The Confederate Chaplain
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
“Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48). The Lord greatly used the chaplains in the Confederate Service. They were destined to impact the local churches of most Protestant denominations in the South for at least a generation after the War of Federal imperialism and reconstruction! How did this occur? The revival that the Lord God sovereignly sent through the ranks of the Confederate Armies made an eternal difference in the lives of many, in their families, in their local churches and in their culture. The Lord used those faithful men whom He had called to preach as His instruments. Many of those men were chaplains and some were ministers who visited and preached to the regiments and in the camps. The aim of this author is to give a sense of the nature of the Confederate Chaplain at work. The technical aspects of rank, pay, uniform, insignias and such are not the concern of the moment. But what of the men themselves? Being a chaplain was a very difficult task, and more complicated than pastoring a local church. The physical as well as spiritual being was stretched to the limits. A chaplain had to press on regardless of whether he felt like it or not. As shall become evident the chores of chaplains were usually extensive: from teaching a Bible class to caring for a dead body. Chaplain Randolph H. McKim who was a soldier before becoming a chaplain asserted, “My verdict was that I had suffered more hardship in the office of chaplain than I ever did as a private soldier carrying a musket and a knapsack” [A Soldier’s Recollections, 245]. There was no organized Chaplains Corps when the invasion of the South took place. Just as a new nation was in the formative stage, an army was being formed, a government was being organized and the chaplaincy was nonexistent. This led to difficulties. Men were reluctant to leave their congregations to enter an aspect of service that was not organized and where there were more questions than answers. How were they going to feed their families? What was the proper protocol? As a result there were men who had grandiose ideas about what they might do, what they might gain or whether this could be a stepping stone to the future. The disorganized atmosphere was not conducive to certainty and understanding.
What was the spiritual condition of Confederate Chaplains?
Certainly all chaplains were not what they should have been. Some did not last long because the soldiers were adept at recognizing and rejecting phonies. One such phony responded improperly when he was not provided forage for a horse. Since he did not have a horse he appropriated one from a Virginia farmer. Upon being confronted over this misdeed he tried to justify himself by saying he was imitating Jesus Christ. Being contradicted over such sacrilege the man replied that Jesus “took an ass from his owner, whereon to ride to Jerusalem.” The officer reprimanded him by pointing out, “You are not Jesus Christ, this is not an ass; you are not on your way to Jerusalem; and the sooner you restore that horse to its owner, the better it will be for you” [Roy Honeywell, Struggling for Recognition, The United States Army Chaplaincy: 1791-1865, Vol. 2, 26]. However, it may be accurately said, that generally speaking the Protestant chaplains (who made up about 97% of the chaplaincy) were regenerate men who had professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope and salvation. When their diaries or writings are consulted one finds such remarks as: “Ten years ago God converted my soul” [A. D. Betts, Experience of a Confederate Chaplain: 1861-1865, 47]. Tucker Lacy, “Stonewall” Jackson’s chaplain, wrote that he was born again in October of 1839 [Chaplain A.D. Betts’ private book]. His testimony was that he had experienced the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Chaplain N. B. Cobb experienced the new birth during his student days and renounced his sinfulness and embraced Christ as his Lord and Saviour. This occurred as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration in him during a protracted meeting under a Methodist minister. Confederate evangelist John A. Broadus was converted during a protracted meeting at Culpeper Court House while he was at school. He at first was under conviction of sin and felt unable to take hold of the promises of God. A friend quoted John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me. And him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” The friend repeated, “‘in no wise cast out.’ Can’t you take hold of that, John?” It was under this verse of Scripture that the light dawned[Archibald Thomas Robertson, Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus, 33]. Chaplain William Chaudoin’s conversion was in connection with W.F. Luck and W.D. Baldwin who were earnest, warm-hearted gospel preachers, who aimed the arrows of God’s Word at the hearts of the people. Early in a spring meeting the Holy Spirit began to work in the heart and mind of young Chaudoin. He tried hard to stifle all serious feelings, but God the Spirit was working effectually in his heart. The piercing conviction went deep and in a short time he presented himself for special prayer. About three days later God gave him peace in believing and he began to rejoice in his new found Saviour. These testimonies of saving grace among the chaplains could be greatly extended. What was the atmosphere that the chaplains had to contend with in the army relative to spiritual things? Early in the war men who were unregenerate were somewhat