Chaplain Jacob Tyler Frazier
7th Virginia, Co. D
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
Since the Confederate States of America was a new country in 1861 there were many aspects of governance that had not been clearly established the first year of her existence. Thus there was not an established policy for chaplains in the military. The Christian denominations were slow in formulating policy for recruiting and commissioning chaplains. There was an obvious critical need for chaplains and thus there needed to be a workable protocol for supplying them. Finally in 1861 the Baptists began to debate whether they should have voluntary recruitment or a way of commissioning whereby the denomination appointed chaplains. In 1862 the Methodists, Presbyterians and Protestant Episcopalians emulated the Baptists in seeking to provide chaplains. There were men who acted as chaplains who did not necessarily have an official placement. Some men were recognized by their fellow soldiers and chosen to be chaplains within the military unit. There were more Baptist and Methodist ministers who were soldiers and also acted as chaplains. The denominations through the military had men commissioned as chaplains, but there were, as noted, chaplains commissioned by their fellow soldiers and such a one is the subject of this article who was considered an acting company chaplain.
Birth and Early Years
Jacob Tyler Frazier was born November 22nd, 1840 in Giles County, Virginia. He was the son of George A. and Sallie Dillon Frazier. His brothers were Rev. A. J. Frazier, Rev. George Frazier, and he was the grandfather of Rev. Tyler Frazier III. This family was partial to the ministry. The Lord was pleased to open his heart to grace “at an early age” we are told. Thus at a young age he came to know the Lord Jesus Christ in pardon and forgiveness of sins. He had escaped the City of Destruction as a lad and was headed to the Celestial City as a result of the saving grace of God.
J. Tyler Frazier received the instruction and care that loving parents could provide. His earliest education was in the home. His opportunities for formal education were very limited. One has written regarding his education, “He had only three months in school; yet he was an educated man.” The primary volume in his process of education was the King James Bible for which he had a voracious appetite. He incessantly read from his Authorized Version of the Word of God until his English was so pure and enriched that that form of English was a natural part of his speech and ultimately his preaching. A writer said of him, “Few men ever attain such powers of expression as he possessed.” Like many men of his era who were shut out of formal education he applied himself to learn on his own. He was self-educated but became a learned man known for “exceptionally good sense.”
J. Tyler Frazier who was brought to Christ early in his life and whose education was primarily from the Word of God was in God’s providence being set aside to be a minister of the gospel. He became a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The preaching of God’s word was not just a fetish but was a compunction from his calling by the Spirit of God.
The War for Southern Defense
Frazier enlisted in Company D, also known as the “Mountain Boomers,” of the 7th Virginia Infantry in April 1861 as a private in the Confederate Army. The organization of this company took place on April 25th, 1861. When the war ended Frazier was with Lee as he withdrew from Petersburg but Frazier became a prisoner of war. In May of 1861 Company D was billeted at Pearisburg, Virginia. The ladies of the town determined to present Company D with a flag. Miss Mary Woodram presented the flag. The pupils of Pearisburg Academy presented a Bible which was placed in the custody of J. Tyler Frazier who had been selected by the men as chaplain. J. Smoot Dennis, a seven year old student, presented the Bible to Frazier with these words:
The teachers and pupils of Pearisburg Academy beg leave to present this copy of the Holy Scriptures to our magnificent “Mountain Boomers” as an expression of our confidence in their Christian faith and patriotism.
Chaplain Frazier replied:
On behalf of the “Mountain Boomers” I accept this book, knowing it to be the Word of God. I shall read it with care and diligence, and on all suitable occasions will endeavor to explain and enforce its claims. Should any of our band fall sick in camp, or be wounded on the field, then from the great treasure of its precious promises I will bring balm for the suffering, and point them to Him whose mission to earth was to bind up the broken-hearted and save that which was lost. If the Pale Horse and his Rider should overtake any of us in a distant land, we will rest in hope of the glorious appearing of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, and with whom we shall be gathered into that land which no foe invades, and where friends are parted no more.
When Frazier entered the conflict he was already a preacher. “By precept and example upon all proper occasions” J. Tyler Frazier “endeavored to impress upon the men the importance of living a Christian life.” Some of his messmates who were God-fearing men had taken notice of Frazier’s consistent Christian life. This private soldier in Company D began to preach whenever an opportunity arose to the company, regiment or brigade, yea even to the people in the region of their camp. The regiment had no chaplain and the Young Men’s Christian Association of the regiment requested the appointment of Frazier. The committee making this request for the YMCA was Thomas S. Taylor, Edward Hoge and David E. Johnston. They took their request to the Colonel but the mission was unsuccessful because the commander felt that the unit could not spare a man from the ranks. Frazier was considered a good soldier. Although only twenty years old he was made chaplain of sorts with provision that he keep fighting. They secured “the privilege for Mr. Frazier to preach where and when he pleased, having his musket and accouterments transported in headquarters wagon, the only requirement being demanded that he should take his gun and go into battle.” His fellow soldiers out of affection called him the “barefooted preacher.” Frazier became a good soldier of Jesus Christ as well as a good soldier of the 7th Virginia Infantry. “Mr. Frazier was as useful as a chaplain without a commission as with it, for he still continued to preach, pray, march and fight, to exhort and encourage men to do their duty to God and their country.”
At the close of 1862 and through most of 1863 God was pleased to send revival through that part of the Army of Northern Virginia. Thousands of men were embracing Christ by faith. It was said that the chaplains often proclaimed the glad tidings amid the noise of the booming cannon and the rattle of musketry. A member of the 7th Virginia noted,
The Army of Northern Virginia by the close of the year 1864 had in large measure become a band of Christian soldiers, God-fearing men. Amid the trying scenes, shoeless, in tattered rags, hungry, chilled by the cold, they gathered, if opportunity offered, and on bended knees asked God to comfort their homes and little ones, to bless our arms with success and to crown our efforts with early peace and stable government.
