For both the Union and Confederate soldiers, religion was one of the greatest sustainers of morale in the Civil War as faith became a refuge in the many great times of need.
There was one important person who guarded and guided the spiritual well-being of the fighters — the army or navy chaplain. The chaplains traveled with the troops, becoming a voice of hope and reason in an otherwise chaotic military existence that often had great periods of time of non-movement, waiting and anxiety.
From the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861, both the North and South considered the need for chaplains. Confederate Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker issued a report calling for chaplains on April 27, 1861. On May 3, Confederate Congressman Francis S. Bartow reported bill No. 102, which passed to create the post of chaplain. No uniforms were ever mandated by the Confederacy nor duties specified. Salaries were set at $85 a month and then cut two weeks later to $50 a month.
Chaplains for Union forces were established initially by General Orders 15 and 16 from the U.S. War Department on May 4, 1861. The orders provided for Christian chaplains to be chosen by a vote of field officers and company commanders. Pay varied from $60 to $150 before being set in 1862 at $100 a month.
In November 1861, the U.S. Congress established the chaplain’s uniform as a black frock coat with a single row of nine brass buttons that could be covered with black fabric.
In July 1862, the wording of the 1861 orders were changed to allow appointment of chaplains from ordained ministers from “some religious denomination,” opening the way for appointing Jewish chaplains.
Nearly 3,700 chaplains were appointed both North and South to regiments, hospitals and prisons during the war. They were from all denominations — Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Jewish and others. The majority were ordained, but there were significant numbers of lay Methodists and Baptists nominated to the post of chaplain by their regiments.
There were even 17 black chaplains who served in black regiments during 1863-65.
Of all the chaplains, North and South, the denominational statistics are: Methodist, 41 percent; Presbyterian, 17 percent; Baptist,14 percent; Episcopal, 10 percent; Congregational, 7 percent; Unitarian, 3 percent; Roman Catholic, 3 percent; Lutheran, Jewish, Disciples of Christ, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed and others each had less than 1 percent of the total.
In addition to the chaplains, there were hundreds of camp missionaries supplied by Presbyterians, Baptists and others.
Chaplain service varied greatly in length, sometimes due to the limited enlistment period of their troop or regiment, varying from 48 months down to only a few months.
The clerics’ duties did not end after Sunday prayers; rather, many ministers could be found performing daily regimental duties, and some even found their way onto the battlefields.
Many of the chaplains and hundreds of civilian ministers serving both Confederate and Union armies and navies have been little known. These chaplains played many roles: camp ministers, surgery aides, camp librarians, battlefield medics, hospital visitors and comforters and scribes for letters home from illiterate or wounded soldiers.
Several were also surgeons for their brigade. One chaplain, Michael Cramer, was Ulysses S. Grant’s brother-in-law. They ran libraries for the common soldier, made certain pay was sent to loved ones and buried the dead.
One even wrote a popular Civil War song, “Brother Green.” Many hymn books, such as “Heavenly Hymns for Heavy Hearts, 1864” and “The Southern Harmony” shaped-note hymnal (1847) reflect the religious revivals that occurred in both armies during 1863-64.
Chaplain W.D.C. Rodrock operated a lending library at the Union’s Fort Jefferson prison.
The Rev. Dr. Isaac W.K. Handy was incarcerated as a civilian in the Fort Delaware prison for outspoken refusal to support the union. While there, he conducted theological sessions for Confederate officers, who would become ministers after the war, as well as Bible study for all.
Union Chaplain Benjamin F. Randolph, 26th U.S. Colored Troops, an ordained Presbyterian minister, joined the Methodist church after the war. He was born a freed black in Kentucky and educated at Oberlin College. He served about seven months in the Freedmen’s Bureau in South Carolina and was elected a state legislator.
The Rev. Dr. Moses D. Hoge of Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Va., went to England during the war to arrange the import of 15,000 Bibles, 50,000 New Testaments and 250,000 of the Gospels and Psalms from the British and Foreign Bible Society for the Confederacy and its soldiers.
This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton 150th Civil War Commission. To find out more about the commission, go to www.dalton 150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.