Church life in Civil War

  • Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011 12:01 a.m., Updated: Friday, March 23, 2012 6:59 p.m.
The Circular Congregational Church (left) was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1861, during the Civil War years. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, seen in the distance, was spared.

The National Park Service has invited 24 local churches and synagogues to share their wartime history at a Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration 1-5 p.m. April 10 in Liberty Square.

The gathering of congregations is part of a nine-day series of presentations focused on civilians' lives beyond the battlefield.

"There is always a lot of focus on soldiers, leaders and military strategies," said Michael Allen, community partnership specialist for the National Park Service. "But churches can help us tell another story -- of all the people who sought relief, prayed and buried loved ones."

During the upcoming event, the public will get a glimpse into this aspect of life through photos, artifacts and documents provided by participating churches. Liberty Square will be set up like an open-air museum with historians and volunteers from each congregation manning separate booths. Visitors may walk around and ask questions or view displays.

Among the congregations that have expressed an interest in participating is Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue, 90 Hasell St. "The Jews were very supportive of the Southern cause during the war and participated fully," said synagogue vice president and museum chairwoman Anita Rosenberg. "One of our members, who is buried at the historic Coming Street cemetery, was a physician. He had a 'floating hospital ship' on which he treated soldiers."

First Baptist Church of Charleston also will contribute to the event. After its split from Northern Baptists over the issue of slavery in 1845, First Baptist became the "mother church" of Southern Baptists.

Circular Congregational Church, also participating in the Civil War commemoration, was prosperous and integrated until its destruction in the Great Fire of 1861.

The park service has enlisted the help of Alphonso Brown, operator of Gullah Tours, to tell the story of black church life during the war. This is no easy task because of the lack of information on the subject. "Nothing is really written about what slaves were doing inside the church," Brown said. "So I'll be approaching the topic from a hypothetical, speculative point of view."

He and other interested church members have been preparing for the event under the leadership of Sydney Schneider, education technician for the Fort Sumter National Monument. Schneider will hold another informative meeting for participants in March.

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