Frazier and some of his friends were having devotions and were marched to the guard house. The way this event occurred was shortly after arriving at Manassas. Some of the men from Company D whose custom was not to retire at night until they had held devotional exercises in giving thanks to God for His past mercies and blessings, and also asking for His continued care and protection through the night. This had been their practice since leaving home. Taps sounded at nine o’clock and all lights were to be put out at that time. On this night taps sounded while the boys were at devotions. Colonel Hairston saw the light in their tent still burning and had them marched to the guard house. When the authorities realized what the men were doing they were released.
J. Tyler Frazier was instrumental in organizing a Young Men’s Christian Association in Kemper’s Brigade into which was largely incorporated all the professing Christians in the brigade.
The men of the 7th Virginia like most Confederate soldiers had a sense of humor and often pulled pranks on preachers, but sometimes it backfired. On one occasion they were visited by an old preacher who was white-haired, with a long flowing white beard, and when he rode into the camp one of the pranksters cried out, “Boys, here is old Father Abraham!” The old preacher replied, “Young men, you are mistaken. I am Saul, the son of Kish, searching for his father’s asses, and I have found them.” It was said that no one enjoyed this any better that he who was bested.
When 7th Virginia was in winter quarters at Centerville there was little preaching for they had no place to have public services and the weather was too severe to hold outdoor services. What was Chaplain Frazier to do? When he could not preach he could carry on as best he could. A number of men in the mess of J. Tyler Frazier “never neglected their religious duties, and in quarters invariably read a chapter of the Bible, sang a hymn, and prayed before retiring at night.” One of Company D wrote, “These men, by their upright conduct, observance of their religious duties, their Christian character and conversation, had great influence over their comrades, and especially upon the conduct and morals of the company.” Chaplain Frazier and his brothers in the faith tried to faithfully carry on for the Lord which was a great testimony to all.
On one occasion soldier J. Tyler Frazier was wounded along with many other men of Company D. His wounding occurred during in the Second Battle of Manassas. At war’s end as Lee was withdrawing from Petersburg in 1865 Frazier was captured along with a number of other soldiers. Company D had a total enlistment of 122 men and of this number all were killed, died of disease or wounds or were prisoners of war or hospitalized and at the end only nine made it to Appomattox.
The War is Over
At the close of the war Rev. J. Tyler Frazier at first entered into an itinerant ministry. Having entered the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South he was effective for fifty-four consecutive years. Someone noted, “He served in every capacity of the regular ministry, on missions, circuits, stations and districts and was successful in all.” His varied service touched nearly every part of the Holston Conference. For years he “was the most widely known and admired preacher in the Conference.” He stirred people to their profoundest depths. At the Centennial of Holston Conference, celebrated at Knoxville in 1924, he spoke on the “Old-Time Circuit Rider.” At that time he was eighty-four years old. As time began to impose infirmities he began to preach sitting in a chair. When he became overcome by his glorious subject in his preaching he would forget his infirmities and rise to his feet. Then it was that the congregation felt as if lifted to the mountain heights. Rarely is it given to men to move a congregation as he at times would do in his very conscientious preaching.
Rev. J. Tyler Frazier during his long and productive life had two helpmeets. His first wife was Maria Virginia Taylor of Tazewell County, Virginia. To this union was the blessing of eight children. His second wife was Fannie D. McBroom of Abingdon, Virginia.
One described Frazier as
“gifted in body as well as in mind…. Broad shouldered and with powerful limbs, he gave the impression of tremendous power, but the agility of youth was retained almost to the end of his long life. I asked him once, if the story that he was able, when a youth, to stand by the side of a horse sixteen hands high and, without touching the horse with his hands, spring, flat-footed, onto the horse’s back, was true? He assured me that he had often done so. Every part of his body was responsive to the flow of his eloquence – indeed was a part of it. There was never the slightest stage play.”
There was no cant or unctuous hypocrisy in his preaching. God’s word flowed in truth and seriousness from this servant. For him preaching was the sound declaration of the gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit, whereby he aimed for the salvation of lost souls. It was noted of him that “Perhaps more people were led to Christ by his preaching than that of any other man of the generation to which he belonged in Holston Conference.”
Frazier dedicated the Woodlawn Methodist Church building on August 21st, 1910 preaching from the text Haggai 1:8—“Go to the mountain and bring wood and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.” He also preached Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night. Then on Monday he preached to the Old Soldiers of which he was one.
After fifty-four years of effective work as a pastor came to an end in 1919 as a result of age, he continued to preach as he could to the end of his earthly sojourn. He lived in his own home at Chilhowie for the remaining thirteen years of his life. He preached to his neighbors at Chilhowie Methodist Episcopal Church at Chilhowie, Virginia on his ninety-first birthday. During that last year there were times when his mind finally began to show the wear and tear of age but this was never so when he preached the gospel. The joyful sound rung true to the very last. He preached over the radio from Emory and Henry College on his birthday a short time before he died. He died in his ninety-second year, on Feb. 23rd, 1932, having been a member of Holston Conference for sixty-seven years. He was buried at Chilhowie, Virginia.
Johnston, David E. History of the Middle New River Settlements. Radford: Commonwealth Press Incorporated, 1969 (1906).
Johnston, David E. The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War. Radford: Commonwealth Press Incorporated, 1980 (1914).