Chaplain Ransdell White Cridlin
38th Virginia Regiment
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
© SBSS 2014
The Providence of God is displayed in different ways in this world. Sometimes the Lord brings individuals into His world and they pass through the cold flood waters of trial and testing. Paul reminds us that God works all things into a symphony of good things for His glory and our good. Some become strong out of weakness, some are victorious, some have trials and scourging, some are in chains and in prison, some are stoned and tested, some wonder in sheepskins and goatskins being destitute, afflicted and ill-treated. All have some kind of testing in life. With some it comes throughout life, some receive testing late in life, some experience it in mid-life and others come into the world facing the lions. Yes, some seem to have a sheltered existence where the sun seems to be always shining. Everyone needs patience and sometimes tribulation works toward that end. God’s Word reminds, “Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Heb. 10:33-36).
Birth and Early Life
On July 18th, 1840 the Lord sent forth a child who was given the name of Ransdell White Cridlin. The birth was in Oak Grove, Westmoreland County, Virginia. The happy event was experienced by William White and Alice Peed Cridlin. Ransdell was the eighth of ten arrows in the Cridlin quiver (Ps. 127:3-5). “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).
The parents were natives of Westmoreland County, Virginia and then they moved to Essex County with five year old Ransdell and the rest of the family. William Cridlin operated a carriage business in Loretto, Essex County, Virginia.
Early Instruction and Great Loss
Early instruction came from his parents as with most children. Primary learning was their concern. The first Sunday School that he attended was at Vauter’s Episcopal Church, an old colonel church near Champlain, Virginia in the western third of Essex County. Here he studied the Bible and learned to sing without musical instrument as the hymns were pitched with a tuning fork. There was a noted teacher in this Sunday School who taught larger boys; this teacher had great popularity because each Sunday he brought a package of ginger cakes with him tucked away under his cloak, and these he distributed to his class. Ransdell was looking forward to getting big enough to advance to that special class.
Sadly Ransdell’s parents died when he was young necessitating that he go live with a cousin and work on the farm. The family of Whites where he was sent to live had little concern about the Lord or His house and did not attend church.
Exposure to the Things of God
His opportunities to hear the gospel were very few. However, on one occasion he did go to a camp meeting where he heard a sermon that powerfully impacted his heart. When he returned to the farm he went to his cousin’s wife and asked her to teach him to pray. She was not a praying woman, but related to him the publican’s prayer—“God be merciful to me a sinner.” Ransdell began to pray in the forest, field, farm or anywhere he might be at the time. This became his “soul-cry through life.” “Mr. Cridlin always believed that this call of his child heart was heard, and that then he was converted” [George Braxton Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, Fifth Series, 380].
In due time R. W. Cridlin moved to Richmond to live with an older brother. Here he was apprenticed to George Ainslie to acquire skills and expertise in the making of coaches. He remained in this arrangement until 1858. Cridlin had begun going to night school in order to become better educated. Also, a lady was kind enough to take him to Sunday School located in an Episcopal Church where he became attached to his teacher and the pastor. Due to a church fire he began to attend St. John’s Episcopal, where Patrick Henry gave his famous speech, but after a while he began to drift away. Then one Lord’s Day as he was passing Second Baptist Church a lad asked him to attend his Sunday School and he accepted the invitation. Later he ended up in the class of John McCarthy at the First Baptist Church [Taylor, 380]. Spiritual searching at this juncture was a part of his life.
There was a protracted meeting that he attended at the insistence of his workmate W. B. Johnson; the meeting was at Leigh Street Baptist Church where Pastor E. J. Willis ministered. Willis became a chaplain in the 15th Virginia during the war. During this meeting R. W. Cridlin made a profession of faith receiving believer’s baptism as administered by Pastor Willis. Now his spiritual feet were on the ground and he had direction. Pleasing the Lord became an important part of his life.
An Interest in the Work of the Lord
Cridlin became active in the Lord’s work as his compassion for the things of the Lord grew. One night as he and A. B. Clarke, a deacon at Leigh Street, walked home from a prayer meeting Clarke stopped him near St. John’s Church to ask him a question. Interestingly the deacon wanted to know if Cridlin had ever thought he had a responsibility to preach the gospel. This was about the same time that a group of young men in the congregation of the Leigh Street Baptist Church were contemplating the ministry and whether they were called to the high office. Among these men were Augustus Beverly and A. Peyton Woodfin whose father helped organize Leigh Street Baptist Church. Augustus B. Woodfin became a prominent Baptist preacher and the chaplain of the 61st Regiment of Gordon’s Georgia Brigade. Also, George B. Smith and Royal Figg were in the special interest group [Taylor, 380, 396].
