BASIL MANLY, Sr.
CHAPLAIN TO THE CONFEDERACY
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
© 2000 by Society for Biblical and Southern Studies
In 1859 Manly was settled in Alabama once more. His first task there was as state evangelist for the Alabama Baptist Convention. He had been dubbed “the Baptist Bishop of Alabama.” The Lord blessed his preaching and there was an ingathering of souls through his ministry. Son Charles finished Princeton Seminary and became pastor of Tuscaloosa First Baptist Church.
Basil had not sold his plantation at Walnut Bluff. James and Fuller had been running it. The presidential election of 1860 was closely observed by Manly. He had become disgusted with the campaigning, and he reminded folks, “Things are so, now, that if we are saved, God must save us.”
A call from the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, was extended on November 26th, 1860. He accepted the call. Before he left Tuscaloosa to go to Montgomery, Basil Manly was nominated to the convention of the state in order to decide on secession. The election of Abe Lincoln and the secession of South Carolina were the elements that focused the issue. Manly was in the process of moving, but he did support the states’ rights issue and had for many years. A month earlier, he had introduced and supported a resolution for secession to the Alabama Baptist Convention, meeting at Tuskegee, in November 1860. Alabama Baptists did not believe they could hope for justice under the present circumstances. The opinion of the convention was asserted:
before mankind and before our God, that we hold ourselves subject to the call to proper authority in defense of the sovereignty and independence of the State of Alabama, and of her sacred right as a sovereignty to withdraw from this union; and to make any arrangement which her people, in constitutional assemblies, may deem best, for securing their rights.
Many believe that the Baptist declaration and pledge to support secession was the catalyst for the secession movement in Alabama. Manly’s resolution was possibly the encouragement needed to foster separation from the Union. The Secession Convention for Alabama was held in Montgomery, and Basil Manly, pastor of First Baptist Church, was elected to serve as chaplain. The convention convened at the capitol building January 7th, 1861. Manly opened the session with a prayer that set the tone for the meeting. His prayer began with adoration of the only wise God, the Lord of civil government. He asked the Lord to give those assembled wisdom and grace to do what they ought to do. His prayer was described in the press as “brief, fervent and patriotic.” The Alabama Convention voted 61 to 39 to leave the Union on January 11th, 1861. Basil wrote his son Basil, Jr.:
One hundred guns were fired … all the (church) bells were rung; and there were … streamers flying and universal jubilation. I never saw such excitement. Governor Moore wept; and many venerable men, unused to fervid passions, embraced each other, and wept.
The early part of Manly’s ministry in Montgomery was flushed with all the excitement of secession and freedom. Basil helped fellow-Baptist, J. L. M. Curry, write the State’s new Constitution.
There was a call for all the seceded states to meet in Montgomery on February 4th. Dr. Basil Manly was chosen to serve as official chaplain of the new Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America. The proceedings followed the outlined order. William P. Chilton was in the chair and called the assembly to order by moving that Robert Barnwell be constituted the acting president of the body. He was unanimously approved and took the rostrum, making a few remarks of thanks for such a high honor and called on Reverend Basil Manly to bless the proceedings. Manly solemnly took his place and raised his voice calling on God. In this prayer he said, “Oh, Thou heart-searching God, we trust that Thou seest we are pursuing those rights which were guaranteed to us by the solemn covenants of our fathers, and which were cemented by their blood.” He plead with God to give wisdom, calmness and soundness of mind to those gathered, and that they not yield to the lust for spoils and patronage as long as the sun and moon last. He cried, “Let truth, and justice, and equal rights be decreed to our government.” In this prayer he set the tone for the proceedings when he prayed stating that they were not revolutionaries, not rebels, but reformers. While the Provisional Congress lasted, Manly served as official chaplain, arranging for ministers to open its sessions with prayer. He filled the post himself on more important occasions, but he often fulfilled the privilege of invoking the presence and blessings of God (as one said), “Whether by coincidence or his own design.”
