Throughout the nation’s history, American soldiers have fought for God and country. During the Civil War, the bonds of country were blurred, but faith in God remained strong on both sides, blue and gray.
Today, the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum debuts a new exhibit — “Through Fiery Trials: Religion in the Civil War” — taking a look at that faith. It is the second in a series of special exhibits commemorating the war’s 150th anniversary.
While the stars of the exhibit are Bibles belonging to Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, on loan from Virginia museums, one of the most moving items is local: The bullet-pierced Bible of Sgt. Walter Henry Counts of Lexington.
Counts’ sister Rosa gave him the Bible on June 2, 1861, as he prepared to go to war. No one knows when the Bible was struck by a bullet, but a letter found in it says that Counts died on Oct. 25, 1865, near Lynchburg, Va., at the age of 28. He is buried at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Lexington.
Counts’ Bible is one of 20 in the museum’s permanent collection; items that are rarely seen by the public.
During the sesquicentennial “we wanted to showcase different things from our collection that don’t get to be viewed by the general public,” said Kristina Johnson, the Relic Room’s curator of history. “Personal Bibles and devotionals from South Carolina soldiers are a strongpoint of our collection and we wanted to highlight that. The exhibit grew from there.”
An estimated 3,694 Union and Confederate chaplains served during the Civil War. About 150,000 Confederate soldiers converted or were baptized during the war, with a similar number on the Union side.
“Through Fiery Trials” examines the experiences of those chaplains and soldiers, and explores the similar role that religion played for both sides.
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