College of Arts and Sciences
Master of Arts in History - Comprehensive (MA)
Appalachia, Religion, Civil War, Guerrilla War, Floyd County Virginia
History | History of Christianity | Military History | United States History
Elwardani, Sheilah, "Traitors in the Service of the Lord: The Role of Church and Clergy in Appalachia's Civil War" (2019). Masters Theses. 554.
Studies of the guerrilla war in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains reveal repeated instances of violence and threats directed at the pastors of mountain churches. Instances of churches being burned, pastors and laymen beaten and at times murdered are sprinkled throughout the primary source materials. The question raised here is why were pastors and specific churches being targeted for violence? The church was the center of the life for secluded Appalachian communities, church leadership carried tremendous weight in influencing loyalties. Research focused solely on the Dunkard Church in Floyd County, Virginia revealed that amidst a particularly violent guerrilla war, (irregular combatants engaged in partisan violence against opposing loyalists), involving massive numbers of deserters and a highly determined home guard the Dunkard Church became actively involved in aiding deserters and Union loyalists. Dunkards were not the only church being targeted for violence, nearly all clergy and churches experienced direct, dangerous interactions with guerrillas. Every congregation held loyalty to either the Federal government or the Confederate government. Therefore, every individual and congregation was traitor to either the Federal or Confederate government. A parishioner’s belief system was a primary driving factor in the inclination of loyalties; applying belief system to the active aiding of either the northern or southern war effort made each person involved guilty of treason to the opposing government. The application of religious beliefs into loyalties and active involvement in the Floyd County, Virginia is the focus of this study. Floyd County experienced well above average rates of desertion, brutal guerrilla warfare and a definite shift toward Unionism late in the war. Clear patterns of congregational loyalties and church involvement can be found in the violent conditions the county experienced during the Civil War.