The tidal wave of civil war began to rage and roar when Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, but the shelling of that federal bastion in Charleston harbor did not initiate the duel between the Blue and the Gray. Early shocks of the earthquake that caused the tidal wave were felt in 1844 when a fault opened in the Methodist Episcopal Church, causing the denomination to split down the middle. This schism filled two American statesmen with foreboding. John C. Calhoun, a southerner, listened to the sounds of Methodism being pulled apart and heard the snapping of cords binding the nation together. Daniel Webster, a northerner, told the United States Senate he had followed the debate leading to the sundering of Methodism with "great concern," because he had looked on the Methodist Episcopal Church "as one of the great props of religion and morals throughout the country." As this prop fell it cast a dark shadow over the future--the shadow of fratricidal strife.
The American Civil War did what all wars do. It caused a slackening of morals in addition to wanton destruction of property and tragic loss of life. Of the churches of United Methodism, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South lost the most. Its sons, commanded in some instances by trustees or preachers from their home churches, marched and died with the Gray. Its daughters, while watching the scorching of their beloved land and the wasting of their homes and churches, cared for the wounded. Those preachers who did not strap on the sword of bloodshed, took the sword of evangelism--209 of them were military chaplains--and conducted revivals in the camps.
The southern church's printing presses ground to a halt when Union forces occupied Nashville. Its colleges closed. Its missionaries were cut off from home support, although those in China had their drafts for funds honored by the treasurer of the northern Methodist Missionary Society. By the end of the war Methodism in the South had lost about a third of its members and 342 preachers. But perhaps the cruelest blow was dealt the southern church when the Department of War in Washington ordered Union field commanders to turn over southern Methodist places of worship in occupied territory to a northern Methodist bishop and the preachers appointed by him.
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