An Opportunity for Some Education
Cridlin had already shown an interest in learning although it continued to elude him for a while. Deacon Clarke was not the only one who became interested in Cridlin’s development for a Ladies’ Society of Leigh Street Baptist Church desired to help him with some of his education. They paid all of his tuition for preparatory school enabling him to attend Green Plain Academy in Southampton County. This was in preparation for studying for the ministry.
Since he was the only student in the school who was a Christian he felt doubly that he must let his light shine, so he studied with zeal, organized a Sunday school in the Academy, and finally preached before the students and teachers his first sermon, his text being John 3:16 … but never again, to the end of his life, did he preach from this text [Taylor, 381].
The Lord’s blessings were upon Cridlin’s fledgling ministry of sacred Scripture and fifteen young men received Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
During his breaks from class such as vacations he was a colporter under Dr. Alfred E. Dickinson who was Superintendent of the Baptist Colportage and Sunday School Work of Virginia. Cridlin carried on the colporter work in the counties of Southampton, Sussex and Amelia Counties. As he continued his schooling he also supplied two Baptist Churches: Hebron and Zion. His fellow students were appreciative of the gospel ministry that Cridlin shared with them and presented him with the six volume set of Hermann Olshausen’s Biblical Commentary on the New Testament.
Ransdell W. Cridlin entered Richmond College in September of 1860. Cridlin wrote:
While I was sorry to leave my dear classmates and friends at Green Plain, I was glad to get back to Richmond and to enter Richmond College with enlarged opportunities opening up before me. I entered college with some degree of pride, finding that I was further advanced than some of my young friends from Leigh Street Church who started Richmond College when I entered Green Plain. I am still of the opinion that a good, well conducted preparatory school, such as I had at Green Plain, is far better for a young man than the college, until he is well prepared for advanced work [Faith in the Fight, edited by John W. Brinsfield, William C. Davis, Benedict Maryniak and James I. Robertson, Jr., 97-98].
This young man began to prosper educationally. He had taken advantage of his opportunities as God’s providence allowed. At Richmond College Cridlin met a number of young men who would also be a part of the ministry of Christ. R. W. Cridlin was licensed to preach on July 30, 1860.
The Specter of War Soon Morphed into Bloody Conflict
The prospects of war interrupted Cridlin’s college work. The turmoil so constantly in the news had an impact on class work as well for his fellow students. The Commonwealth of Virginia left the United States and became a part of the Confederate States of America. The inevitability of war began to decimate the student body of Richmond College as students began to join the Confederate Army. Cridlin was not as anxious as his fellows to become active in the war and stayed in school as long as possible. He confided, “These were days I can never forget,” and then he related:
The Proclamation of President Lincoln for troops from Virginia to crush the secession of her Southern sisters stirred every heart in every man, and the people rushed to the front in defense of what they thought dear to every Southern heart…. I did not care to join the army as a soldier as my five brothers had already enlisted in the Southern Cause. I accepted a position as a missionary among soldiers and continued in this work, laboring among the hospitals and camps…. [Brinsfield, et. al., 98]
With the interruption of war R. W. Cridlin became a missionary and colporter to the men in gray. Where would he be of greatest use? He began working where the men were most needy, as in the hospitals on the Potomac River at Mathias Point, Craney Island, Norfolk and Portsmouth. He also began to visit men in the camps in those areas. His work as a colporter had now come to full fruition. From Christ in the Camp is the following account quoted by Chaplain J. William Jones from Dr. A. E. Dickinson:
Rev. R. W. Cridlin, Matthias Point: “I have disposed of all my Testaments. You can hardly conceive of the anxiety of soldiers for books. One said to me: ‘If I am spared to return to my home, I shall ever love the colportage cause, since it has done so much for me.’ I could distribute 1,000 Testaments to great advantage. I have begged a goodly number from the families around, but you must send me a large number. While urging the importance of Divine things on a company the other day, for these dear souls! Many of them may be won to Christ.” [Jones, 169].
Cridlin recognized the power of God’s Word and was willing to beg for copies to distribute to men who would be facing death. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).