On Monday February 18th, 1861, Dr. Basil Manly rode to the capitol in a carriage with Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens. The carriage was drawn by six beautiful greys and had a military escort. It was the day of the inauguration of president and vice-president of the new nation, called the Confederate States of America. There was martial music, cannon salutes, cheering observers and general excitement. The procession route was filled with onlookers. The carriage stopped in front of the capitol grounds. The three men were escorted through the crowd and to the place where the ceremony would take place. While they were walking, there was great cheering and artillery salutes joined with an immense sense of unanimity about what was being done. The men were led to their proper places. Moments prior to one o’clock, Basil Manly stepped forward to deliver the invocation. Manly recorded the prayer in his diary that day:
O Thou great Spirit! Maker & Lord of all things! Who humblest Thyself to behold the things that are done on the earth; and before whom the splendor of human pageantry vanisheth into nothing! By Thee Rulers bear sway; Thou teachest Senators wisdom. We own Thy kind providence, Thy Fatherly care, in the peaceful origin of the government of these ‘Confederate States of America.’ We thank Thee for the quiet considerate unanimity which has prevailed in our public councils; and for the hallowed auspices under which the government of our choice begins. Let this special blessing rest on the engagements and issues of this day. Thou has provided us a man to go in and out before us, and to lead Thy people. Oh vouchsafe Thy blessing, on this Thy servant! Let his life and health be precious in Thy sight. Grant him a sound mind, in a sound body. Let all his acts be done in Thy fear, under Thy guidance, with a single eye to Thy glory; and crown them all with Thy approbation and blessing! With the like favors, bless the Congress of the ‘Confederate States’; and all who are, or may be, charged by lawful authority with public cares and labors. Put Thy good Spirit into our whole people, that they may faithfully do all Thy fatherly pleasure. Let the administration of this government be the reign of truth and peace; let righteousness, which exalteth a nation, be the stability of our times, and keep us from sin, which is a reproach to any people; establish Thou the work of our hands upon us; turn the counsel of our enemies into foolishness; and grant us assured & continual peace in all our borders! We ask all, through Jesus our Lord: Amen.
The inauguration continued to its conclusion.
Basil Manly continued his involvement in the work of the Lord as usual. The Lord’s Day was busy for a typical Sunday, involving three sermons. There was the morning worship at 10:30, at 3:30 there was a service for the blacks, and evening worship followed this service. The history of the First Baptist Church noted: “Manly was a pastor not only for the Confederate government and for his own congregation, but also for anyone in Montgomery who needed a clergyman.”
The Confederate government declared a day of public fasting and prayer for February 28th, 1862 and Basil Manly preached a sermon that became one of his most famous and oft repeated ones. The title of the sermon was The Purpose of Calamities and his text was “If the Lord be with us why then is all this befallen us” (Judges 6:13)? He preached in the vein of the good orthodox Calvinist that he was. He reminded his hearers that the Lord’s people are not exempted from calamities. God is sovereign and knows all and His will is going to be done. He said there were two ways of handling these calamities, “We can either submit or oppose.” He preached with great foresight, “If our experiment fails, as it is the latest, so it will be the last. Once in the hands of our enemies, what will be our condition? We shall know the bitter meaning of that sentence: ‘they that hated us rule over us.’”
The Southern Baptist Convention met in Augusta, Georgia in 1863. Manly’s persona was infused with his patriotism and defiance of the enemy at the gathering in Augusta. He urged all Baptists to do their duty and defend the South.
Manly’s pastorate in Montgomery was never very congenial. There were threatened resignations over many issues. One matter was the churches failure to pay his complete salary. He did his best to be a good wartime pastor. There were many Confederate soldiers to be buried and families to be consoled. There were needs in the army, prayers to be made, tracts and Bibles were needed, medical materials were needed, etc. But Manly resigned the pastorate in October of 1862.
There was a return to the family in Tuscaloosa. Manly would help son Charles, the pastor of First Baptist Church, with the Alabama Central Female College and try to handle the farm at Walnut Bluff. He continued to preach the gospel wherever he could. The war of Northern aggression was a trying time on citizens as well as soldiers. Toward the end of the war, the enemy pillaged, burned and robbed as a pagan way of war. They burned the University of Alabama.
On November 22nd, 1864 Basil Manly had a stroke with the accompanying paralysis. His health was breaking and rheumatism was capturing his body weakened by incessant activity and travel. His sons were put to the test as well. Fuller was wounded and later captured. James transferred to the Navy and almost drowned when his ship burned. Manly was forced to cease planting at Walnut Bluff and rented out his plantation. Next he was to face the deconstruction brought on by the enemy.