Chaplain Abner Crump Hopkins
2nd Virginia Regiment
by Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
© 2010 SBSS
Gen. John B. Gordon said of Chaplain A.C. Hopkins,
He was, during the war, one of the leading Confederate chaplains. In the different battles he was present, mingling with the soldiers, caring for the wounded, and doing admirable service in encouraging the men who were on the fighting-line. No dangers deterred him; no sacrifices were too great for him to make. Dr. Hopkins was one of those sterling characters who esteemed honor and truth as of far greater value than life itself.[Reminiscences, 367].
Chaplain Hopkins was born in Powhatan County, Virginia on October 24, 1835. His father was Henry Laurens Hopkins and his mother was Sarah Amelia Crump. Hopkins’ education was at Hampden–Sydney College where he received his B.A. degree in 1855 and later in life the institution conferred upon him a D.D. degree in 1883. This young man after having been born again received a call to the ministry. Therefore, after Hopkins received his B.A. at Hampden-Sydney he went to the Union Theological Seminary of Virginia where he studied from 1857 to 1860. On April 6, 1860 Hopkins was licensed for the Gospel Ministry by the East Hanover Presbytery. Then on December 6, 1860 he was ordained to the Gospel Ministry by the Winchester Presbytery to pastor the Presbyterian Church of Martinsburg, Virginia (now in WV), where he pastored from 1860 to 1862.
In 1862 when Federal forces invaded Martinsburg and began to pillage the town Pastor Hopkins made a decision. Loving his family, his parishioners and the Commonwealth of Virginia he left to continue his ministry. Hopkins said he was “exiled voluntarily from my home” and went into exile [J. Wm. Jones, Christ in the Camp, 465]. In May of 1862 he was commissioned chaplain of the Second Virginia Regiment. This regiment had many of his friends and parishioners in it. Among these friends was Ben Boyd of Company D, Second Virginia; his daughter Belle was also a parishioner. She of course gained worldwide fame as a Confederate spy. Her family generations before had been instrumental in the construction of the Presbyterian Church that Hopkins pastored [Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Vol. II, 42; Louis A. Sigaud, Belle Boyd, 2].
The Yankees were in undisputed possession of Martinsburg; the village was at their mercy, and consequently entitled to their forbearance; and it would at least have been more dignified in them had they been content to enjoy their almost bloodless conquest with moderation; but, whatever might have been the intentions of the officers, they had not the inclination, or they lacked the authority, to control the turbulence of their men [A Friend of the South, Belle Boyd, Vol. I, 63].
On May 3, 1862, Rev. A.C. Hopkins joined his parishioners and was commissioned as chaplain of the Second Virginia Regiment. Yes, Hopkins became a chaplain in what would become the famous “Stonewall Brigade” made up of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Twenty-seventh and Thirty-third Virginia.
The day following his chaplain’s commission General Thomas J. Jackson opened his first Valley Campaign. Hopkins was the regimental chaplain who succeeded Chaplain Townsend J. McVeigh who had been captured in battle [Jones, 465]. The experience of war came quickly for the new chaplain as he received his baptism of fire on May 8 at McDowell.
General Jackson wrote his wife, “My precious darling … God blest us with victory at McDowell…. We have divine service at ten o clock to-day (Monday, May 12) to render thanks to Almighty God for having crowned our arms with success, and to implore His continued favor” [Mary Anna Jackson, Life and Letters of “Stonewall” Jackson, 257].
Hopkins described the spring campaign as “characterized by rapidity, fighting and fatigue” which “deprived chaplains of much opportunity for ministerial work, except for the wounded on the battle-field.” The field officers were prompt in inviting Hopkins and the other chaplains to hold nightly meetings of prayer for the regiment at … headquarters; and, whenever campaigning did not prevent, preached once or more on Sabbath” [Jones, 465].
Hopkins wasted no time for he seemed to be constantly available for service. On May 16, 1862 he led the men of his regiment in a day of fasting and prayer. Two days later he conducted Sunday services at Mossy Creek. Hopkins wholeheartedly pursued the work of the Lord among these men knowing that many would not be long in this world. Early in his chaplaincy Hopkins adopted what became his method,
I commenced with the determination of sharing the sufferings, marches and perils of those for whose good I labored. This soon discovered itself to be the proper course; for mingling with men under all conditions gave me soon their friendship and pointed my preaching; while opportunities for extending acquaintance beyond my own command were gained and improved. An illustration of this occurred at the battle of Malvern Hill, when the colonel and lieutenant-colonel of another regiment came to mine (saying they knew they would find me) to get me to go and minister to one of their command who was badly wounded, although they had a chaplain [Jones, 466].