Cridlin found that some of the officers were helpful in his ministry. At Norfolk and the area he visited Craney Island where Colonel Smith was in command of the forces. Smith was a godly man who prayed with his men every night. Cridlin believed him to be a supportive brother [William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival, 100]. Rarely did God’s servants find opposition from the Confederate officers.
Thus Cridlin was busy in the Lord’s work as his efforts were expended on the hospitals and in the camps. His place of labor was about to change. His own explanation:
I labored among the soldiers on the Potomac River…. At the evacuation of Norfolk, after having spent some time at Yorktown and Williamsburg in the hospitals, I took the last steamer that left Jamestown for Richmond. After getting to Richmond I was assigned to work in the Chimborazo Hospital, situated on the hill overlooking Rockets, known as Chimborazo Park. There were thousands of sick and wounded soldiers in this extensive place. This became greatly crowded during the Seven Days Battle around Richmond and we often buried as many as fifty in one day at Oakwood Cemetery. I frequently made trips to the army in the field and preached for them. Three of my brothers were in the 30th Virginia Regiment, one in the Salem Artillery and one in the Government Depart in Richmond, though he died in July 1861 of fever. [Brinsfield, et. al., 98]
Grass did not grow under Ransdell W. Cridlin’s feet nor moss on him. The Lord began to bless the efforts of His servants with revival. Frequently Cridlin had thirty to forty men claim an interest in his prayers regarding the condition of their souls. He related that at Chimborazo, “Many have professed conversion.” Brother Cridlin told of one conversion, “An old man, who happened to be present a few evenings ago at these meetings, professed conversion,” and he said, “Thank God, tomorrow I leave for Georgia to meet my wife and children, to tell them what great things the Lord hath done for me” [Jones, 181]. People not in the army were claimed for Christ as well.
Becoming a Confederate Army Chaplain
Ransdell W. Cridlin was doing the work of a chaplain although he did not call himself one. He had identified himself as a “missionary.” However, on June 9, 1863 there was an earnest request from the 38th Virginia Regiment’s officers and soldiers that he become their regimental chaplain. Cridlin received the appointment and began his duties. On December 6, 1863 he was ordained to the gospel ministry. His presbytery consisted of Rev. Thomas Hume Sr. a native of Scotland and for many years pastor of Court Street Baptist Church of Portsmouth and post chaplain at Petersburg, Rev. J. B. Harwick who was the Baptist chaplain at the hospital in Petersburg when he received this appointment he resigned as pastor of Byrne Street Baptist Church, Rev. T. G. Keen pastor of First Baptist Church in Petersburg, Rev. John M. Butler who was filling a pulpit in Petersburg, Rev. William M. Young who was post chaplain in Petersburg. Thomas Hume, Jr. was in attendance although not yet ordained he also became chaplain of the 3rd Virginia Regiment. There was another brother ordained at the same time as Cridlin; he was Joseph F. Deans who was chaplain of the 61st Virginia Regiment [Jones, 381, Brinsfield, et. al., 99; Reuben Jones, A History of the Virginia Portsmouth Baptist Association, 198].
The faithful chaplain asserted, “I followed my command in all their marches and battles.” In the autumn of 1863 God was moving powerfully in all the Confederate armies. Chaplain John Cowper Granbery of the 11th Virginia wrote:
I have never before witnessed such a wide-spread and powerful religious interest among the soldiers. They crowd eagerly to hear the gospel, and listen with profound attention. Many hearts have been opened to receive the word of the Lord in every brigade. It would delight your heart to mark the seriousness, order, and deep feeling, which characterize all our meetings. In Armistead’s brigade, where I have been most constantly working in co-operation with Bro. Cridlin, a Baptist, and chaplain of the 38th Virginia, and with other ministers, there have been some seventy professions of conversion…. The change is manifest in the whole camp. Men have put away their cards; instead of blasphemy, the voice of prayer and the sweet songs of Zion are heard at all hours. There is little gambling, but all seem contented and interested. We have many proofs that it is a genuine and mighty work of grace [Bennett, 321-322].
As Chaplain Cridlin started out with the 38th Virginia heading for Gettysburg he was taken sick at Edinburg in Shenandoah County. He did not make it to the battle with his men. “While I suffered very much, yet it seemed providential that I was not at Gettysburg, as my regiment was cut up, losing many of the best men in the army” [Brinsfield, et. al., 99].
