American Civil War Home Chatroom Transcript (Oct. 29, 2006) "For God and Country: The Role of Religion in the Civil War": an online chat with author Michael Aubrecht

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Copyright 2006, M.Aubrecht/PinstripePress. Please email for permission to quote.

Introduction: Virginia historian Michael Aubrecht has dedicated his studies to the role of Christianity during the Civil War. He is the author of numerous articles and books on the subject including "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian Cavalier: The Spiritual Legacy of JEB Stuart." Please join Michael on Sunday, October 29th, for an interactive chat entitled "For God and Country: The Role of Religion in the Civil War." Michael will be presenting a look at faith both on the battlefield and off. Topics will include: Thomas Jackson and the Institution of Chaplains in the Confederacy, Stonewall's Sunday School for Slave Children, Oliver Howard: Battlefield Believer, Father Corby, Priest of the Irish Brigade and The Double-Edge Sword of Theology. A Q&A session will follow the presentation and one lucky participant will receive an autographed copy of BOTH of Michael's books.

Topic 1: Thomas Jackson and the Institution of Chaplains in the Confederacy
Topic 2: Stonewall's Sunday School for Slave Children
Topic 3: Oliver Howard: Battlefield Believer
Topic 4: Father Corby, Priest of the Irish Brigade
Topic 5: The Double-Edge Sword of Theology

10/29/2006 8:09 pm (et) ks: Well, we've waited an appropriate amount of time. I'd hoped more might straggle in (and they may during the course of the discussion/presentation). But we'd best get going. :) Tonight we're pleased to have Michael Aubrecht sharing his passion for and wealth of information about the topic of the role of religion during the Civil War. Our typical model for an evening like this is formally informal. ;) By that I mean we'd appreciate attention be offered to the presenter and there being no interruptions to his comments until he indicates that he's ready to entertain questions.

10/29/2006 8:11 pm (et) MAubrecht: Good evening all and THANK YOU very much for coming. I hope that everyone had a wonderful weekend. I spent today hiking "Gordon's Flank Attack Trail" out at The Wilderness Battlefield. The fall leaves are amazing in Virginia at this time of year, and I'm sure they are just as pretty in your neck of the woods. Not surprising… I got lost (again), and yes, my 9 year-old got us out. In fact, she is the ONLY reason why I am here with you, and not still wandering through the darkness…

10/29/2006 8:12 pm (et) MAubrecht: Before I begin my presentation, I would like to thank ks, and shotgun, and basecat for inviting me to speak here tonight. It is truly an honor and privilege to be among such a diverse and knowledgeable group of fellow "buffs". As this is an online discussion (my first BTW), I am going to try to make things run as smoothly as I can. Please allow me to explain…

10/29/2006 8:12 pm (et) ks: Excuse more comment from me and then I retire to listening/reading. ;) Please do not use the private message feature during the presentation. Thanks....

10/29/2006 8:13 pm (et) MAubrecht: I have some prepared materials that I would like to share, and I hope that they generate some discussion. In order to establish a rhythm and not have us all typing away furiously at the same time, I will post a few blurbs on a particular topic, and when I have completed that topic, I will follow it with this: XXXXXXXXX…

10/29/2006 8:14 pm (et) MAubrecht: That will mean that I am done with a particular section and that questions or comments can follow. If you would like to ask a question, please type "?" and I'll address you in the order they appear. After the questions are done, I'll open it up for comments from you guys and gals, or we can move on to the next topic.

10/29/2006 8:14 pm (et) MAubrecht: As we have a wide-range of participants this evening and both sides of the Mason-Dixon are represented here, I have prepared an even sum of southern and northern topics. Each section has between 6 - 8 short paragraphs (each) and I'm condensing it down due to time constraints. However, I'll stay as long as you like too, so stick around if you want to chat in more detail about any of these topics (or any others.) I'm trying not to overwhelm anyone and keep it pleasantly readable.

