Chaplain Isaac Taylor Tichenor
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
Isaac Taylor Tichenor’s entrance into this world was on November 11th, 1825 in Spencer County, Kentucky. He was the son of James and Margaret Bennett Tichenor and was descended from Martin Tichenor, who was said to have been of French extraction. This Tichenor took the oath of allegiance at New Haven, CN in 1644 and was later one of the settlers of Newark, NJ. Martin’s great-grandson Daniel, the grandfather of Isaac, moved from New Jersey to Kentucky in 1790.
At fifteen he received his early education at the nearby Taylorsville Academy. Here he was under the instruction of two very able teachers, Moses and David Burbank, who were graduates of Waterville College, a Baptist college in Maine. His education was excellent, but a severe case of the measles and subsequent complications prevented Tichenor from attending college and added complications to his physical well-being for time to come. He continued his education under the tutelage of his academy instructors even as he taught at the school in his late teens, and he remained a voracious reader in many disciplines for the remainder of his life. Tichenor was gifted with great intellectual power. Governor Thomas H. Watts of Alabama, a very close friend, once said that Isaac Tichenor had the best intellect with which he ever came in contact. He was thoroughly acquainted with theology, history, and science.
After experiencing the saving grace of God in Christ young Tichenor began to preach. He was licensed December 19th, 1846 at Taylorsville, KY. His gifts as a preacher soon won him the title “Boy Orator of Kentucky.” In 1847 he was appointed agent for the American Indian Mission Association, and while fulfilling his duties he was extended a call to the Baptist church of Columbus, Mississippi. Here he was ordained in 1848. Next he served the Baptist church in Hendersonville, Kentucky. In 1852 Tichenor was called to Alabama to serve as pastor of Montgomery’s First Baptist Church, which was quickly becoming one of the most influential churches in the South. Here he served until 1860. He had pastored many of Alabama’s most prominent leaders, and he became recognized as one of the region’s most outstanding orators. Tichenor also advocated the enhancement of educational enterprises in the South, most notably Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Howard College (now Samford University).
“Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season,” wrote the Apostle Paul. The words of the Apostle Paul seem to have been exceptionally characterized in the life of Isaac Taylor Tichenor. This Southern gentleman, preacher, college president, and warrior was a man of great unction (anointing, fervor or earnestness). J. S. Dill one of Tichenor’s biographers said, “Unctious, is the word which to my mind most nearly describes his preaching.” He was a fervent Gospel preacher declaring the total depravity of man, the absolute sovereignty of God, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and the total accuracy of the Bible. His message was salvation by grace alone; and his postmillennial eschatology was likely responsible for much of his fervor. Tichenor declared in a sermon, “If God exercised no directing, controlling, restraining power over the world, how could he pledge himself to give it to his Son, or what confidence could be felt by that Son, or by his people, that the promise would ever be redeemed? If God be not the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, then the sacrifice of his Son may have been almost in vain; then the day of deliverance for which the earth ‘groans and travails in pain until now,’ may never come; then the rich promises of his word and the bright anticipations they have inspired, with reference to the coming glories of the Millennial Day, are not certainties of future years, but the chilling shadows of doubt spread over all. Who that believes the Bible is true can adopt such a conclusion?” [This was from a sermon delivered to the Alabama General Assembly].
His health returned as the War for Southern Independence began. A large number of the men whom he pastored at First Baptist volunteered their services to the Seventeenth Alabama Regiment that was organized at Montgomery in August 1861. The regimental commander was Thomas H. Watts who later became one of the war governors of Alabama. The Seventeenth Alabama was composed of companies consisting mostly of Watt’s fellow Butler County citizens, although six other Alabama counties would contribute troops. On the 5th of September 1861 Tichenor received his appointment as chaplain (Bill 102). His pay was set at $50 a month. Cross Keys in Marion County was where the regiment received its first training. In November the Seventeenth was posted in Pensacola, Florida with the division under Gen. Braxton Bragg.
Chaplain Tichenor was in his element as a combat chaplain in the Confederate Army. Dr. J. B. Hawthorne (another Confederate Chaplain) had frequent opportunities to hear him preach and said, “it was like the blast of a brazen trumpet.” W. L. Yancey, a great Southern patriot, described Tichenor as “one of the most instructive, impressive, and irresistible of living preachers.” It was obvious to all who knew him that this attribute of fervor totally permeated his life. Joe W. Burton said of this preaching warrior in Road to Recovery, “His service as chaplain was marked by an intensity that always characterized the man. Never the kind to remain at the rear, when the battle became furious and the troops were in disarray … Chaplain Tichenor left the rear. Neglecting his ministerial responsibilities, and with gun in hand taken from a fallen comrade, he rallied the men at the front and helped lead them to victory.” This is the way his actions were described at Shiloh. This event will be considered later. But the point of this writer and of Burton was the mark of fervor or intensity that characterized “the man.”
