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The Confederate Chaplain By Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

The Confederate Chaplain
Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

The work of the Confederate Chaplain during this ugly war has been overlooked throughout these 150 plus years. Yes we have seen and read excellent documentation’s that have been made available but it hasn’t been brought to the forefront like other important issues and topics. The impact that  these spiritual leaders had on these young soldiers who found themselves for the first time in their lives away from home, away from the influences of their fathers and mothers and exposed to a number of vices. These chaplains often served as stand-in parents working to keep these young soldiers on the righteous path. Their spiritual influence made a difference for so many.

The main duty of the Confederate Chaplains was to tend to the spiritual needs of the soldiers. They  performed the functions of a parish pastor of their own denomination whenever possible. They often heard confessions, instructed soldiers in ecclesiastical matters, settled difficulties among the troops, performed last rights, accompanied and counseled troops sentenced to death by court-martial as well as preached and celebrated services. At times, chaplains arranged to hold worship services but often time they would be interrupted due to bad weather, army movements, Sunday inspections and drills, as well as other diversions. Many of the soldiers preferred to drink and play cards rather than to attend services. Some troops were kept from services due to simple exhaustion. The need and service of the Confederate Chaplains was obvious.

The Inauguration Of The Confederate Chaplain.

At the front of the war the Confederate States of America had no provision for the spiritual welfare for their soldiers. On April 27, 1861 twelve days after the war started Secretary of War, Leroy Pope Walker gave his Department Report – and in the final paragraph of the report he says this, “I cannot more appropriately conclude this report than by urging upon Congress the passage of a law empowering this Department to appoint Chaplains for Service. Military experience demonstrates the importance of religious habitudes to the morality, good order, and general discipline of an army in the camp or in the field. If we expect God to bless us in our struggle in dense of our rights to terminate, in all probability, only after a protracted and bloody war we must recognize Him in our action.” – LeRoy Pope Walker, Confederate Secretary of War 1

On May 3, 1861, 2 sixteen days later Georgia Congressman
Francis Stebbins Bartow introduced Bill 102 that would give the president the right to appoint chaplains to as many regiments, brigades, and or posts as he deemed expedient. After becoming law the chaplain’s salary was set at $85 per month. However, there was no provision for rations, forage, uniforms, rank, or duties in this legislation.  On May 16 thirteen days later, the salary was reduced to $50 per month 3 for the reason that the chaplain only worked one day a week.  It was not until nearly a year later April 19, 1862 that the salary of the chaplain was raised to $80. 4 Then on August 31, 1862, a revision to the law was passed that allowed for rations like that of a private. 5 On January 22, 1864, the Confederate Congress granted chaplains forage 6 for their horses if he had one. 

The Uniform Of The Confederate Chaplain.

Up front, there was no established criteria for uniforms or insignia or rank or age, education or ecclesiastical endorsement.   There were no guidelines for how a chaplain was to dress. So as a uniform the designated chaplain wore whatever they could put their hands on. You can imagine the variety of looks that came out of this. There was even one chaplain who developed a uniform so over-embellished that his commander ordered him to dress it down.  Others wore simple gray trousers or a plain gray jacket and hats of all kinds. There were many chaplains who wore the same suits they wore in civilian ministry.  

As I said before when it came to the uniform’s insignia there was no identical look. For instance, midway through the war the chaplains of General Stonewall Jackson's 2nd Corps Army of Northern Virginia placed their insignia on both collars of their
jackets, a "C" inside a ½ olive branch wreath. J. William Jones who served as Chaplain – of the Thirteenth Virginia Infantry writes, “The badge adopted by the Chaplains' Association of the Army of Tennessee was the Maltese cross, worn on the Collar or lappel of their coats.” 7 But aside from these two examples there is no record of any other chaplains in the South wearing an insignia to distinguish them as chaplains.

The Fighting Parsons.

The question of Chaplain’s bearing arms was a subject matter that was not addressed. So the matter of arms was typically left to the commanding officer in each unit to which the chaplain was appointed or elected.  Most commanders consented to the chaplain carrying a sidearm or sword but rarely if ever was the chaplain authorized to carry a musket.  However, there are many reports of chaplains who did become combatants and in fact the name or phrase, “Fighting Parson” was often given to some.

