Confronting Immortality at Gettysburg

The United States Christian Commission and Civil Religion

Cody Musselman

The Reverend John Wega repeats the same refrain every time he introduces a sermon of the contemporary Christian Commission. The United States Christian Commission (USCC) went to the battlefields of the American Civil War “not with rifles or bayonets, but . . . with Bibles and bandages and the love and salvation offered only through the love of Jesus Christ.”2 Inspired by the stories of the USCC, a relief agency formed during the Civil War, Wega moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in the early 2000s to re-establish the USCC, which had been defunct since the end of the Civil War. Seeing Gettysburg as a location where Americans come face to face with their mortality, Wega’s new USCC strives to offer a religious outlet for the emotional responses triggered by Gettysburg’s stories of carnage and sacrifice. The motivation behind his efforts is a desire to restore the “story of Christian heritage in America.”3 What better place to establish such a ministry than in a popular patriotic destination where visitors look out over a landscape both sacralized by “a baptism in blood” and secularized by tourism? Peppered with monuments and casualty statistics, Gettysburg is a place where faith, death, and national identity converge.4

Using stories from the past and present Christian Commissions, I will explore how the death toll of the Battle of Gettysburg has enshrined the battlefield as an important national landmark. Beginning with a brief introduction to the history of the USCC and its involvement in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, this paper will turn to the USCC’s recent reincarnation by the Reverend John Wega. Seeing nationalism as the dominant immortality project available to Gettysburg visitors, Wega uses the Christian stories of the Civil War to present an alternative narrative for visitors grappling with questions of mortality. Visitors faced with the degree of casualties suffered at Gettysburg are encouraged to subscribe to what Ernest Becker calls an “immortality project”—inviting individuals to invest their being into something greater than themselves, something that will remain eternal. Using the framework of the immortality project, I argue that Wega tries to create a space for evangelical Christianity to compete with civil religion as the primary immortality project presented to Gettysburg visitors who are confronting mortality and the price of nationalism.

The Historical United States Christian Commission

As one of the most popular Civil War battlefields, Gettysburg gained its historical significance from its being the location of a momentous three-day battle of the American Civil War. With roughly fifty-one thousand casualties, the Battle of Gettysburg was the most gruesome of the Civil War battles and is commonly referred to as the war’s turning point. In the aftermath of the battle, volunteers came to Gettysburg to aid the wounded and bury the dead. Among the volunteers were members of the USCC, a relief aid organization distinct from the Union Army’s chaplain corps. Several months into the beginning of the American Civil War, members of the Young Men’s Christian Association became convinced that the Northern troops needed more faith-based resources. In November 1861 they met in New York City and created the USCC. Led by George H. Stuart, the delegates of the Commission were mostly male laymen and ministers.5 The Commission had a small set of paid field agents, but relied primarily on volunteers, also known as delegates, who served terms of two to six weeks.6 Traveling from battlefield to battlefield, delegates provided worship services and prayer to the soldiers. The worship practices of the USCC were influenced by the emotionalism and religious excitement of the evangelical revivalist tradition.7 Such practices included tent or camp meetings led by clergy and laymen, extemporaneous preaching, testimonials, and weekday services.8

Initially focusing on the spiritual needs of soldiers, the USCC spent much of its first year distributing Bibles, tracts, and religious publications.9 As the war drew on, the USCC adapted to the shifting needs of the soldiers and began to function more as a relief agency. They diversified their aid to address soldiers’ well-being and morale. They offered medical care, food, clothing, care packages, letter writing materials, and refreshments such as water, lemonade, and coffee.10 In his account of the Commission’s activities after the Battle of Gettysburg, Maryland Committee delegate Andrew Cross pointed to the value of offering a variety of comforts to soldiers. “[N]ever was a cup of cold water given to a sick or dying man more desirable or appropriate,” he wrote.11 By distributing beverages and goods, the USCC delegates found a point of entry into “[speaking] a word for Christ” to the soldiers.12