Hermon Norton in Rebel Religion wrote, “He was not a man to pray and preach and then to hide himself in the hour of battle.” This intensity was so great that his Southern spirit never waned with the years. Anyone who reads the life of Tichenor is brought to the realization that his Southern patriotism never flagged even when the hostilities ended. Whether preaching or warring he was “fervent in spirit; serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).
The Seventeenth participated in the siege of Fort Pickens. In March of 1862 the regiment was sent into western Tennessee. The hardships of soldiering in the nineteenth century became a reality for Tichenor. Prolific insects, extremes of weather, bad water, and poor or limited food became a way of life. Comfort was not the norm. As spring came in 1862 the division was ordered to Mississippi in support of the army under Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston. The journey was horrible and shortages were catastrophic. There was trouble and Watts, along with some of his staff, were arrested. Watts, while under arrest, received an appointment to the Confederate Cabinet in Richmond as Attorney General. Col. Robert Fariss replaced him and the regiment soon participated in the first major battle of the western theatre of the war at Shiloh.
Shiloh was a proving ground for Tichenor. His great concern for the spiritual needs of the men to whom he ministered won their hearts. There was a pastoral attachment to many of the men from First Baptist of Montgomery. He urged upon the lost the need to come to Christ in view of the close proximity of death. Consider the way he expressed himself in his preaching, “God’s mercy gave his Son a ransom for guilty men, but God’s wisdom brings them to his promised glory through great tribulation.” He encouraged the saints with the kind of words taken from one of his sermons, “Edom, in whose strongholds reign perpetual desolation, are witnesses that rise up from the dim and shadowy past to teach us that God reigns over the nations of the earth. God has declared in his word that he will give his Son the dominion of the world.” Tichenor was a warrior for God in Christ’s Army and he was so in the Confederate Army.
Isaac T. Tichenor had quite a reputation as a sharpshooter. Tichenor was one of those in the honorable class of warrior chaplains. He was adept with the Sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) as well as with the rifle. The Seventeenth Alabama began to waver during the battle of Shiloh. The men began to panic under the weltering barrage of enfilading fire. Tichenor pressed to the front and began to rally the men. This event is described in a letter to his old deacon and his former Colonel now the Attorney General, Thomas H. Watts, whom he tried to keep informed about the regiment.
CAMP WATTS, NEAR CORINTH, April 15, 1862.
My Dear Friend—Enclosed I send you a copy of a petition to the Secretary of War, asking that the two flags, taken in the great battle of Shiloh by our regiment may be transferred to Governor Shorter, to be placed in the Capitol at Montgomery. I feel that I need not ask you to do all you can to have this petition granted.
During this engagement we were under a cross fire on the left wing from three directions. Under it the boys wavered. I had been wounded and was sitting down, but seeing them waver, I sprang to my feet—took off my hat—waved it over my head—walked up and down the line, and, they say, “preached them a sermon.” I reminded them that it was Sunday, that at that hour (11:30 o’clock) all their home folks were praying for them—that Tom Watts (excuse the familiar way in which I employed so distinguished a name) had told us that he would listen with an eager ear to hear from the 17th; and shouting your name far over the roar of battle, I called upon them to stand there, and die, if need be, for their country. The effect was evident. Every man stood to his post—every eye flashed and every heart beat high with desperate resolve to conquer or die. They piled that ground with the slain.
Colonel, I am satisfied—more than satisfied—with my labors as chaplain of the 17th. I feel in my heart the consciousness that in no other position could I have served the cause of my God and my country so well. I am more than recompensed for all my toils and privations.
I. T. TICHENOR.
Tichenor obviously saw his responsibility as a chaplain to involve much more that just preaching. This letter is proof of that conclusion. Tichenor was also involved in the capture of a squad of enemy soldiers. He took the initiative directing some of the men to whom he regularly preached and they followed his guidance in the act.
