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Chapter 8: eagerness of the soldiers to hear the Gospel.

But, in pointing out the instrumentalities which God blessed to the spiritual good of our brave men, their own eagerness to hear the Gospel must not be overlooked. Indeed I believe that the desire of these men to listen to the Gospel and to receive religious instruction has never been surpassed. Let us visit some of these camps, and mingle in some of these scenes of worship, and if I shall be able to picture them as I saw them, I can give a far more vivid idea of them than by the recital of the detailed facts and figures.

It matters not what day in the week it may be, or what hour of the day, you have only to pass the word around that there will be preaching at such a point, and there will promptly assemble a large crowd of eager listeners. No appointment for weeks, or days, or hours ahead is necessary. No church-bell summons, to gorgeous houses of worship, elegant ladies or fashionably attired men. But a few taps of the drum, a few strains of the bugle, or, better still, the singing of some old, familiar hymn, serves as a ‘church call’ well understood, and from every part of the camp weather-beaten soldiers, in faded and tattered uniforms, hasten to the selected spot and gather close around the preacher, who, with ‘Nature's great temple’ for his church, and the blue canopy of heaven for his ‘sounding board,’ is fortunate if he have so much as a barrel or wellrounded stump for a pulpit.

But I proposed to take you, kind reader, to some of our meetings. Let us first visit the battered old town of Fredericksburg in the early weeks of 1863. We enter at sundown, just as the regiments of Barksdale's Brigade of heroic Missisippians are returning to their quarters from ‘dress parade,’ and we pause to gaze with admiration on the men who, on that bleak December morning, held the town with such tenacity against Burnside's mighty hosts until ‘Marse Robert’ had formed on the hills beyond [243] his lines of Gray, against which the waves of Blue surged in vain.

Soon we hear the familiar command, ‘Break ranks,’ and immediately the streets are filled with soldiers eagerly running in a given direction.

‘What does this mean?’ a stranger would inquire. ‘Is “Old John Robinson” about to have a performance of his circus? Has “Wyman, the great magician,” come to town? Are the ‘Negro Minstrels’ about to exhibit? What means this eager running?’ Ask one of the men, and he will scarcely pause as he replies: ‘We are trying to get into the church before all of the seats are taken.’.

Yes! the house of God is the goal they seek, and long before the appointed hour the spacious Episcopal church, kindly tendered for the purpose by its rector, is filled—nay, packed—to its utmost capacity—lower floor, galleries, aisles, chancel, pulpitsteps and vestibule—while hundreds turn disappointed away, unable to find even standing-room. The great revival has begun, and this brigade and all of the surrounding brigades are stirred with a desire to hear the Gospel, rarely equalled.

Enter, if you can make your way through the crowd, and mingle with that vast congregation of worshippers. They do not spend their time while waiting for the coming of the preacher in idle gossip, or a listless staring at every new comer, but a clear voice strikes some familiar hymn, around which cluster hallowed memories of home, and of the dear old church far away—the whole congregation join in the hymn, and there arises a volume of sacred song that seems almost ready to take the roof off of the house. I may be an ‘old fogy,’ but I declare I would not give one of those old songs which ‘the boys’ used to sing ‘with the spirit and the understanding,’ and into which they threw their souls, for all of the ‘classic music’ which grand organ and ‘quartette choir’ ever rendered.

The song ceases, and one of the men leads in prayer. And he prays. He does not tell the Lord the news of the day, or recount to him the history of the country. He does not make ‘a stump-speech to the Lord’ on the war—its causes, its progress, or its prospects. But, from the depths of a heart that feels its needs, he tells of present wants, asks for present blessings, and begs for the Holy Spirit in His convicting, converting power. I have rarely, if ever, heard such prayers as some of these men [244] used to make. I remember that Brother Owen, the Methodist chaplain who had the general conduct of these meetings, used to keep an accurate list of the men who professed conversion in the brigade, and from this list they were called on to lead in prayer.

I never heard of one who refused, and as a rule they made tender, earnest, appropriate prayers.

But presently some man in a tattered jacket gets up to speak, and the stranger might ask: ‘What business has he to speak in one of these meetings?’ Listen, and you will soon see. As in simple, earnest style, he tells something of his own experience, or exhorts his comrades to come to Chirst, you hear indeed

Words that breathe
And thoughts that burn,

and you feel that if eloquence is ‘logic set on fire,’ then that soldier is eloquent beyond almost any man you ever heard. The crowd seems thrilled by the power of his burning words and the momentous truth he utters.

But, after a while, the preacher comes in and the pulpit-service begins. It may be Dr. J. C. Stiles, the able expounder of the Gospel, who preached very frequently in these meetings, and whose untiring labors in the army were so richly blessed—it may be that gifted pulpit-orator, the lamented Dr. William J. Hoge—it may be ‘the golden-mouthed orator of the Virginia pulpit,’ Dr. James A. Duncan, in whose death his denomination and the State sustained an irreparable loss—it may be the peerless Dr. J. L. Burrows, whose self-sacrificing labors for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the soldiers were so greatly blessed, and gave him so warm a place in the affections of ‘the boys’ and of our whole Confederate people—it may be our earnest evangelist, Brother Carroll—it may be one of the chaplains, or it may be Brother J. L. Pettigrew, of Mississippi, or some other private soldier. But, whoever it is, he preaches the Gospel. He does not discuss the ‘Relation of Science to Religion,’ or the slavery question, or the causes which led to the war, or the war itself. He does not indulge in abusive epithets of the invaders of our soil, or seek to fire his hearers with hatred or vindictiveness towards the enemy. He has no use for any theology that is newer than the New Testament, and he indulges in no fierce polemics against Christians of other denominations. He is looking in the eyes of heroes of many a battle, and knows that the [245] ‘long roll’ may beat ere he closes—that these brave fellows may be summoned at once to new fields of carnage—and that he may be delivering then the last message of salvation that some of them may ever hear.

