the sword. These overtures being proudly spurned, and our beloved South having been threatened with invasion and subjugation, it seemed to me that nothing was left us but stern resistance or abject submission to unconstitutional power.
After going on to further explain his reasons for joining the cause, he proceeds to give his son a few pointers about his life in the army. Firstly, he told him to take special care of his health. Second, that he should obey his authority promptly and unquestioningly. His next point is a beautiful illustration of the usual perception (or rather condition) of the military. He continues:
3. Try to maintain your Christian profession among your comrades. I need not caution you against strong drink as useless and hurtful, nor against profanity, so common among soldiers. Both these practices you abhor. Aim to take at once a decided stand for God. If practicable, have prayers regularly in your tent, or unite with your fellow-disciples in prayer-meetings in the camp. Should preaching be accessible, always be a hearer. Let the world know that you are a Christian. Read a chapter in the New Testament which your mother gave you, every morning and evening when you can, and engage in secret prayer to God for his Holy Spirit to guide and sustain you. I would rather hear of your death than of the shipwreck of your faith and good conscience.
What great advice! There are a lot of other great tidbits in the letter, which I might include in a future post. But from this letter you can see the wickedness that the army was known for and how adamantly this father is exhorting his son not to fall prey to its vices.
At the outset of the Civil War, a lot of mothers were very concerned about sending their innocent young sons into the army. The army was known for drunkenness, carousing, gambling and countless other vile devices and many mothers dreaded that their sons would fall prey to its temptations. However, after the Prayer Meeting Revival set in, that changed. There are many, many stories of mothers who, after praying for their boys for years and years, sent them to the army and received them back as stronger, more religious men who no longer attended worship because their family expected them to, but because they truly wanted to.
In his account of the revival, Reverend J. William Jones recounts a story of one such lad. The boy's mother was terrified that her son would go into the army an innocent boy and through its "school of vices" emerge a foul man, but the revival fires got hold of that boys heart. Here it is in Jones' own words.
"The surgeons gave us no hope, but God spared him to reach home and linger for over six months to illustrate how a Christian soldier could be patient under suffering, and how, when he came to die, a smile could reign within his heart. The camp had not proven to him a "school of vice," but on the contrary he had learned there the preciousness of his mother's Bible, and had gone with simple faith to her Savior. And as the last hour drew near he met death with calm resignation, said to the weeping loved ones who stood around: "I trust in Jesus and am not afraid to die." And left, in his triumphant deathas well as in the peaceful hours of his later life, the fullest assurance that he went to join his sainted mother -- for she had gone before, a few weeks prior to his death -- in that brighter, better home above, where "war's rude alarms" never disturb, and loved ones never part."
The great Prayer Meeting revival was not just in the north. However the Confederacy did not have the resources to employ as many chaplains and ministers as the north could. Great Christian generals like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Leonidas Polk Lee were instrumental in the great revival as well and did everything they could to promote and encourage it. In fact, Jackson even went so far as to refrain from battle on the Sabbath if at all possible so that the men could attend worship. There were several other generals that made that same commitment during the war. This revival is often referred to as being led from 'the top down' because of the influence that the officers held over the men.
According to William Jones' documentation of the Great Revival, nearly every southern brigade was affected by this movement and approximately 10% of the soldiers accepted Christ in the Army of Northern Virginia. Tracts and Bibles were not easy to come by as there was a limited supply, but the men were hungry for them! They would pass around the tattered and worn Bibles that they did have and night after night the men would gather for prayer, worship, reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of the gospel. If the opportunity presented itself, they would baptize in a nearby brook or pond, regardless of how cold the water may be.
One remarkable thing about this revival, is that it manifested changed lives. This revival was not just an emotional show inspired by hard times, but it led to real repentance and devotion. We'll take a look at some of the individual stories in the following weeks.
During this great revival, an estimated 100,000 Confederate and between 100,000-200,000 Union soldiers accepted Christ as their Savior. That turns out to be about 10% of the men involved.
Another interesting note, is that it was during this time period that churches started forming all over the south, specifically those of the Baptist denomination. This explosion of churches is what started the formation of what is known today as the Bible Belt.
Tune in next week as we take a more personal look at the Prayer Meeting Revival. Subscribe to email updates and get the posts directly to your inbox!
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Amber Schamel was born in Littleton, CO and has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and the Holy Land. She was raised in a family of 11 children, home-schooled through education and currently works with their 10 family businesses. Amber is a multi-published author and currently lives with her family outside of Colorado Springs, CO..
(c) 2013 Amber Schamel