As it was conceived, the USCC was meant to serve the soldiers of the Union Army, yet accounts of Southern soldiers receiving relief and aid from USCC volunteers were commonplace in the organization’s accounts. Cross wrote, “Our own men thanked us; our enemies wonder while they acknowledged the kindness.”13 Describing the surprise felt by Confederate soldiers who received aid from the USCC, Cross continues, “they did not expect to be treated this way.” He quotes a soldier as having said, “We are not afraid of your iron balls and heavy cannon, but we can’t stand this. . . . This treatment will perfectly subjugate us.”14 Another such example is found in the personal journal of J.R. Weist, a USCC volunteer in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. Weist describes the baptism by USCC volunteer Reverend Dobson of a dying “penitent rebel soldier,” W.J. White. Weist recorded the effect of the baptism: “At no time did I see a more satisfactory case—so fully prepared and willing to depart and be with Christ. The sad and happy I did think were very beautifully blended here.”15 Despite the intention of assisting only the Northern army, the USCC transcended political and regional ties. It centered instead on the redemptive capacity of baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. The effect of the Commission’s goodwill was not lost on its delegates. “We have heard many of both sides say that such actions of our Commission will do more to put an end to the war and make us live in peace and harmony under the Union than anything else,” wrote Cross.16

The aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be a time where the relief offered by Christian Commission volunteers was especially needed. As one of the first USCC delegates to reach Gettysburg, Cross described the scope of the battle’s devastation, writing, “Here are thousands of men dying, who have only a few moments to make their preparations for eternity. . . . They lie among strangers, scattered in every direction chaplains cannot reach the one-hundredth of them.”17 Upon arriving at Gettysburg, Weist recalled the painful and gruesome scenes from the wake of the battle: “Saw what can only be seen after a great conflict—the effects of stern and real war. Dead horses, and many dead rebels unburied—and scattered all over were every thing a soldier carries and wears. The scene was sad and sorrowful. Graves! Graves! Everywhere.”18 After receiving his assignment with the Second Army Corps, Weist walked the grounds and took in the devastation:

Misery and sufferings enough to sicken and overcome most persons. Limbs piled up like heaps of hay or wood. Men shot in almost every conceivable form. Dirty, filthy, wet—many without garments enough to cover them. Some dyeing [sic], others fast sinking, others in great agony; while others however, were calm, easy and in good spirits. The scenes were pitiful in the extreme.19

To aid their relief, Weist gave out libations and prayed with soldiers. Amidst the despondency of the battle’s aftermath, Weist found satisfaction in his proselytization: “Oh how gratifying and cheering when men are prepared to die—when they have Jesus as a refuge and help and friend.20

Gettysburg, it would seem, was not only a turning point of the Civil War, but also a turning point for the Christian Commission. Gettysburg’s proximity to major cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York facilitated the telling of the Christian Commission delegates’ efforts. As a result, the USCC received more funding and an increase in volunteers. This allowed the Commission to create more opportunities to serve and expanded its number of paid positions for the remainder of the Civil War.21

The United States Christian Commission Reincarnated

The USCC dissolved after the war, only to be reincarnated one hundred forty years later by civilian John C. Wega. After reading journal entries of USCC delegates, Wega, a Pentecostal Christian, became inspired and moved his family to Gettysburg in the early 2000s. There he reestablished the USCC for the purposes of historical interpretation and contemporary evangelization. Wega views the Gettysburg Battlefield as a place where thousands of visitors come face to face with their mortality and need spiritual counseling in response this encounter. For Wega, this makes Gettysburg the greatest mission field in the United States.

A former biomedical researcher from New Jersey, Wega had not yet been ordained when he moved his family to Gettysburg, where he now serves as the self-appointed chaplain and primary historian of the USCC.22 Under Wega’s leadership, the contemporary Christian Commission aims to share the “untold story,” to “uncover the buried history” and draw attention to the “relatively unknown” efforts of the USCC in the Civil War.23 At its peak during the Civil War, the USCC had nearly five thousand unpaid volunteers. From this statistic, Wega asserts that the USCC “remains one of the greatest stories of heroism and courage in the course of our modern history.”24 Putting Christianity at the center of the Gettysburg experience is important to Wega, as he wants tourists at Gettysburg to acknowledge the importance of Christianity in United States history. Wega connects a soldier’s sacrifice for his country to the story of Jesus’s sacrifice for the sins of humanity: “. . . the sacrifice, the duty, the honor, the devotion, so that we may have life. I mean there are some real parallels there to the battlefield.” By clearly seeing a Christian narrative within the landscape of the battlefield, the story of the historical USCC makes the evangelization of Wega’s Christian faith all the more powerful. In reestablishing the USCC, Wega seeks simultaneously to tell the stories of the nineteenth-century USCC and to emulate the moral lessons they convey. “Wanting to ‘be’ the US Christian Commission, that’s quite a statement,” said Wega, “but I think we need to carry on their purposes and their work.”25 In reading the USCC documents, Wega sees the delegates’ conflation of civic duty and Christianity as a clear indication that Christianity needs to be made the dominant guiding philosophy it once was. Through his work with the reconstituted USCC, Wega hopes to revive modern America’s interest in being a Christian nation.