10/29/2006 8:15 pm (et) MAubrecht: AND WE EVEN HAVE PRIZES! One lucky participant tonight will be receiving autographed copies of my books "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian Cavalier: The Spiritual Legacy of JEB Stuart". AND if you are a parent, I'll throw in copies of my 14-page coloring book for kids" "The American Civil War." (One for every child) I'll post a trivia question at the end of our conversation, and the first to respond with the correct answer will win.

10/29/2006 8:16 pm (et) Vickie: enters the chatroom.

10/29/2006 8:16 pm (et) MAubrecht: And PLEASE let me know if I am going too fast, and I will be more than happy to slow down.

10/29/2006 8:17 pm (et) MAubrecht: Let's get started. The title of this chat is "For God and Country: The Role of Religion in the Civil War". With a group this savvy, I am sure that I will be touching on some familiar topics, BUT my goal is to cover some material that you may not be aware of. I have especially labored to quote as many letters and other correspondence that you may not have read (to date).

10/29/2006 8:17 pm (et) NJRebel: No problems here Michael. Thanks.

10/29/2006 8:18 pm (et) MAubrecht: Now, human beings have been fighting each other since ancient times, and people have been discussing the rights and wrongs of it for almost as long. Religion has played a major role in these conflicts whether for good or evil, and it is this allegiance to one's God(s) that has provided a great sense of strength and comfort to soldiers and civilians in times of war. From the days of Alexander "The Great," to today's "War on Terror" in the Middle East, religion on the battlefield has been recognized as both a blessing, and a curse. Perhaps no other event in American history witnessed this fact more than the War Between the States.

10/29/2006 8:19 pm (et) MAubrecht: Tonight I want to discuss some relatable topics and I'll try to get through as many as I can. Here's our agenda: Thomas Jackson and the Institution of Chaplains in the Confederacy, Stonewall's Sunday School for Slave Children, Oliver Howard: Battlefield Believer, Father Corby, Priest of the Irish Brigade, and The Double-Edge Sword of Theology. Let's begin shall we with our first topic.



10/29/2006 8:20 pm (et) MAubrecht: Now I'm sure that everybody here is fairly familiar with how important of a role religion played in the life of Thomas Jackson. However, you may not be aware of how much of a role he (in turn) played in religion during the Civil War. In addition to being one of the Confederacy's most fearsome commanders, he was also very instrumental in the establishment of military-based chaplains in the field, AND also (in some regards) Civil Rights, as he and his wife established and financially supported the first Sunday school for black children in his town of Lexington, VA. I'll elaborate on both of these…

10/29/2006 8:21 pm (et) MAubrecht: As a devout evangelical Christian, Jackson was actively religious, and held the civilian position as a deacon in the local Presbyterian Church. He practiced his faith, devotions, and Bible study wherever he went, and he profoundly disliked fighting on Sundays, though that did not stop him from doing so. One of his most passionate initiatives was the institution of chaplains in the field. At the time, most American armies did not commonly deploy with "embedded" clergy. Clearly, Jackson understood the need for spiritual strengthening and that a "healthy soul" meant "healthy troops." He was (IMO) one of the first American CW generals to truly believe a soldier's mental state-of-mind directly affected his ability to perform on the battlefield. His own passion for the Word, and steadfast faith ultimately inspired his men to rise to the occasion, and his beliefs became infectious throughout the ranks.

10/29/2006 8:22 pm (et) MAubrecht: One of my favorite bios, "Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War" by George F.R. Henderson, presents a wonderful portrait of the general's convictions: "Religion entered into every facet of his life. 'I had long cultivated,' he said, 'the habit of connecting the most trivial and customary acts of life with a silent prayer.' He interpreted the Bible literally. For example, Jackson's observance of the Sabbath was fastidious. He neither read a letter nor posted a letter on the Sabbath day, and he believed that the government was violating God's law in carrying the mail (i.e. working) on that day. It was one of the most important duties of the legislature, he maintained, to stop such work."

