Confederate Day of ‘Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer’
On Feb. 20, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation calling for a “day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer” on February 28. His formal inauguration as president was two days away (he had been serving as the “provisional” Confederate president for a year), but Davis knew this was not a joyous time for celebration in the South. He felt some nationwide soul-searching and somber reflection were required.
Davis was reacting to two major blows the South suffered in the two weeks preceding his inauguration. A young, relatively unknown Union general, Ulysses S. Grant, had won the North’s first two major victories: the Battle of Fort Henry (February 6) and the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 16). With the surrender of these two forts the South lost control of both the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, opening up the interior of the Confederacy to invasion. It appeared that the loss of the first Confederate capital city, Nashville, was imminent (in fact, the Confederate army evacuated Nashville the day after Davis’s inaugural, February 23).
In his proclamation for a nationwide fast day, Davis asserted that the recent setbacks on the battlefield were all part of the grand plan God had designed for the Confederacy. He declared: “Our faith and perseverance must be tested, and the chastening which seemeth grievous will, if rightly received, bring forth its appropriate fruit.” To drive home this point, he wanted the entire Confederacy to spend a day humbling itself before God, fasting and praying, “that He may strengthen our confidence in His mighty power and righteous judgment.”
This was not a new tactic for Davis; he had declared the first Confederate national fast day on June 13, 1861. In fact, during the course of the war Davis proclaimed ten such days, each calling for the public to fast, attend church, and pray for God to bestow his blessings upon the Confederacy. What added special urgency to the Feb. 28, 1862, fast day were the recent losses of Forts Henry and Donelson, and the creeping apprehension that the Confederacy’s fortunes were taking a turn for the worse.
This article about Davis’s proclamation was published by the Georgia Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on the front page of its Feb. 28, 1862, issue:
By Electric Telegraph
Proclamation by the President
To the people of the Confederate States:
The termination of the Provisional Government offers a fitting occasion again to present ourselves in humiliation, prayer and thanksgiving before that God who has safely conducted us through the first year of our National existence. We have been able to lay anew the foundations of free government and to repel the efforts of our enemies to destroy us. Law has everywhere reigned supreme, and throughout our widespread limits personal liberty and private right have been duly honored. A tone of earnest piety has pervaded our people, and the hundred victories which we have obtained over our enemies have been justly ascribed to Him who ruleth the Universe. We had hoped that the year would have closed upon a scene of continued prosperity, but it has pleased the Supreme Disposer of events to order it otherwise. We are not permitted to furnish an exception to the rule in Divine government, which has prescribed affliction as the discipline of nations as well as of individuals. Our faith and perseverance must be tested, and the chastening which seemeth grievous will, if rightly received, bring forth its appropriate fruit. It is meet and right therefore that we should repair to the only Giver of all victory, and, humbling ourselves before Him, should pray that He may strengthen our confidence in His mighty power and righteous judgment; then may we surely trust in Him that He will perform His promise and encompass us as with a shield. In this trust and to this end, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, do hereby set apart Friday, the twenty-eighth day of February, instant, as a day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer; and I do publicly invite the Reverend Clergy, and people of the Confederate States, to appear at their respective places of worship, to humble themselves before Almighty God in prayer for His protection and favor to our beloved country, and that we may be saved from our enemies and from the hands of all that hate us.
Given under my hand and the Seal of the Confederate States, at Richmond, this twentieth day of February, A.D., 1862, by the President,
Wm. M. Browne, Sec. of State ad interim.
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