Having visited Gettysburg several times with his family, Wega was struck by the immense extent of the carnage during the Civil War: “Realizing that over six hundred thousand died over the period of four years, I was thinking, ‘Well, where were believers in Christ that went out with the Gospel? Was someone going to reach these dying people? Obviously it’s a place of people going off into eternity.’ ”26 Inspired by these questions, Wega began to investigate the ministry of the Civil War. After encountering the USCC in Incidents Among Shot and Shell by Edward Parmelee Smith, Wega felt compelled to share the stories of “Christian heroism” contained therein.27 For Wega and his family, Gettysburg, with hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, seemed like the obvious place to reestablish the USCC. “I think this makes Gettysburg, perhaps, the greatest mission field in America. People from all over the country, and all over the world, coming to a place where they are confronted with that [mortality].” The contemporary USCC not only offers visitors an alternative way to engage with Gettysburg’s history, but also aims to engage their religious condition.

With Gettysburg as his mission field, Wega has used strategies of living history demonstration and reenactment to aid his ministry. Most recently, Wega has established a museum with Civil War–era USCC artifacts inside his family’s coffee and cupcake shop—Johnny Como’s Cupcakes—on Chambersburg Street in downtown Gettysburg.28 Wega believes that his collection of USCC documents and artifacts on display at the USCC museum “give[s] credibility to the [USCC] story.”29 Establishing the credibility of his enterprise is a priority in the tourist-driven economy of Gettysburg, where multiple narratives of and avenues into battle analysis compete with each other.30 In the height of the summer tourist season, Wega attracts attention by dressing in Civil War–era clothing and participating in living history demonstrations.31 He finds that tourists are more amenable to discussing religion when he approaches them in period dress: “It’s amazing to see when you go out dressed as the Civil War, the intrigue and the openness that people have with you because they want to learn. Isn’t it interesting at Gettysburg how we can use the history to portray and meet people’s desire to be able to share the gospel?”32 For some reenactors the experience is transportive, and gives them a sense of time travel or “period rush.”33 This is not the case for Wega. His use of the Union soldier uniform to portray a USCC delegate is not for the thrill of reenacting, but rather is a strategy for advancing his missionary purposes. By embodying the life of a delegate, he is using the past to proselytize in the present. Unlike other living historians, whose missionary efforts focus on the importance of the past, Wega has an additional and more important mission: to spread the Christian gospel.

One of the crowning achievements of the contemporary USCC was the 2005 construction of a controversial twelve-by-twenty-foot-long wooden chapel on Chambersburg Street in downtown Gettysburg. In July of 2010, it was vandalized and then in November of the same year the borough of Gettysburg ordered that the log chapel be shut down because it did not meet zoning code and was built without proper permits.34 Before there was any legal resolution, the chapel was destroyed in December 2010 in an incident of arson that has yet to be solved.35 Before the chapel’s destruction, Wega held regular weekly worship services there.36 Reflecting upon the log chapel, Wega recalled wistfully, “That was pretty amazing to build a wood structure and to start to see eighty to a hundred people come on Sundays. We left it open 24/7. Free Bibles, tracts. You could just kind of sit in there. A place for spiritual resolution.”37 The chapel served as a venue in which visitors could find solace during their visit to Gettysburg. “They’re faced with a kind of hopelessness about the story [of Gettysburg] and it became a great place for people to come make resolution,” said Wega.38 Confronted with the carnage of the Battle of Gettysburg, the chapel sought to provide a non-denominational Christian location where people could contemplate mortality in a context of faith.