unrestrained in their behavior relative to cursing, gambling and drunkenness. This became much more restrained as the work of the Lord began to spread. These men needed the work of saving grace. They were the object of the ministry of the Confederate Chaplains Corps. Chaplain Bennett said that war revealed the angel and demon in men. His depiction gives the stark contrasts, “Sincere piety, brazen wickedness; pure public virtue, sordid baseness; lofty patriotism, despicable time-serving; consecration to a sacred cause and shameless abandonment of principle, appeared in every section of the country” [William W. Bennett, The Great Revival in the Southern Armies, 7]. McKim made a general observation of the army while still a soldier and before he became a chaplain, “I am prepared to say that in my whole experience I have never found men so open to the frank discussion of the subject of personal religion as the officers and men of Lee’s army” [McKim, 137]. Men, as a general rule, who were not Christians were respectful to those who ministered the gospel to them. They at times, in humorous ways, would give the chaplain a hard time, but they were not vicious or hateful toward them. The reason being the Christian culture in which they were reared. What moved Confederate Chaplains to serve? Their call to the ministry was the primary motivating force to their preaching and service to Christ. They could say, “for the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Their calling and the need of the hour equaled Confederate service as a chaplain, missionary, evangelist or colporteur. An example of this is seen in the life of Randolph H. McKim. He began the war after having left the University of Virginia; he entered the army as a common soldier but sensed the call of God upon his life. He explained his personal observation: “The inward call to preach Christ to my fellow men pressed strongly upon me in my camp life, and I find many entries in my little diaries showing my sense of responsibility in relation to it” [McKim, 136]. He also looked for an opening to become a chaplain. He was already doing the work of a chaplain when duty permitted. He explained, “So wide was the door of opportunity and so great the need of consecrated men to preach Christ in the army, that I often wished I was already ordained and commissioned as a chaplain. There were occasions when I was mistaken for a clergyman” [McKim, 137]. What led the settled ministers away from their pastorates and families and into the army? Many followed the men from their own congregations. Some felt a divine compunction to do so. There was the desire to preach Christ and His so great salvation to men facing imminent death. These chaplains carried the good news wherever their labors brought them. Sometimes they visited enemy prisoners who were marked for prison or wounded and left behind by their generals. The genuine chaplain’s were men with a divine purpose. John J. Hyman chaplain for the Forty-ninth Georgia Regiment confessed, “I left my home on the 10th day of March, 1862 … I was commissioned chaplain…. I, being young knew but little about the duties of a chaplain, but was willing to do anything in my Master’s cause” [Jones, 504]. Chaplain William Wiatt’s calling was evident in his diary for Tuesday, September 22, 1863 which tells us of his concern to give out the gospel, “Walked down to the Stone River; on return came up in a boat with four Irishmen; They were … quite unreligious; I gave them a lecture on temperance and preached Jesus to them….” [Alex. L. Wiatt, Confederate Chaplain William Edward Wiatt: An Annotated Diary, 104]. Chaplain A. D. Betts on the march to Gettysburg went to see a friend in College Grove. He met Dr. Johnson the president of Dickinson College, and while there Johnson’s daughter ask some questions of Betts. “‘Mr. Betts, what was your object in joining the army? Was it to help the rebellion?’ I told her I could not have taken the oath of office as Chaplain if I had not been in full sympathy with the Confederate cause, but I did not think it so weak as to need my help. I told her my love for souls led me into the work” [Betts, 39]. The calling of God, the love of Christ, the compassion for souls, and the need of the lost, wounded and dying soldiers were constraints. The Confederate chaplain had a purpose from God on high to minister to the needs of men below.
What personally concerned the Confederate Chaplain?
There were many issues in the chaplain’s life that were of great concern. Apart from his desire to please the Lord and obey his calling what personally concerned him?  The first concern, after the things previously mentioned, was his family. The chaplain thought of home as all soldiers. He therefore thought of parents and siblings. If married he thought also of wife and children. Not only did the heart yearn for those at home but also of their concerns regarding those away from home. Communities were constantly being flooded with lists of the dead and wounded. There was an insatiable desire to know of the wellbeing of family members. Some of the most moving aspects of war were the letters exchanged. One chaplain numbered each letter from his wife and numbered his letters to her. Wiatt in his diary recorded, “Tuesday, December 22nd, 1863, Received letters from my beloved wife (58th).” Then on “Wednesday, December 23rd, 1863, … wrote to my beloved wife (69th)….” [Wiatt, 125]. One chaplain requested a leave of absence to be with his wife. He wrote in his diary on, “April 9 – My application for leave of absence, to be with my wife during ‘an important crisis’ returns ‘disapproved!’ It was approved by regiment, brigade and division commanders but “disapproved” by corps commander, T. J. Jackson. I felt no bitterness toward him, as he was conscientious. I think he had never seen his only child, Julia. He set great store on the presence and services of chaplains among the soldiers. He knew the campaign would soon open, and he wanted chaplains to be on hand to care for the wounded and dying. He and others must trust their wives in God’s hands and he thought chaplains ought. ‘Respectfully forwarded disapproved, T. J. Jackson.’ Whatever ‘Stonewall’ disapproved we might expect Gen. Lee to disapprove. My heart sank within me when I read the short, last entry: “Respectfully returned disapproved by order of Gen. R. E. Lee.” My diary gives some of the cries of my heart in that sad hour” [Betts, 31 f.]. This was a trying time for the chaplain, but he was learning the cost of his calling. The very fact that chaplains were separated from their families was a time of testing. Concern for children and their upbringing, their souls, their discipline, their needs, and so on were heavy on the hearts of fathers who were the heads of their homes. One chaplain from Texas revealed, “I have not heard a word from my sweet little Elonora & Nannie since I heard them weeping as if their hearts would break, because their Papa was leaving to go to the war & it may be to see them no more on earth. Oh God, I commit them to thee” [Chaplain Davis and Hood’s Texas Brigade, Rev. Nicholas A. Davis, 8]. The conditions, whatever they were, of family members were naturally often very troubling. Did they have the necessities for life? Were they safe? What were their health needs? Chaplain Wiatt wrote on Thursday, December 31st, 1863, “Visited &c. received a letter (61st) from my beloved wife, in which she said that she had a hemorrhage; my heart is made sad by this information; Oh! that God may give her and myself faith in Himself and resignation to His Divine will; Brother Geo. F. Bagby came to our Regiment today; he and I attended a prayer meeting in Captain Owen’s Company; both of us made exhortations; this is the last day of the year; how much goodness has God exhibited towards me and towards our Regiment during the year; how deep and lasting the obligations under which we are placed to love and serve Him; how little have I done for His cause; how ungrateful have I been in the midst of His manifold mission; how unworthy of the least of His favors; Oh! Lord, forgive my sins and help me to love Thee more and to serve Thee better. James Groom (Sutton’s) has professed” [Wiatt, 129]. Sometimes families of chaplain’s had to be relocated because of enemy invasion. Wiatt had to move his family from Eastern Virginia to Alabama where his wife’s family could help. So when Wiatt was following the sickness of his wife via letters he knew she was far away from him, but not far from God. The chaplain’s personal experiences perhaps strengthened his compassion for others. Many of the chaplain’s wrote the families of those killed in battle. One chaplain wrote, “Cooke died today … he leaves a wife (and) seven children”[Watt, 38]. Another pointed out, “General thanksgiving day for our late victory. The “victory” cost many lives. Many husbands left widows and orphans. When I made that point in my sermon, and gave the number of widows and orphans left by those who fell in the 30th (North Carolina) regiment, Gen. Grimes gave special attention, and stopped to speak to me after preaching, and said he wished he knew how many widows and orphans were left by all who fell in Lee’s army in the last battle…. Gen. Jackson dies at 3 p.m.” [Betts, 35]. Family members of chaplains often died and were laid to rest without them being able to attend their funerals. Sometimes the chaplain was able to get a furlough. Chaplain Wiatt’s wife grew weaker and weaker. He arrived in time to see her. The scene is thus described, “My beloved wife has grown much weaker this week; she seems very near her journey’s end; thank God she appears perfectly resigned; she is calm and patient…. ‘His’ grace is sufficient; naturally timid and somewhat desponding, she has had many doubts and fears; but God has answered them all, and her soul is filled with peace and joy, as well as with faith & hope…. Monday … weaker … she does not fear death … God’s grace is sufficient…. Tuesday … my beloved wife grew weaker and weaker till about 8 o’clock, p.m., when she died … I do thank God for having given me such a wife … my heart is afflicted & desolate; Oh! God, be merciful to me and give me grace sufficient” [Wiatt, 150 f.]. This chaplain had to get others to take care of his children, and he returned to duty. One chaplain ask, “when shall I return home again; God only knows, but He is merciful and He is wise, He will do all right; may the good Lord watch over and protect us all” [Wiatt, 35].  The second concern for chaplains was to fulfill their responsibilities. Doing one’s duty was considered important. These men were men of self-denial. Betts, whom Jackson had refused a furlough at earlier time, wrote September 5th, 1863, “Furlough in my pocket, but feel it my duty to remain at my work. Much encouraged by frequent conversions” [Betts, 45]. As noted earlier McKim had an intense desire to serve the Lord in the chaplaincy. Another wrote, “This day, one year ago (Oct. 4th, 1861), I was commissioned a ‘Chaplain’ in the ‘Confederate States Army;’ how soon a year has run around! God help me to be more faithful and useful the coming year, if I should live that long….” [Wiatt, 6]. The genuine chaplain desired to do the will of God. One of them cried out to the Lord, “Help me to say ‘Thy will be done.’”  