Chaplains In The Confederacy
Published in the Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church Post
by Michael Aubrecht, Copyright 2006

Most people are familiar with the importance of religion in the day-to-day life of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. However, what they may not be aware of is how much of a role he played with regard to the implementation and promotion of religion during the Civil War.

In addition to being one of the Confederacy's most fearsome commanders, Jackson was also very instrumental in the establishment of military-based chaplains in the field. As a devout evangelical Christian, he was actively religious and held the civilian position as a deacon in the Lexington Presbyterian Church. He practiced his faith through devotions and Bible study wherever he went. Though he was obligated to do so, he profoundly disliked fighting on Sundays.

Much to Jackson's dismay, most armies during the War Between the States did not commonly deploy with embedded clergy. Clearly, this Christian general recognized the need for spiritual strengthening and that a healthy soul meant healthy troops. He was one of the South's first high-ranking officers to personally lobby for chaplains, arguing that a soldier's mental state of mind directly affected his ability to perform on the battlefield. Jackson also regularly put forth an effort to introduce this philosophy to the rest of the Confederate Army.

After realizing a lack of participation in the war effort by the church, Jackson sent a letter to the Southern Presbyterian General Assembly, petitioning them for support. In it he stated, "Each branch of the Christian Church should send into the army some of its most prominent ministers who are distinguished for their piety, talents and zeal; and such ministers should labor to produce concert of action among chaplains and Christians in the army. These ministers should give special attention to preaching to regiments which are without chaplains, and induce them to take steps to get chaplains, to let the regiments name the denominations from which they desire chaplains selected, and then to see that suitable chaplains are secured." He added, "A bad selection of a chaplain may prove a curse instead of a blessing."

Despite the lack of readily available clergymen in the early Confederate Army, Jackson appointed a personal minister to his staff and maintained daily prayer rituals whether in camp or on the march. Whenever possible, a strict schedule of morning and evening worship on the Sabbath, as well as Wednesday prayer meetings, was adhered to at all costs. One of our local Fredericksburg preachers, the chaplain Reverend Tucker Lacy routinely led the services, which were often attended by General Lee and his staff.

As the courageous reputation of the "Stonewall Brigade" continued to grow, so did its quest for salvation. Jackson's own passion for sharing the Word and steadfast faith ultimately inspired his men to rise to the occasion and his beliefs became infectious throughout the ranks. By putting his trust in God, he was able to inspire those under him to achieve victory in the face of defeat. With total confidence, he routinely bragged of their bravery saying, "Who could not conquer with such troops as these?"

In addition, Reverend Lacy's energizing speeches quickly became a popular event for saved and unsaved soldiers alike, who attended his sermons by the thousands. Jackson recalled one particular event that summarized the success of their ministry. He wrote, "It was a noble sight to see there those, who led our armies to victory and upon whom the eyes of the nation are turned with admiration and gratitude, melted in tears at the story of the cross and the exhibition of the love of God to the repenting and return sinner."

Thanks to the good general's efforts and example, the Confederate Army soon began assigning chaplains to accompany its flocks into the field. Some of these shepherds even went so far as to participate in the fight, but most were stationed at camp for weekly rituals and ceremonies before and after the battle. As expected, there were predominantly Protestant preachers in the South. The Catholic contingency was larger in the North's ranks, mostly due to the large population of immigrants.

Regardless of the balance of Protestants and Catholics, denominations were not important in the eyes of Jackson or his peers. He specifically addressed this issue by stating, "Denominational distinctions should be kept out of view, and not touched upon. And, as a general rule, I do not think a chaplain who would preach denominational sermons should be in the army. His congregation is his regiment, and it is composed of various denominations. I would like to see no question asked in the army of what denomination a chaplain belongs to; but let the question be, Does he preach the Gospel?"

As the war progressed, a movement referred to as "The Great Revival" took place in the South. Beginning in the fall of 1863, this event was in full progress throughout the Army of Northern Virginia. Before the revival was interrupted by General U.S. Grant's attack in May of 1864, approximately seven thousand soldiers (10 percent of Robert E. Lee's force) were reportedly converted. Many of these new believers came out of Stonewall's corps.

Always the teacher, Jackson dedicated almost every waking moment (that did not require his military service) to educating the uneducated, uplifting the downtrodden and introducing those around him to the glory of God. It was directly through his perseverance that other brigades in other commands could benefit from the presence of clergy and that inevitably made the horrors of war a little more tolerable.




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