Cold Civil War: Race, Religion, and Early Reconstruction in Woodstock, Virginia, 1865-1870

Thursday, November 16, 2023, 7p | In-Person & Zoom Webinar

With author Steve Longenecker

During the early years of Reconstruction in Woodstock, Virginia, a subtle but deeply impactful conflict simmered beneath the surface. Although the physical combat had ended at Appomattox, the town remained sharply divided. The prevailing issues were so profound that they led to a state of persistent tension and strife, akin to a cold civil war, much like the challenges facing America today.

Conditions included recent shifts in racial power dynamics and political discussions. Those who once held power were now on the outside looking in, and both sides viewed each other as illegitimate and existential threats. The divide between conservative white citizens and Unionists, including Black individuals and the federal government, seemed nearly insurmountable. Occasionally, outbreaks of violence only exacerbated the situation. 

Furthermore, the conflict spilled over into religious institutions. Northern and Southern branches of Methodism vied for control of church buildings, while church publications championed “Lost Cause” narratives. The Freedmen’s Bureau had to mediate disputes concerning the control of Black labor by white landowners, and its school faced resistance from white opponents, leading to more violence. Even women, who played an active role in the town’s religious life, found themselves entangled in the street violence that characterized this turbulent period in Woodstock’s history.

Village Street in Woodstock (Virginia), Frank Buchser, 1867
Village Street in Woodstock (Virginia), Frank Buchser, 1867

Steve Longenecker is Professor of History, emeritus, Bridgewater College, where he taught for thirty-two years. He is the author of numerous books and articles on American religious history, including Shenandoah Religion: Outsiders and the Mainstream, 1718–1865 (Baylor University Press, 2002) and his most recent publication, Pulpits of the Lost Cause: The Faith and Politics of Former Confederate Chaplains during Reconstruction (University of Alabama Press, 2023). He lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia.