Chaplain Reuben Baker Boatwright
46th Virginia Infantry
By H. Rondel Rumburg
In a Virginia County, formed in 1761 and named for the Duke of Buckingham in England, was born Reuben Baker Boatwright, the second son of his parents. Also, in this same county lies the dust of this faithful man of God. On January 23rd, 1831 Boatwright was born in New Canton, Buckingham County. His father was also named Reuben and his mother was Mary Bryant Boatwright. Reuben’s father was an ordained Baptist minister who was more of an itinerant preacher. Reuben’s grandfather as well as his father carried the name “Reuben.”
Grandfather Boatwright was a veteran of the First War for Independence and was wounded by a bomb at Yorktown. He was present when Lord Cornwallis surrendered. Boatwright came from Prince Edward County but moved to Buckingham County in 1788. Reuben Boatwright was the progenitor of most of the Boatwrights in the early days of Buckingham County. Grandfather Reuben was born March the 21st in the year of our Lord 1762. He married Lucy Penick the daughter of Squire Penick of Prince Edward County. She was born April 2nd 1767. He purchased land and built a home there in 1788. He called the place Society Hill but in time it acquired the name of Travelers Rest. This home was near Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Here he reared five boys and six girls. Daniel, a sixth son, died before reaching maturity. Through his industry and good judgment he accumulated a considerable amount of property and with it helped his sons to settle nearby. He was a man of purpose, but very kind and hospitable. Nearly all the preachers at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, of which he was a member and a deacon, along with those passing through the neighborhood seemed to instinctively find their way to deacon Boatwright’s.
Experience of Grace
Reuben Baker Boatwright was sixteen years old in 1847 when it pleased the Lord to bring him under conviction of sin and to a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He made his public profession of faith by baptism in a stream not far from Mt. Zion Baptist Church into whose membership he was baptized. Pastor William H. Taylor administered the ordinance to the young Boatwright. At his baptism Pastor Wm. H. Taylor predicted he would to become a preacher. When he was about 18 he was offered a position as deputy clerk of Cumberland County and served in this capacity for three and a half years.
As most children he received parental instruction and guidance as he began the learning experience. He attended Berryman’s Academy for his early education. This academy was under the leadership and instruction of Jack Berryman a cousin and a graduate of Columbian College of Washington D.C. Reuben Boatwright’s college training began at Richmond College. He entered this school in the fall of 1856. Here he developed friendships that endured through life. One of his fellow students and close friend was Charles H. Ryland who eventually also became a Baptist preacher and president of Richmond College. Before Boatwright finished his college training his home church licensed him to preach. After Richmond College he was one of twenty-six men who formed the first student body of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Greenville, South Carolina. Of these twenty-six men ten came from Virginia and they were J. William Jones, C. H. Toy, Charles H. Ryland, Reuben B. Boatwright, W. J. Shipman, H. E. Hatcher, W. C. Caspari, John W. Harrow, J. D. Witt and Thomas B. Shepherd. Ryland said that Boatwright was “the best theologian of his class.”
His Calling to the Ministry
Reuben B. Boatwright had been called to the ministry. This of course was the reason for the kind of education he chose. He was ordained at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. His ordination council was made up of Pastor Wm. H. Taylor and Pastor P. S. Henson. The exercise of his preaching gifts were to take on a very different environment as the enormity of devastation was about to fall upon his beloved State of Virginia and the South.
The War and Chaplaincy
Boatwright, being a young Southern man, wanted to serve his country as best he could. Since the Lord had called him to the ministry he sought to use this calling in ministering to young men who would soon face death. However, at first he did not know how to go about such a ministry. The Chaplains Corps was slow developing.
In the spring of 1861 Reuben B. Boatwright joined the 46th Virginia Infantry Regiment for a twelve month enlistment. And it was during this time that he was elected as chaplain. What an awesome task faced Boatwright and the other chaplains who were few in number. There was a need for chaplains and Boatwright was called to preach and trained. Being elected chaplain he began to minister God’s word. The Confederate chaplains had their days chocked full of service. This writer is not aware of all they had to do but their days stagger the imagination. Tending souls, visiting the sick, burying the dead, distributing literature, consoling the bereaved, writing letters, being concerned for family, calming fears, teaching classes, preaching often, praying regularly, preparing to preach, tying up loose ends and on we could go with elements of the daily round. The exposure to the inclement weather, the encounter with sickness and disease along with the strain of camp life had its impact. Boatwright’s health failed him and ended his time as chaplain of the 46th Virginia. This loss of health reminds us of the strenuous nature of the chaplaincy. Many men were reduced in health and some never regained their former strength. However, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. One is reminded of the price that these men of God were willing to pay in order to minister eternal truth to the men in the bivouac, hospitals, battlefields and trenches.
What was Rev. Boatwright to do since his body had become impaired by ill health? Could he do anything helpful for the cause? “He did what he could.” He continued to preach the gospel in local churches, but he also became a school teacher who instructed the children of Confederate soldiers. This he did through the remainder of the war. During this time he did become the pastor of Enon Baptist Church and Brown’s Baptist Church in the James River Association along with Scottsville Baptist Church in the Albemarle Association.
A Helpmate for Life’s Journey
On September 5th, 1865 Reuben B. Boatwright married Miss Maria Elizabeth Woodruff in Cumberland County. His wife’s parents were Deacon Wilson and J. F. Godsey Woodruff. The minister who performed their wedding was one who had played such an important part in Reuben’s spiritual well-being. Pastor Wm. H. Taylor was the Lord’s servant called upon for this task.
In 1866 the young married couple moved to Greenbrier County now in West Virginia. There Pastor Boatwright began his ministry in a number of Baptist churches in the town of Lewisburg and Greenbrier County.
The Lord blessed their home with children. There was Frederick William Boatwright who became president of Richmond College. There was Martha Susan (Mrs. J. A. Clark), Mary Elizabeth (Mrs. R. M. Booth), Sarah Look (Mrs. Sands Gayle) and John B. Boatwright.
From the Lewisburg area Pastor Boatwright was called to the Baptist church in Marion, Virginia which was a part of the Lebanon Association. While in Marion he preached for the South Fork, Chatham Hill and Sugar Gove Churches. He ended up pastoring three churches in this area over a period of seventeen years. During his time in Marion he also taught in the Marion Academy and the Marion Female College. He was one of the first trustees of the Virginia Intermont College. Later on Pastor Boatwright also was a trustee of the Jeter Female Institute in Bedford, Virginia.
After leaving Marion Pastor Reuben Boatwright pastored in the Middle District Association and the Peterville Baptist Church and Fine Creek Baptist Church which are in the Buckingham area. He also pastored in the Albemarle Association at the Lyles Baptist Church. In the James River Association he pastored Cartersville Baptist Church, Enon Baptist Church, Cedar Baptist Church, Buckingham Baptist Church and Cumberland Baptist Church. Boatwright also pastored the First Baptist Church in Bristol. In the Strawberry Association he pastored Mt. Hermon Baptist Church, Big Spring Baptist Church, Ivey Chapel, Morgan’s Baptist Church, Diamond Hill Baptist Church and Flint Hill Baptist Church.
Pastor Boatwright in the sunset years of his life became an invalid. He was the subject of much suffering on occasion. When his summons came from the Lord April 19th, 1913 his wife and children were with him. His home-going was a peaceful one. The funeral service was conducted by Rev. R. W. Bagwell who had the assistance of Rev. W. H. Street and Rev. C. H. Ryland his dear friend and former college classmate. His body was laid to rest on a bright Lord’s Day afternoon under the old oak trees in the Buckingham church cemetery.