Whether they arrived three days after the battle or one hundred fifty-two years later, visitors to Gettysburg find themselves confronted with the gruesome realities of war. Thus, coming face to face with the fragility of one’s own mortality remains a defining characteristic of the experience of visiting Gettysburg. “When you come to the battlefield and you hear about all of that stuff, where does it leave you?” Wega asks. “It leaves you in a real dilemma of hope. We’ve had people come and say ‘this place is so depressing.’ Because they’re not just confronted with what happened a hundred and fifty years ago, those people that lost their lives and all of that—whether they can consciously identify it or not—they’re confronting their own mortality, and what will happen when they die.” These inescapable reminders of one’s mortality make Gettysburg a mission field especially ripe for Christian evangelization, as both the USCC journal entries and Wega’s observations attest.

Gettysburg, Mortality, and American Civil Religion

In light of the immense carnage wrought at the Battle of Gettysburg, the contemporary USCC valorizes the response of the nineteenth-century USCC through the rhetoric of heroism. “This is a story of heroes . . . heroes of faith!” the USCC’s website exclaims.39 Through this language, Wega draws attention to the idea that “heroism is first and foremost a reflex of the terror of death.”40 In The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker argues that humans are able to transcend the predicament of mortality through heroism. Heroism, or “hero-systems,” engage the symbolic self whereby a person invests his or her self-worth in something they think will last forever. In this immortality project, “the complex symbol of death is transmuted and transcended by man”41 and an individual may “earn a feeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, or ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning.”42

At Gettysburg, overt hero-systems are used to attribute meaning to the casualties of the soldiers and to engage visitors in the patriotic hero-project of the United States—encouraging visitors to subscribe to the Nation as something larger than the individual, from which “primary value” or “cosmic specialness” can be derived. As the turning point of the American Civil War and the battle that kept the states united, Gettysburg is a site that simultaneously celebrates national unity and valorizes the death of individuals as sacrifice in service of the nation. Incarnated in the “blood sacrifice” was an American civil religion, with Gettysburg as one of its primary shrines.43

In his 1967 essay “Civil Religion in America,” sociologist Robert Bellah popularized the concept of American civil religion, arguing that a nation comes to some sort of religious self-understanding, and that this should be differentiated from national self-idolization.44 The historian Raymond Haberski, in a recent book on God and War, describes American civil religion as “a hybrid of nationalism and traditional religion,” made up of a “collection of myths,” that has “an ideological flexibility.”45 Catherine Albanese notes that religion is often the cohesive element of society, and within the religiously diverse setting of the United States, religions tend to coalesce around the symbols, practices, rituals and ideals of the civic.46 Gettysburg, as a symbol of the national patriotic landscape, is sustained by the rhetoric of sacrifice. When visiting the hallowed ground, the National Park Service visitor center’s orientation film, A New Birth of Freedom, and signs throughout the park highlight the battle’s casualties and implore tourists to recognize the United States as a nation indebted to the dead. Bellah links this rhetoric to Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to sustain the Union in his famous Gettysburg Address, delivered while dedicating the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg. Surrounded by thousands of fresh graves, Lincoln uplifted the ideals of the nation as ones worth dying for. He called upon the American people to rededicate themselves to those ideals, “that these dead shall not have died in vain.”47

Indeed, efforts made throughout the years by the National Park Service and by local citizens have ensured that the efforts of the soldiers are not forgotten. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract,” Lincoln said in his address. Even so, efforts to preserve the sanctity of Gettysburg in the one hundred fifty-two years since the battle have been numerous, and have included erecting monuments, holding reunions and battle anniversaries, remodeling the battlefield landscape for a better likeness to that of the 1860s, and holding modern-day reenactments. The construction of the past, writes Bertram Cohler, “is an active, continuing process, carried out by members of a culture sharing symbolic meanings in common and embodied in such aspects of culture as text and monument.”48 The Gettysburg National Military Park communicates the meaning of Gettysburg as the battle that held the United States together, and emphasizes it as a place of shared meaning for Americans. Stories of Union and Confederate soldiers’ valor at Gettysburg have contributed to the narrative of national self-importance, and have turned Gettysburg into one of the United States’s most powerful patriotic landscapes.49 Glorified as the battle that kept the United States “one nation under God,” Gettysburg is a place where much symbolism and rhetoric appealing to American civil religion can be found.50