The chaplain was often forced to be concerned over his own health. Perhaps it would be good to follow the events of sickness in the words of the chaplains themselves. “I was sick in my tent…. Too unwell to go to my men. Heard constant musketry. Oh, that I could be there to comfort the wounded and dying, and to encourage the fighting” [Betts, 8]. “August 7, Fever all day. May the Lord restore me soon so that I may administer to others…. August 8, Ride early to … three Hospitals. Fever all day. Take medicine at night” [11 f.]. We must remember that these men were often wet for days, without tents at times, without proper food sometimes, etc. “Sunday, Dec. 14, … I have had fever for last three days. Dec. 16, Take cars to Egypt. Find no horse there for me. Walk about ten miles, and ride on a mule-cart about the same distance and reach Pittsboro…. Dec. 17, Chill at night. Dec. 18, Chill in the afternoon. In bed till 22nd” . “July 3, …. Brother Stradley and I were riding over the fields from one hospital to another, when I fell from my horse at noon, not knowing I had fallen, and remaining unconscious for an hour. Loss of sleep and excitement may have led to the vertigo. God could take a man out of this world without his knowing anything of it” . A few days later the same chaplain wrote, “July 16, Very unwell.” Another chaplain wrote of his experience with sickness and how he had to press on with his work. “Did not sleep … had a fever all night and feel very badly indeed this morning; had slight fever all day; took three doses of quinine; had a good deal of visiting to do today, writing up my journal for a month and am very much wearied by it; went about very little.” Next day, “Am still quite unwell, but hope I am better; am taking quinine today; have diarrhea slightly; wrote a letter (the 18th) to my dear wife; gave out books” [Wiatt, 48]. On another occasion he wrote in his diary, “Rainy day; very disagreeable weather; wrote letters to Brother A. V. Wiatt & to C. E. Crenshaw, Esquire; quite unwell all day with tendency to diarrhea; about sunset ordered to march a mile or so distant to Jordan’s some 2 ½ miles from Petersburg; it rained very hard just as we began to strike tents, or rather blankets, as we had had no tents; Mr. Jordan kindly gave me a room to sleep in; slept on the floor with Surgeon Wilson and Assistant Surgeon Briscoe; took opium & quinine tonight.” Next day, “Raining at times still; feel quite badly this morning; took quinine through the day; staid at Mr. Jordan’s during the night.” And the next day which was Sunday he described, “Quite unwell still, but feel better; about 10 ½ a.m. preached to a large congregation of officers & men on the hillside just below Mr. Jordan’s house; Text Mark 7:7 [“Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”]; quite solemn meeting; spoke of prayer in connection with our surrounding circumstances as especially necessary and appropriate; rain in the afternoon prevent a meeting of the ‘Christian Association’; in evening received orders to march to Petersburg; did so and went across the Appomattox river 3 or 4 miles; we expect a fight tomorrow; solemn thought; how many may not survive tomorrow” [160 f.]. Sickness was very common. The weather often did not help. But it was all taken as the providence of God. Some of the chaplains were wounded, and some died as a result of enemy fire. One wrote in his diary, “Pretty quiet last night; sharpshooting today; I was struck by a Minnie ball on the left arm near the shoulder….” .
What was the extent of the chaplain’s duties?
There have been some comments already that reflect on the answer to this question. Certainly if variety is the spice of life the Confederate chaplain did not have a tasteless existence. To say that their labors were variegated will be very evident in the following remarks: The chaplain’s first duty was to God. He believed that God was the first and best of beings, and that his calling was of a divine origin. Therefore the chaplain believed he must maintain a right relationship with the Lord for His glory and for the good of those to whom he ministered. His efforts needed divine blessings upon them if they were to have eternal consequences. The chaplain knew he needed to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” The chaplain was a man of prayer. When one reads the diaries and other writing of or about chaplains it is evident that these men were prayer warriors. They engaged in private times of prayer, times spent with other men of God in prayer, and public prayer. They held prayer meetings often. In a special meeting the chaplains agreed to pray for each other at sunset every day [Betts, 32]. [Perhaps it would be good for each of us to have a set time to do the same.] One chaplain in his diary described his evening prayer, “When I knelt at sun-set in the woods and prayed for the Chaplains, the soldiers, my country and my family, my soul was so happy” . Rev. Gen. William Nelson Pendleton who attend the Chaplains Association noted, “If you do not make opportunities for prayer regularly you will spiritually die.” The chaplain was a preacher of the gospel of grace. The chaplains tried to set up regular times of preaching in the camp, especially on the Lord’s Day. They often preached in other regiments by invitation. One chaplain confided, “My diary notes that (from August 4-8) … I preached at the Virginia Hospital, Staunton, to the sick and wounded soldiers. And again, at Rawley Springs, I preached four times in one week” [McKim, 