“Obligation of a proper observance of the Sabbath”: Lee’s General Orders No. 15

Issued on this day (February 7) in 1864:

General Orders No. 15.
Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia,
February 7, 1864.

I. The attention of the army has already been called to the obligation of a proper observance of the Sabbath, but a sense of its importance, not only as a moral and religious duty, but as contributing to the personal health and well-being of the troops, induces the commanding general to repeat the orders on that subject. He has learned with great pleasure that in many brigades convenient houses of worship have been erected, and earnestly desires that every facility consistent with the requirements of discipline shall be afforded the men to assemble themselves together for the purpose of devotion.

II. To this end he directs that none but duties strictly necessary shall be required to be performed on Sunday, and that all labor, both of men and animals, which it is practicable to anticipate or postpone, or the immediate performance of which is not essential to the safety, health, or comfort of the army, shall be suspended on that day.

III. Commanding officers will require the usual inspections on Sunday to be held at such time as not to interfere with the attendance of the men on divine service at the customary hour in the morning. They also will give their attention to the maintenance of order and quiet around the places of worship, and prohibit anything that may tend to disturb or interrupt religious exercises.

R. E. Lee,
General.

I’ve seen this order cited in some forums as evidence of the deep religious sentiments of Lee.  There is no doubt of Lee’s feelings in that respect.  That said, consider what this order is and is not.  Lee did not direct times, places, and method of religious services.  Nor did he direct the attendance in those services.  There are two objectives in this order.  There would be a period within the weekly work cycle, in conjunction with religious observations, for purposes of “personal health and well-being.” And there will be no activities scheduled, aside from those of critical importance, which would interfere with that period.

I’ve also seen this order cited in a demonstrative tone offering comparison to activities on the other side of the battle lines.  As if the Federals were not as religious or less observant of the sabbath.  I think there is ample weight of evidence to the contrary.  Recall, of course, Charles Wainwright’s observations during the same winter.

We might offer many observations about General Orders No. 15.  I submit the most important of which was that Robert E. Lee understood even the lowest ranking soldier in the army needed a little time in which to be anything but a soldier.

(Source: OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 1150.)

2 thoughts on ““Obligation of a proper observance of the Sabbath”: Lee’s General Orders No. 15

    • To be fair, there are indeed standing orders today similar to that above. Notice that Lee left a lot of things open in regard to what should occur on Sundays, and rather specified what should not.

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