At the close of the War Between the States, southern civilians fled before the advancing Union armies, leaving some communities with nothing but chaos and confusion. During the war there had been scores of Baptist church buildings which had been stripped of their furnishings to be used as hospitals, stables and barracks.
In 1864 the American Baptist Home Mission Society noted: “In almost every city, town and village taken by our army, there has been found a deserted Baptist meeting-house.” No doubt with honorable intentions, the Society asked the War Department for authority take over abandoned Baptist buildings throughout the South. And on this day (January 14) in 1864 the War department notified its military personnel: “You are hereby directed to place at the disposal of the American Baptist Home Mission Society all houses of worship belonging to Baptist Churches South, in which a loyal minister does not now officiate.” The definition of a “loyal minister” was not addressed, and sometimes more abuse followed.
Records indicate that about half of all the Baptist churches in the south had their memberships and buildings devastated. But there was no need for governmental or even well-intentioned societies to step in and confiscate those properties. Had the military simply protected those buildings from theft and destruction, eventually the original owners – the membership of those churches – would have returned, repaired and reused their buildings in the service of the Lord.