216]. During times of real revival there was frequent preaching as the men hungered and thirsted for God’s Son, the Word of Life. There were times of exhortation along with the preaching and singing of hymns. The chaplains baptized converts. There were churches in the ranks and there were family churches back home. The new converts sought to follow the Lord in baptism. One Baptist chaplain wrote that he “made arrangements in morning for a baptizing; received 26 for Baptism and baptized them at Boulwar’s Wharf….” [Wiatt, 81, see also 84, 91]. He also explained at another time, “quite a disagreeable day, windy and cold; still we had quite a respectable congregation; after dinner walked about 2½ miles to a pond near Mrs. Parker’s and baptized 3 soldiers …; made remarks at the water as usually; these make 86 baptized in this Regiment by me this year ….” [Wiatt, 124. See Christ in the Camp, 351, 356 f.]. The various denominations usually tended to the preaching of the gospel and did not squabble over ecclesiastical matters. The mode of baptism was strongly held by most, and rightly so, and this led to some chaplains refusing to baptize one going into a denomination that was contrary to their own convictions. Chaplain Wiatt a Baptist noted a “conversation with three soldiers who desired to be baptized; went to McGritt’s Creek, a short distance from the camp and after addressing a large assembly at the water side on the significance of the ordinance of baptism, baptized them;… this afternoon a soldier in the 59th Virginia who had been a member of the Methodist Denomination for six years, wished me to baptize him with the understanding that he was to remain in the Methodist Denomination; of course I declined baptizing him and referred him to one of the Methodist Chaplains near by….” Chaplain McKim of the Protestant Episcopal Church explained, “I had constant opportunities of urging upon them the claims of the religion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…. If any preferred immersion, I was ready to administer the sacrament in that mode…. It was easy to appreciate that immersion might have been the natural and normal method of baptism in the River Jordan, but quite the reverse in the Shenandoah in midwinter” [McKim, 230]. To carry the matter of baptism a bit further a Rev. Hyatt who was a Baptist preached and after preaching “he received 5 who desired to connect themselves with God’s people, two with the Methodists and three with the Baptists; he requested me to baptize them… [Wiatt, 143]. Wiatt then had “conversation with three soldiers who desired to be baptized; went to McGritt’s Creek, a short distance from the camp and after addressing a large assembly at the water side on the significance of the ordinance of baptism, baptized them;… this afternoon a soldier in the 59th Virginia who had been a member of the Methodist Denomination for six years, wished me to baptize him with the understanding that he was to remain in the Methodist Denomination; of course I declined baptizing him and referred him to one of the Methodist Chaplains near by…” . Some had a very flexible conviction about the mode of baptism. Chaplain McKim who was Episcopal wrote, “I had constant opportunities of urging upon them the claims of the religion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…. If any preferred immersion, I was ready to administer the sacrament in that mode…. It was easy to appreciate that immersion might have been the natural and normal method of baptism in the River Jordan, but quite the reverse in the Shenandoah in midwinter” . Sometimes there were requests for a certificate of baptism to be presented to their home church [Wiatt, 133]. The chaplains visited the sick and wounded. Chaplains visited men wherever they found them: on the field of battle, in the field hospitals, in the city hospitals, in the homes of families or in the camp. They tried to be in the place where they were most needed. Visiting was almost a daily ritual as the daily diary entries of chaplains reveal. As an example in the words of a chaplain: “Visited sick and about camp; carried Smith some potatoes; he seems to be better; carried Davis some butter; he seems worse…” And then next day, “Visited sick; Davis seemed a little better; visited the Regiment….” And the next day, “visited sick and about camp….” Then the next day, “Visited sick &c.; had a conversation with Davis; he seems anxious to trust in God…” [Wiatt, 27 ff.]. Yes, and on we could go. One of the critical parts of the chaplain’s ministry was among the sick, which gave them time to pray with and for them, to personally encourage men who had just learned firsthand of the brevity of life, to help prepare them for death through the witness of the everlasting gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, to do personal things for their comfort, to read to them the eternal Word of God, to carry out their dying desires, to write letters to family members, etc. Also it would be amiss to leave out that these men often visited the prisoners in the guard house or prisoners of war for they gave them the gospel in verbal and printed form [16, 38, 40, 53]. Chaplain Wiatt noted, “Went to see some of the Yankee wounded; saw eight Negroes, whom the Yankees had caused to enlist; cowardly wretches! they cannot subdue us themselves, and they force the … negroes to help them; they kept them up to the front by either threats and bayonets, to be as a breastwork for their cowardly carcasses; the Yankees are far more to be blamed than the negroes, and I feel more for the latter than I do for them…” . The Chaplains