“Our cause is sacred. How can we doubt it, when we know it has been consecrated by a holy baptism of fire and blood?”

So said a North Carolina minister about the Confederacy in the aftermath of the South’s defeat at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. This arresting quote contributes to the title of James P. Byrd’s new book, A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War (Oxford). He writes, “This is a book about how Americans enlisted the Bible in the nation’s most bloody and arguably most biblically infused war.”

Just at the Battle of Antietam, four-times as many American soldiers died as 80 years later on the beaches of Normandy in World War II. Twice as many Americans died that one horrible day outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, as in the War of 1812, Mexican War, and Spanish American War—combined. Americans should have known from the Bible that civil wars are the worst wars, and even God’s chosen nations could self-destruct, Byrd argues. They may not have expected such a tragedy at the outset of the war. But by the end they had draped the whole conflict in Scripture, culminating with Father Abraham (Lincoln) killed on Good Friday after setting the captives free. Byrd writes, “Americans were never in more disagreement over the Bible, and yet never more in agreement that the Bible proved the sacredness of war.”

Byrd joined me on Gospelbound to discuss the jeremiad, Achan, Exodus, camp revivals, Frederick Douglass, and abolitionist views of inerrancy.