Men like Isaac Taylor Tichenor impressed his men with his sharp shooting abilities and rallied his comrades at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 while serving in the 17th Alabama Infantry as Chaplain. It was said that Tichenor “belonged to the honorable class of fighting chaplains.” 8

But also the records indicate that a large number of Southern
ministers served as officers or enlisted soldiers. One name that comes to mind is Major David C. Kelly, who ministered to the men of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command, a former Methodist missionary in China, was better known as “the fighting preacher.” 9

Another name that comes to mind who was called a “fighting parson” was Brigadier General William Nelson Pendleton who became Chief of Artillery, on the staff of General Joseph E. Johnston. With a strong Christian conviction  of the righteousness of the cause, Pendleton was heard saying, “‘Are you ready boys,’ with a reply, ‘Yes.’ Looking up with clasp hands, the General fervently exclaimed, ‘The Lord have mercy on their souls! Fire!’” 10

Then there was Brigadier General Mark Perrin Lowrey,
identified as “‘the gallant soldier preacher,’ for when in camp, he preached to his men and made every effort to influence them toward a religious life, yet in action on the battlefield he was stern, determined, and unfaltering.” 11 After the war General William J. Hardee said of Lowrey, "the parson soldier, who preached to his men in camp and fought with them in the field with equal earnestness and effect." 

The Confederate Chaplain tended to many areas. In addition to preaching whenever and wherever, these men also served as
assistants to the field surgeons, letter writers, ambulance drivers, counselors, attorneys, literacy teachers and bearers of death notices.  It was said of Chaplain George Buck Overton of the 2nd Kentucky Infantry, “No chaplain in the army was more successful than he, though he did his whole duty as a soldier. He was always at work, just as earnestly as he fought.” 12 He served different roles, kneeling and praying with wounded soldiers, even while under heavy enemy fire. 

Two Examples Of Men Of Color As Confederate Chaplain’s.

The Confederate Army was the first to have an officially
recognized black chaplain to white troops. 13 His name was known as "Uncle Lewis" but his given name was Louis Napoleon Nelson and was elected by the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Shiloh on April of 1862 and served until the war ended. It was reported in the Religious Herald in Richmond, “A correspondent of the soldier’s friend mentions a Tennessee regiment which has no chaplain; but an old negro, ‘Uncle Lewis,’ ‘preaches two or three times a week at night. He is heard with respectful attention, and for earnestness, zeal and sincerity, can be surpassed by none. Two or three revivals have followed his preaching in the regiment. What will the wise Christian patriots out of the army, who denounce those who wish to see competent negroes allowed to preach, as tainted with anti-slaveryism, say with regard to the true Southern feeling of that regiment, which has fought unflinchingly from Shiloh to Murfreesboro?’” 14

Then there was the service of Unaguskie, the son of a Cherokee Chief and a Christian, who was the Chaplain of the Cherokee Battalion. The Cherokee Battalion marched into Knoxville from the outskirts of town and into the church building at the First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville. As the chaplain of the battalion, Unaguskie led the service. Here is a quoted narrative of that event, “The highlight of their stay occurred when they conducted Christian services in their own language at the First Presbyterian Church. Goggle-eyed whites filled every available pew, eager to witness the strange spectacle. The Indians had their Cherokee hymnals, and Unaguskie, their chaplain, led the service. A local editor described him as ‘tall, slender, graceful, and eloquent, though having little of the mannerisms of the modern pulpit. His sermon seemed to be persuasive rather than denunciatory, advisory, and parental rather than condemnatory and authoritative.’ The music struck the reporter as ‘less artistic’ than in a white service. The whites sat through the entire proceedings, enrapt but not understanding a word that was said” 15

The Confederate Chaplain Was A Patriot.

It was not uncommon to hear the Confederate Chaplain speak about patriotism, especially when it came to the Confederate soldier. But the point is, chaplain’s held a high view of this kind of thinking.
For them patriotism and liberty went hand and hand. During the war, a committee was assembled and out of that committee Beverly Tucker Lacy, Chaplain to Stonewall Jackson gave an address to the Churches of the Confederacy on the needs of the army. Within that speech, Dr. Lacy connects patriotism with the gospel ministry to the Confederate soldier. He says, “Ministerial brethren, ought this thing so to be? Church of the living God, awake from your lethargy and arouse to your duty! We are well aware of the pure and lofty patriotism of the Southern ministry. We know that your hearts are as truly and deeply enlisted in the cause of the country as ours; and we are also aware of the fact that a large number of chaplains are stationed at posts and laboring faithfully in hospitals, and many ministers of the Gospel are serving as officers and as privates in the army. But how great is the destitution in the field? And how many of our soldiers are perishing without the bread of life?” This was indeed a patriotic duty. 16

