The recent PBS mini-series, The Civil War, has spawned a renewed interest in that epic struggle of American history. The Civil War (1861-65) shook the United States to its very foundations and has left its mark on our society even to the present day.
Many laymen in the old Norwegian Synod (from which our ELS later emerged) answered the call to arms to preserve the Union. Among them was Hans Christian Heg, who became the Colonel of the predominantly-Norwegian 15th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry. Through Heg’s encouragement, Norwegian Synod Pastor Claus Lauritz Clausen accepted a commission as Chaplain of the regiment and was enrolled as such on December 11, 1861.
Clausen was born on the island of Aeröe, Denmark, in 1820, and emigrated to America in 1843. He had been educated for the Ministry in Denmark but was not ordained until after his arrival in the United States, when he accepted the call as Pastor of the Norwegian congregation in Muskego, Wisconsin. Clausen was one of the founding pastors of the Norwegian Synod when it was organized in 1853. When the Civil War broke out he was serving a parish of several congregations in and around St. Ansgar, Iowa.
Clausen was mustered into active duty with his regiment at Madison, Wisconsin, on February 13, 1862, and was present with his unit as it participated in the campaign to capture Island Number 10, a strategic Confederate outpost in the Mississippi River, in early April. Clausen later recalled that he had been “attacked by partial paralysis in the lower limbs caused by concussion through the unexpected discharge of a mortar while serving as Chaplain in the 15th Wis. Infantry during the bombardment of Island No. 10.” A later biographer tells us that this mortar was “accidentally fired off over his head,” and that “this gave his nerves a shock from the effects of which he never fully recovered.” A Civil War “mortar” was, of course, much larger and louder than its modern counterpart. The continuing effects of this experience are reflected in Clausen’s letter of resignation as regimental Chaplain, which was accepted on November 26, 1862. Here he writes: “... my health is so impaired that I have reason to fear I may not be able to keep up much longer under the marches and hardships inseparable from military life in time of war.”
Clausen returned to his St. Ansgar parish but, unfortunately, left the Norwegian Synod, with his congregations, in 1868. In 1870 he participated in the organization of the Norwegian-Danish Conference, an antecedent of the American Lutheran Church and of the present Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Clausen died in 1892.

– David Jay Webber

Rev. Claus L. Clausen

The bombardment of Island Number 10

This article was published in the Lutheran Sentinel, Vol. 74, No. 6 (July 1991), pp. 6-7.

Some Reflections on the Military Chaplaincy
(With Special Reference to Lutheran Chaplains in the Union Army During the Civil War)

Claus Lauritz Clausen

Civil War Web Site Home Page