Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

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Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby KeithE » Tue Dec 09, 2008 9:39 am

Interesting article is the Dec Baptists Today. It is not available to link w/o subscription yet.

The jest of the article is that newly found diaries from William Whitsitt (3rd president of Southern Baptist Theologocal Seminary - Louisville) says that Baptists did not practice baptism by immersion until about 1641 (Baptist as we know them started about 1609, not withstanding Landmarkism that claim a Trail of Blood back to John the Baptist). Whitsitt discoverd this fact ("proofs that were irrefutable") circa 1880 while doing historical research in England and it is captured in detail in Whitsitt's diaries. Jim Slaton (Pastor Emeritus of River Road BC in Richmond) recently discovered Whitsitt's diaries - 16 volumes held by Whitsitt's granddaughter. When Whitsitt brought said scholarship forward to his Seminary colleagues, he lost his job within 3 years. I trust Slaton will not be hung out to dry.

To me it is utterly incredible that a mode of baptism could cause such division. Isn't the depth of personal faith/love/work/hope/fruits of the Spirit well above the mode of surface symbols such as baptism or any dogmatically held doctrine.

But we still have many in the church today that refuse to deal with the "fruits of scholarship". Truth it seems was secondary to tradition/creeds at the turn of the 20th century as well as it is today in many quarters (witness the inerrancy debate). I contribute it to weak insecure faith.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Stephen Fox » Tue Dec 09, 2008 10:18 am

I read the article as well.
Very good article and I 2nd what Keith says.
Pierce lurks here. We should all commend him on a very good issue. I think he has raised the bar in the last six months and is consistenly publishing a new, higher plateau.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue Dec 09, 2008 1:27 pm

KeithE wrote:Interesting article is the Dec Baptists Today. It is not available to link w/o subscription yet.

The jest of the article is that newly found diaries from William Whitsitt (3rd president of Southern Baptist Theologocal Seminary - Louisville) says that Baptists did not practice baptism by immersion until about 1641 (Baptist as we know them started about 1609, not withstanding Landmarkism that claim a Trail of Blood back to John the Baptist). Whitsitt discoverd this fact ("proofs that were irrefutable") circa 1880 while doing historical research in England and it is captured in detail in Whitsitt's diaries. Jim Slaton (Pastor Emeritus of River Road BC in Richmond) recently discovered Whitsitt's diaries - 16 volumes held by Whitsitt's granddaughter. When Whitsitt brought said scholarship forward to his Seminary colleagues, he lost his job within 3 years. I trust Slaton will not be hung out to dry.

To me it is utterly incredible that a mode of baptism could cause such division. Isn't the depth of personal faith/love/work/hope/fruits of the Spirit well above the mode of surface symbols such as baptism or any dogmatically held doctrine.

But we still have many in the church today that refuse to deal with the "fruits of scholarship". Truth it seems was secondary to tradition/creeds at the turn of the 20th century as well as it is today in many quarters (witness the inerrancy debate). I contribute it to weak insecure faith.


The Landmarkers who opposed Whitsitt's discoveries had to admit their theory of Baptist successionism would not hold water if immersion was not preserved. The 1641 introduction of immersion to replace affusion among 17th century Baptists is an important "landmark" in Baptist history. The issue prior to that time had been "believer's baptism" as opposed to infant baptism. The 1609 Baptists were not nearly as concerned about mode as the proper subject of baptism as one who had already made a confession of Christ as a voluntary submission to His will.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Haruo » Tue Dec 09, 2008 1:35 pm

KeithE wrote: Isn't the depth of personal faith/love/work/hope/fruits of the Spirit well above the mode of surface symbols such as baptism or any dogmatically held doctrine.
To paraphrase James 2:18, "Show me your faith/love/work/hope/fruitiness without divisive dogmatism, and I'll show you mine by my divisive dogmatism."
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Ed Pettibone » Tue Dec 09, 2008 1:48 pm

KeithE wrote:Interesting article is the Dec Baptists Today. It is not available to link w/o subscription yet.

The jest of the article is that newly found diaries from William Whitsitt (3rd president of Southern Baptist Theologocal Seminary - Louisville) says that Baptists did not practice baptism by immersion until about 1641 (Baptist as we know them started about 1609, not withstanding Landmarkism that claim a Trail of Blood back to John the Baptist). Whitsitt discoverd this fact ("proofs that were irrefutable") circa 1880 while doing historical research in England and it is captured in detail in Whitsitt's diaries. Jim Slaton (Pastor Emeritus of River Road BC in Richmond) recently discovered Whitsitt's diaries - 16 volumes held by Whitsitt's granddaughter. When Whitsitt brought said scholarship forward to his Seminary colleagues, he lost his job within 3 years. I trust Slaton will not be hung out to dry.

