Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The heritage of the United States Army Chaplaincy reaches far back into the dim recesses of history. In times of turmoil, trouble, and terror mankind always looks to religion and religious figures for comfort. War is no exception. Both ancient and modern societies have turned to religion in periods of conflict. Communities always have extended the comfort of religion to those serving in the heart of battle. From what we know of societies prior to written history, it is likely that priests and other religious figures petitioned gods and spirits for victory in war.

The Old Testament often refers to priests accompanying troops into battle. "And it shall be when ye are come nigh unto the battle," states the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 20:2-4, "that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people." Another well-known example is found in Joshua 6:2-5. In this passage, seven priests, each carrying a ram's horn, march around the walls of Jericho daily for six days. They are followed by other priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant and finally the troops. On the seventh day, the procession marched around the city seven times while the priests blew the horns. After the sound of the horns, the troops shouted, whereupon the walls collapsed and the city was taken.

Megiddo in 1479 BC, is one of the earliest great battles of which we have detailed knowledge. There, the Egyptian army of the warrior Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Syrian force. Egyptian records describe Thutmose in religious terms as he led the final charge, "like Horus armed with talons." One modern writer, Thomas Mann, envisioned the exalted high priest of Atum-Re at the battle wearing the "priestly leopard skin...draped around his shoulders, with the head and forepaws hanging down his back, the hind-paws crossed on his breast...(with) other insignia of his state: a blue scarf, and a complicated gold ornament with rams heads...."

For the Romans the presence of a priest before each battle was vital. Sacred animals had to be killed ritually. Then, their livers were removed and read by the priests for favorable or unfavorable omens. In Imperial Rome the priests proclaimed war upon the advice of the Senate. Thus every war declared was both just and holy.

The modern chaplaincy's roots are essentially medieval Catholic in origin. The Council of Ratisbon (742 AD) first officially authorized the use of chaplains for armies, but prohibited "the servants of God" from bearing arms or fighting. The word chaplain itself also dates from this period. A fourth century legend held that a pagan Roman soldier called Martin of Tours encountered a beggar shivering from the cold and gave him part of his military cloak. That night he had a vision of Christ dressed in the cloak. As a result, Martin was converted to Christianity. He devoted his life to the church, and after his death was canonized. Martin of Tours later became the patron saint of France and his cloak, now a holy relic, was carried into battle by the Frankish kings. This cloak was called in Latin the "cappa". Its portable shrine was called the "capella" and its caretaker priest, the "cappellanus". Eventually, all clergy affiliated with military were called "capellani," or in French "chapelains", hence chaplains.

Religious figures in this era often went into battle as fighting men with the army. Archbishop Turpin (Tilpinus of Rheims), whose exploits are to be found in The Song of Roland, is a notable example of the warrior priest. In l066 at the Battle of Hastings, Bishop Odo, the younger half-brother of William the Conqueror, fought with a heavy blunt mace since as a religious man he had forsworn the use of edged or pointed weapons.

In 1175, the Synod of Westminster (England) prohibited the clergy, "to take up arms nor to go about in armor," but this was not generally heeded until the 14th century. By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, the chaplain's duty was defined "to have 'care of souls,' and it is well if he meddle with no other business, but make that his only care."

The conflict between the religious function and the military role can be seen in the career of the patron saint of military chaplains. Designated as such by Pope John Paul II in 1984, the Franciscan Saint John Capistrano was born in Italy in l386. Besides serving the Church as a diplomat, he also led part of the Christian army at the Battle of Belgrade in l456. This European tradition extended to colonial America where the chaplain both fought alongside and ministered to his neighbors in the militia. For the militia chaplain in early colonial American that heritage of active fighting and ministering was a living one. The tradition, however, was slowly changing as European culture adjusted to fit a new religiously diverse world.

Between l607 (the founding of Jamestown) and l775, a span of l68 years, a unique civilization emerged in North America as waves of European immigrants (mainly from the British Isles, but also from the Germanies) were transformed, often in a generation, into Americans. This extended period of change also saw an almost continual war with the Native American tribes, and against the French for the political and economic control of the continent. The chaplain, clad in his suit of black broadcloth, accompanied the colonial militia into battle from the very beginning. The colonial forces were locally recruited and when they went to war they took with them one of the local ministers, who usually, but not always, was one of the younger and more physically able of the clergy.

It was an age when religion played a much more important role in the lives of Americans. For the colonist, the minister was a powerful figure of authority within the community. Not even a minor military operation was planned or carried out without making sure that a minister was available to counsel and motivate the colonial fighting man. The Reverend Samuel Stone of the Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut, is an example of the power and authority exercised by the chaplain. The Reverend Stone was the first military chaplain to begin his active field service in English America. Earlier chaplains accompanied expeditions to the New World. Stone served in the Pequot War of l637, the first large scale Indian conflict in New England.