With the words of Chaplain Richard McIlwaine who served as a
Lieutenant and then as Chaplain for the Forty Fourth Virginia Infantry, he says, “My connection with the army was honorable but not at all brilliant. I look back to that period with pleasure, as a scene of active service in defence of my native State against a wicked aggression: service in which I discharged every duty as it arose; did what I could for the welfare, temporal and spiritual, of the men; endured hardships cheerfully, encountered dangers without flinching and met the responsibilities I had assumed promptly and with constancy. I served as lieutenant for three or four months, and then, on the recommendation of our colonel and the regimental officers, I was appointed chaplain.” 17

Even after the war, William Ellison Boggs, who served as chaplain of the Sixth South Carolina Infantry continued the discourse of the patriotism that the Confederate Army fought for. He states, “The presence among you of a race held under subordination, tended to develop self-reliance and individuality in you. Hold fast to your inherited traits, and judge for yourselves in this great controversy. Do not allow the strong current of hostile opinion to drown you out. You have the best of helps in forming your judgment. Mr. Stephens first, and now, of late, Mr. Jefferson Davis, have laid us all under lasting obligations by their masterly defence of the honor of  Southern men. I trust that you will not fail to study the ‘War between the States,’ and especially the ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.’ Its pure classic English, its exhaustive learning, logical argument, and devoted patriotism, will go forth among thinking men as a fitting protest against hasty and harsh judgment of us. Let your children become familiar with that able discussion, and they will be in no danger of growing ashamed of the cause for which you contended, or of the manner in which you acquitted yourselves.” 18

I hope we all heard that, for that is what the Sons of Confederate Veterans are all about, or they better be. To continue the discussion of our Confederate soldiers and sailors as patriots needs to be the main issue for why they fought. Chaplain Boggs goes on and gives justification for the actions that the Confederate States of America took, “Now, when we calmly review all these wrongs and provocations, adding to them the fierce denunciations that for years had poured upon us from the partisan press and from the orators of abolitionism, does it not seem to you that, upon the ground of the inalienable ‘right of revolution,’ we had the same justification as the Boston patriots had when they threw the tea into the sea? I see not how one party of revolutionists can be justified, and the other condemned.” 19 Indeed – the Confederate Chaplain was a patriot.

The Confederate Chaplain And Revival.

Like the “First Great Awakening” that took place from the early 1730's and lasted to about 1760, God’s mercy and grace came to the Thirteen Colonies. With the “Second Great Awakening,” God’s mercy and grace came to the United States again and lasted for about fifty years. But what I want to do is give a glimpse of the impact of the “Third Great Awakening,” that began about 1859. In fact this awakening prepared America for the blood bath that came in the years of 1861-1865, brought on by Lincoln himself. It gave birth to the great revivals which swept the armies of the Confederacy during the days of the “War for Southern Independence” or in my humble opinion the “Second War for Independence.” It was during this period that there were Generals and Staff officers and enlisted men who were converted to Christ. Here are two.

In John William Jones’ book entitled, “Christ In The Camp,” he
writes this of General Richard Stoddard Ewell, “At a council of war, one night, Jackson had listened very attentively to the views of his subordinates, and asked until the next morning to present his own. As they came away, A. P. Hill laughingly said to Ewell, ‘Well! I suppose Jackson wants time to pray over it.’ Having occasion to return to his quarters again a short time after, Ewell found Jackson on his knees and heard his ejaculatory prayers for God's guidance in the perplexing movements then before him. The sturdy veteran Ewell was so deeply impressed by this incident and by Jackson's general religious character, that he said: ‘If that is religion, I must have it;’ and in making a profession of faith not long afterwards he attributed his conviction to the influence of Jackson's piety.” 20

Then there is General William Dorsey Pender On August 6, 1862 – wrote his wife and said this, “Oh how I do wish I could be a Christian. I feel now how far I am from what I would believe myself and what we should be, particularly one who has taken such solemn vows as I have. Oh that I could be filled with the living Faith necessary to salvation. We are taught that the prayers of the just avail much— honey, pray for me continually for my conversion and that I must not go astray.” 21

