Organizing the Chaplaincy - At their great victory at First Manassas, many in the South believed the war was virtually over. They expected England and France to soon recognize the Confederacy, clearly establishing Southern independence. During this period, profanity, gambling, drunkenness, and other vices were rampant throughout the Army of Northern Virginia. There were few chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of the soldiers.
On October 26, 1862, hospital steward John Samuel wrote in his diary: "I have not heard a sermon for a long time. Preaching is so seldom and irregular in camp that I greatly fear all of us will lose all the taste we ever had for serious solemn discourse. The truth is very obvious that we are all becoming depraved. The character of our fallen nature is such that the life we are leading meets no rebuffs as we go down, down in the mire of sin and folly. And there is scarcely a soldier in our ranks who will not admit [that] of all classes of men a soldier in this struggle should strive harder to gain the aid and approbation of Divine control."
The Confederate defeats at Roanoke Island and Forts Henry and Donelson began to work a change in the Southern people. They became more humble and began to increasingly realize their need to depend upon God for their success. In the summer and fall of 1872, the Army of Northern Virginia faced intense fighting around Richmond, at Second Manassas, and at Sharpsburg.
Seeing the dead bodies of their comrades on the field deeply affected many of the soldiers, and they began to more seriously consider the uncertainty of their own lives. As the army went into its winter camp, there was more time for reflection, and many of the soldiers underwent a spiritual awakening.
General Jackson was most concerned about the spiritual condition of the men in his Second Corps, and he made plans to organize the chaplains in the army. Jackson believed the chaplains should be as systematically organized as any of the other departments of the army. He wrote his pastor, Rev. White of Lexington, some of his thoughts on the matter:
Each denomination of the Christian Churches throughout the South 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 . ... Denominational distinctions should be kept out of view and not touched on; and as a general rule, I do not think that a chaplain, who would preach denominational sermons, should be in the army. His congregation is his regiment, and it is composed of persons of various denominations. I would like to see no question asked in the army as to what denomination a chaplain belongs, but let the question be, Does he preach the Gospel?
Jackson believed a lack of spirituality and morality was hampering the success of the Confederate army and nation. If he could lead a Christian, converted army, then victory seemed much more assured for the struggling Confederate nation.
An organized chaplaincy would be an important step to that end. Jackson asked Beverly Tucker Lacy, pastor of the Presbyterian church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, if he would join the Second Corps and organize the chaplains in the army. Jackson personally offered to pay two hundred dollars toward Lacy's salary, as well as three hundred dollars for tracts for the soldiers.
Rev. Lacy was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and had pastored churches in Virginia and Kentucky before coming to Fredericksburg in May 1861. Within a year after coming to Fredericksburg, Rev. Lacy found his town and church in the middle of the fighting between North and South.
The Union soldiers occupied Fredericksburg in May 1862, and many of the citizens fled the town in fear. During part of the fighting, Rev. Lacy took refuge in the basement of a house, leading others there in praying Psalm 27: "Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear." Preaching from Scripture, "Lo, I am with you always," Lacy reassured the people that God had not forsaken them during this time.
Rev. Lacy's family home of Chatham was on the Rappahannock River and was occupied by Union soldiers in the fall of 1862. Clara Barton even stayed there for a time, ministering to the wounded Union troops. She later went into Fredericksburg itself and ministered to the wounded in the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches. The horrible memories of the suffering in Fredericksburg remained with her until her death. It was during such suffering that the spiritual awakening in the Southern army began.
Rev. Lacy joined Jackson's Second Corps at Moss Neck, near Fredericksburg, in March 1863, and shared a room with Jackson. Lacy immediately started regular family prayers and devotions at breakfast for Jackson's staff. On March 16 he called all the chaplains together at Round Oak Baptist Church near Moss Neck to establish a "Chaplain's Association of Jackson's Second Corps." Weekly, for eight weeks, the chaplains met together for prayer and Bible study, with Rev. Lacy keeping Jackson informed of all the meetings.
Lacy developed for the chaplains a description of their duties and defined what relationship they should have with their men. He discussed with them the types of messages the men needed. Comparing the duties of a chaplain to those of commissary officers, he said:
If the commissariat neglected its duties because of some derangement in its usual routine, the army would starve, although victorious. Yet even with its deranged system, the army must have its bread, if not the full supply, yet how valuable is the dry crust or hard biscuit! Brethren, we are appointed to carry the spiritual bread of life to the men. We draw from a never-failing supply . . . . In the fighting many of these men must fall. One sermon more, brethren, for the love of souls, for the glory of God. Let us devise means to get this bread to them . . . . Don't desert the men because they are in the trenches. Go speak a word to them if only to say, "I know you were ready to die for your country; but were you ready to meet your God?" The Gospel hurts no men at any time under any circumstances. Ernest prayer by the camp fire makes men rest better, and march better.
At its first meeting, the Chaplain's Association issued a paper written by Rev. Lacy as an address to the churches of the Confederacy on the needs of the army. In it, Lacy challenged the churches to send more ministers to serve as chaplains among the soldiers:
We believe that God is with us, not only to own and bless His word to the salvation of men, but that His blessing rests upon our cause and attends our armies . . . . We are thankful to God for the large number of Christian officers who command our armies and aid us in our work. The presence of so many pious men in the ranks gives us a Church in almost every regiment to begin with. The intercourse and Christian communion of Christian brethren in the army is as intimate and precious as anywhere upon earth. It is an interesting fact, that by this work ministers of the different denominations are brought into closer and more harmonious co-operation, thus promoting the unity and charity of the whole Church, and greatly encouraging each other . . . . The near approach of death excites to serious thought. Religious reading is sought and appreciated.
Many opportunities for personal kindness to the sick and the wounded, on the battlefield and in the camp, bind grateful hearts to faithful chaplains. In preaching the word, conducting prayer-meetings and Bible classes, by circulating the Scriptures and other religious reading, and by frequent conversations in private, we have ample opportunity for doing our master's work and laboring for immortal souls... .
At this very time a most interesting and extensive work of grace is in progress amongst the troops stationed in and around the desolated city of Fredericksburg. The evidences of God's love and mercy are thus brought into immediate and striking contrast with the marks of the cruelty and barbarity of men.
Brethren, do not these movements of the Holy Ghost indicate where God's ministers should follow, and in what work they should engage? . . . Eternity alone can disclose the extent of the blessed work which faithful chaplains have accomplished in our armies. . .
Brethren, send us more chaplains. The harvest truly is great, the laborers are few. We send abroad to the Churches the Macedonian cry, Come and help us. . . . The cause will not brook delay. A series of battles, which may speedily follow the opening of the campaign, will sweep away thousands of our brave comrades and friends-thousands of your own sons and brothers. Then come while it is called today. Come up to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.
The appeal for more chaplains in the army went beyond the immediate situation, looking forward to the future of the new country the Southerners were attempting to establish. After the war was over, the leaders of the new Confederacy would be the survivors of the army. It was important that these men be established Christians. If they were godless men, then the new government would be immoral and godless. The entire fight for constitutional liberty would then be in vain.
Read Part Two tomorrow.
Excerpted from Faith in God and Generals, compiled by Ted Baehr and Susan Wales. Copyright © 2003, Ted Baehr and Susan Wales. ISBN 0-8054-2728-7. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.