Sickness was not something to which chaplains were immune as the record shows. Chaplain J. William Jones reflected on Rev. Andrew Broaddus’ arrival and remarking that he did not know where he was to preach that night. The old gentleman remarked that if there was no place for him to preach he would not dismount and he would find one himself. Jones remarked, “Oh, there are plenty of places at which you can preach, but I have just received a note from Brother Cridlin, of Armistead’s brigade, saying that he is in the midst of a great revival, is sick, and greatly needs help.” Rev. Broaddus remarked, “All right, now I will dismount. I will eat some of your rations and go at once to help Brother Cridlin” [Jones, 247].
Chaplain Cridlin was busy ministering to those whom the Lord placed within reach of his ministry. His ministry was divinely attested by the Holy Spirit regenerating many. Toward the end of the conflict, if indeed it has ever ended in one way, it was reported:
Brother R. W. Cridlin, of the thirty-eighth Virginia, has been greatly blessed. A large portion of his regiment have made a profession of faith in Christ since Brother Cridlin has been connected with it [Jones, 386].
Chaplain Cridlin preached many sermons, distributed many tracts and Bibles, comforted many wounded men, assisted in the awakening in the armies, stayed close to his regiment, sought to do his duty unto God and baptized many men upon profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He confessed, “I baptized a great many and some times under the guns of the enemy.” One of the men he baptized was Captain Charles F. James of Company F, the 8th Virginia Regiment. This man was eventually called to the ministry, became an educator and author. The following is part of a foreword to the Sprinkle Publication volume by this writer:
God had purposed to change the life of Captain Charles F. James. The winter of 1864 at Petersburg the Lord was calling out a people for His name among the encamped Southern soldiers. There had been many movements of God the Holy Spirit that were known as “revival.” The Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit gave Charles James a new heart during this winter. He was converted in camp near Drewry’s Bluff. He was “a convert both to Christ and the Baptist faith in one of the many camp revivals of the war years.” James made a public profession of his faith in Christ as his Lord and Saviour by being baptized by Chaplain R. W. Cridlin. Ransdell White Cridlin was a Baptist chaplain of the 38th Virginia. At war’s end he was paroled at Winchester on the 8th of May 1865 [Charles F. James, Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia, b-c].
There were many trophies of grace through the ministry of Chaplain R. W. Cridlin. He wrote, “I think my best work for the Master was done through the war” [Brinsfield, et. al., 100]. Chaplain Cridlin was paroled in April of 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia from the 38th Virginia Infantry, Pickett’s Division. The chaplain of the 38th Virginia described his acceptance by his flock,
Having remained with my regiment through all the dangers, they wished to express their appreciation and some friend raised in the Regiment and Brigade, $1,200 with which they bought me a nice horse, saddle and bridle as a present, which I most highly valued and kept them until some time after the war. My men were very kind to me. I believe God greatly blessed my labor as their Chaplain. [Brinsfield, et. al., 101; Taylor, 382]
Please consider a letter he wrote to Chaplain J. William Jones which gives an overview of his chaplaincy,
Chesterfield, March 22, 1867.
Dear Brother Jones: Before going into details, allow me to state that I was appointed chaplain of the Thirty-eighth Virginia Infantry June 9, 1863, and remained with it to the surrender.