Increase Mather wrote in his Early History of New England that when the military leaders of an expedition against the Pequots disagreed on how to attack the tribe -- either to make a direct assault up the Thames River (in what is now Connecticut), or to attack in a roundabout manner by Narragansett Bay (now Rhode Island) - - the Reverend Stone was asked to give his judgment. "He retired himself from them aboard the Pink [a type of sailing vessel]," wrote Mather, "the remaining Part of the Day, and the following Night was not wanting in spreading the Case before the Lord, and seeking his Direction...." Stone told the expedition's commanders the next morning that it was God's will that the Narragansett Bay route be taken. This was done and the Pequots were defeated.

As European settlers found their lives changed because of the different economic and geographical conditions in America, so too did their way of making war. By 1675, when the next great Indian war, King Philip's War, was fought, the heavy Cromwellian armor from Europe which was worn during the Pequot War had disappeared; the colonists adopting a form of warfare more suitable to the forest, emphasizing both speed of movement and surprise. Chaplains such as Joseph Dudley, Nicholas Noyes, and Samuel Nowell served with the colonial militias in this war, and they and other chaplains were present at all the battles in the conflict, such as the Great Swamp fight in l675, and the Battle of the Falls in l676.
From 1689 to 1763, the colonists took part in four great wars against the French: King William's War (l689-l697); Queen Anne's War (l702-l7l3); King George's War (l744-l748); and the French and Indian War (l754-l763). In each of these conflicts, chaplains accompanied their men on the campaigns and in battle. In the first large-scale colonial expedition against the French in l690, five chaplains saw service with the 2500 colonial militiamen who sailed under Sir William Phips in an unsuccessful attack upon Quebec. Nine chaplains went with the colonial force that captured the French fortress of Louisbourg (often referred to as the "Gibraltar of North America") in l745. In the last and greatest of the colonial conflicts, the French and Indian War, some thirty-one chaplains served: "Nearly half were from Massachusetts, and a fourth were on duty with Pennsylvania regiments. Congregationalists were the most numerous, with a considerable number of Presbyterians and some Episcopalians." During this conflict a young George Washington realized the necessity that every military unit have access to a chaplain. For two years during this war he vainly tried to persuade Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia to authorize a chaplain for his command, which was then guarding the Virginia frontier. He wrote:

The want of a chaplain does, I humbly conceive, reflect dishonor upon the regiment, as all other officers are allowed. The gentlemen of the corps are sensible to this, and did propose to support one at their private expense. But I think it would have a more graceful appearance were he appointed as others are.

The colonial chaplain's duties varied. Ministers preached on Sundays but held prayers daily. They visited the sick and wounded. And, even though there was no formal organization of chaplains, those representing various denominations would meet, share preaching duties and support each other with intellectual companionship, prayer, and fellowship.

The history of Army chaplains throughout our War for Independence is a chronicle of sacrifice and service. Colonial clergymen frequently raised military units from their own congregations or localities, and often led them in battle. They bore their suffering and knew hunger, loneliness, imprisonment, defeat, wounds, death, and ultimate victory. The story of the Revolutionary War chaplains begins at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge on 19 April l775. A number of New England clerics served at Concord: William Emerson, later to die while on active duty; Joseph Thaxter, soon to be wounded at Bunker Hill; Edmund Foster, a theological student; and the Reverend Doctor Philips Payson. The latter three not only ministered to the minutemen but also "shouldered their muskets, and fought like common soldiers." It was written of Rev. Payson: "Seizing a musket he put himself at the head of a party, and led them forward to the attack." William Emerson served at Concord in the capacity of a chaplain only, and so has the distinction of being the first Revolutionary War chaplain.

The Revolutionary Army at the start was built on the old militia system -- a plan for utilizing every able-bodied man regardless of age or occupation in life. First to be called were the minutemen, the younger and more active third of the militia. Next were the militia proper, and finally those deferred until the last, the Alarm List. These were the old men, magistrates, paupers (who could not afford to arm themselves), and the clergy. Some clergymen distinguished themselves by actually fighting in the Alarm List, as did those who led the "Old Men of Monotomy" at Lexington and Concord.

Scores of others were not content to wait for action with this home guard but joined the minutemen or militia: Some fighting, others simply as ministers of religion, and still others taking up the work they had laid down years before after the capture of Louisburg in King George's War, but all without military status. The Reverend Benjamin Balch of Danvers, Massachusetts, for example, served as a lieutenant in an Alarm Company commanded by a deacon, Captain Edmund Putnam. Following Lexington, Balch volunteered to be the chaplain of Colonel Ephraim Doolittle's Regiment. In 1778 he became the first chaplain in the fledgling American Navy.

