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Religious Aspects of the American Civil War

Selected resources at Harvard Divinity School Library

Introduction to Sermons

Quoation from Ecclesiastes

Printed sermons are a rich source of information about the variety of religious thought of the time and how it changed. Most of the sermons listed in this section deal with events of the War or the effects of the War. The intersection of church and state is especially noticeable in the Fast Day and Thanksgiving Sermons, which were preached because of a government proclamation for special times of public religious reflection on the war and in sermons preached to soldiers, but in most of the other sermons this is also a theme.

It is important to note that in reading these sermons now, we lack the experience of hearing how they were originally preached. The readers from this time period probably either had heard the sermon when it was originally preached or had heard the minister and could imagine what emphasis, repetition, and tone he gave to the delivery.

Some things to examine in the sermons:

  • What were the events of the war in the weeks preceding the delivery of the sermon? (Note: There are many "Civil War time-lines" on the Internet, many from reasonably reputable sources.)
  • Is there a Scripture text and how is it used to shape or inform the sermon?
  • During this period, does calling a sermon a "discourse" or "oration" (which today have nuanced differences of meaning) make it different from something called a "sermon"?
  • What distinguishes sermons preached in non-congregation settings (for example, college, denominational meetings, sermons preached to soldiers)?
  • Are there major denominational differences in the sermons?
  • Which sermons are against "political preaching"?
  • If you were to deliver one of these sermons, how would you speak it? Where would you pause?
  • If you were to hear one of these sermons, what feelings and reactions would you have at various points in the sermon?
  • From your own perspective of today, what do you find out of date or offensive and what can you find useful?


In addition to the individual sermons listed in this section, see also:

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