I remember that I preached to this vast congregation the very night before Hooker crossed the river, bringing on the battles of Second Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville—that, in my closing appeal, I urged them to accept Christ then and there, because they did not know but that they were hearing their ‘last invitation,’ and that sure enough we were aroused before day the next morning by the crossing of the enemy, and in the battles which followed, many of these noble fellows were called to the judgment-bar of God. And so, when the preacher stood up before these congregations of veterans, his very soul was stirred within him, and he ‘determined to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’ If the personal allusions may be pardoned, I do not believe that Dr. Burrows, Dr. Stiles, Dr. Hoge, Dr. Dabney, Dr. Pryor, Dr. Lacy, Dr. Moore, Dr. Read, Dr. Duncan, Dr. Granberry, Dr. Rosser, Dr. Doggett, Dr. Edwards, Dr. John A. Broadus, Dr. Pritchard, Dr. Wingate, Dr. Andrew Broaddus, Dr. Jeter, Dr. A. B. Brown, or any of the missionaries or chaplains were ever able, before or since, to preach sermons of such power as they were stirred up to preach in the army. If a man had any capacity whatever to preach, it would be developed under circumstances which would have stirred an angel's heart; and if he knew anything about the Gospel at all, he would tell it to these congregations.

And so our preacher, whoever he may be, tells ‘the old, old story of Jesus and His love.’ He has throughout the undivided attention of the crowd; there are tears in eyes ‘unused to the melting mood;’ and when at the close of the sermon the invitation is given, and some stirring hymn is sung, there will be 20, 50, 100, or even as many as 200, to ask an interest in the prayers of God's people, or profess their faith in Jesus.

There were over 500 professions of conversion in these meetings at Fredericksburg, and the good work extended out into the neighboring brigades, and went graciously on—only temporarily interrupted by the battle of Chancellorsville—until we took up the line of march for Gettysburg. Indeed, it did not cease even on that active campaign, but culminated in the great revival along the Rapidan in August, 1863, which reached nearly the [246] whole army, and really did not cease until the surrender at Appomattox.

On Sunday evening, September 6, 1863, I had an engagement to preach for Brother J. J. D. Renfroe, chaplain of the Tenth Alabama, in the great revival in Wilcox's Brigade, camped near the Rapidan, not far from Orange Court House. As further illustrating the character of our world, I may mention that I preached to a large congregation in my own brigade at 6 o'clock that morning. At II o'clock I went to the Baptist church at Orange Court House, and assisted in the ordination of Brother W. G. Curry, of the Third Alabama Regiment, who had been gallantly serving in the ranks, but who had been appointed chaplain of his regiment, and whose Church had called for his ordination.

In the afternoon I witnessed a most interesting baptismal scene in a creek near the railroad, about a mile and a half north of Orange Court House, where Dr. Andrew Broaddus, of Caroline county (acting for Chaplain Hilary E. Hatcher, of Mahone's Brigade, who was sick), and Chaplain Renfroe baptized eightytwo soldiers belonging to Mahone's Virginia and Wilcox's Alabama Brigades. About five thousand soldiers, from the general to the private, lined the banks. There was deep solemnity pervading the vast throng, and a more impressive scene is rarely witnessed.

About dusk that evening I went with Brother Renfroe to his place of worship. The men came from every direction, not only from this, but from all of the neighboring brigades, until, when I got up to preach, the light of the fire-stands revealed at least 5,000 men seated on the rude logs, or on the ground, and with upturned, eager faces, ready to drink in every word the preacher had to say. My text was: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin;’ and as I tried to tell in simple, earnest words

The old, old story,
Of Jesus and His love,

I could see in the dim light the intense interest and the starting tear. At the close of the service, those interested in their souls' salvation and desiring an interest in the prayers of God's people were invited to come and give us their hand, and they continued to press forward until we had counted over 600, of whom about 200 professed conversion.

I remember that, after our service was over, I went by [247] Mahone's Brigade, a short distance off, and found Dr. J. A. Broadus and Brother Hatcher still instructing a large number of inquirers who lingered at their place of preaching, loath to depart.

Immense congregations assembled at this period in almost any brigade at which we had preaching, and some of the scenes are as vividly impressed upon me as if they had been yesterday. Dr. John A. Broadus, Dr. Andrew Broaddus, Rev. Andrew Broaddus (of Kentucky), Dr. Burrows, Dr. Thos. H. Pritchard, Dr. Jeter, Dr. Dickinson, Rev. F. M. Barker, Rev. L. J. Haley, Dr. J. A. Duncan, Dr. Rosser, Dr. Doggett, Dr. J. E. Edwards, Dr. Hoge, Dr. Stiles, Dr. Bocock, Dr. Pryor, Dr. Bennett, and others, came to preach in the camps, and the chaplains had no sort of difficulty in giving them constant work and very large congregations. I vividly recall dear old Brother Andrew Broaddus (who had been acting as agent for army missions, but often ‘took a furlough’ to come to the army, where his labors were greatly blessed) as he rode up to my quarters, near old Pisgah Church, one day, and to my invitation to dismount, replied: ‘No! I was ordered by General Dickinson to report to you for duty; but I must know where I am to preach to-night before I can get off my horse, for if you have no place for me, I must at once proceed to find one for myself.’ ‘Oh!’ I replied, ‘there are a planty of places at which you can preach, but I have just received a note from Brother Cridlin, of Armistead's Brigade, saying that he is in the midst of a great revival, is sick, and greatly needs help.’ ‘All right,’ responded the veteran; ‘now I will dismount. I will eat some of your rations and go at once to help Brother Cridlin.’

On fast-day of that autumn I had Dr. John A. Broadus to preach four times, at different points; and while all of the services were of deep interest, I particularly recall the service at sundown, held at General Gordon's Headquarters. The general, who had conducted a prayer-meeting himself in the morning, and made a stirring address to his brigade, had sent out the notices and exerted himself to have a congregation, and a large crowd, especially of officers, attended. I recall the text—‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace’—and the sermon as clearly as if it had been last week, instead of twenty-three years ago, and the profound impression which it produced lingers in my memory as ‘a sweet savor.’ At times there was scarcely [248] a dry eye in the vast throng, and the tears of generals, colonels and captains mingled freely with those of the rank and file. I never heard Dr. Broadus preach with more power, and I do not believe that he ever did.

In an appeal for more preachers to come to the army, published in the Religious Herald about the 1st of September, 1863, Dr. Broadus thus writes: ‘It is impossible to convey any just idea of the wide and effectual door that is now opened for preaching in the Army of Northern Virginia. . . . In every command that I visit, or hear from, a large proportion of the soldiers will attend preaching and listen well; and in many cases the interest is really wonderful. . . . A much larger proportion of the soldiers attend preaching in camp than used to attend at home; and when any interest is awakened the homogeneity and fellowfeel-ing which exists among them may be a powerful means, as used by the Divine Spirit, of diffusing that interest through the whole mass. Brethren, there is far more religious interest in this army than at home. The Holy Spirit seems everywhere moving among us. These widespread camps are a magnificent collection of camp-meetings. Brethren, it is the noblest opportunity for protracted meetings you ever saw. The rich, ripe harvest stands waiting. Come, brother, thrust in your sickle, and, by God's blessing, you shall reap golden sheaves that shall be your rejoicing in time and eternity.’

We made it a rule to preach at least once every day during this period, and many of us for weeks together averaged two sermons a day to congregations of from one to three thousand listeners. I remember that at one and the same time I had the general conduct of four protracted meetings in four brigades (Gordon's Georgia, Hays's Louisiana, Hoke's North Carolina, and Smith's Virginia), and attended a service in each every day; and that on several occasions I baptized two, three and four times (at different points) without changing my clothes. (The plain truth was that I had only one change, and considered myself fortunate in having that.)

As illustrating how men would come out to preaching under difficulties, one of the chaplains reported that one Sunday in the early winter of 1863 there came a fall of snow, which he supposed would entirely break up his Sunday service, as they had no chapel; but, at the appointed hour, he heard singing at their usual place of worship, and looking out he saw that a large congregation [249] had assembled. He, of course, went at once to the place and preached to deeply interested men, who stood in snow several inches deep, and among the number he counted fourteen barefooted men, besides scores whose shoes afforded very little protection from the snow. Many times have I seen barefooted men attending prayer-meeting or preaching in the snow or during the coldest weather of winter.

I went one day to meet an appointment in Davis's Mississippi Brigade, which had lost their winter-quarters and comfortable chapel, south of Orange Court House, by being ordered on picket-duty near the Rapidan. A steady rain was falling, and I went with no idea of being able to preach, but hoping to meet a few of the inquirers under their rude shelters, that I might point them to ‘the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.’ To my surprise, as I rode up, I heard a volume of sacred song ascending from the usual place of worship, and found a large congregation assembled on the rude logs. I told them that while I was willing to preach to them, I would not ask them to remain in the rain—that I would take it as no discourtesy if they left, and rather thought that they ought to do so. Not a man stirred, and I preached forty minutes in a constant rain to as attentive a congregation as I ever addressed. The men used to say: ‘We go on picket; we march and fight, and do all other military duty in any weather that comes, and we cannot see why we should allow the weather to interrupt our religious privileges.’

Our brethren who in these days are accustomed to stay from church if it rains or snows, or looks like it might do so in the course of a week, would do well to study the example and catch the spirit of these soldiers.

At first the popular impression, even among the chaplains, was that but little could be done during an active campaign except in the hospitals. But it soon appeared that the faithful chaplain who would stick to his post and watch for opportunities—who was ready to resign his horse to some poor fellow with bare and blistered feet while he marched in the column as it hurried forward—who went with his men on picket—who bivouacked with them in the pelting storm—and who went with them into the leaden and iron hail of battle—who, in a word, was ready to share their hardships and dangers—such a man had, during the most active campaign, golden opportunities of pointing [250] the sick and wounded to the great Physician; the hungry to ‘the bread of life;’ the thirsty to ‘the water of life;’ the weary to the ‘rest that remaineth for the people of God,’ and the dying to ‘the resurrection and the life.’ The largest congregations I ever addressed were on the eve of some great battle, when men would throw away their cards, cease their profanity, and be in a most tender frame of mind to hear the Gospel. And some of the most precious seasons I ever enjoyed were in some of our meetings on the eve of battle. I can recall, as if it were last night, some of those scenes on that famous ‘Valley campaign,’ which won for our brave boys the sobriquet of ‘Jackson's Foot Cavalry.’

