The Bible that stopped a bullet

Part 2 in a series of stories commemorating 150 years after the Civil War.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – When man goes through fiery trials, he turns to faith.

The bible General Robert E. Lee carried in 1864, a crucifix carried by General George Pickett (known for his charge at Gettysburg) and a letter from Confederate President Jefferson Davis to the Pope are among the artifacts on display in  "Through Fiery Trials: Religion in the Civil War" at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

"The more we read firsthand accounts, the more we learned how important religion was in sustaining people and reconciling them afterwards," said Museum Curator of Education Joe Long.

Visitors will find just like the soldiers who served in the war, they are connected by their religious beliefs no matter where they were born.

"Visitors are likely to see things quite familiar from their own religious background or experiences," said Long.  "And when you read about what people went through, and how they reacted to it, I think they'll find they have a lot in common."

The artifacts are not limited to South Carolina, or the Confederacy. The photo used for publicity is of a Catholic priest giving a sermon to the 69th New York, the famous Irish Brigade.

The Word of God went beyond race as well.  Lewis Napoleon Nelson was a slave who was called on to preach to a Confederate unit.

"One day when the circuit rider didn't show up, he preached a sermon to the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, under Bedford Forrest," said Long.  "The men liked it so much, they elected this slave as their chaplain."

On display are the vestments of Charleston Catholic Bishop Patrick Lynch, who was the Confederacy's envoy to the Vatican.

"The Vatican was the only European power that came close to recognizing the Confederacy as a legitimate nation," said Long. "It was said that General Robert E. Lee, who was an Episcopal, kept a photograph of Pope Pius IX, saying 'He is the Confederacy's only friend in Europe.'"

Civil War diarist Mary Chestnut of Camden also carried a photo of the Pope.

The exhibit also includes the first English translation of the Hebrew Bible.

The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia loaned General Lee's devotional bible to the exhibit.

" What's interesting to me is he has some pages marked in the Book of Job," said Long.  "I can't imagine what made more sense in 1864 than the Book of Job."

General Stonewall Jackson's bible is on loan from the Virginia Historical Society.

But the bible that had the most impact on the man carrying it is the one belonging to Walter Counts of the 13th South Carolina Infantry.  It has a bullet embedded in it.

"The only question this poor Lutheran fellow from Lexington (SC), was killed and we don't know if that bible saved his life on one occasion, or merely stopped one bullet from the volley that killed him," said Long.

Yet Long considers Lee's bible worth the trip, and he has a story to prove it.

"There was a man who was here from Texas, with a couple of his boys and they were touring sites where one of their ancestors had fought in the cavalry in South Carolina," said Long.

"This man overheard me saying that was General Lee's Bible, and he walked up to it and very unaffected, very natural gesture to him,  took off his hat for a minute and stood there in front of it.  And that's a picture I think will stay for me."

Through Fiery Trials is open through May 12, when the loaned artifacts must be returned. The Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is at 301 Gervais Street in Columbia.

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