Civil War spurs rise of Bible belt
Pine Level Christian churches start after the war
The "War Between the States," fought more than 140 years ago, was without
a doubt the most troubling time period in American history. Brothers and neighbors
fought each other during the Civil War, leaving more than one million casualties.
Florida was one of the earliest states to secede from the Union. Sixteen thousand
Floridians served in the Confederate Army. Two thousand of their fellow statesmen
served in the Union Army.
More than 5,000 Floridians were killed during the course of the war. Quite
a few men who fought in this war are buried in DeSoto County cemeteries. The
following is a list of the location of their graves.
* Joshua Creek Cemetery — 24 graves.
* Fort Ogden Cemetery — 21 graves.
* Pine Level Cemetery — 7 graves.
* Oak Ridge Cemetery — 5 graves.
* Oak Hill Cemetery — 3 graves.
* Owens Cemetery — 3 graves.
* Indian Mound Cemetery — 1 grave.
* King Cemetery — 1 grave.
* Kabrich Cemetery — 1 grave.
The names of many of these soldiers, such as Addison, Morgan, Strickland, Johnson,
Johns, Keen, Williams, Coker, Bates, Mizell, Platt, Albritton, Durrance, Langford,
Mobley, Parker, Roan, Summerall, Whidden, Pierce and Pooser, are recognized
as pioneer families in this area. Many of their descendants still live here,
and several roadways in DeSoto County bear their names.
The issue of slavery was not a prominent concern to many in central Florida.
Few families in this area owned slaves.
Two concerns motivated the local residents. Primarily, they opposed the centralization
of power in Washington, D.C. Many believed the U.S. Constitution reserved many
governing powers to the states and to the people. In addition to this concern,
they felt a strong sense of loyalty to their families, neighbors and the state.
Union sympathizers also lived in this area. In fact, there was a Union outpost
in Fort Myers. The close proximity of people with differing beliefs unfortunately
led to great animosity among neighbors. Houses throughout the Peace River valley
were burned during the war. Conscript officers "roamed the woods"
and carried men off without notice to fight on one side or the other in the
The raising of cattle in central Florida played an important part in the war
effort. A "Cow Calvary" was set up to protect the ranchers of this
area of Florida. Numerous skirmishes were fought, as small bands of Union soldiers
tried to disrupt Southern supply lines originating in central Florida.
The lasting effect of the Civil War on the South, and DeSoto County in particular,
was a revival of religion. The Methodists and Baptists were particularly affected.
During the course of the war, many soldiers converted to these religions. The
number of converts increased after the war, as disillusionment set in. The chaplains
were busy, counseling young men who could not understand why God would allow
their "just cause"to fail.
As these men returned to their homes, a multitude of Baptist and Methodist
churches were started across the South. The term "Bible Belt" was
coined to describe the great proliferation of churches. Nowhere else in the
world is such a density of churches likely to be found. Soon after the war,
a Baptist Church and a Methodist Church were founded in Pine Level. They were
the first churches started in this area.
Before a spiritual revival can occur, there must be a humbling of the human
spirit. King David said, "Before I was afflicted I went astray" (Psalm
119:67). He added, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that
I might learn thy statutes" (Psalm 119:71).
The South was humbled by the war, and thousands converted as a result. The
impact of this great spiritual movement lasted for 100 years. Many people still
alive can remember a time in the South when the local churches were the center
of activity, the preachers were the most respected individuals in the town,
and morality and political views were based on the Bible. As a result, the entire
nation was affected and the spiritual vitality of the South benefited.