10/29/2006 8:23 pm (et) MAubrecht: In another favorite Jackson bio (Mine, haha!), I quoted a letter that states his concern with a lack of religious representation. Here is an excerpt: "After realizing a lack of participation in the war effort by the church, Thomas sent a letter to the Southern Presbyterian General Assembly, petitioning them for support. It 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.'"

10/29/2006 8:25 pm (et) MAubrecht: Despite this 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 CW "celebs," the chaplain Reverend Tucker Lacy routinely led the services, which were often attended by General Lee and his staff. As the courageous reputation of Jackson's brigade continued to grow, so did their quest for salvation.

10/29/2006 8:26 pm (et) MAubrecht: Reverend Lacy's energizing speeches quickly became a popular event for both saved and unsaved soldiers, 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."

10/29/2006 8:27 pm (et) MAubrecht: In retrospect, it was (IMO) their dedication to faith that enabled both the "The Stonewall Brigade" and their commander to reach heights on the battlefield beyond those of ordinary men. By putting his trust in God, Jackson 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?"

10/29/2006 8:28 pm (et) MAubrecht: Thanks to the good general's efforts AND example, the Confederate army soon began "employing" chaplains to accompany their troops in the field. Some 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, and there was a much bigger Catholic contingency in the North's ranks, mostly due to the large population of immigrants. (NOTE: I will specifically discuss one of the Federal Army's more notable priests a little later on.)

10/29/2006 8:28 pm (et) MAubrecht: Regardless of the balance of Protestants and/or Catholics, denominations were not important in the eyes of Jackson, or his peers. He specifically cited this as a mandatory rule, "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?"

10/29/2006 8:30 pm (et) MAubrecht: Always a teacher himself, 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. His popularity with the troops also enabled him to reach them in ways that other men could not, and he was often found praying with the wounded at their bedside. It was directly through his own efforts (and persistence) that other brigades in other commands benefited from the presence of clergy that inevitably made the horrors of war a little more tolerable.

10/29/2006 8:30 pm (et) MAubrecht: He once said, "If you desire to be more heavenly minded, think more of the things of Heaven, and less of the things of Earth." This is exactly how he conducted his extraordinary life and had an awful lot to do with why we remember him today.

10/29/2006 8:31 pm (et) MAubrecht: Next, I'll tell you the story of Jackson's Sunday school for slaves - but before I do - are there any questions or comments that anyone has in regards to the establishment of chaplains and Jackson's involvement in this venture? XXXXXXXXX

10/29/2006 8:31 pm (et) ks: ?

10/29/2006 8:31 pm (et) MAubrecht: Yes ma'am.

10/29/2006 8:32 pm (et) NJRebel: ?

10/29/2006 8:32 pm (et) ks: Not exactly the question you want, but it's what comes to mind. :) Michael, you stated that Jackson's observance of the Sabbath was fastidious. ISTR reading that he had on some occasions "changed" the day of the week so that the observance could be held. Have you read that, and, if so, can you comment?

10/29/2006 8:32 pm (et) amhistoryguy: ?

10/29/2006 8:33 pm (et) MAubrecht: Jackson adhered to the concept of a "holy day" dedicated to the sole obligations of prayer and contemplation. I have read that IF Sunday were a fighting day, he would designate another day in the week for such activities.

10/29/2006 8:34 pm (et) ks: Okay...good enough. Thanks. :)

10/29/2006 8:34 pm (et) MAubrecht: He maintained a strict schedule of daily prayer and devotional rituals when at home. He took that philosophy with him into the field, and tried to spend as much time "in the Word" as he could. NJ?

10/29/2006 8:35 pm (et) NJRebel: Michael, when Jackson was appointed Colonel in the Virginia forces, did he have a chaplain with him at that time?

