One hundred and fifty years ago, religion played more of a central role in the minds and hearts of Americans than so is true today. Always closely associated with a stronger sense of public participation in prayer, Southerners had chosen a leader that would not be afraid of calling national observances of prayer and fasting.
As opposing forces came closer and closer to a major clash, Confederate President Jefferson Davis called for the first national day of fasting for the Confederate States of America on June 13, 1861. As noted in an 1861 Arkansas newspaper, “In compliance with the proclamation of President Davis, there will be religious services in all the churches to-day (Thursday,) at 10½ or 11 o’clock. Every business house, and every grocery in the place have agreed to close up and suspend business for the day. It will be one of the most quiet days Little Rock has witnessed for many a year.”
The June 14, 1861 edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal notes that the day of fasting was “manifested in this city yesterday.” The article noted that Memphis businesses were closed and that most churches were opened with a large attendance of parishioners. Even into the afternoon hours, “The street corners and the lamp-posts were without their usual crowd of loungers. No noise of rattling drays, no shouts of children, no hum of business broke the hush that prevailed. Only at the forts, and at the arrivals and departures at the river, was there any movement. The God of battles was appealed to, and the occasion was marked with becoming reverence and solemnity.”
Throughout the War, Confederate President Jefferson Davis officially declared a total of ten such days of fasting and days of prayer.