Starting at ‘early dawn’ (a favorite hour, by the way, with our great chief, of whom ‘the boys’ used to say: ‘He always marches at early dawn, except when he starts the night before ’), it was tramp, tramp, tramp all day along the hard turnpike, the only orders being, ‘Press forward!’ ‘Press forward!’

As the evening shadows began to gather on the mountain tops some of the best men would fall out of ranks and declare that they could go no further, and it did seem that even ‘the Foot Cavalry’ could do no more. But presently the word is passed back along the line, ‘The head of the column is going into camp.’ Immediately the weak grow strong again, the weary become fresh, the laggard hastens forward, and there upon some green sward on the banks of the beautiful Shenandoah——though like Jacob of old we had but the hard ground for our couch, rocks for our pillows, and the blue canopy of heaven for our covering—we lay us down to rest, oh! so sweet after a hard day's march. But before the bivouac is quiet for the night there assembles a little group at some convenient spot hard by, who strike up some dear old hymn which recalls hallowed memories of home and loved ones, and of the dear old church far away, and which serves now as a prayer-call well understood. From all parts of the bivouac men hasten to the spot; the song grows clearer and louder, and in a few moments a very large congregation has assembled. And as the chaplain reads some appropriate Scripture, leads in fervent prayer, and speaks words of earnest counsel, faithful admonition or solemn warning,

Something on the soldier's cheek
Washes off the stain of powder.


Ah! I can recall, even after this lapse of twenty-five years, not a few bright faces who used to join in those precious meetings, who were soon after striking golden harps as they joined the celestial choir.

I recollect that we had very large congregations at Winchester, after Banks had been driven across the Potomac, on the call of our Christian leader to the ‘thanksgiving’ service which he was accustomed to appoint after each victory—that we had a very large gathering at Strasburg, while Ewell's Division was in line of battle to keep back Fremont until all of Jackson's troops could pass the threatened point—and that on that whole campaign I never found the men too weary to assemble promptly for the evening service. Indeed, we accustomed ourselves to make sermons on the march to preach when we should go into bivouac in the evening, and, while in some respects it was sermonizing under difficulties, I doubt if we ever made better sermons than under the inspiration of the circumstances which surrounded us and the consciousness that we were preparing to deliver the last message of salvation which many of those brave fellows would ever hear.

The morning of the battle of Cross Keys a large part of Ezley's Brigade assembled at half-past 7 A. M. to hear a sermon from the efficient chaplain of the Twenty-fifth Virginia Regiment (my honored brother, Dr. George B. Taylor), who, being satisfied that a battle was imminent, determined to deliver one more message for his Master.

In the midst of his sermon the preacher was interrupted by the colonel of his regiment, who told him that the enemy was advancing and the battle about to open. Soon the shock of battle succeeded the invitations of the Gospel, and men were summoned from that season of worship into the presence of their Judge.

After the battle of Port Republic, while we were resting in the beautiful valley preparatory to marching to ‘Seven Days around Richmond,’ we had some delightful meetings, and on the march we had frequent seasons of worship. I preached in a grove near Louisa Court House, and again at Ashland, I well remember, to deeply interested congregations, and as I mingled among our wounded at Cold Harbor (where on the 27th of June, 1862, my regiment, the Thirteenth Virginia, carried into action 306 men and lost 175, killed and wounded), I found a number who referred to those meetings and expressed themselves as deeply affected by them. [252]

Rev. Dr. R. L. Dabney was a gallant and efficient officer on Jackson's staff, and often preached to the men at Headquarters, and in their camps and bivouacs as opportunity offered. On this march he preached a very able sermon on ‘Special Providence,’ in the course of which he used this emphatic language: ‘Men, you need not be trying to dodge shot or shell or minnie. Every one of these strikes just where the Lord permits it to strike, and nowhere else, and you are perfectly safe where the missiles of death fly thickest until Jehovah permits you to be stricken.’

Major Nelson, of General Ewell's staff, one of the bravest of the brave and an humble Christian and devout churchman, heard that sermon and did not fully endorse what he called its ‘extreme Calvinism.’

Dr. Dabney rode with General Jackson into the very thickest of the fight, on many a hard fought field. The men used to say of their soldier-preacher ‘He does not mind it any more than we do.’ The gallant Major Nelson frequently met Dr. Dabney and discussed with him his doctrine of ‘Special Providence,’ and when upon one occasion he heard him directing the men who were under heavy fire to shield themselves as far as possible behind trees, and a convenient stone wall he rode up to him and with a graceful military salute said: ‘Major Dabney, every shot and shell and minnie strikes just where the Lord permits. And you must excuse me, sir, for expressing my surprise that you are directing the men to shelter themselves behind trees and a stone wall, and to put such things between themselves andSpecial Providence.’’ But Dr. Dabney promptly replied: ‘Why, Major, you do not understand the doctrine of ‘Special Providence.’ I believe it, and teach it with all my heart, but I look upon those trees and that stone wall as a very ‘special providence’ for the men at this time, and I am simply acting on the doctrine when I direct them to avail themselves of these ‘Special Providences.’Major Nelson was convinced, and accepted the doctrine of ‘Special Providence’ as Dr. Dabney expounded it.