conducted funerals and often cared for the bodies of the dead. Not only did they try to care for the living, but they reverenced the bodies of the soldiers. Chaplain Betts related, “Nov. 12 – Arrange to get Capt. Moore’s body up the Valley. Quarter-master gave me a wagon, team and driver. The Colonel of my Regiment detailed a man to assist me…. We pushed on to the grave. It was now dark and snowing. There were two graves! The good man living near by told us one of them was Capt. M’s. He knew not which. We dug down till we found a Captain’s uniform. We recognized the dead and hastily put body in wagon. A few miles up the pike we got a box I had bought for a coffin. A few miles on we get tan-bark and pack around body. Journey all night. Our army camps a Fisher’s Hill. I write to Rev. McGill at Staunton and ask him to look after Capt. M’s. body and if he can not send it to N.C. to bury and mark the spot. He did the latter. A few weeks later the body was sent on and rests near old Sparta, Pitt County, N.C.” [Betts, 70]. He also documented, “Get telegram that (Lieut. Col.) Sillers’ body is still at Gordonville. Take cars to Gordonsville and find his body nicely packed in charcoal” [50 also see 49]. And as previously stated the chaplains preached funerals which reminded them constantly of the brutality of war, the brevity of life, and the need of men for eternal salvation. The chaplains also collected and raised money for various causes. There was a constant need for literature, tracts, Bibles, Testaments, hymnals, etc. and various people would contribute to help in the purchase of these items. There was seemingly an insatiable appetite for reading matter. When the regiments went into winter quarters there was a need for building chapels. The chaplains collected and raised funds for this purpose [Wiatt, 40]. They pitched in and helped build chapels that were in constant use during the winter. Here is an example of collecting money to help those in need: “Visited about camp; making a collection (at the request of Colonel Page, who received a paper from General Wise on the subject), for the sufferers from the explosion of the Laboratory [an ordinance laboratory where 62 women and 7 men were either killed or injured] in Richmond; obtained $44.00, $2.50 of which I subscribed…” [39 also see 40]. The distribution of literature by the chaplains. This has been mentioned in relation to various aspects of the work of chaplains. Two primary items greatly desired were copies of the Word of God and hymnals. This need becomes most evident in the reading of the chaplain diarists. There was an insatiable hunger for good reading material: Bibles, books, magazines, tracts, newspapers, etc. were in constant demand. Chaplains made appeals for these items or money to buy them. Sadly there was a shortage of anything made of paper. The chaplains taught classes for the education of soldiers. Of course these men taught Bible classes regularly, but they also taught school from reading to more involved subjects [61 also see 138]. Some even taught Greek, Latin or other such subjects. Chaplain Betts talked about a writing school so the men could write their own letters home [Betts, 56]. The chaplains wrote letters to churches, families and condolence letters. Sometimes the correspondence was almost overwhelming. The chaplain was often a go-between: when a man professed faith in the Lord Christ the chaplain would recommend the individual to a local church in the man’s community. As has been mentioned the chaplain would write letters for the sick and wounded, but also at times for soldiers requesting their help. The saddest part of letter writing was the condolence letters as families were notified of the death of a loved one from the family circle. Chaplain Betts on one occasion considered his Regiment [30th N. C.] and wrote in bold letters, “Some are gone forever!” . The chaplains were at times deliverymen. They did what they could to help in more mundane ways. In a very difficult march Chaplain Wiatt carried the guns of several soldiers because they were ailing [Wiatt, 48]. After a furlough Chaplain Betts returned with a multitude of boxes for soldiers. He commented, “The chaplain was often a convenient, cheerful agent. It sometimes involved a great deal of care and fatigue to take boxes from home in N. C. to the army in Va. To hunt them up and get them to the soldiers after they had reached Va. was no light task. But, thank God, ‘Love lightens labor.’” . The chaplains were sometimes requested to give an account of the spiritual state of their regiments. This was often requested in meetings with groups of Christians or other Chaplains. Some of these requests have been preserved for us in such writings as Christ in the Camp. One such letter by Chaplain Wiatt of the 26th Virginia, whose diary has been frequently referred to related, “the Lord continues to pour out His Spirit upon us” [Christ in the Camp, 356 f.]. These are not all the different tasks put into the hands of the Confederate Chaplain. These were humble men who did not find any task below them. They were serving the living God and they were about their Master’s work.
What were some of the personal habits of chaplains?
What did the chaplains do during the times they were not pursuing their duties? Such time was at a premium. Sometimes they went hunting or fishing, which helped augment their diets, when success crowned their efforts. One wrote, “Exercised with the men at ball” [Wiatt, 131]. Usually the chaplains used personal time for other purposes.
Chaplains spent personal time in prayer and Bible reading.