During the Seven Days’ Battle just below Richmond (June 25 to July 1, 1862), Hopkins marched all day in the hot sun and spent a sleepless night ministering to the wounded and dying. He was exhausted. The next morning, attempting to preach to his men in the shade of some pines, as they all lay in the line of battle in range of the gunboats at Harrison’s Landing, he collapsed. He was carried to the rear to recover, but he returned to the front ten days later. Upon his return he learned that his best friends were dead. Hopkins was greatly discouraged by the heavy losses at Cold Harbor.
On Friday August 29, 1862, the night before the last day’s battle at Second Manassas, Col. W. S. H. Baylor was in command of the “Stonewall Brigade.” The year before this brigade won its sobriquet and immortal fame on the historic plains of Manassas. Baylor sent for Capt. Hugh White, son of “Stonewall” Jackson’s pastor Dr. William S. White of Lexington. Hugh had been a theological student before the war and now commanded one of the companies in the brigade. Baylor said to him,
I know the men are very much wearied out by the battle today, and that they need all of the rest they can get to fit them for the impending struggle of tomorrow. But I cannot consent that we shall sleep tonight until we have had a brief season of prayer to thank God for the victory and preservation of the day and to invoke His blessing upon us in the great battle which we are to have tomorrow.
Capt. Hugh White entered into lively sympathy with Colonel Baylor’s feelings, and at once began to arrange for the meeting. He found bivouacked near by Chaplain A.C. Hopkins. Hopkins was said to be one of those faithful chaplains, who was always found at the post of duty even though it was the line of battle or the advance skirmish line of the army. The men were quietly notified that there would be a prayer meeting at brigade headquarters, and as many as could be spared from the line of battle promptly gathered at the appointed place. Chaplain Hopkins led the meeting, and it was said to be “one of those tender seasons of worship that we frequently had on the eve of battle. The songs and even the prayers could be distinctly heard by the enemy’s line of battle” [Confederate Military History, Vol. 12, 170; also see Jones, 466 f.].
Hopkins wrote about their encampment at Bunker Hill in the fall of 1862. There began a work of grace or revival in the army, but Hopkins’ brigade at first seemed to be left out of the blessings. Evangelist Joseph C. Stiles visited them and preached. There was a spiritual awakening among a number of the soldiers. The “Stonewall Brigade” was now frequently shifted from place to place. Still Stiles continued to preach as he had opportunity to large and attentive audiences. The result was that many made hopeful professions of conversion. Hopkins confessed,
The greatest benefit that I have ever felt from those associations and instructions of our venerable brother, was the impulse imparted to chaplains. That earnest man of God made us ashamed of ourselves. I fairly felt ashamed to give him an opportunity at me; he talked so plainly of my responsibility; showed me so clearly how many opportunities I was thoughtlessly despising; what great responsibility rested on me. I shook the dust from my feet and went to work with new zeal. This seemed to be the case of us all [Jones, 467].
Chaplain Hopkins revealed that he was greatly impacted by the ministry and life of Stiles.
One of the profane officers to whom Hopkins became acquainted referred to him as “my elder” and sought to be of help to Chaplain Hopkins. This chaplain was so dependable others often relied upon him. When they were camped near Winchester at the end of November 1852 General “Stonewall” Jackson appealed to Hopkins through his adjutant James Power Smith for him to prepare and send him a list of chaplains and their regiments in his old division along with those without chaplains.
Also toward the end of November the new Brigadier-General Elisha Franklin Paxton (a new brigadier-general as of November 1) was placed in command of the “Stonewall Brigade.” Paxton though not a Christian wanted chaplains to not be able to take leave without a furlough; this was in accord with General Jackson’s view. Paxton’s rationale was that chaplains would lose their rapport by getting different treatment than the soldiers. At Guinea Station Chaplain Hopkins handed in his report on chaplains, to be given to General Jackson.