I remember that, remaining for a season with the wounded in the field hospitals after Cold Harbor and Gaines's Mill, I rejoined the command just after the line of battle was formed in front of General McClellan's position at Harrison's Landing (Westover), and General Ewell said to me pleasantly: ‘I have not seen you preaching, or heard the songs of your prayer-meetings for several [253] days, and I have missed them.’ I explained that I had been back in our hospitals looking after our wounded, and that my regiment had more men back there than in front just then, but that I was going to have a service as soon as I could assemble the men. And so we soon had a very tender, precious service in full hearing of the enemy's lines.

Some of the meetings we held around Richmond when we came back from Harrison's Landing—around Gordonsville when Jackson went to meet Pope—in line of battle at Cedar Run— and on the march to Second Manassas—were of deep solemnity and great interest, but I must pass them by at present.

The morning that Early's Brigade was relieved from its perilous position on the north bank of the Rappahannock near the Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, where for twenty-four hours we faced the whole of Pope's army with an impassable river, swollen by a sudden storm, in our rear, one of the largest congregations I ever saw promptly assembled on an intimation that there would be preaching. I never saw the army massed within as small a space as at that point. General Lee had purposed crossing his whole army over at the Springs, and by a rapid march on Warrenton and the railroad to plant himself firmly on General Pope's line of retreat. General Early was thrown across as the advance guard, but the severe storm made the river unfordable, and as we had no pontoon-bridges the movement had to be abandoned. So men from many other commands as well as our own came to our service until, when I stood up to preach, I seemed to look on a solid acre of eager listeners.

An artillery duel was going on across the river and an occasional shell would shriek overhead or fall near by, but the service went on, regardless of that strange church music until, as we were singing the last hymn before the service, an immense rifle-shell fell in the centre of the congregation, a few feet from where the preacher was standing. It fell just between Colonel (afterwards General) James A. Walker and Captain Lewis N. Huck, of the Thirteenth Virginia, and found just space enough to wedge its way in between their legs without striking either. It was a ‘cap shell,’ the reverse end struck, and it simply buried itself in the soft ground, threw dirt on all around, but did not explode. There was, of course, a moving back from that spot, as it was supposed that the shell would explode, but the leader of the singing lost no note, his clear, ringing voice did not tremble, [254] the song was sung through, the preacher announced his text, and the service would have gone on despite the interruption. But Colonel Walker stepped up to the chaplain and told him if he would suspend the service he would move the brigade back under the hill where it would be more sheltered. Accordingly the announcement was made to the congregation, the benediction was pronounced, and we moved back under cover. As we moved out a shell exploded in an artillery company in our rear and killed or wounded five men. The service was resumed. I preached (from the text, ‘Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish’) as plainly and earnestly as I could. At ‘early dawn’ the next morning we started on that famous flank march of ‘Jackson's Foot Cavalry,’ which culminated in the battle of Second Manassas, and many of our poor fellows heard their last sermon that day on the Rappahannock.

I went back that afternoon to the spot where we had our service, and found that after we moved at least twenty shells had fallen and exploded, in the space occupied by that congregation.

When the orders for moving came to A. P. Hill's Corps near Fredericksburg in June, 1863, and put the column in motion for Gettysburg, they found Chaplains J. J. Hyman and E. B. Barrett, of Georgia, engaged in baptizing in Massaponax Creek some of the converts in the revival which had begun in their regiments, and which did not cease during the bloody campaign which followed, and as the result of which a memorable scene was enacted near Hagerstown, Maryland, on Sunday, June 29, 1863.

The banks of the historic Antietam were lined with an immense crowd of Confederate soldiers. But they came not in ‘battle array’—no opposing host confronted them—no cannon belched its hoarse thunder—and the shriek of shell and the whistle of the minnie were unheard. Instead of these, sweet strains of the songs of Zion were wafted on the breeze, and the deepest solemnity pervaded the gathered host as one of the chaplains led down into the historic stream fourteen veterans who a few months before had fought at Sharpsburg, and were now enlisting under the banner of the Cross.

Several times during the revival in Gordon's Georgia Brigade in the autumn of 1863, Rev. T. H. Pritchard, of North Carolina, or Rev. Andrew Broaddus, of Kentucky, who were laboring in this brigade, administered the ordinance of baptism in the [255] Rapidan in full view and easy range of the pickets on the opposite side. Not many of the men were permitted to attend for fear of attracting the fire of the enemy. But General Gordon himself was always present—his tall form presenting a tempting target to the sharpshooters on the north bank of the river. To the credit of ‘the men in blue,’ let it be said, however, they never fired at this time upon any of these baptismal parties, but contented themselves with looking on in mute wonder while the solemn ordinance was administered. Upon two occasions at the same period I baptized in the Rapidan in full view of the pickets on the other side, and with no apprehension of interruption from them.