Their writings are replete with references to such personal activities. There are references to studying their Greek New Testaments [Wiatt, 107-108]. One wrote, “Jan. 4 – Hear Bro. Jenkins preach in morning. Spend afternoon reading my Greek Testament.” He also penned “Feb. 11 – Rainy, bury Faircloth. Finish Matthew in Greek” [Betts, 25, 27]. McKim noted, “At this time it was my habit to translate daily one chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and then render ten verses back from English into Greek” . They read books and other literature. Sometimes their personal reading coincided with the ministry. Perhaps it should be said that it did most of the time. Chaplain Betts penned, “March 31 – finished reading Trumbull’s Christ in History. Began Mercy Seat by Dr. Spring.” Wiatt confided in his diary, “Sunday, February 7th, 1864, Spent the forenoon … reading Carson on the Atonement…” [Wiatt, 134]. They attended chaplains meetings. These meetings often were for the lifting up of one another. Some were involved in the Christian Association. For the “Regulations of the Christian Association” for the 26th Virginia Volunteers read Wiatt [112 f.]. These meetings were held as feasible. Also, there was the Chaplains Association which from written testimony was of great personal benefit. Chaplains’ meetings were a spiritual pep rally of sorts. Betts’ diary for March 24th, 1863, “Meet chaplains of this corps at Round Oak church. Am made chairman and elected to preach to them at next meeting. Thus meeting, talking, planning and praying, we find great help for our work” [Betts, 29]. On April 7th he noted, “Meet chaplains of this corps. Preach to them and many others. Good meeting. All day with them. Such meetings warm the heart and encourage us” . Then for April 14th he recorded, “Meet chaplains. Rev. Brigadier General Pendleton, D.D., was with us…. Happy meeting. Chaplains agree to pray for each other at sunset every day” [32, italics mine]. Betts must have greatly benefited from this meeting because he frequently mentions it in his writing. These meetings encouraged in many ways, but perhaps the greatest was the help they gave the chaplains to see the bigger picture. Example: “Meet Chaplains. Glorious work in the army, thank God!” . The chaplains examined their own hearts. They did not take spiritual things for granted generally speaking. There were anniversaries they remembered in their diaries that reminded them of their relationship to the Lord. The day of their conversions were mentioned at times with a bit of self analysis. And this included their connection with a local church. Consider the following, “Friday, August 7th, 1863, today, 21 years ago I was baptized and connected myself with Ebenezer Church Gloucester County Virginia; unworthy as I have been, the goodness of God has followed me all along; Oh! Lord help me to be more faithful…” [Wiatt, 90]. The beginning of a New Year was often used for reflection. “Thursday, December 31st, 1863,…. This is the last day of the year; how much goodness has God exhibited towards me and towards our Regiment during the year; how deep and lasting the obligations under which we are placed to love and serve Him; how little have I done for His cause; how ungrateful have I been in the midst of His manifold mission; how unworthy of the least of His favors; Oh! Lord, forgive my sins and help me to love Thee more and to serve Thee better…” . Another reflected, “Dec. – Writing and reading until near midnight. Write to Mary, Keep ‘watch night.’ On my knees at midnight. A New Year begins! Oh, may it be a good year! May it bring peace to my land! May it carry me and my fellow soldiers to our several homes. Sorry for the follies of the past year. May I be able to spend the new one more for God’s glory!” [Betts, 52]. Some chaplains on their birthdays also took stock of their lives, “August 25, 1862 – My birthday! Thirty years old! And yet how little knowledge I have acquired! How little grace! How little good have I done! God help me in time to come!” . Considering the conditions under which the chaplains lived and worked, what kind of demeanor did they show? It appears from their writings they practiced what they preached as a general rule. On a very sad occasion one wrote, “My heart was made sad, but Oh! Lord, help me to say ‘Thy will be done,’ and give me grace to endure all for Thy Cause and my Country … Lord! give us grace to submit to Thy righteous & sure will” [Wiatt, 212]. Another said, “I am in ‘perfect peace’!” [Betts, 34]. What about during difficult conditions? Note: “Dark rainy evening. I sit on a fence and write to my wife and tell her I expect to sleep on two rails on top of that fence, while soldiers sleep among the rocks around me. I add: ‘Thank God! I am happy.’ Happiness does not depend so much on our surroundings as some may think. Once I was not happy while it seems I should have been” . Had he learned what Paul spoke of when he said, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). These chaplains were men who knew that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). When one chaplain’s wife lay deathly ill he wrote, “‘His’ grace is sufficient…” [Wiatt, 151]. These testimonials could be multiplied. What relationship did the chaplains have with the Confederate Command? There have been many distortions of this issue especially when the writers have been men without regenerate hearts. Some even thought Christianity destroyed the fighting ability of men. Modern armies view irreligion and immorality as morale boosters and Biblical Christianity as destructive to the espirit de corps which means “regard for the interests of a body to which one belongs.” Confederate Chaplains generally speaking had the backing of the military command. There were evident ways the chaplains realized that the Confederate Command was behind them. On February 9th, 1864 a chaplain confided in his diary, “Meet Chaplains in Presbyterian church at Orange Court House. Dr. Witherspoon preaches. Gen. Lee is there” [Betts, 55]. On March 22nd he wrote, “Meet Chaplains. Dr. Granberry preaches. Gen. Lee there. Snow falls about 18 inches” . As has already been mentioned the Rev. Brigadier General Pendleton, who became Lee’s pastor after the war, attended some of the chaplains