Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 20, 1967

Dr. B.F. Hall And The Civil War

Earl Kimbrough

When Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumpter that fateful April morning in 1861, it launched one of the bloodiest civil wars in the history of man. The deep-seated social and political conflicts that gave rise to hostilities between North and South had a pronounced effect upon the churches of the land, and the churches of Christ were not spared. While many gospel preachers strongly opposed Christians participating in carnal warfare, there were others who fervently supported the war on one side or the other. Some even wore the uniform of either the Gray or the Blue and took an active part in the fighting.

Dr. Benjamin Franklin Hall was living in Texas when the war broke out. At the time he was one of the leading evangelists in the movement to restore New Testament Christianity, having pioneered the cause in several states of the South. He had been instrumental in establishing the first church patterned after the apostolic order in North Carolina, at Edenton in 1833, and the first like church in Arkansas, at Little Rock the year before. There is also reason to believe that he was the first man to preach the gospel plan of salvation in Alabama, where he traveled for two years beginning in the fall of 1826. However, Kentucky seems to have been the main field of his labor prior to his removal to Texas a few years before the war.

A dentist by profession, Dr. Hall supported his family in that occupation as he evangelized from place to place. A Baptist paper in Alabama referred to him as "a tooth doctor peregrinating the country and peddling heresies." In the middle 1830's he was co-editor with John T. Johnson of the original Gospel Advocate and the Gospel Panoplist. He was a co-laborer at times with many of the leading lights among the restoration preachers, including Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, and Tolbert Fanning. He was also an able singer and the editor of a hymn book.

Dr. Hall was so moved by the Southern cause that he became one of the Confederacy's rankest partisans. When the Sixth Texas Cavalry was activated for war, he joined its ranks as a regimental chaplain. With his six-foot stature and impressive manner of dress, he evidently made a handsome soldier, as "he rode a fine mule" and "carried a splendid rifle," but he made a poor chaplain. He was one of those preachers in uniform who, "instead of attempting to mitigate in any degree the horrors of war, and to soothe the fierce passions that had been aroused, rather strove to increase the one and inflame still further the other. "

The extent to which Dr. Hall "went wild on the war question" is revealed in an incident that took place just antecedent to the Battle of Pea Ridge, which was fought a few miles north of Fayetteville, Arkansas, in March, 1862. William Baxter and Robert Graham, gospel preachers, were then living in Fayetteville and had been operating a college there. When they learned that Dr. Hall was camped nearby, they paid their brother a visit, but they were completely surprised at what they found. Baxter recounted this visit in his book Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, saying:

I had known him in former years and was not prepared for the change, which a few hours' intercourse was sufficient to convince me had taken place. He boasted of his trusty rifle, of the accuracy of his aim, and doubted not that the weapon, with which he claimed to have killed deer at two hundred yards, would be quite as effectual when a Yankee was the mark....I ventured to ask what were his views concerning his brethren with and for whom he had labored in other years in the North and West. He replied that they were no brethren of his, that the religionists on the other side of the line were all infidel, and that true religion was now only to be found in the South.... Once during the evening he wished that the people of the North were upon one vast platform, with a magazine of powder beneath, and that he might have the pleasure of applying the match to hurl them all into eternity. (As quoted in Quest for a Christian America, pp. 155, 156. )

Dr. B. F. Hall was neither the first nor the last gospel preacher to accomplish much good in his earlier life, only to ruin his influence for truth and right by foolish actions in later years. What a heart-rending sight it always is but be that as it may, the good the doctor did prior to the war could not be changed by his ungodly attitude during the war. In reality men do not undo the good they have done. Paul could have become a castaway after having saved others, but that does not mean they too would be castaways. Regardless of Dr. Hall's actions during the war, or other indiscretions that mar his record, he deserves to be remembered for the important roll he played in pioneering the restoration plea across his beloved Southland.

We should never allow our disappointment in men to warp our evaluation of and appreciation for what they did in happier times. Nor should we allow our faith in God's truth to be shaken when good men forsake it or act contrary to it. Men are weak and frail creatures of dust, but the truth abides forever. Our attitude toward those who forsake the truth might well be that which W. C. Rogers took regarding Dr. Hall. "Without winking at one known or acknowledged sin of the Doctor's, I prefer awaiting the decision of Mary's Son and Israel's King in that day when all shall stand before the great white throne, and shall be judged out of the books then opened, and according to the things done in the body." (Recollections of Men and Faith)