On the bloody campaign from the Rapidan to Cold Harbor in 1864, when the army was constantly in the trenches or on the march, and fought almost daily, Bryan's Georgia Brigade had a season of comparative repose, while held in reserve, when they had from three to five meetings a day, which resulted in about fifty professions of conversion, most of whom Rev. W. L. Curry, the efficient chaplain of the Fiftieth Georgia Regiment, baptized in a pond which was exposed to the enemy's fire, and where several men were wounded while the ordinance was being administered.

Major Robert Stiles, of Richmond, in an address delivered in 1869 before the Male Orphan Asylum of Richmond, related an incident which illustrates the point I am making, and which I will not mar by condensing, but give in his own eloquent words:

‘One of the batteries of our own battalion was composed chiefly of Irishmen from a Southern city—gallant fellows, but wild and reckless. The captaincy becoming vacant, a backwoods Georgia preacher, named C——, was sent to command them. The men, at first half-amused, half-insulted, soon learned to idolize as well as fear their preacher captain, who proved to be, all in all, such a man as one seldom sees, a combination of Praise-God Barebones and Sir Philip Sidney, with a dash of Hedley Vicars about him. He had all the stern grit of the Puritan, with much of the chivalry of the Cavalier, and the zeal of the Apostle. There was at this time but one other Christian in his battery, a gunner named Allan Moore, also a backwoods Georgian, and a noble, enthusiastic man and soldier. The only other living member of Moore's family was with him, a boy of not more than twelve or thirteen years, and the devotion of the elder brother to [256] the younger was as tender as a mother's. The little fellow was a strange, sad, prematurely old child, who seldom talked and never smiled. He used to wear a red zouave fez that ill-befitted that peculiar, sallow, pallid complexion of the piney-woods Georgian; but he was a perfect hero in a fight. 'Twas at Cold Harbor in 1864. We had been all day shelling a working party of the enemy, and about sunset, as adjutant of the battalion, I was visiting the batteries to arrange the guns for night-firing. As I approached C——'s position, the sharpshooting had almost ceased, and down the line I could see the figures of the cannoneers standing out boldly against the sky. Moore was at the trail, adjusting his piece for the night's work. His gunnery had been superb during the evening, and his blood was up. I descended into a little valley and lost sight of the group, but heard C——'s stern voice: “Sit down, Moore, your gun is well enough; the sharpshooting isn't over yet. Get down.” I rode to the hill. “One moment, captain. My trail's a hair's-breadth too much to the right;” and the gunner bent eagerly over the handspike. A sharp report—that unmistakable crash of the bullet against the skull, and all was over. 'Twas the last rifleshot on the lines that night. The rushing together of the detachment obstructed my view; but as I came up, the sergeant stepped aside and said, “Look there, adjutant.” Moore had fallen over on the trail, the blood gushing from his wound all over his face. His little brother was at his side instantly. No wildness, no tumult of grief. He knelt on the earth, and lifting Moore's head onto his knees, wiped the blood from his forehead with the cuff of his own tattered shirt-sleeve, and kissed the pale face again and again, but very quietly. Moore was evidently dead, and none of us cared to disturb the child. Presently he rose—quiet still, tearless still—gazed down on his dead brother, then around at us, and, breathing the saddest sigh I ever heard, said just these words: “Well, I am alone in the world.” The preacher-captain instantly sprang forward, and placing his hand on the poor boy's shoulder, said solemnly, but cheerfully: “No, my child, you are not alone, for the Bible says, ‘When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up,’ and Allan was both father and mother to you: besides, I'm going to take you up, too; you shall sleep under my blanket tonight.” There was not a dry eye in the group; and when, months afterwards, the whole battalion gathered on a quiet Sabbath [257] evening on the banks of the Appomattox, to witness a baptism, and C—— at the water's edge tenderly handed this child to the officiating minister and, receiving him again when the ceremony was over, threw a blanket about the little shivering form, carried him into the bushes, changed his clothing, and then reappeared, carrying the bundle of wet clothes, and he and the child walked away hand in hand to camp—then there were more tears, manly, noble, purifying tears; and I heard the sergeant say, “Faith! the captain has fulfilled his pledge to that boy.” My friends, hear the plea of the orphan: “I am alone in the world.” How will you answer it? What will you do with it? Will you pass my noble Georgian's pledge to “take him up?” Will you keep it as he kept it?’

A missionary to Featherston's Mississippi Brigade writes of conducting religious services while the pickets were fighting heavily six hundred yards in front, and with balls falling all around. Preaching was heard with eagerness, penitents were numerous, and seventeen young converts were baptized.

I knew of several instances on the Petersburg lines where men were wounded in congregations which remained quiet while the preacher continued his sermon.

We were blessed with a comparatively quiet Sabbath at Cold Harbor in June, 1864, and the chaplains generally availed themselves of the opportunity to hold frequent services. I preached four times that day to very large and deeply solemn congregations. The service at sundown was especially impressive. It was held on the very ground over which the grand charge of the Confederates was made on the memorable 27th of June, 1862, and was attended by an immense crowd. It was a beautiful Sabbath eve, and all nature seemed to invite to peace and repose. But the firing of the pickets in front—the long rows of stacked muskets—the tattered battle-flags which rippled in the evening breeze—and the very countenances of those stern veterans of an hundred battles, who now gathered to hear the Gospel of Peace on the very ground where two years before they had joyfully obeyed the order of their iron chief to ‘sweep the field with the bayonet’—all told of past conflicts, betokened impending battle and stirred the soul of preacher and hearer to an earnestness seldom attained. There were earnest faces and glistening tears, and when at the close of the sermon those desiring the prayers of God's people were invited to come forward, there were over [258] 200 who promptly responded, a number of whom professed faith in Christ before leaving the ground.