To me it is utterly incredible that a mode of baptism could cause such division. Isn't the depth of personal faith/love/work/hope/fruits of the Spirit well above the mode of surface symbols such as baptism or any dogmatically held doctrine.

But we still have many in the church today that refuse to deal with the "fruits of scholarship". Truth it seems was secondary to tradition/creeds at the turn of the 20th century as well as it is today in many quarters (witness the inerrancy debate). I contribute it to weak insecure faith.


Ed: For Fox and KeithE , I also read the Whitsitt's Diaries article and therefore look forward to Slatton's upcoming Biography of Whitsitt. This story itself however tells us nothing new about the Whitsitt controversy that has has not been written about and taught in Baptist institutions for many years. South Western Seminary Historian, William Estep dates the overall acceptance of immersion as the standard mode of Baptism in Baptist churches at 1642. (see Estep's Article P40-41 in Bill Leonards Dictionary of Baptist in America , Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove Ill. 1994) In the same "Dictionary" see also Estep's article on William Heath Whitsitt. p. 287 In that article Estep attributes the 1641 date to Whitsitt. Robert A. Baker in his 1974 The Southern Baptist Convention and its People publised by Broadman Press, Nashville, TN., Says on p. 281 "He (whitsitt) published two anonymous editorials in a Congregationalist weekly of New York (The Independent) on September 3 and September 9,1880 advocating this position, In 1895 he wrote the article on Baptist in Johnson's Universal Cyclopedia over his own name and cited these same views. Baker also points out that "W.O.Carver remarked that the fight was carried on all across Convention territory - in associations, state bodies and at the Southern Baptist Convention. "

I do want to thank John Pierce for bringing Slatton and his work to our attention in the current Baptist Today, especially in the final part of the story titled Lessons to Learn.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Haruo » Tue Dec 09, 2008 2:09 pm

So in 1641-42 did all of our forebears who had been affused as believers have to get dunked too, and if not, then at what point did immersionism pass from being adopted to being required?
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Mark » Tue Dec 09, 2008 3:58 pm

It's worth noting that our own Bruce Gourley administers the Whitsitt Society website:
http://www.whitsittbaptist.org
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue Dec 09, 2008 4:08 pm

Haruo wrote:So in 1641-42 did all of our forebears who had been affused as believers have to get dunked too, and if not, then at what point did immersionism pass from being adopted to being required?


By 1641-42, most of the 1609 group were with the Lord. Unless heaven has a baptistry, I guess they were never immersed.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Haruo » Tue Dec 09, 2008 4:36 pm

Granted, but surely some of those who had been poured over were still alive, even if they hadn't been of age in 1609. I guess what I'm asking is, was 1642 when immersion became the universal Baptist practice, or was it when Baptists ceased to recognize non-immersive "baptisms" as valid baptisms, such that a person who had previously received believer's "baptism" in some other mode, even in a church calling itself Baptist, was no longer regarded as having been baptized unless re-"baptized" by immersion?

Also, was (valid) baptism at that time considered a prerequisite to participation in the Lord's Supper?
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby William Thornton » Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:32 pm

KeithE and others: how many of your baptist churches accept baptisms (or administer the same) that are not by immersion?
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Neil Heath » Tue Dec 09, 2008 6:40 pm

Whitsitt's middle name was Heath? I never knew that. Maybe we're kin! I don't have a problem with the different modes of baptism, so maybe we are.

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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Ed Pettibone » Tue Dec 09, 2008 9:07 pm

William Thornton wrote:KeithE and others: how many of your baptist churches accept baptisms (or administer the same) that are not by immersion?


Ed: Our two churches differ on this point. North Creek normally requires immersion (although they do not have a baptistry). Shortly before we got here the did make an exception for a gentelman who was physically incapasitated'.
Minerva which does have a baptistry, will however will accept persons coming from other denominations who have been "baptized" by some mode other than Immersion.

I am very much a traditionalist, believing that only in case of physical impairment should anything other than immersion be accepted.

If folk want to be something other than Baptist that is their choice.