(1.) I know very little about the early history of my regiment. We had a history of our regiment (and also one of our brigade) written, but have heard nothing of it since the close of the war. This regiment was composed of men from Pittsylvania, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties, Virginia. It started from Danville in the spring of 1861, under the command of Colonel E. C. Edmunds. It was connected with several brigades. When I joined it, it was attached to Armistead’s Brigade, Pickett’s Division, First Corps, and it continued in this position to the surrender, under different commanders. General Armistead was killed at Gettysburg. Our next general was Barton; then George H. Steuart, of Maryland, who remained with it till the surrender. I knew very little about the other regiments— viz., Ninth, Fourteenth, Fifty-third and Fifty-seventh. The Rev. Mr. Crocker, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was at one time chaplain of the Fourteenth; Rev. Mr. Joiner, Methodist Episcopal Church, chaplain of the Fifty-seventh; Rev. W. S. Penick of the Fifty-third, afterwards Brother P. H. Fontaine; Rev. J. W. Walkup, of Rockbridge county, Virginia, was chaplain of the Ninth, afterwards Rev. George W. Easter, of the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Mr. Cosby, now of Petersburg, Virginia (Episcopal), was the first chaplain of the Thirty-eighth Regiment. He remained a short while. Then a Rev. Mr. Colton, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was appointed, who remained two or three months. I am unable to state how many sermons I preached or prayer-meetings held, Bible-classes conducted, tracts distributed. I have no record and I can’t trust my memory. We had a flourishing Brigade Young Men’s Christian Association, and when in camp had our Sabbath-schools and Bible- classes. I know I distributed thousands of tracts, and I have reason to believe much good was done. Just here allow me to relate a little incident illustrating the good effects of tracts. While carrying around these little messengers of love, I entered a tent and found two young men engaged in a game of cards. At first they seemed ashamed, then they braced up their filling courage (if courage it was) and continued the game. I kindly asked “if I could take a hand.” Waiting for my turn, I first threw down “Evils of Gaming;” then “Mother’s Parting Words to her Soldier Boy.” I found that the game was mine. At the sight of the word “mother,” the tears rolled down their cheeks as they both exclaimed: “Parson, I will never play cards again!”
(2.) My first protracted effort was made soon after the battle of Gettysburg, near Orange Court House. In the meeting God was with us and His people were revived and more than a hundred converted. Brother A. Broaddus baptized twenty for me while there. My next meeting (of much interest) was in the fall of 1864, in which about sixty were turned from “darkness to light.” I don’t remember any remarkable conversions, or that any means were employed beyond the ordinary means of grace.
(3.) Most of those who professed were steadfast in their love and devotion to Christ and His cause. Many of them died in the “triumphs of faith.”
(4.) Our first colonel, Colonel Edmunds, was, I think, a member of the Episcopal Church. His influence was very beneficial to his command. I know nothing of his last moments, as he was killed on the field of Gettysburg. Our next colonel was the young yet brave and accomplished gentleman and officer, James Cabell of Danville. Colonel Cabell was not a member of any Church, but told me a few days before his death “that be felt prepared.” He was killed near Drewry’s Bluff, May 10, 1864, leaving a young bride and many dear ones to morn their loss. Colonel George Griggs, of Pittsylvania, was our next colonel. He was a member of the Baptist Church. He was ever ready to aid me in my meetings, and was not ashamed to exhort his men publicly to enlist under the banner of Christ. His life was spared and he has resumed his place at home, where I hope he may be long spared to labor for Christ. Among my most valuable assistants was Captain J. T. Averett. Captain John A. Herndon, Captain Jennings, Captain Grubbs, Lieutenant Gardner and others were true soldiers of Jesus.
General Steuart and his assistant adjutant-general, Captain Darden, were members of the Episcopal Church. Colonel Phillips, of the Ninth, was a man of more than ordinary talent, and he did all he could for Christ.
(5.) It was fully and satisfactorily proved in our regiment that true “soldiers of the Cross” made the best soldiers for their country.
(6.) I don’t remember but some four or five who told me that they would devote the rest of their time to the ministry. Captain J. A. Herndon, of Pittsylvania, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, expected to do so. Brother W. A. Morefield, of Halifax; Brother Hodges, Methodist Episcopal; Brother C. Penick, Episcopal Church; Brother C. F. James (Captain Company F, Eighth Virginia), of Loudon, whom I baptized, is now at Richmond College preparing himself for the ministry. No doubt many others will decide to “go and do likewise.” God grant it.
(7.) I baptized about forty. I was not ordained till December, 1863. I think I can safely put the whole number of conversions in the brigade at 500, as other chaplains had gracious revivals, and have reason to infer they had many conversions.
My dear brother, you have my best wishes and prayers in your arduous work. We need such a book. I think it will do much good (referring to Christ in the Camp). If I can serve you in any way, I am at your service. May the Lord bless us at an early date with such refreshing showers of grace as we enjoyed in Orange in 1863.
Yours in Christian love,
R. W. Cridlin.
Serving the Lord after the War
The war was devastating not only in the destruction of and theft of property, but to congregations. Many houses of worship were destroyed or desecrated; the loss of human life must be laid at the feet of the abolitionists and those supportive of them; and the mutilation by warfare of the bodies of soldiers, for many returned home missing some of their body parts. Cridlin was the member of a church in the Portsmouth Baptist Association, received his ordination in an Association church and would serve churches there. The impact of war on the churches was described:
On account of the thorough investment of the country by the Federal forces, there was no meeting of the Association in 1864. This was a dark and trying time to the churches of the Association. There is not a church of the Association which passed through the war, but could tell its tale of sorrow; not a pastor who survived its desolations, but might recount many bold adventures, or narrow escapes, or bitter experiences; not a brother or sister but felt the privations and sufferings of the cruel civil war [Reuben Jones, 67].
