Massaponax Baptist Church E-78

Historical Marker Text
Massaponax Baptist Church, built in 1859, served a congregation founded in 1788. On 21 May 1864 Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his commanders conferred on pews in the churchyard as the Union army marched from the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield to the North Anna River. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan hauled his heavy stereo camera to the balcony of the church and recorded this conference in a unique series of candid images showing a war council in progress. [1991]

Extended Research
Early History
With the establishment of the first Baptist churches in England in the early eighteenth century, followers were sent out to establish churches in America. The movement spread quickly in America. Massaponax Baptist Church was established in 1788. The first small log cabin meeting room was probably located near the Massaponax Creek. The parish quickly outgrew this building and a new brick building was built in 1859.

The first pastor, Joseph Billingsley, was not very popular with the congregation. He was known for giving very long sermons, sometimes lasting two or more hours. On at least one occasion, the congregation blocked the door so he could not get into the church. This did not deter him; instead he gave his sermon in the courtyard.grantand.jpg

The Civil War
Because of its strategic location, the church became headquarters for both the Union and Confederate Armies at different points during the Civil War. Religious services were stopped during this occupation. It was used as a meeting house, hospital, and battle strategy facility (“Massaponax”). A few pictures still exist of Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant and his Union soldiers planning on the grounds of the church. They stopped here on their way from the Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield (Rhea 114).

By the end of the war, the walls were filled with writing, stories, messages to loved ones, and crude pictures from the soldiers that took shelter there. After the war was over, services resumed and the walls were whitewashed (“Massaponax”).

civil_war_church.jpg

Photo Credits
“General Ulysses S. Grant and Troops,” http://www.massaponaxbaptist.org/history.htm (accessed April 15 2008).

“MBC Civil War,” http://www.massaponaxbaptist.org/history.htm (accessed April 15 2008).

For Further Reference
“Massaponax Baptist Church: History.” http://massaponaxbaptist.org/history.htm (accessed March 27, 2008).

Rhea, Gordon C. The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.

Department of Historic Resources map and directions

JF