I believe that some of my mod friends here are misinterpreting Whitsett. When the biography based on his extensive notes comes out
I think we will see that while as a historian he made the point that early on many Baptist including John Smyth and Thomas Helwys indeed practiced effusion but that by 1641, immersion was the standard and preferred form to be employed by Baptist.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Big Daddy Weaver » Tue Dec 09, 2008 9:35 pm

We need to remember that the 1609 group led by Helwys were known as the General Baptists (Arminian). It was the Particular Baptists (Calvinists) who first became convinced that baptism should be by immersion in 1640 (Barebone congregation). The First London Confession of Particular Baptists which was adopted in 1644 articulated baptism by immersion. The General Baptists that descended from Helwys were probably practicing immersion by 1650 but their first confession calling for baptism by immersion did not appear until 1660.

Regarding Whitsitt, it's worth noting that some historians claim that Henry M. Dexter preceded Whitsitt in expressing the Puritan-Separatist thesis of Baptist origins in 1881 with the publication of "The True Story of John Smyth."

Ed, are you suggesting that a person is not really not an authentic Baptist unless they receive baptism by immersion? That's my interpretation of your statement that begins "I am very much a traditionalist..If folk want to be something other than Baptist that is their choice."
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Mark » Tue Dec 09, 2008 9:55 pm

Big Daddy Weaver wrote:Ed, are you suggesting that a person is not really not an authentic Baptist unless they receive baptism by immersion?...

Isn't that basically what historian Bill Leonard has said? Or at the very least, that baptism is the central unifying distinctive of Baptists (beyond our salvation itself, and other Protestant/Christian distinctives)?

I realize First Baptist Greenville, SC (among others) has a different view.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue Dec 09, 2008 10:01 pm

Haruo wrote:Granted, but surely some of those who had been poured over were still alive, even if they hadn't been of age in 1609. I guess what I'm asking is, was 1642 when immersion became the universal Baptist practice, or was it when Baptists ceased to recognize non-immersive "baptisms" as valid baptisms, such that a person who had previously received believer's "baptism" in some other mode, even in a church calling itself Baptist, was no longer regarded as having been baptized unless re-"baptized" by immersion?

Also, was (valid) baptism at that time considered a prerequisite to participation in the Lord's Supper?


I've looked for some information for your question, but I don't find anyone addressing the question of those who received believer's baptism by affusion and whether they were subsequently immersed. I would be interested if Bruce has sources that respond to that question.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Bruce Gourley » Tue Dec 09, 2008 10:30 pm

Big Daddy Weaver wrote:We need to remember that the 1609 group led by Helwys were known as the General Baptists (Arminian). It was the Particular Baptists (Calvinists) who first became convinced that baptism should be by immersion in 1640 (Barebone congregation). The First London Confession of Particular Baptists which was adopted in 1644 articulated baptism by immersion. The General Baptists that descended from Helwys were probably practicing immersion by 1650 but their first confession calling for baptism by immersion did not appear until 1660.

Regarding Whitsitt, it's worth noting that some historians claim that Henry M. Dexter preceded Whitsitt in expressing the Puritan-Separatist thesis of Baptist origins in 1881 with the publication of "The True Story of John Smyth."

Ed, are you suggesting that a person is not really not an authentic Baptist unless they receive baptism by immersion? That's my interpretation of your statement that begins "I am very much a traditionalist..If folk want to be something other than Baptist that is their choice."


For the record, the early English Baptists understood themselves in the Church of England / Puritan / Separatist lineage. Later came the concept of Successionism, popularized against the backdrop of anti-Catholic fervor in the early 19th century. So great was the anti-Catholic sentiment that when Whitsitt pointed Baptists back to Smyth and Helwys and the CofE / Puritan / Separatist lineage, many Baptists turned against him.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Bruce Gourley » Tue Dec 09, 2008 10:33 pm

Dave Roberts wrote:
Haruo wrote:Granted, but surely some of those who had been poured over were still alive, even if they hadn't been of age in 1609. I guess what I'm asking is, was 1642 when immersion became the universal Baptist practice, or was it when Baptists ceased to recognize non-immersive "baptisms" as valid baptisms, such that a person who had previously received believer's "baptism" in some other mode, even in a church calling itself Baptist, was no longer regarded as having been baptized unless re-"baptized" by immersion?

Also, was (valid) baptism at that time considered a prerequisite to participation in the Lord's Supper?


I've looked for some information for your question, but I don't find anyone addressing the question of those who received believer's baptism by affusion and whether they were subsequently immersed. I would be interested if Bruce has sources that respond to that question.


Until about 1640, Baptists were simply focused on believer's baptism, which itself was quite radical. Many of the earliest Baptists (1609 - late 1630s) were never immersed, although doubtlessly a number of later converts in that period were later immersed. Today, more and more Baptist churches are focusing on believer's baptism over and above immersion.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Big Daddy Weaver » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:15 am

Bruce Gourley wrote:
Big Daddy Weaver wrote:We need to remember that the 1609 group led by Helwys were known as the General Baptists (Arminian). It was the Particular Baptists (Calvinists) who first became convinced that baptism should be by immersion in 1640 (Barebone congregation). The First London Confession of Particular Baptists which was adopted in 1644 articulated baptism by immersion. The General Baptists that descended from Helwys were probably practicing immersion by 1650 but their first confession calling for baptism by immersion did not appear until 1660.

Regarding Whitsitt, it's worth noting that some historians claim that Henry M. Dexter preceded Whitsitt in expressing the Puritan-Separatist thesis of Baptist origins in 1881 with the publication of "The True Story of John Smyth."

Ed, are you suggesting that a person is not really not an authentic Baptist unless they receive baptism by immersion? That's my interpretation of your statement that begins "I am very much a traditionalist..If folk want to be something other than Baptist that is their choice."


For the record, the early English Baptists understood themselves in the Church of England / Puritan / Separatist lineage. Later came the concept of Successionism, popularized against the backdrop of anti-Catholic fervor in the early 19th century. So great was the anti-Catholic sentiment that when Whitsitt pointed Baptists back to Smyth and Helwys and the CofE / Puritan / Separatist lineage, many Baptists turned against him.


True, unless you are James Coggins who concluded that the Helwys-led group of General Baptists "refused to join the Mennonite Church, not because they did not want to become Anabaptists, but because they were convinced that they alaready were."

Not sure how William Estep and Glen Stassen would say the English Baptists "understood themselves" regarding their lineage. Although, both would be quick to say that the English Baptists had a Mennonite Mommy and a Puritan-Separatist Daddy.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Big Daddy Weaver » Wed Dec 10, 2008 12:30 am

Mark wrote:
Big Daddy Weaver wrote:Ed, are you suggesting that a person is not really not an authentic Baptist unless they receive baptism by immersion?...

Isn't that basically what historian Bill Leonard has said? Or at the very least, that baptism is the central unifying distinctive of Baptists (beyond our salvation itself, and other Protestant/Christian distinctives)?

I realize First Baptist Greenville, SC (among others) has a different view.


I don't think that Leonard would say that a person is not really an authentic Baptist unless they receive baptism by immersion. Leonard would say that when there is a new convert, practice believer's baptism.

I'm pretty sure that Leonard is opposed to baptizing Christians from other groups who had infant baptism and don't want to have another baptism.

Several months ago, Calvary was presented with a compromise proposal regarding their baptism "discussions" (using the word discussion to be charitable here). I assume that the compromise proposal passed but I don't know as I haven't been to Calvary lately (been visiting around). Calvary's old by-laws were somewhat vague on baptism. They now are much more explicit and allow members to join who have had believer's baptism by immersion or another mode but does not allow people with infant baptism (only) to be members. Those folks would have to be baptized in order to join. That's my understanding of the proposal at Calvary.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Ed Pettibone » Wed Dec 10, 2008 7:52 am

Timothy Bonney wrote:
Big Daddy Weaver wrote:
Ed, are you suggesting that a person is not really not an authentic Baptist unless they receive baptism by immersion? That's my interpretation of your statement that begins "I am very much a traditionalist..If folk want to be something other than Baptist that is their choice."


Ed has the mistaken idea that a lot of Baptists do that it is immersion that makes us Baptists when the distinctive has always been regenerate church membership (as Bruce puts it "believers baptism). It is unfortunate that we dither on and on about the amount of water used in baptism rather than the intent of the heart.

A large percentage of American Baptists don't have Ed's hangup on this issue.



Ed: Tim again you attribute an "idea" to me that is not mine. That is a bad habit of yours. I do believe that immersion should be the standard mode of Baptism in a Baptist church. Note I did not say into a Baptist Church. I will answer Aron's question for my self. And yes Tim I am disappointed that many Baptist of all stripes seem so intent on perpetuating the existence of their organization that they will accommodate many winds of doctrine .