Chaplain Hopkins went into winter quarters with the brigade near Moss Neck. A brigade chapel had been erected by volunteers at the urging of General Paxton. Services were attended by General “Stonewall” Jackson as frequently as possible.
There were prisoners to be tended because someone needed to minister to them in their last days before execution. Hopkins wrote,
A number of prisoners were under sentence of death for desertion, although not one from my regiment. I was in daily attendance upon them in the guard-house. As most of our chaplains were absent from camp much of that time, this painful service devolved on me, even to announcing their sentences and accompanying them to the stake. Their expressions of hope and gratitude must be my sufficient reward in this life [Jones, 468].
Whatever the need or task that was asked of him Chaplain Hopkins seemed to be old reliable in his chaplaincy. He was doing the Lord’s work and was at his post very consistently.
Hopkins began to organize Bible classes that were held in the brigade court-martial room. He was assisted in this work by Chaplain F.C. Tebbs. The classes met twice a week. Chaplain Hopkins rejoiced to write, “I had the joy of welcoming nearly every member of that class into a profession of Christ.” At every opportunity he was preaching to the men of the Redeemer.
Toward the end of February there was evidence of the movement of the Spirit of God, which was revealed by the interest in the things of God and greater devotion among the chaplains. Actually the chaplains became acquainted with one another and began to work in a more cohesive way.
Chaplain Hopkins was spreading Christian literature among the soldiers as he could obtain it. His regiment even contributed a hundred and forty dollars for such a purpose. At this time Hopkins requested that Major Rev. R.L. Dabney write two tracts. One was on Profane Swearing and the other on Christ Our Substitute. Both tracts were published and distributed with great benefit.
With the coming of Chaplain Beverly T. Lacy to work under General Jackson as his corps chaplain a Chaplains Association was started on March 16, 1863. The new association met at Round Oak Baptist Church. This association was the fruit of General Jackson’s desire to make the Chaplains Corps more effective and unified. Hopkins wrote the circular that the chaplains signed.
During the revival that came, and on the night of March 30, 1863, Chaplain Hopkins was stricken down with typhoid pneumonia in the middle of a sermon on Psalm 51:10—“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Hopkins had to be removed to the hospital as a result of extreme illness. General Paxton rode over to visit his chaplain during this illness. Hopkins’ work in the brigade gave him many personal opportunities to speak with General Paxton in which he expressed a growing interest in the Saviour. On this visit to his sick chaplain Paxton confided a premonition that he would soon be killed and he did not want to go unprepared. This culminated in Paxton receiving the Lord Jesus as his Saviour. Hopkins said Paxton give evidence of being truly converted. The premonition when it proved to be true found the general ready to meet the Lord [Jones, 470].
While Hopkins was hospitalized he was exposed to capture and was therefore removed to Richmond to recover from his case of typhoid pneumonia. It was July before Chaplain Hopkins could rejoin the army. When he did return his activity picked up where it had left off.
On 22nd July … I embraced an opportunity for calling together the Christians of my regiment, procuring a roll of some fifty of them who remained; temporarily arranged them in clubs for “family prayer,” nights after tattoo, and morning after first roll-call…. This was found a most delightful service; increasing numbers attended; other regiments followed the example; and these meetings were perpetuated until the casualties of battle literally annihilated the number who composed it! I preached in conjunction with Brother Vass every night or day; or held prayer-meeting at regimental head-quarters for the regiment. I had also a large Bible-class reorganized, which met under a hill, protected from the hot sun by the shade of a poplar and some artificial covering of brush [Jones, 470-471].
The fall of 1863 the brigade was constantly moving from place to place. This ruined any opportunity for Hopkins to do any systematic chaplain’s work. About Christmas the brigade went into winter quarters near Pisgah Church in Orange County. The men of the brigade were late getting started on building chapels. The timber was at such a distance the work was complicated even more and took longer to complete. Finally on the last Lord’s Day in January 1864 they used their new chapel for the first time. During this time Chaplain Hopkins in an interview with General James A. Walker, an ungodly man, the chaplain was clearly made to understand that he was regarded as the spiritual officer of the regiment and that he was expected to preserve the moral efficiency of the command by correcting and reporting moral violations. Walker commanded the “Stonewall Brigade” at Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, and the battles around Petersburg.
