- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

CLASSICS OF CIVIL WAR FICTION

FAITH IN THE FIGHT: CIVIL WAR CHAPLAINS

Edited by John W. Brinsfield, William C. Davis, Benedict Maryniak and James I. Robertson Jr.

Stackpole Books, 256 pages. Illus. $29.95

REVIEWED BY JOHN E. CAREY

“Faith in the Fight” is a new reference work for those interested in the men (and at least one woman) who ministered to the religious needs of Civil War soldiers. Previously, just 200 to 300 Army chaplains, North and South, had been positively identified. This book contains a roster of 3,694 Union and Confederate army chaplains.

This is not the definitive book about chaplains in the Civil War. As the editors explain in the introduction, “It is hoped that the book will henceforth be the starting point for any research into the neglected area of Civil War chaplains.”

The research to compile this list of chaplains was monumental. Records of noncombatants serving with the armies is irregular. Often, the researchers dug through church records to achieve their goal. Each chaplain’s complete name, denomination, year of birth and death, and units served are listed.

Benedict Maryniak spent more than 10 years collecting Union chaplains’ names. Army chaplain John W. Brinsfield researched the chaplains of the Confederate forces. James I. Robertson at Virginia Tech worked toward a Civil War chaplains’ roster of his own. Though the three worked independently for years, not knowing of the others’ research, they came together to complete their task and publish it.

Readers will understand instantly why it might have taken 140 years to produce this roster. At the outset of the war, chaplains were not commissioned as officers and had little or no guidance on their uniforms or role in the military. At first, Union chaplains received $145.50 per month plus three daily rations and forage for one horse. In 1862, in a government cost-cutting move, chaplains’ pay was reduced to $100 per month plus two daily rations and forage for one horse while on duty.

“According to the congressional conventionalities,” Mr. Maryniak writes, “the antebellum army chaplain was elected to his office by a vote of a post’s administrative council or the men of its garrison. His principal responsibility was as schoolmaster for the garrison, but his proper title was ‘chaplain,’ though this was in no way to be construed as his rank. The crowning irony of this was a complete lack of required religious functions, even though a Protestant minister was specified as the preferred candidate.”

Starting in May 1861, however, an effort was made to convert vague and inconsistent military “customs” into helpful guidelines, though there were the predictable bureaucratic stutters before the status of the men of faith was regularized.

If the government seemed laggard in this matter, the respect given the chaplains by the ordinary soldiers was never in question. Diaries from soldiers frequently mention the important role religion played in sustaining these warriors and how vital the chaplain was to encouraging the men’s devotion.

The editors also bring us some previously unknown or little-known tales of the chaplains. They introduce us to Ella Hobart, who late in the war became chaplain to the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery. Ella — officially known as Mrs. Chaplain John Hobart — wrote that “Colonel Meservey and all his officers in camp committed to me.”

The editors also include some previously unpublished writings of some of the chaplains who served in the Civil War. “Faith in the Fight” should spark more interest in the history of chaplains of the Civil War.

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