However, the revival that the Lord had sent to the armies of the Confederacy returned many men home with regenerate hearts. Chaplains such as Cridlin returned to minister the healing Word of God to a people reeling from the inhumanity of war and the loss of the Republic.
Men returning from the conditions of war in the trenches to a land under enemy military rule are in a ticklish situation. The South had been subject to total war with the burning of homes, the killing of civilians, misplaced persons, wounded veterans and economically strapped people. Southern people as a result of their foundation on the Bible were a resilient people who sought to pick up the pieces and do the best with what they had left, if there was anything. Soon the carpetbaggers were after what was left. Young soldiers and chaplains had to make a way for themselves.
The first position that Rev. R. W. Cridlin accepted after his chaplaincy was with Salem Academy in Chesterfield County, near Richmond, where he took the principals position. Here he was involved in a noble endeavor minus all the blood and death that he faced as a chaplain. Then in the spring he became the pastor of Salem and Branch’s Baptist Churches [Taylor, 382].
Life after the war was taking some rapid strides as he was principal of a school, pastor of two churches and then was married. There was a joyous occasion on November 1, 1866 for R. W. Cridlin and Mary E. Burgess had their wedding day. Mary’s father was William Burgess of Chesterfield County. This happy union lasted only a year as a result of Mary’s fall off of a runaway horse which brought about her death [Taylor, 382]. The young husband was severely tested but remained true to the Lord.
Pastor R. W. Cridlin on January 21, 1869 married Emma Hasseltine Snelling the daughter of Creed T. and Mary Susan Chiles Snelling. Through the years the Lord blessed the couple with William Broadus Cridlin (January 2, 1871-July 1932), Ransdell Chiles Cridlin (April 2, 1876-March 29, 1926), Mary Emma Cridlin (April 26, 1881-July 20, 1942), Addie Wirtley Cridlin (May 22, 1883-March 4, 1936) and Alice Jeannett Cridlin (June 30, 1885-death date not known).
A call was extended to Rev. R. W. Cridlin from the Fourth Street Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia in May of 1871. The two pastors who preceded him to this church had both been Confederate chaplains: Rev. J. C. Hiden formerly of Wise’s Legion and Charlottesville Hospital and Rev. N. B. Cobb of the 14th North Carolina Infantry. After Pastor Cobb resigned the Rev. Patrick Warren made a visit to the church in view of a call but after returning home he became ill and died.
Rev. M. R. Watkinson, of Camden, N. J., labored a month with the church, the result of which was a gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was about this time, in the providence of God, that our attention was called to R. W. Cridlin, as a suitable person for our pastor. He was called to the pastorate in May, 1871, which call he accepted. Brother Cridlin’s stay with us resulted, under the blessing of God, in uniting and strengthening the church, and greatly building up the congregations and the cause of Christianity in our midst; thus giving evidence that the church would soon become self sustaining. But his wife’s health failed, and he felt compelled to leave for other fields of labor. In June, 1874, brother Cridlin resigned, to the great sorrow of the church and the entire community [Reuben Jones, 204].
After Fourth Street Baptist Church, Cridlin spent a year and a half serving as a missionary of the Middle District Association. Then he became pastor of the Red Lane Baptist Church, Fine Creek Baptist Church and Peterville Baptist Church in Powhatan County. After which he returned to pastor Fourth Street Baptist Church [Taylor, 382]. This relationship was described, “R. W. Cridlin has been serving his second term as pastor of this church with increasing popularity and usefulness” [Reuben Jones, 205]. During this pastorate Cridlin was also the superintendent of the Portsmouth Orphan Asylum.