While that does not tell us that he was regenerated Christian, but we do know this. Later General Pender, during battle at Gettysburg, was struck in the thigh by a two-inch-square piece of shell. He was placed in an ambulance and carried back to Virginia with the retreating army. On July 18, 1863 in Staunton, the wound hemorrhaged. A surgeon made an emergency amputation of the leg but Pender, on his dying bed, with clarity said quietly, "Tell my wife that I do not fear to die. I can confidently resign my soul to God, trusting in the atonement of Jesus Christ. My only regret is to leave her and our two children. I have always tried to do my duty in every sphere in which Providence has placed me." 22

All in all many came to Christ. Alfred Elijah Dickinson who
served as the Superintendent of Colportage, “In his report for 1863, in the midst of the war, he says: ‘Modern history presents no example of armies so nearly converted into churches as the armies of Southern defence. On the crest of this flood of war, which threatens to engulf our freedom, rides a pure Christianity; the Gospel of the grace of God shines through the smoke of battle with the light that leads to heaven ; and the camp becomes a school of Christ. From the very first day of the unhappy contest to the present time, religious influences have been spreading among the soldiers, until now, in camp and hospital, throughout every portion of the army, revivals display their precious, saving power. In one of these revivals over three hundred are known as having professed conversion, while, doubtless, there are hundreds of others equally blessed, whose names, unrecorded here, find a place in the ‘Lamb's book of life.’” 23

The Confederate Chaplain had many roles but they were all wrapped up into one motivation, to honor and please the God of Heaven, the Creator of all things and bring glory to Him.


1   The War of the Rebellion, Volumes 1-3 [serial no. 127-129] Correspondence, Orders, Reports and Returns of the Confederate Authorities (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1902), 252.

2   Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865 Volume 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904), 181.

3   Ibid., 226.

4   James M. Matthews, Public Laws Of The Confederate States Of America: Passed At The First Session Of The First Congress, 1862 (Richmond: R. M. Smith, Printer To Congress, 1862), 45.

5   James M. Matthews, The Statutes At Large Of The Provisional Government Of The Confederate States Of America From The Institution Of The Government, February 8, 1861 To It's Termination February 18, 1862 (Richmond: R. M. Smith, Printer To Congress, 1862), 210.

6   James M. Matthews, Public Laws Of The Confederate States Of America: Passed At The First Session Of The First Congress, 1862 (Richmond: R. M. Smith, Printer To Congress, 1862), 175.

7   John William Jones, Christ in the Camp or Religion In Lee's Army (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1887), 594.

8   J. S. Dill, Isaac Taylor Tichenor: The Home Mission Statesman (Nashville: Sunday School Board, Southern Baptist Convention, 1908), 27.

9   J. Harvey Mathes, Great Commanders: General Forrest (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1902), 37.

10   Catherine Cooper Hopley, Stonewall Jackson, Late General of the Confederate States Army: A biographical Sketch, and An Outline Of His Virginian Campaigns (Chapman and Hall, 1863), 133.

11   Annah Robinson Watson, Of Sceptred Rare (Early Printing & Publishing Company, 1910), 151.

12   Ed Porter Thompson, History Of The Orphan Brigade (Louisville: Lewis N. Thompson, 1898), 535.

13   J. H. Segars and Charles K. Barrow, Black Confederates (Pelican Publishing, 1995), 25.

14   Religious Herald, Richmond, VA, September 10, 1863.

15   John R. Finger, The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900 (University of Tennessee Press, 1984), 85-86.

16   J. William Jones, Christ In The Camp Or Religion In Lee's Army (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1887), 233-234.

17   Richard McIlwaine, Memories Of Three Score Years and Ten (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1908), 186-187.

18    William E. Boggs, The South Vindicated From The Charge Of Treason And Rebellion (Columbia: The Presbyterian Publishing House, 1881), 12.

19   William E. Boggs, The South Vindicated From The Charge Of Treason And Rebellion (Columbia: The Presbyterian Publishing House, 1881), 21.

20   John William Jones, Christ in the Camp: Or, Religion in Lee's Army, Supplemented By A Sketch Of The Work In The Other Confederate Armies (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1888), 97.

21   George Walsh, Damage Them All You Can: Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia (MacMillan, 2003), 186.

22   W. J. Peele, Lives Of Distinguished North Carolinians With Illustration And Speeches (Raleigh: North Carolina Publishing Society, 1898), 452.

23   John William Jones, Christ in the Camp: Or, Religion in Lee's Army, Supplemented By A Sketch Of The Work In The Other Confederate Armies (Richmond: B. F. Johnson & Company, 1888), 157-158.


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