Aaron, in a post up the line I specifically wrote of a gentleman who the North Creek Church baptized by efussion due to his physical condition. Jim was just as an authentic Baptist as you or I. I say that although I am not sure I know what "authentic Baptist" means. I do however believe that persons who want to become members of a Baptist church should be willing to be baptized by immersion if they have never been Baptized or if their "baptism" was as a child. And I would prefer that those "Baptized" by some other mode, submit to immersion. There is a difference however in preference and insistence, but I make no apology for sharing my preference with prospective members. Over the years
more have agreed and been immersed than have rejected the idea.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed Dec 10, 2008 9:39 am

We have a provision in our church's constitution that will allow a person baptized as a believer by another mode to petition for membership without immersion. It has been there for about 15 to 20 years, and so far only one person has petitioned and was received. A few others who first asked about it later decided on their own to be immersed. I guess one could say that our church is "99 and 44/100ths dipped." Of course, one of my Presbyterian friends kids me that the problem with us Baptists is that "you're all wet."
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby William Thornton » Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:13 am

Timothy Bonney wrote:
William Thornton wrote:KeithE and others: how many of your baptist churches accept baptisms (or administer the same) that are not by immersion?


We accept members from other Christian churches with immersion into membership of FBC Des Moines. I have yet to ever administer baptism other than by immersion but would do so under certain circumstances.


What circumstances?
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I'm kinda with Thornton on this one

Postby Stephen Fox » Wed Dec 10, 2008 7:09 pm

and kinda with Bill Leonard and his BToday article as well.

Or as Delmar would say: "Im with you fellas."

My experience:
I got baptized at Truett Memorial in Hayesville, his birthplace, so if I ain't baptized then I no for Darned sure Thornton ain't

2) My sister was a member of the congregation whose pastor presided over the ouster of FBC Greenville from the association couple years ago. He was all torn up about it, and is now in South Dakota for other reasons.

3) I have worshipped at FBC Greenville--they do a real good congregational singin before the preachin most times I been there and that is why I like it so--and agree with Bill Leonard that in Baptist polity majority vote trumps almost all doctrine and dissent; least it's been my experience.

4)at Same time I agree--bulletin, two Mormons just walked in the library and took my place--with Thornton, if somebody wants to be a Baptist, well then they should know they were gettin in the water over their head when they walked down the ailse.
At same time, I'm kinda with Karl Childers in Slingblade whose theology if extended to where it seemed to be going in last scene, wouldn't throw nobody out of the local church just cause they weren't in for a dunkin.

And 5) For Historical note; first converted I think my Daddy baptized were the James boys, Freddie and the other one in a creek outside Newport Tenn in 53 in the Parrottsville Community some called Baltimore.
I think Scott Erwin is familiar with the place.

6) One more thing, Gus Niebuhr at Newsweek religion blog differing with Al Mohler just today said making a point and I paraphrase: "Heard about it, Hell, I've seen it."
Niebuhr covered the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC in the 80's and now teaches at Syracuse. One of my college proffs at furman was his SS teacher in Boston.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby KeithE » Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:48 am

William Thornton wrote:KeithE and others: how many of your baptist churches accept baptisms (or administer the same) that are not by immersion?


My church accepts baptisms from other denominations and even infant baptism. G. Todd Wilson (our ex- minister for 23 years) argues that baptism is a celebrative action done soon after acceptance of Christ and should not be cheapened by making it an "entrance criteria" for Baptist church memebership. Read more about his view in "Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and te Lord's Supper" edited by Walter Shurden published by Smyth anf Helwys in 1999.

In fact I was baptised as an infant in my home denomnation Evangelical Covenant Church and when asking about it when I joined, Todd made it clear that while he would do it if asked, he felt it was certainly not necessary.
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Re: Whitsitt Diaries and Immersion

Postby William Thornton » Thu Dec 11, 2008 9:40 am

I enjoyed the article on Whitsitt. It was interesting to read John Pierce's recounting of the people and events in his life: fought with Nathan Bedford Forrest, Battle of Chickamauga, yankee prison camps, part of the troops escorting Jeffferson Davis, Mary Todd Lincoln's sister, kin to wife of president James K. Polk, Spurgeon, Richard Wagner, Tischendorf.
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