A Religious Herald article called attention to his marked resemblance to Dr. A. E. Dickinson:
Brother Cridlin … lives in a princely mansion on the edge of the sea—rides in his own buggy, catches his own crabs, cultivates a mammoth garden, and lives like an admiral. But withal he cleaves to the Lord with full purpose of heart, works patiently on his sermons, watches for the souls of his people, and lives for eternity…. He is a fluent, easy speaker, with a mellow, pleasant voice. His sermons are evangelical in doctrine, addressed to the hearts and consciences of his people, and often delivered in great fervor and tenderness. [Taylor, 382-383]
Cridlin’s next ministry was the organization of a mission into an established church. This assembly of believers became known as the Park Avenue Baptist Church of Norfolk. As was usual for this brother he also pastored more than one church, others were Salem Baptist, Mulberry Baptist and Kempsville Baptist Churches in the Portsmouth Association. His next area of pastoring was in Winns Baptist, Berea Baptist and Deep Run Baptist Churches of the Dover Association. Brother Cridlin also established Beulah Hill Institute as well [Taylor, 383].
The latter days of Rev. R. W. Cridlin’s ministry were centered in Christian education. The Southside Female Institute was established in Burkeville, Virginia by Cridlin at the suggestion of Rev. M. F. Sanford and with the financial support of Mr. J. D. Bradshaw. This was a quality institution. Mrs. R. W. Cridlin was a great helpmate in this endeavor. Melvin Albert Martin was the Principal from 1901-1902. Numerous young women were able to realize an excellent education through this institution. In 1902 the institution’s benefactor J. D. Bradshaw died. This and other issues contributed to Cridlin selling the property in Burkeville and removing to Amelia Court House where he set up the Otterburne Springs Institute. Finally Rev. Cridlin gave up this work to return to the pastorate [Taylor, 383].
Rev. R. W. Cridlin was called to the Stockton Street Baptist Church in South Richmond where his final ministerial work was performed for the Lord. During this his last pastorate his wife of thirty-seven years passed away and was gathered to her reward in 1906. She had been a true helper and a source of earthly comfort to her husband. Two years after the loss of his wife Pastor Cridlin’s health began to fail leading to his resignation of the pastorate. With his remaining strength Rev. Cridlin set up and conducted the Virginia Teachers’ Agency and Bureau of Information for Pastoral supply. One of his daughters gave him much assistance in doing this service. This work was carried on from his home in Woodland Heights and often from confinement to his bed. He would do what he could do for his Lord. This helpful work was carried on for five years [Taylor, 383-384].
On the Lord’s Day, June 22, 1913, R. W. Cridlin’s course was finished and his labor for the Lord was finally laid aside. He entered the Land of Pure Delight where the Triune God is the glory thereof.
Richmond Times Dispatch for June 23, 1913 recorded:
Cridlin—Died, at his home, Woodland Heights, Sunday at 2:45 P.M.
Rev. R. W. Cridlin in the seventy-third year of his age.
Funeral Tuesday afternoon at 4 o’clock from Stockton Street Baptist Church.
Interment in Riverview.
The place of his funeral and his burial at Riverview Cemetery were requests he made in a letter to his son.
Chaplain J. William Jones’ dedicatory words are apropos here:
To my comrades and to workers among the chaplains, missionaries, and colporters, of the Army of Northern Virginia, and of other Confederate armies, who labored faithfully in that great harvest field of souls … in the confident hope that as we cherish hallowed memories of those days of toil, but of precious blessings, so we will over there enjoy sweet communion with each other as we shall talk over the wonderful manner in which Christ was in our camp, to save the penitent, to strengthen the true Christian and to make even battlefield and hospital bright and glorious by His presence.
Bennett, William W. A Narrative of the Great Revival which Prevailed in the Southern Armies During the Late Civil War Between the States of the Federal Union. Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1876, 1976.
Brinsfield, John W.; Davis, William C.; Maryniak, Benedict; Robertson, Jr., James I. Faith in the Fight. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2003.
Gregory, G. Howard. 38th Virginia Infantry. Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1988.
Hanson, Raus McDill. Virginia Place Names. Verona: McClure Press, 1969.
James, Charles F. Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia. Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 2007.
Jones, J. William. Christ in the Camp or Religion in the Confederate Army. Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1887, 1986.
Jones, Reuben. A History of the Virginia Portsmouth Baptist Association. Raleigh: Edwards, Broughton & Co., 1881. [This volume is out of R. W. Cridlin’s library.]
Nine, William G.; Wilson, Ronald G. The Appomattox Paroles: April 9-15, 1865. Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1989
Taylor, George Braxton. Virginia Baptist Ministers, Fifth Series. Lynchburg: J. P. Bell Company, Inc., 1915.