meetings . One chaplain observed, “Lieut. Ellis goes to work to raise money to buy a horse for his chaplain” . There was support among the officers for the chaplaincy. “At the beginning of the Confederate War, a chaplain was not allowed forage for a horse. I believe the U.S. Army Regulations never considered a Chaplain a mounted officer. My colonel [wrote a chaplain] always drew forage for my horse as one of his. I am told that ‘Stonewall’ Jackson asked our congress to allow forage for each Chaplain, because he thought they could be so much more active and efficient by being mounted” . Some officers aided chaplains in acquiring a horse. “In camp Lieut. Orr presents me with ten dollars. Sundry other officers contribute to buy me a horse” . There were various ways that officers could and did help chaplains. Sometimes officers contributed funds for literature, or by giving an extra Bible to be distributed, or giving an extra Prayer Book, and many practical ways. “I met Bro. B.T. Lacy in camp. He asks me if I have a ‘pass at will’ from the corps commander. I tell him that is what every Chaplain ought to have. He asks me to stand still a moment. He steps into Lieutenant General’s tend and returns with the needed pass” [Betts, 42]. One chaplain wrote, “My colonel or other officers commanding my Regiment, always seemed glad to give me any needed help to prepare for preaching—giving me a wagon, a detail of men” . Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Pendleton, Lowrey, and the list could go on and on of the help and encouragement these men gave to aid in getting out the gospel. Chaplain J. William Jones would write, “We are thankful to God for the large number of Christian officers who command our armies and aid us in our work” [J. William Jones, Christ in the Camp, 235]. What happened to Confederate Chaplains at the end of the war? On Sunday, April 9th, 1865 Chaplain Wiatt described hearing the news that General Lee had surrendered the army of Northern Virginia. How did this news impact a chaplain? The will of the Lord be done; it was His will that it should be so; it is all right because He had done it, or suffered it to be done; may we have grace to bear our troubles & trials with faith & patience; the question? has God forsaken us? is our Confederacy ruined I, for one, can’t believe it; God, I verily believe, has humbled us to exalt us; I believe He will, yet, in His good way & time grant unto us deliverance & prosperity & honor; His wisdom & power & goodness are the same;…. A touching incident occurred in the afternoon; General Lee rode along from the enemy’s lines, and hundreds of officers & men thronged each side of the road and waved hats and sent up cheers; the old hero was in solemn silence, with head uncovered, his countenance indicating deep sorrow; I could not refrain from shedding tears again; it has been a sad day to us; may God’s grace be sufficient for us; at night sang the hymn “God moves in Mysterious ways &c.” And had a prayer by Lieutenant of the 34th Virginia Regiment [237 f.]. Chaplain Wiatt described the way he was treated in the days thereafter. He walked a picket line with Major Perrin and heard many taunts by the enemy. He related that it was hard to endure without replying. Later he heard a stirring patriotic speech by General Gordon. When the parole was signed “it was a bitter cup for me to drink,” he said, “but the Lord willed it to be so” . In spite of all the sadness he said they had singing and prayer at night. On Thursday April 13th he started home, but not before he visited the hospital to see, pray and minister to the sick and wounded. Traveled many miles and slept on the floor of a shed at Burkeville. In the days following he was grossly insulted by a negro soldier in McCulloch’s old factory where he fetched his trunk. Chaplain Wiatt may have been paroled and the war may have been over, but his concern for men and their souls was not. “Tuesday, April 18th, 1865, Rose early and went down to the depot to take the train to City Point … on arriving at City Point, visited some of our wounded soldiers to ascertain if possible, the fate of some in our Brigade, but could learn nothing of them; conversed on religion with many of the wounded …; was insulted again by a negro soldier; about sunset left in the steamer Maryland for Fortress Monroe; during the night had a chill & fever and was very unwell indeed; made the acquaintance of Chaplain Donnon….” The next day Wiatt noted, “today is a sad anniversary to me; twelve months ago, my beloved wife died; God only knows what I have suffered during the past year. I hope I have not murmured against God’s will; God forgive me if I have; Oh Lord! sustain me by Thy all sufficient grace; ‘Thy grace is sufficient;’ help me not only to submit to, but to acquiesce in Thy will; may Thy Holy Spirit teach & lead me; be a father to my dear little ones & direct their steps in all things; Oh Lord! leave us not in our day of trouble; be with us at all times; we cannot do without Thee” . Upon arriving in his native country in the Eastern part of Virginia he found he had lost almost all his property and he was still far away from his children (they were in Alabama). And he wrote, “know not when or how I shall go to them” [241 read 242]. It is very interesting how Chaplain Wiatt ended his diary, “here my journal ends for the present; it may never be resumed by me as Chaplain in the Confederate Army, which position I was commissioned to hold on the 4th of October, 1861; may the blessing of God be upon all of my labours as such; may I have some ‘Crowns of rejoicing’ in the great day as chaplain in the army of my beloved country; this journal was begun on the 1st day of January 1862 and has continued till the present without interruption; I regret the ending of it.” And he signed it, “Wm. E. Wiatt, paroled Chaplain 26th Va. Reg’t Inf’try, Brig. Gen. Wise’s Brigade, Maj. Gen. B. W. Johnson’s Division, Lt. Gen. R. Anderson’s Corps, Army of N. Va.” . Wiatt returned to the pastorate of Union Baptist Church and brought his motherless children back from Alabama and supplemented his income by teaching school. Perhaps these men can spur us on in our quest to serve the Lord with gladness and to be faithful to Him in representing Christ and the Southern Cause.