At the height of the Civil War in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued this General Order regarding the observance of the Sabbath in the military. In his General Order, President Lincoln quoted from two separate General Orders (February 26, and July 9, 1776) issued by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
This is the text of President Lincoln’s Order:
GENERAL ORDER RESPECTING THE OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH DAY IN
THE ARMY AND NAVY
Washington, November 15, 1862
The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, desires and enjoins the orderly observance of the Sabbath by the officers and men in the military and naval service. The importance for men and beast of the prescribed weekly rest, the sacred rights of Christian soldiers and sailors, a becoming deference to the best sentiment of a Christian people, and a due regard for the divine will demand that Sunday labor in the Army and Navy be reduced to the measure of strict necessity.
The discipline and character of the national forces should not suffer nor the cause they defend be imperiled by the profanation of the day or name of the Most High. “At this time of public distress,” adopting the words of Washington in 1776, “men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.” The first general order issued by the Father of his Country after the Declaration of Independence indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded and should ever be defended:
The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.
George Washington’s original General Orders:
February 26, 1776
All Officers, non-commissioned Officers and Soldiers are positively forbid[den from] playing at Cards, and other Games of chance. At this time of public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.
July 9, 1776
The Hon. Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of Thirty-three Dollars and one third pr month—The Colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives—To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger—The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.
[Source: The Writings of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1931), Vol. 4, p. 347, February 26, 1776 Order; and Writings (1932), Vol. 5, pp. 244-245, July 9, 1776 Order.]