It was during this battle that Tichenor the sharpshooter went into action. During the engagement at Shiloh, Tichenor and some others were reconnoitering to discover the enemy when an enemy soldier became bent on shooting him. After a few shots were fired, providentially all of them missed, he located the direction of the firing. Next he concealed himself and began to look for the enemy. Tichenor related that while he was watching he saw a man run from behind a tree. The man was running toward the angle of a fence about fifty feet away. This man appeared to be the shooter. Tichenor knew his shot must be fast and accurate. If the man reached the fence he would find safety. Tichenor fired at the running enemy, but the smoke from the shot obliterated his sight of the result of the shot. However, the men on the left of the Seventeenth Regiment began to cheer and say, “Captain, you got him!” It also appears that the men called him Captain, but the promotion was strictly theirs. The Seventeenth had covered itself with laurels. Its chaplain certainly covered himself with glory in that battle. It was said that Tichenor fought “with the coolness and intrepidity of a veteran killing with his rifle a colonel, a major, and four privates.” He was a warrior chaplain!
Michael E. Williams in his article on The Fighting Chaplain pointed out that everyone was not satisfied with Tichenor’s exploits at the battle of Shiloh. He was “censured even to insult.” His resignation was sent to the Secretary of War. Tichenor’s own commentary of the situation was “I cannot consent to retain my present position in the army, unless I have the privilege of sharing with the men, the dangers of the field, as well as the privations of the camp.” His superior had approved his resignation because he felt Tichenor was not properly discharging his duty because “instead of adding to the horrors of war, he should have been ministering spiritual consolation to the dying.” The new Seventeenth Alabama colonel approved the resignation with the remark, “the Regiment does not require a fighting parson.”
Shortly after the battle of Shiloh, Tichenor was stricken with an illness. This providence, along with the negative reaction of a few to warring chaplains, concluded his Confederate Chaplaincy service. The loss must have been great to the men to whom his ministry had become such a blessing. These men had believed his preaching and trusted his leadership on the field of battle. Dr. Manly had resigned Montgomery First Baptist, and the church tendered a call to its former pastor to return. Tichenor believed the hand of God was in this and returned to that pastorate. The University of Alabama awarded him an honorary doctor of divinity degree in 1863.
Isaac Tichenor did not end his support of the Confederate Military. The Southern cause always had a friend and defender in this noble warrior. He was the man requested to give the special Fast Day sermon to the joint Alabama Legislature. On the 21st of August 1863 (a Friday) he preached from Psalm 46:9, “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.” The General Assembly of Alabama requested that the sermon be published. The eschatological optimism and trust in the providence of God were strong elements of the message.
Those of the Confederate cause were encouraged by his preaching and they were helped by his enterprise. In 1863 Tichenor, along with three other men, acquired the controlling interest in the Montevallo Coal Mining Company of Shelby County. The Confederacy was desperate for coal and iron for munitions and other necessary things. He was faithful to the cause to the end of the war and after. It was his duty under God, and it was his delight as well, to be a Confederate. He carried the cause of Christ into every enterprise in which he was involved including the Confederate Army.
In 1867 Isaac Taylor Tichenor was nominated for governor of Alabama but withdrew. He became the president of what is now Auburn University in 1872. He exercised this post for ten years. One has written,
During the 10 years that he served as head of this institution, he laid a broad and firm foundation for its subsequent development. He studied the agricultural, mineral, and manufacturing resources of the state, and in his many addresses awakened its people to a greater appreciation of them. He foresaw the industrial development which has since taken place and labored to prepare the way for it. Throughout this period he continued to maintain a position of leadership among the Baptists of the South, and in June, 1882, he resigned his collegiate position and became secretary of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the headquarters of which had recently been moved to Atlanta, Ga.
I. T. Tichenor experienced difficulties in health, but the tragic events in his domestic life were horrific. He was married four times and these four marriages combined only lasted for a total of only 17 years. All of his wives and three of his seven children died of disease or complications relating to childbirth. The Lord tested his servant, but he remained true to the Lord only kissing the hand that bore the stroke.
In July of 1899 Tichenor retired from the home mission work becoming secretary emeritus. His health began to fail and he entered a prolonged period of suffering. The Lord recalled His servant on December 2nd, 1902 in Atlanta, Georgia. His mortal remains were buried in Atlanta’s Westview Cemetery awaiting the resurrection.
We Confederates need to remember this warrior chaplain who preached the gospel of free grace. To conclude with some of Tichenor’s own words to the Alabama Legislature, “Some men will tell you that prayer will avail little against the hosts of our enemies, and sneering at its power, assert that ‘Providence always favors the heavy battalions.’ It is an infidel opinion, branded with falsehood both by the word of God and the history of the past. God says, ‘The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but victory is of the Lord.’” Fellow compatriots that is true today!
 Religious Herald, May 1, 1862