Tensions were high in 1861, and deviations from Quakerism were made when Friends, both Northern and Southern, had to choose whether to prioritize the sanctity of union, support abolition, or remain neutral. Each of these decisions had its share of repercussions within the religious community, and the Quakers themselves found their mindsets changing as the tide of the war rolled on, whether they chose to fight, support the war effort, or abstain from involvement.
Friends had to decide which was the greater sin: violence or slavery. Quakerism preached against both, leaving its subjects in opposition to the South’s Peculiar Institution but unwilling to take up arms against the Confederacy. Some, like Daniel Wooton, enlisted for the preservation of the Union and became engaged in the morality of the fight: “We all know the Bible says thou shalt not kill: but what are we to do with those persons that rebell against the law of our country,” the young cavalryman wrote to a friend back home. “Did God set dow[n] and let the Devil take the uppermost seat in heaven when he caused the rebellion there? no Sir!” This appeal to religion serves as justification for Wooton, but it also presents a question: which tenet of Quaker faith was the most important?
Even as Wooton enlisted and became more supportive of the Union cause, some Quakers were caught up in the dilemma of conscription. Those who wished to remain free of the violence attempted to push for conscientious objector status, but they were often met with hefty fines to avoid the draft and public disapproval. In April 1862 a group of North Carolina friends visited the State Assembly in an attempt to plead for exemption, which was granted “upon the payment of a $100 tax or the performance of alternative service, such as working in the coastal Salt Works or as medics.” This was nullified by the Confederate Conscription Bill passed only two days after, and it was not until that October that Quakers were free from the draft by the Exemption Act. The act did, however, require friends to send a substitute or pay a $500 fine.
Quakers were thus faced with choosing isolation from their faith or their communities. Some who decided to take up arms were scrutinized and condemned by the Society of Friends, but those who abstained from combat, both Union and Confederate, were accused of being unpatriotic and sympathizing with the adversary. Quaker civilians also faced difficult choices; though she was a Southerner, Delphina Mendenhall welcomed starved and tattered Union soldiers into her home because it aligned with her religious principles of generosity and compassion. This would not have been a popular act, but it attests to the dedication and morality of the Quakers.
The war certainly complicated life for Friends, making them choose between different compelling yet contrasting ideologies of their faith. They were forced to pick the lesser of two evils, faced either with disapproval from their congregation or moral conundrum. Some would not even support the war effort, believing that it was inherently against their moral and religious code. For Quaker soldiers, however, the war served to enhance their decision to fight. Daniel Wooton, who had enlisted apprehensively and spent his first few years battling shame and regret, became hopelessly devoted to his service after the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, appealing to faith and God to justify his decision: “I came to the conclusion by serving my country I would be serving my God and friends also, there fore I resolved to enlist and risk my chances with that of my fellow soldiers.”
There is no one trend, then, for Quaker behavior in the Civil War. Each position held risks, and Friends were forced to determine which element of their religion was of the most significance: abolition or nonviolence. The motivations behind the choices made were, however, more visible. Quaker faith would remain steadfast during war time but Quaker justifications, as with all religions, were tuned to fit a moral code.
Quaker Guns of The American Civil War
“All warfare is based on deception,” Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise, often regarded as one of the most influential books ever written on war strategy. For centuries, Sun Tzu’s words have been gospel for military strategist, businessmen and lawyers alike.
Military deception is as old as war itself. The great city of Troy fell to the Greeks largely because of the Trojan horse—a deception. Smoke screens, a deceptive technique used to mask the movement of military units, were first used by the Greeks during the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC. During the Gothic War between the Byzantium Empire and the Kingdom of Italy, Roman General Belisarius lit a long chain of campfires to exaggerate his troop’s size, causing the much larger army of Goths to flee in panic. The Mongols often lured their enemies into traps by feigning retreat. They also used straw dummies to give an impression of a larger army.
Deception proved very fruitful during the American Revolution in 1780. When the continental forces under the command of Colonel William Washington attacked a fortified barn near Camden, South Carolina, where the Loyalists under Colonel Henry Rugeley had barricaded themselves, the Colonel asked his men to surround the barn and prepare a pine log that resembled a cannon. He pointed the “cannon” towards the building and threatened to blow it away if the Loyalists didn’t surrender. Rugeley’s men meekly surrendered without a single shot having been fired.
Quaker guns played a small but significant role during the American Civil War. From the American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection:
One early example of Quaker guns occurred on September 28, 1861, when Confederate forces evacuated Munson’s Hill , Virginia, leaving their earthworks to an advancing Union force. When the Union soldiers reached the Confederate lines, they discovered two logs and one stovepipe guarding a shallow ditch rather than the three Parrot guns reported by Union scouts.
During Major General George B. McClellan ‘s Peninsula Campaign (March—July 1862), Confederate defenders attempting to delay the Army of the Potomac again resorted to deception. In early 1862 McClellan, never an aggressive commander, refused President Abraham Lincoln’s repeated request that he advance south from Washington to Richmond, choosing to believe reports that he faced almost 100,000 Confederate troops at Manassas Junction, supported by more than 300 artillery pieces. In reality, his front was opposed by only 40,000 soldiers and a wide assortment of Quaker guns. McClellan’s hesitation combined with the gullibility of Union scouts led to a delay of weeks, which allowed Confederate general Joseph E. Johns ton to organize the defenses of the Confederate capital.
When Johnston ordered the evacuation of the Manassas-Centreville line, newspaper reporters quickly noticed that he had left a significant quantity of desperately needed artillery. To McClellan’s humiliation, after closer inspection it was determined that the ”artillery” were logs painted black. In the Siege of Yorktown (April 5—May 3, 1862), Confederate major general John B. Magruder also made extensive use of Quaker guns. The Union side also employed Quaker guns in the Peninsula Campaign (March-July 1862).