When George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, Massachusetts, chaplains were already present for duty. Washington could count fifteen chaplains serving with the twenty-three regiments gathered around Boston. The Continental Congress gave the chaplains its official recognition on 29 July l775, when it voted pay for various officers and enlisted personnel in the Continental Army not previously covered in its resolution of l6 July. The reference is to dollars per month, and it reads: "Chaplain 20." This was the same sum paid captains and Judge Advocates, and it was the first official recognition of chaplains by an American government. As such it is considered the birth date of the chaplaincy. Nearly a year later General George Washington issued the following General Order:

New York, July 9th, l776
The Honorable Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of Thirty-Three Dollars and one third dollars pr month - The Colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives - To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger -The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

At the outset of the war, each colony had its own plan for the chaplaincy or hastily improvised one. Virginia established its militia regimental chaplaincy by legislative act in 1758 at the request of Colonel George Washington, yet no chaplains seem to have been appointed until 1776. Connecticut had regimental chaplains appointed by the Governor. Massachusetts had several systems operating at the same time. The official plan was to rotate the duty among the clergy of the established Congregational Church. Each clergyman was paid by his parish while neighboring pastors substituted in his pulpit. Rhode Island had at first no chaplains, but soon two brigade chaplains were chosen by the brigade officers. They were Chaplain John Murray, who served without pay, and Chaplain John Martin, who appeared on the rolls as a surgeon. The New Hampshire troops surrounding Boston chose a local minister as their chaplain. The only consistent principle was that the chaplain should represent, if possible, the religious sentiment of the troops he served. When Congress, in 1777, desired to substitute brigade chaplains for regimental chaplains, General George Washington protested that the measure might introduce religious disputes, and that the regimental arrangement "gives every regiment an opportunity of having a chaplain of their own religious sentiments, it is founded on a plan of a more generous toleration ... a Brigade ... composed of four or five, perhaps in some instances six regiments, there might be so many different modes of worship."

From 1775 to 1783 the chaplains' story parallels that of the Revolutionary Army. Between 222 and 238 served in the American cause. Chaplains were to be found in every campaign and on every battlefield in the long conflict: Bunker Hill, Quebec, White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Saratoga, Monmouth, King's Mountain, Camden, Yorktown. Their duties were wide ranging, for besides accompanying the soldiers into battle and on the march, the trials of war found them preaching in camp, visiting and caring for the sick and wounded, and ministering to the dying. On 2 January 1777, John Rosbrugh was killed in the second battle of Trenton, the first American chaplain killed during the Revolution.

The Revolution, which began with a haphazard system of volunteer preachers, closed with an organized system of brigade chaplains. From an original captain's rate of $20 a month, the pay advanced to that of a colonel. Article 4 of the Original Rules and Articles of War, adopted 20 September l776, referred to "Every Chaplain who is commissioned to a regiment, company, troop, or garrison." In addition to these, the Continental Army had hospital chaplains, a German chaplain at large, a chaplain missionary to the friendly Indians, and one division chaplain at Headquarters (Israel Evans). All were Protestant except the chaplain of a Canadian regiment and a volunteer chaplain in the West, who were Roman Catholic.

A Canadian priest, the Reverend Louis Eustace Lotbiniere, was the first Roman Catholic chaplain. Over sixty years of age and a priest of the Diocese of Quebec when Canada was invaded by Generals Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery, he espoused the American cause at great financial loss. Although he and the members of the two Canadian regiments raised for the American Army suffered excommunication by Bishop Briand, he served throughout the entire war. After the war he lived in Philadelphia in poverty, dying in l786 at the age of seventy-one years.

As the war drew to its close chaplains continued to play an important and visible role. During the siege at Yorktown, Chaplain Israel Evans was partially buried by an exploding cannonball. Washington having witnessed the incident recommended that the chaplain keep his tattered hat as a souvenir for his family. And, on that great day when peace finally came, 19 April l783 -- eight arduous years to the day after Concord Bridge -- Chaplain John Gano led the assembled personnel in a prayer of thanksgiving for independence and victory from the doorway of the first Army chapel, the "Temple of Virtue," at the Commander-in-Chief's headquarters in Newburgh, New York. This chapel was built to accommodate a brigade for worship. Planned by Chaplain Evans and approved by General Washington on Christmas Day, l782, it was built by a Colonel Tupper from materials gathered by a Major Rochefontaine. The materials were obtained by trade: "one-half ration and gill of rum had been given for each 10 feet of timber."

On 15 February 1783, General Orders stated: "The New Building being so far finished as to admit troops to attend public worship therein, after tomorrow it is directed that divine services should be performed therein every Sunday by the several chaplains of the New Windsor cantonment in rotation."

The chaplains of the Revolution, who had so well served in the crisis of war, also helped in the development of the new nation. Former chaplain Abraham Baldwin represented Georgia in l787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was one of the 39 signers of the Constitution. He became a Senator and a founder of the University of Georgia. His brother-in-law, Joel Barlow, late chaplain of the 4th Massachusetts Brigade, became a poet and hymn writer of distinction and represented his country in diplomatic missions to France, England, and during the Barbary War. Nathan Strong became a figure of stature in his church and editor of the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine. Timothy Dwight, a noted hymn writer, became one of Yale's more famous presidents and was instrumental in the religious revival that later swept that campus and all of New England. Israel Evans became chaplain of the New Hampshire General Court.