The enemy moved into the wilderness area of Orange and Spotsylvania Court House. The “Stonewall Brigade” wherein Chaplain Hopkins ministered broke winter camp on May 4, 1864 to deal with the invader. The Battle of Chancellorsville took place May 1 through 4. The famous flank move of “Stonewall” Jackson took place on May 2 wherein he won his greatest victory. That night Jackson was wounded doing reconnaissance and this wounding led to his death a few days later. Hopkins said, “That disaster, in fact, terminated the separate existence of the Stonewall Brigade….” The fragments of this and other Virginia brigades were integrated to build another brigade.
Chaplain Hopkins and his fellow chaplains were busy caring for the wounded and dying. When General R. E. Lee left the area the critical cases were left in field hospitals and the corps that Hopkins served had a hospital of some 320 critically wounded and fifty wounded enemies. For about twenty days the death rate was five a day. They expected the enemy any time. Hopkins described the precedent that he set,
I endeavored daily to visit every man, irrespective of his army, and knew no man after the flesh. So large was the number that at first it took me two days to pass entirely around the hospital. On June 10, about 2 P.M., while I was in a Yankee’s tent praying and reading with him, at the corner of the hospital, a clatter of sabers was heard, and looking up we saw a detachment of Federal cavalry surrounding the hospital. They fired on one or two men running across the fields, and at first some courageous assaults were made upon our meager commissary tent; but Colonel Anderson soon rode up, arrested very promptly this robbery of stores, and soon showed that he at least had the instincts of humanity. When the squadron were making their gallant charge, their sergeant, a rude, red-headed Pennsylvanian, dashed with drawn pistol through the middle of the camp. While thus displaying his heroism, a large, fierce-looking sergeant of a Maine regiment … staggered out of his tent, and in indignant style belabored his cavalry friend, saying: “Put up your pistol; put up your pistol!…. Nobody here but one-armed and one-legged and dying men; you needn’t be afraid of them” [Jones, 473].
Later the brave Sheridan raided the hospital to destroy it, but the wounded Federals again interceded. Hopkins saw many men in this hospital make professions of faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour, and this included some Federals. Hopkins did not put stock in deathbed repentance but he saw some during this time that he believed were real.
Essentially the “Stonewall Brigade” was no more. When Chaplain Hopkins left the hospital on September 27, 1864 he visited the War Department and received a commission to report for duty to General John B. Gordon. Once he overtook the army near New Market he reported to General Gordon and received a temporary assignment to Terry’s Brigade of which was partially constituted of his old regiment, which through the attrition of war had been reduced to almost nothing. General Gordon gave Hopkins a permanent assignment with his division as the place for his chaplain’s work.
On the Lord’s Day of October 22nd, 1864 General Gordon attended the preaching of Chaplain Hopkins in Terry’s Brigade and invited him to his quarters the next day. Toward the end of November Gordon and his corps was ordered, along with Pegram’s Division, to the Petersburg area where they went into winter quarters and built chapels. Hopkins devoted himself primarily to the Louisiana Brigade but General Gordon wanted him to remain at headquarters. Bible classes and prayer meetings were organized by Hopkins.
As Chaplain Hopkins worked at Gordon’s Headquarters there was established a time that Hopkins called “family worship every night” and all the staff attended.
As the spring of 1965 came so did the march toward Appomattox. Hopkins did what he could for the men on the march. At Appomattox General Lee concluded the time of war. Hopkins noted, “The nature of the campaign, its activity and confusion, up to the very day of our leaving Appomattox, rendered it next to impossible for chaplains to do anything of ministerial work; so for that period I have nothing special to report” [Jones, 477].
After the war Rev. A. C. Hopkins returned to the pastorate during the time of reconstruction. He pastored Willis Presbyterian Church in the West Hanover Presbytery from 1865-1866. From 1866 to 1911 he pastored the Charles Town Presbyterian Church of Charles Town, West Virginia where he went to be with the Lord on December 4, 1911. During his long ministry at Charles Town his son Abner Crump Hopkins, Jr. was born on November 17, 1867. In 1903 Abner C. Hopkins was the Moderator of the General Assembly. Characteristically Rev. A.C. Hopkins died at his post of duty.