In that long line of nearly forty miles of entrenchments extending from north and west of Richmond to Hatcher's Run and Five Forks below Petersburg, the opportunities for preaching and other religious services were varied. Some parts of the line were subjected to almost constant fire from the enemy, and the men could never assemble outside of the ‘bomb-proofs’— but other parts were sufficiently distant from the enemy's lines to allow the men to assemble even outside of the trenches. A large number of comfortable chapels were erected—more would have been built but for the scarcity of timber—and where the men could not assemble in crowds there were precious seasons of prayer and praise and worship in the ‘bomb-proofs.’

Let me try to picture several scenes as specimens of our daily work along the Petersburg lines. One day I went to Wise's Brigade, stationed in the trenches near the Appomattox, at a point where the lines of the enemy were so close that it was almost certain death to show your head above the parapet. As I went into the lines I saw what I frequently witnessed. An immense mortar shell (the men used to call them ‘lamp-posts’) would fly overhead, and some ragged ‘gray-jacket’ would exclaim, ‘That is my shell! That is my shell!’ and would scarcely wait for the smoke from its explosion to clear away before rushing forward to gather the scattered fragments, which he would sell to the ordnance officer for a few cents a pound (Confederate money), to help eke out his scant rations. Entering the trenches I soon joined my gallant friend, Major John R. Bagby, of the Thirty-Fourth Virginia Regiment, who accompanied me down the lines as we distributed tracts and religious newspapers, and talked with the men concerning the great salvation. There was a good deal of picket-firing going on at the time, the minnie-balls would whistle by our ears, and (forgetful of Dr. Dabney's application of the doctrine of ‘Special Providence’) I found myself constantly dodging to the no small amusement of the men. At last we came to a man who was the fortunate possessor of a frying-pan, and the still more fortunate possessor of something to fry in it. As we stood near, a minnie struck in the centre of his fire and threw ashes all around. He moved about as much as I should have done to avoid smoke, and went on with his culinary operations, coolly remarking: [259] ‘Plague take them fellows. I 'spect they'll spile my grease yet before they stop their foolishness.’ Soon after, the major looked at his watch and proposed that we should go into one of the ‘bomb-proofs’ and join in the noonday prayer-meeting. I am afraid that some other feeling besides a devotional spirit prompted me to acquiesce at once. But when we went in we found the large ‘bomb-proof’ filled with devout worshippers, and it proved one of the most tender, precious meetings I ever attended. If I mistake not Rev. John W. Ryland (then orderly sergeant of the King and Queen Company) led the singing, and they sang, with tender pathos which touched every heart, some of those old songs which dear old ‘Uncle Sam Ryland’ used to sing, and which were fragrant with hallowed memories of ‘Bruington.’ (I wonder if ‘Uncle Sam’ is not now singing, with Richard Hugh Bagby and other loved ones, some of those same old songs, for surely they were sweet enough for even the heavenly choir.)

I might write columns about those services in the trenches, but I can find space now for only one other incident. In the summer of 1864 I preached a good deal in Wright's Georgia Brigade, where we had a precious revival, and a large number of professions of conversion. The brigade was stationed at a point where the opposing lines were some distance apart, and I used to stand on a plat of grass in front of the trenches while the men would gather close around me, or sit on the parapet before me. One night, with a full moon shedding its light upon us, we had an unusually large congregation and a service of more than ordinary interest and power. A large number came forward for prayer, there were a number of professions of faith in Christ, and at the close of the service I received nine for baptism, and had just announced that I would administer the ordinance in a pond near by at 9 o'clock the next morning, when the ‘long roll’ beat, the brigade formed at once, and in a few minutes were on the march to one of the series of bloody battles which we had that summer. Several days later the brigade returned to its quarters, and I went back to resume my meetings, and look up my candidates for baptism. I found, alas! that out of the nine received three had been killed, two were wounded and one was a prisoner, so that there were only three left for me to baptize.

The alacrity with which the men went to work to build chapels [260] may be cited as an illustration of their eagerness to hear the Gospel.

When we went into winter-quarters along the Manassas lines in the winter of 1861-62, a few of the commands had well constructed chapels. I think the first one was built in the Seventeenth Virginia Regiment, of which my old university friend, Rev. John L. Johnson (now the distinguished Professor of English in the University of Mississippi), was chaplain. There was one also in the Tenth Virginia Infantry, of which Rev. S. S. Lambeth, of the Virginia Methodist Conference, was chaplain. In the Thirteenth Virginia Infantry we had a chapel and ‘parsonage’ under the same roof, and a well-selected circulating library, which proved a great comfort and blessing to the men. Down on the Rappahannock the next winter there were a still larger number of chapels. I remember especially a large and very comfortable one in the ‘Stonewall’ Brigade, which General Jackson was accustomed to attend, and where I had the privilege of preaching one Sunday to a deeply attentive congregation, and of watching with great interest the world-famous chief as he ‘played usher’ until the men were all seated, and then listened with glistening eyes to the old-fashioned Gospel in which he so greatly delighted.

But the chapel-building reached its climax along the Rapidan in the winter of 1863-64, and along the Richmond and Petersburg lines in the winter of 1864-65.