In his 1967 essay, Bellah discusses how the Civil War affected the character and symbols of American civil religion and anticipates new symbolic forms to arise from what he calls a “third time of trial,” amidst the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the influx of non-Christian immigrants. Bellah drew attention to the existence of a Judeo-Christian American civil religion at the very time the Judeo-Christian label was swept aside for the more inclusive renderings of American religious pluralism. Yet the Protestant influence remained, even as terms defining American religious culture changed. Albanese points out that the various religious traditions present within the United States acquire characteristics of the Protestant mainstream, writing that Protestantism as “the dominant and public religion of the United States” is the common thread in America’s cultural religion.51 Tracy Fessenden argues that Protestantism’s grip on American culture is so strong that what is presented in popular and legal discourse as secularism is in fact a form of veiled Protestantism.52 Civil religion at Gettysburg may therefore be seen as a public Protestant civil religion. In some ways these Protestant undertones aid a Christian encounter with mortality at Gettysburg. Yet this is not enough for Wega.

For Wega, the veiled Protestantism of American civil religion is too secular—devoid of God and without a clear enough path to the Christian faith. This matter is of grave concern for Wega because his mission is to save souls through Christian conversion, and this mission is contested by the National Park Service’s position that embraces traditional liberal Protestant civil religion.


Amid the wealth of civil religious symbols and rhetoric at Gettysburg, visitors are forced to consider the legacy of their nation as intertwined with war. “The Civil War taught Americans that they really were a Union, and it absolutely required a baptism of blood to unveil transcendent dimensions of that union,” writes Harry Stout.53 War, and invariably death, gives rise to the discussion of religion, since religion becomes most visible in times of death. “There are no atheists in foxholes . . . in a time of test and trial, we instinctively turn to God for new courage and peace of mind, ”54 said President Dwight Eisenhower in a radio address.55 That the Civil War incarnated American civil religion, as Stout asserts, is not surprising since the spiritual and psychological impact of its death toll was high. Indeed, death pervades the legacy of Gettysburg, making the need for immortality projects all the more pressing.

With rhetorics of heroism, sacrifice, glory and unity, the immortality project of the nation is the primary narrative promoted at Gettysburg, thus highlighting its role as a shrine to the nation. Yet this does not satisfy the likes of Wega, who sees civil religion as a venue for misplaced faith. Instead, Wega presents visitors with an alternative, the immortality project of Christianity. As a representative of America’s Christian religious right, Wega is dissatisfied with the current formulation of American civil religion because of what it leaves out: an overtly Christian story. “Christian history is not some sub-story that follows history,” said Wega, “we’re trying to integrate it into the whole story.”56 For Wega, the notion of America as a Christian nation is at stake in the success or failures of the reincarnated USCC. Today, a century and a half since the Civil War drew to a close, Wega finds himself embroiled in a cultural battle over narratives of history and expressions of faith in America. As the thousands of visitors who come to Gettysburg each year decide how to frame their interpretation of historical events and the meaning of those events for their thinking about their own mortality, Wega presents visitors the stories of Christian exemplars. Entering the battlefield without rifles or bayonets, the USCC delegates of the past offered the injured and the dying the love and salvation of Jesus Christ. Using stories from the past, Wega fights for Christianity as the only viable immortality project at Gettysburg. Yet, when pinned against the capaciousness of civil religion, Wega’s USCC is losing ground.


1. Many thanks to John Wega for his willingness to be interviewed about the USCC, and to Healan Gaston for her guidance, patience, and enthusiasm for this project.

2. A phrase repeated by Wega in nearly every introduction to his sermons available through John Wega, “Sermon: Battlefield Orders,”, accessed March 30, 2014,

3. “USCC Homepage,” accessed March 1, 2014,

4. Harry Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War, (New York: Viking, 2006), xxi.

5. Most of the USCC delegates were male, white, middle class, and Protestant.

6. Ben Miller, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” New York Times, December 22, 2011, accessed February 26, 2014,

7. Daniel J. Hoisington, Gettysburg and the Christian Commission (Roseville, MN: Edinborough Press, 2002), 1–37.

8. Christopher Hodge Evans, Histories of American Christianity: An Introduction (Waco: Baylor University Press, 1959–2013), 116.

9. Hoisington, Gettysburg and the Christian Commission, 5.

10. Miller, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

11. Andrew B. Cross, “Battle of Gettysburg and the Christian Commission” (National Park Service Archives and Library, Gettysburg, PA), 21.

12. J.R. Weist, “Personal Journal of Tuesday July 7, 1863” (National Park Service Archives and Library, Gettysburg, PA), 187.

