One can argue that the most important figure of the Civil War was Abraham Lincoln. One can argue further that Abraham Lincoln; the sixteenth president is the most important religious figure in America in the 19th century.
More has been written about Lincoln than any other president and there is seemingly no end, year after year, to the fascination with Lincoln and with Lincoln lore and it is sometimes difficult to separate myth from fact. And yes, Lincoln did grow out his beard due to the request of a young woman who wrote to him saying that the lanky, narrow-faced Lincoln would be more distinguished as a candidate with a beard. And yet it is true that the first election Abraham Lincoln ever won on his first attempt was his election to the presidency in 1860.
When people came to the dedication of the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg in November of 1863 they had no idea what they were going to hear. The graves at Gettysburg were very fresh the huge battle only having been fought four months earlier. People did enjoy going to hear the "speechifying." there were three great influences that encouraged the rolling oratory of the 19th century: the works of Shakespeare, the words of the King James Bible and the classical organ music of the Romantic period.
Senator Edward Everett of Massachusetts spoke at Gettysburg for two hours. Abraham Lincoln spoke for less than five minutes. Lincoln's remarks received mixed reviews at the time, but Senator Everett saw things clearly. He wrote Lincoln that no one would remember what he said but that the world would never forget what Lincoln said.
A central religious figure? One has to consider Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address of March 1865. The Civil War and Lincoln's life would both end in about a month. Lincoln's position on the issue of slavery had evolved. Lincoln had been for the legal limitation of slavery backing measures such as the Wilmot Proviso: exactly the kind of legal limitation that the slave-holding South feared. Early on Lincoln was in favor of gradual emancipation and even colonialization efforts: sending freed slaves back to Africa. Yet he authored the Emancipation proclamation in early 1863. Oddly enough the proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate States. Lincoln freed slaves in territory that he did not control. Asked why he issued the proclamation, Lincoln answered that, "I promised God that I would do it."
The Second Inaugural Address is one of the most Christian documents in American history. Lincoln correctly noted that each side prayed to the same God. Both sides read the same Bible and asked for God's help and protection in the war. If Christians wage war against one another who does God listen to?
And what to make of the ways of God? Could the war be a punishment for one section of the country fostering slavery and for the other section of the country for allowing slavery to exist? If God willed that all the accumulated wealth from slavery be lost and that every drop of blood drawn by the lash be paid for by a drop drawn by the sword who were we to question God "for the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." (Psalm 19:9)? But judge not, Lincoln noted, lest we be judged. Lincoln said let us do the right as God gives us to see the right. Could it be that we don't always see the right? Finish the war; bind up the nation's wounds; care for the wounded soldiers, the widows and the orphans (and Lincoln did not say just those of the Union) and attempt to forge a just and lasting peace.