10/29/2006 8:36 pm (et) MAubrecht: There were several chaplains in his ranks, but as soldiers. Rev. Tucker Lacy filled the role of clergy, as he was local. Sandy Pendleton (on Jackson's staff) had a father who was also a minister.

10/29/2006 8:37 pm (et) MAubrecht: Many brigades boasted men of the cloth within their ranks. They were referred to as "Fighting Parsons".

10/29/2006 8:37 pm (et) MAubrecht: However, the idea of a full-time chaplain was not routine.

10/29/2006 8:38 pm (et) NJRebel: Ok, thanks. But did Jackson have a specific chaplain at that early date in the war for his own use?

10/29/2006 8:39 pm (et) MAubrecht: From what I understand, Rev. Lacy was his first "officially designated" chaplain to accompany his staff. I hope that answers your question.

10/29/2006 8:39 pm (et) NJRebel: It does, for now....

10/29/2006 8:40 pm (et) MAubrecht: Great. I'll post some references later if you are interested in exploring that further. You had a question am?

10/29/2006 8:40 pm (et) amhistoryguy: In James Silver's "Confederate Morale & Church Propaganda," he mentions the use of religion as a propaganda tool, the north being evil, and a test for the Confederacy to overcome. This was done in civilian areas according to Silver. Did Jackson use religion as a propaganda tool as well?

10/29/2006 8:41 pm (et) MAubrecht: Actually I touch on that very subject later on... I will say that yes, I believe that religion was used a BIG propaganda tool. I also believe that Jackson (and many of his peers) fully believed that God was on their side.

10/29/2006 8:41 pm (et) NJRebel: ?

10/29/2006 8:42 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Thank you.

10/29/2006 8:42 pm (et) MAubrecht: The North was "villianized" in some respects and depicted as heathens in the eyes of the South. I think that they used a lot of Biblical reference and scripture too as a tool.

10/29/2006 8:42 pm (et) MAubrecht: NJ...

10/29/2006 8:43 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Of course the reverse was probably true as well, the north seeing the Confederacy as evil. Works both ways.

10/29/2006 8:44 pm (et) MAubrecht: Absolutely. In a civil war, you have two opposing sides that worship the same god. BOTH believe they are right.

10/29/2006 8:44 pm (et) NJRebel: Two questions here Michael, which are complimentary of each other. I have heard if said that Jackson may have been a sort of reincarnated Joshua as in the Old Testament and also that he believed, as did others in the South, that God's Glory was what drove many of them in their dedication to the Cause of the South, even though many like Jackson were "Union" men?

10/29/2006 8:44 pm (et) MAubrecht: That's a great question... let me type...

10/29/2006 8:47 pm (et) MAubrecht: Anyone who has ever studied Jackson will have to agree that he had an "Old Testament" soul. He routinely referred to Kings 1 and 2, and 1 and 2 Samuel. He (IMO) felt that the North (more specifically, the U.S. Government) was on par with the Egyptians and Pharaoh when they enslaved the Hebrew people.

10/29/2006 8:47 pm (et) MAubrecht: To him, this was not a fight for independence. It was nothing short of a holy war.

10/29/2006 8:48 pm (et) NJRebel: Did others echo Jackson's belief in a "holy war'?

10/29/2006 8:48 pm (et) MAubrecht: But as you said. He (and many of his peers) were loyal Union men, and did not enter the war lightly. It had to be a terrible contradiction to serve so honorably under a flag and then turn against it.

10/29/2006 8:49 pm (et) MAubrecht: I'll actually touch on some others later. So if you could hold on, I'll go on to Topic 2.

10/29/2006 8:49 pm (et) mobile_96: enters the chatroom.

10/29/2006 8:50 pm (et) NJRebel: I think one's faith or lack of fait might help with that "contradiction" as you have said. Still, it was not an easy decision to make.

10/29/2006 8:50 pm (et) MAubrecht: Great posts guys/gals. Thanks. Let's move on to our next topic…