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Several incidents of ‘Christ in the camp.’

by J. William Jones.
[We have been writing a series of papers on ‘Christ in the Camp; or, Religion in Lee's Army,’ which will soon be issued in book form, and which give a most important phase of the history of our grand old army. We cannot comply with requests received from several respected sources to put all these papers into this volume, but we give from them several incidents which may serve as specimens of the abundant material on hand for this interesting chapter of our history.]

On the night before the last day's battle at Second Manassas occurred one of the most touching episodes of which I heard. Colonel W. S. H. Baylor [I ought really to call him General, for Stonewall Jackson and R. E. Lee had both recommended his promotion, and his commission had actually been made out when news of his lamented death reached Richmond], one of the most widely known and loved young men in the State, was in command of the famous old ‘Stonewall Brigade,’ which had the year before won its name and immortal fame on these historic plains. Sending for his friend, Captain Hugh White—son of the venerable Dr. William S. White, of Lexington, Stonewall Jackson's old pastor, and himself a theological student—who commanded one of the companies in the brigade, [371] ‘Will’ Baylor (as we used familiarly to call him) said to him: ‘I know the men are very much wearied out by the battle to-day, and that they need all of the rest they can get to fit them for the impending struggle of to-morrow. But I cannot consent that we shall sleep to-night until we have had a brief season of prayer to thank God for the victory and preservation of the day, and to beseech His protection and blessing during the continuance of this terrible conflict.’ Hugh White entered at once into the proposal, Rev. A. C. Hopkins (then chaplain of the Second Virginia Infantry, now pastor of the Presbyterian church at Charlestown, West Virginia, and one of those faithful chaplains who was always found at the post of duty even when it was the post of hardship or of danger) was found in the bivouac near by and gladly consented to lead the meeting. The men were quietly notified that there would be a prayer meeting at brigade headquarters as soon as they could assemble, and nearly the whole of this brigade and many from other brigades promptly gathered at the appointed spot. It was a tender, precious season of worship, there in line of battle and in full hearing of the enemy. Colonel Baylor entered into it with the burning zeal of the young convert—he had found Christ in the camp only a short time before—and Captain Hugh White, with the ripened experience of the Christian of long standing, and many of the participants realized, with Jacob of old, that the place was ‘none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.’ In the great battle which followed the next day, when the Confederate line was pressing grandly forward and driving everything before it, Will Baylor, with the flag of the Stonewall brigade in his hands and the shout of victory on his lips, fell in the very forefront of the battle and gave his brave, noble, young life to the land and cause he loved so well and served so faithfully. Hard by and about the same moment Hugh White was shot down while bearing the flag of his own regiment and behaving with most conspicuous gallantry, and those two young men who mingled so lovingly in the prayer meeting of the night before had entered through the pearly gates, were walking golden streets, and were wearing fadeless crowns of victory—

That crown with peerless glories bright
     Which shall new lustre boast,
When victors' wreaths and monarch's gems
     Shall blend in common dust.

Major Robert Stiles, of Richmond, in an address delivered in 1869 [372] before the Male Orphan Asylum of Richmond, related an incident 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 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 ‘64. 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 rose 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 rifle shot 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 [373] Moore's head on to 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 take you up, too; you shall sleep under my blanket to-night.’ There was not a dry eye in the group; and when, months afterwards, the whole battalion gathered on a quiet Sabbath 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?” ’

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 [374] told of past conflicts, betokening impending battle, and stirred the souls 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 two hundred 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 [375] 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: ‘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 that 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.

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