The YMCA, which had recently been founded, arose to play a large part in the Third Great Awakening in cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago. The organization was for years a specifically evangelical Christian ministry intended to provide Christian training and a wholesome atmosphere for underprivileged young men who lived and worked in the big cities. Timothy Smith has written of the “fervently religious orientation of the mid-century YMCA” and “its intimate bond with the churches. Leading ministers participated in the ‘Y’ affairs at all levels.”

The Philadelphia YMCA sponsored a prayer meeting that drew 300 people daily. It began at noon, but people started gathering at 11 so they would be assured of a seat. The ‘Y’ also held an evangelistic campaign using a tent that could hold 1,200 people.

The Chicago YMCA served as a great training school for laypersons. Dwight L. Moody received his first opportunities for Christian service there.

The colleges of America were heavily influenced by the Awakening of 1858. Beyond the many conversions that took place, large numbers of enthusiastic students volunteered for service in foreign missions, or in the ministry.

The historian J. Edwin Orr wrote:

… The influence of the awakening was felt everywhere in the nation. It first captured great cities, but it also spread through every town and village and country hamlet. It swamped schools and colleges. It affected all classes without respect to condition.… It seemed to many that the fruits of Pentecost had been repeated a thousandfold.… the number of conversions reported soon reached the total of fifty thousand weekly.…

Coming on the eve of the Civil War, with the land torn apart by bitterness, the Awakening of 1858 was astounding. God seemed to be strengthening his people for the great trial to come. Yet the awakening did not end with the coming of the opening shots of the Civil War in 1861.

During the agonies of war, both the northern and southern armies experienced awakenings in the camps. Early in the war a large awakening occurred in the Army of Northern Virginia, and spread throughout the Confederate forces. Even in the tragic atmosphere of death and suffering, the awakening continued.