The great revival which swept through our camps on the return of the army from the Gettysburg campaign, and which resulted in the professed conversion of thousands and the quickened zeal of Christians generally, naturally produced a desire to have houses of worship during the winter. As soon as we went into winter-quarters the cry was raised in wellnigh every command: ‘We must have a chapel.’ No sooner said than done. The men did not wait to finish their own quarters before they went to work on ‘the church.’ They did not take months, weeks, days, or even hours, to discuss ‘plans and specifications.’ They held no ‘fairs’ or ‘feasts’—a scanty feast their larders would have afforded—and they sent out no agents to collect money from ‘friends at a distance.’ Better than all this, they divided into suitable parties, and, with strong arms and glad hearts, they went to work themselves. Their axes rang through the woods—some cut logs for the body of the [261] building—others ‘rove’ slabs, some provided ‘ridge poles,’ and ‘weight poles,’—and there were parties to do the hauling, put up the house and undertake ‘the finer work.’ Never since the days of Nehemiah have men had a better ‘mind to work’ on the walls of Zion, and in from two to six days the chapel was finished, and the men were worshipping God in a temple dedicated to his name. These chapels were not, of course, quite equal in architectural design or finish to the splendid edifices of some of our city churches. No frescoed ceilings delighted the eye—no brilliant gas-jets illuminated the house—no lofty spire pointed heavenward—no clear-sounding bell summoned to cushioned seats elegantly attired ladies or fashionably dressed men—and no pealing notes of the grand organ led the music. But rude as they were, the completion of these chapels was hailed with the liveliest manifestations of joy on the part of those who had helped to build them, and each one of them proved, indeed, ‘none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.’

Rev. W. S. Lacy, of the Forty-Seventh North Carolina, thus writes of an evening service in his chapel:

It was a solemn sight to see one of those earnest, crowded congregations by our feeble light in that rude chapel. We had no brilliant gas-jets, softened by shaded or stained glass. The light was reflected from no polished surface or snowy wall; one or two roughlook-ing specimens of candles (we thought them magnificent) adorned the pulpit, and, perhaps, three others were in the room, subject to the caprices of the wind.

A few torches in the fireplace filled the complement of light, and fully served to render the darkness visible. But there was a sort of spell in the flicker of those lights and the solemn stillness of the vast crowds, and as they would flare the lurid gleam would reveal many an earnest face and brimming eye.

There were forty chapels built along the Rapidan in the winter of 1863-64, and over sixty the next winter along the Richmond and Petersburg lines, notwithstanding the fact that at this last period timber was very scarce and transportation hard to obtain on a large part of the lines, and the men had to bring the lumber at great distances on their shoulders.

In many of these chapels there were circulating libraries and daily prayer-meetings, Sunday-schools, literary societies, Young Men's Christian Association meetings, etc. And many of them [262] answered the double purpose of church and school. Some few were taught to read and write. I remember one poor fellow, who said to me: ‘Oh! chaplain, if you will just teach me how to read, so that I can read God's word, and how to write, so that I can write to my wife, there is nothing in this world I will not do for you,’ and I shall never forget what a proud fellow he was when in a very short time he had learned both to read his Bible and write to his wife. But I met during the four years of the war very few Confederate soldiers who could not read and write, and the schools established were generally for the study of Latin, Greek, mathematics, French, German, etc. There was, at the University of Virginia, during the session of 1865-66, probably the most brilliant set of students ever gathered there at one time, and many of them were prepared to enter advanced classes by the schools taught in these army chapels by some of the best teachers ever sent out from this grand old university. The witty editor of the Richmond Christian Advocate (Dr. Lafferty) once said of a certain State: ‘They already have there twelve “universities;” and at our latest advices they were cutting poles for another.’ We did not ‘cut poles’ for ‘universities;’ but we had in our log chapels schools which, in the extent and thoroughness of their teaching, were greatly superior to many of the so-called ‘universities’ of the land to-day.

I might write very fully of some of the glorious meetings we held in these chapels, but I have space for only one characteristic incident of that noble old soldier of the Cross, Rev. Andrew Broaddus (‘Kentucky Andrew’). He went to labor in one of the brigade chapels in the winter of 1863, when he was told that he could accomplish nothing, as the large theatre which had been erected in the centre of the brigade was ‘drawing’ large crowds, and would seriously diminish his congregations. But, with his accustomed zeal and pluck, the old man went to work, the Lord blessed his labors, and soon the chapel was crowded and the theatre deserted. In the great revival that followed, the owners of the theatre and some of the actors, professed conversion, the ‘plays’ were suspended, and Brother Broaddus was invited to hold his services in the theatre, as that was a larger and more comfortable building than the chapel. He readily consented to do so, and begun his first service by saying, in his own quaint way: ‘My friends, I am only a plain old country Baptist preacher, and have been opposing theatres all of my life. [263] I never was in one before, and if any one had told me that the time would come, in my old age, when I should myself go upon the stage, I should have taken it as a personal insult. But the times change, and we change with them, and so I am here tonight, ready to occupy even this position for the glory of God and the good of souls.’ It is scarcely necessary to add that the work went graciously and gloriously on, and that this theatre, at least, proved ‘a school of virtue,’ and a means of grace to many who attended on ‘the acting’ of this grand old preacher of the Gospel.

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