13. Ibid., 20.

14. Cross, “Battle of Gettysburg and the Christian Commission,” 20. Italics in original.

15. Weist, “Personal Journal of Tuesday July 7, 1863,” 187.

16. Cross, “Battle of Gettysburg and the Christian Commission,” 21.

17. Ibid., 22.

18. Weist, “Personal Journal of Tuesday July 7, 1863,” 186.

19. Ibid., 186.

20. Weist, “Personal Journal of Tuesday July 7, 1863,” 188.

21. Hoisington, Gettysburg and the Christian Commission, 36.

22. He is also the chaplain for the Adams County, PA, Sheriff’s Department.

23. “USCC Homepage.”

24. “USCC History,” accessed March 2, 2014,

25. John Wega, interview by author, Gettysburg, PA, March 16, 2014.

26. Ibid.

27. Incidents Among Shot and Shell: The Only Authentic Work Extant Giving the Many Tragic and Touching Incidents that Came Under the Notice of the United States Christian Commission During the Long Years of the Civil War, (Philadelphia: Edgewood Publishing Company, 1868).

28. Johnny Como’s Cupcakes is named after John Como Wega. The cupcake shop is down the street from the location of the USCC’s log chapel, which burned down in 2010.

29. John Wega, interview by author, Gettysburg, PA, March 16, 2014.

30. Ghost tours, driving tours, bus tours, National Park Service tours, and historical interpretation events are a few of the entities competing for tourists’ time and money. “Our tours have gained little traction,” said Wega. Since the re-founding of the USCC, the Wegas have begun to focus more on ministry and historical reenactment and less on giving tours.

31. Over the past ten years such living history demonstrations have ranged from holding tent revivals at reenactments to showing his replica USCC coffee wagon and, before 2010, holding church services in the log chapel on Chambersburg Street in Gettysburg before it was destroyed.

32. John Wega, interview by author, Gettysburg, PA, March 16, 2014.

33. Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), 212.

34. Scott Andrew Pitzer, “Chapel Challenges Boro order to vacate,” Gettysburg Times Nov. 18, 2010, accessed May 7, 2014,

35. Katharine Harmon, “Three Sought in Civil War Chapel Arson: Chapel owner says ruling fills him with sorrow,” The Evening Sun, Dec. 4, 2010, accessed May 7, 2014,

36. “Chapel Destroyed,” Gettysburg Times, Dec. 3, 2010, accessed May 7, 2014,

37. John Wega, interview by author, Gettysburg, PA, March 16, 2014.

38. Ibid.

39. “USCC History.”

40. Ernest Becker quoting N.S. Shaler, The Individual: A Study of Life and Death (New York: Appleton, 1900) in Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973), 11.

41. Becker, The Denial of Death, 24.

42. Ibid., 5.

43. Harry Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation, xxi.

44. Robert N. Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Dædalus 96, no. 1 (Winter 1967).

45. Raymond Haberski Jr., God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012), 5.

46. Catherine Albanese, America: Religions and Religion, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992), 395.

47. Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln Online, accessed April 15, 2014,

48. Bertram J. Cohler, “Nostalgia and the Disenchantment with Modernity: Memory Books as Adaptive Response to the Shoah,” in Mourning Religion, ed. William B. Parsons, Diane Jonte-Pace, and Susan E. Henking (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 211.

49. John S. Patterson, “A Patriotic Landscape: Gettysburg 1863–1913,” Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 7 (1982): 315–333.

50. The teaching and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag at public schools in United States is just one way in which young citizens become indoctrinated in the American civil religion.

51. Albanese, America: Religions and Religion, 397.

52. Tracy Fessenden, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 1–12.

53. Harry Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation, xxi.

54. Raymond Haberski Jr., “War and America’s Civil Religion,” Huffington Post, July 2, 2012. Accessed April 24, 2014,

55. President Eisenhower retired to Gettysburg after leaving the White House in 1961.

56. John Wega, interview by author, Gettysburg, PA, March 16, 2014.

Cody Musselman
is a doctoral student in American religious history at Yale University. She graduated with a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 2015 with a focus on American religious history and special interests in the American interfaith movement, American civil religion, the American Civil War, and material culture. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Kalamazoo College. During her time at Kalamazoo, she studied abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute.