The Old Confederate’s Story: Chapter 12 – Reconstruction of the Church

This is the twelfth chapter to Robert Carden’s story. This chapter discusses the Yankees trying to control the Church and the punishment of Reconstruction.

One of the saddest things in the reconstruction madness was that the church tried to give the sanction of religion to the effort to steal our property and disfranchise us in favor of the carpet bagger, the sca’awag and the negro. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian church had been very bitter during the war denouncing rebellion as they called it, and in advising and encouraging the government in all its measures, however cruel and oppressive. In May, 1865 the assembly met in Pittsburg, Pa. And passed a series of resolutions practically suspending all Presbyterian ministers until they had repented of the sin of rebellion, and as those in the south, almost to a man was strong supporters of the Confederacy this action declared every pulpit vacant and meant that North had the right to take over all our churches with their property. The southern ministers, in 1861 had protested against the church taking sides in the political question dividing the country, and when the assembly demanded that all ministers under its jurisdiction should support the cause of the union those in the Confederate states withdrew and organized a separate church. This action at Pittsburgh in 1865 was thus a distinct refusal to acknowledge the southern General Assembly as having any rights that the northern body was bound to respect. The first Presbyterian church of Nashville was probably the first to resist the effort of the northern church to get posession. This church had called the Rev. R. F. Bunting, the noted chaplain of the Texas Rangers to be their pastor and he had gone to Ohio to meet his family and bring them to Nashville. In the meantime the Northern Board of Home Missions appointed as minister a Mr. Brown, to come to Nashville and take charge of the First church. The elders had been notified of his appointment and were expecting him any day, but they determined that he should not take charge of the church, so they employed the Rev. J. H. McKinly, D. D. to hold the church until Dr. Bunting arrived. The church building had been used as a hospital by the Federal troops and was in no condition to have church services in. Rev. McKinley had run the church for some time when Rev. Brown and Dr. Bunting both arrived about the same time. Both were getting ready to hold services. Mr. Brown saw at once that he had run against a snag. They told him that the First Presbyterians had never given up their organization, nor forfeited their rights and claimed the right to select their own minister. The matter was argued pro and con and the church frankly told Mr. Brown that they did not want nor would they have him as their minister. After he saw that the case was hopeless he got his Irish up and spoke something like this: “Gentlemen, you seem to forget that the rebellion is crushed and that Nashville is in the hands of the union army.”

Prof. Cross, rising to his feet, drawing himself to his full stature said: “Mr. Brown, do you mean to threaten us? Is it your aim to use the military force to compel us to accept you as our minister?” Dr. Bunting preached that day. Mr. Brown appealed to Gen. Thomas who gave him to understand that he was not in it, and he went back north where he was probably liked better.

I stayed around home and kept out of sight of the Yankees that passed that way from one place to another, until a neighbor, a union man, advised me that I had better go with him to headquarters at Tullahoma, and report, which I did. This man’s name was R. E. Lasiter, and he was a great help to all of us southern people. He had great influence with the Yankee commander and saved many lives. The commander was named Milroy and another was Gen. Payne. He was a regular mean one and if some one like Lasater did not interfere they generally got shot in short order after reporting to headquarters.

The authorities had me to report down at Tullahoma once a month, which I did for several times, when they sent me down to Nashville and for several days I had to report every day. They finally got tired of that, I suppose, and they sent me to the penitentiary for safe keeping. The prisoners in the pen were of all sorts and sizes, Rebels, Yankees, citizens, negroes and what not. There was one old citizen in there, I remember, who would stand around and cuss the Yankees from morning till night. There was also a Yankee who wore a Mother Hubbard made of a barrel, with a hole in the head of it just large enough for his head to go through, and it was labeled “Thief.” He might have been the fellow who stole my mother’s pie, I don’t know. Then there was a lot of negroes with ball and chain on their legs. There was a long shed that we all would stay during the day and sleep in the building at night. We got two meals a day, one in the morning and one about 3 p.m. We would get bread and some other stuff and a lot of coffee if you had any vessel to put it in. If you did not, you got no coffee. At the afternoon meal you could get bread and beans or soup, if you had something to put them in. I had got a Yankee canteen and cut the top off, and fared very well after that.

Most everyone in the pen, I mean the war prisoners, gambled from morning till night. After remaining there two or three weeks myself and a number of others took some kind of an oath and came home. I was all right then and was not afraid to meet any Yankees that might be passing through the country. Then is when I settled down to farming.

When I was released from the pen I went up in the city to some of the bosses and showed them my papers, and told them I would like to get transportation home. The fellow asked me if I did not walk to Nashville and I told him that I walked in there with Gen. Hood. I thought that would be a point in my favor, but he told me I could walk home, which I did. I have thought ever since then he ought to have given me transportation as my feet got awfully blistered.

– Compiled by Leonard Martinez and originally from the memoirs of Robert C. Carden.

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