From our nation’s beginnings, Georgia Baptist ministers have ministered to God in times of strife

Karl Jones


“Around February 1, 1863, the good Lord poured out his Spirit on us, hundreds sought the Lord for forgiveness of sins, almost daily some went down into the water and were buried with Christ in baptism. . . the interest was so great that I preached four to six times a day for weeks.” Rev. JJ Hyman, chaplain, 49th Georgia Infantry

Since the American Revolution, Georgia Baptists have served as military chaplains and organized and sponsored services for the military-industrial complex in times of war. As the Georgia Baptist Convention’s bicentennial approaches, these efforts should not go unnoticed. They serve as a reminder to support those who continue to serve and sacrifice for the welfare of the nation.

It should be noted that the title “Chaplain” has been used in various ways since 1775. In the early years it was generally applied to any minister who preached and/or served in the military. Today it is commonly used to describe ministers who serve in the military in a professional role.

During the American Revolution, 12 men served as chaplains for the Georgia militia. Although there were only seven Baptist churches in Georgia at the time, six of the 12 chaplains were Baptist pastors. A compelling reason for her service was the fight for religious freedom. Some of the chaplains, including Abraham Marshall and Silas Mercer, felt it necessary to flee the colony during the war to protect their families.

Georgia’s senior Baptist statesman, Daniel Marshall, remained in Georgia for the duration of the war. Once he was arrested and held by the Tories. He asked permission and was allowed to preach to the troops. Marshall was not a cultured and eloquent preacher, but his sermons came from the heart and often melted the hearts of those who listened. After the sermon, he was released and continued to shepherd the churches whose pastors had fled for the safety of their families.

During the various Indian Wars, a Georgia Baptist pastor was killed while he was with troops searching for Indians. Little is known of the work of Georgia Baptists among the military during the War of 1812, although the Georgia and Sarepta Baptist unions went to war on their knees and on the 18th the disaster of the war.”

During the Texas War of Independence (1835-1836), many Georgians left to help in the fight. At least one, TJ Bowen, brought back a new believer who later became the first SBC foreign missionary from Georgia in 1847. He briefly served as chaplain during the Civil War (1861-1865). Another Georgia-raised layman, Eliel Melton, was killed at the Alamo.

Nor is there any record of pastoral ministry during the Mexican War (1846), although Georgia Baptists served in the military and at least one layman, Eli Bradberry, was killed in the war and his remains returned to Georgia, where he is interred at Mars Hill Baptist Cemetery in Watkinsville.

The Civil War was the Georgia Baptists’ largest organized response to service during a war. At least 52 Georgians served as Baptist ministers. There were five types of clergy, referred to as chaplains during this period. (1) Ministers/soldiers serving in the ranks who were permitted to preach as their duties permitted. (2) Visiting ministers who visited local troops (sometimes traveling to other states to visit units from their congregations) to preach and/or regularly visited military hospitals in their congregations. Typically they were asked to preach to other units during the visit. (3) Army chaplains hired and paid by the military for their service. (4) Camp Missionaries/Camp Chaplains or Camp Evangelists (used interchangeably) supported by GBC, local associations or the SBC Home Mission Board. (5) Colporteurs who were under the appointment of the Georgia Baptist Bible and Colporteur Society. They preached, distributed Bibles and tracts. Founded in 1858, the society published a series of 24 tracts for wartime soldiers in the categories: evangelistic, temperance, hospital, and devotional. Other colporteur societies also sponsored the work for the armies of the north and south.

In addition, The Christian Index became a service for soldiers. The newspaper contained a “soldier’s column” of devotional reading and the index contained war news. Chaplains sent reports of their services, which were printed on the pages of the newspaper. A ministry was set up to pay for the shipment of the Index in bulk to southern warehouses.

The Civil War was known for camp revivals that saved thousands. JJ Hyman, chaplain of the 49th Georgia Infantry, wrote in May 1863: “Yes, on the day the army was to march into Pennsylvania on the campaign, while the regiments were ordered to intervene. I baptized near Wright’s brigade. Baptized forty-eight in twenty minutes.”

America’s involvement in World War I lasted two years, 1917-1918. Some military chaplains were local church pastors whose churches gave them leave of absence from service. George Truitt, pastor of FBC Dallas, Texas, has been given a six-month leave of absence to preach in France and Belgium. Other chaplains were ministers commissioned by the armed forces for the duration.

During World War I, the evangelism department of the Georgia Baptist State Mission Board established a “tent evangelism ministry” for the major military training centers in Georgia. A tent was set up near the bases. Services were held nightly for a week or two before moving on to the next camp. The ministry used a bus to transport troops to and from the services. State Evangelist TF Calloway and his assistant AR Philly were called to this ministry. Calloway served as President of the Georgia Baptist Convention (1934-1935).

During World War II, the Georgia Baptist Convention established several ministries for the military community and workers in the military-industrial complexes. Not to mention many Georgia Baptist pastors who served as commissioned military chaplains. There was an emphasis on established churches in areas like Columbus and Marietta, which were growing rapidly due to military-industrial build-up. One of those churches that is beginning to target civilian workers is now the Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta.

Although Georgian Baptists have not sponsored a focused ministry to the military community since World War II, many Georgians have served as military chaplains in the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, Iraq, Afghanistan and in peacetime. These ministers have faithfully preached the gospel and ministered to the military and their families during times of crisis and bereavement. Chaplaincy is often overlooked because of the temporary nature of their ministries. Fortunately, they have served the Lord and will continue to do so while serving the military community.

On this memorial day, it is good to remember not only those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also those who supported the Georgia Baptists in their ministry. Those who have served faithfully in times of war and peace. Should there be a need in the future, the Georgia Baptists have a legacy of service and service to the military and should be ready to serve again.