November 21: Four Who Stayed Behind

Four Presbyterian Chaplains Who Stayed Behind With the Wounded
by Rev. David T Myers

The army was moving, actually fleeing from the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg on July 4, 1863. Three terrible days of battle had been fought there in this battle of the War Between the States. The Union forces had been victorious. The Rebel forces were in defeat, fleeing south as the vanquished army. Staying behind were countless Confederate soldiers too wounded to move with their regiments. Also staying behind were over one hundred surgeons and doctors to help with their physical needs, and sixteen Confederate Army chaplains to minister to their spiritual needs. Of those immortal sixteen chaplains were four Presbyterian chaplains, all captured on this day, July 5, 1863 by the Union forces.

The most familiar Rebel chaplain to our readers is Chaplain Thomas D. Witherspoon, of the Forty-second Mississippi Regiment, of whom we have written before in This Day. In the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 8, number 2, (and on line) Chaplain Witherspoon writes “I was captured in the afternoon of a beautiful Sabbath day, the 5th of July, 1863 in a hospital tent in the midst of a religious service surrounded by the wounded on every hand to whom I was ministering and at whose urgent solicitation I had voluntarily remained within the enemy’s lines.”

Considered a non-combatant, as were all chaplains, Chaplain Witherspoon traveled to Baltimore, Maryland on a special mission. He planned to take the body of Col. Hugh Miller, commander of the 42nd Mississippi, his son Edwin Miller, under a flag of truce, back home to Richmond, Virginia, hoping to make the Confederate capitol in a couple of days. A very determined Union General in Baltimore wouldn’t let the small party proceed, even though they had a Union officer with their little party, and imprisoned Chaplain Witherspoon in Fort McHenry, Baltimore.

The other three Presbyterian chaplains who stayed with their wounded at Gettysburg, included Chaplain James H. Colton, of the Fifty Third North Carolina, Chaplain Paul Morton, of the Twenty Third Virginia, and Chaplain James H Gilmore of the Twenty-first Virginia Regiment. Along with seven Methodist chaplains, three Baptist Chaplains and two Episcopalian Chaplains, these faithful Presbyterian chaplains were allowed by the victorious Union Army to continue to minister to their wounded at Camp Letterman in Gettysburg, until August 7 of 1863, when they left for Baltimore.

Arriving in Baltimore, Maryland by train, the chaplains and the medical doctors stayed there until August 9th when they were moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia, then on to Fort Norfolk, Virginia, and finally back to Fort McHenry, outside of Baltimore. Maryland. They all were exchanged on this day, November 21, 1863 and sent on the steamer “Swan,” to City Point, Virginia.

After the Civil War, our four Presbyterian chaplains continued their ministries in civilian Presbyterian missions and churches, being faithful to the Captain of their salvation until their deaths.

Words to Live By:
Like civilian ministries, the biblical chaplain in our Armed Services, in peacetime and war, seeks to be faithful to the God of the Bible, earnestly proclaim the Lord Jesus and Him crucified, buried, and risen again, and proclaim the principles and practices of true Christianity. Here’s the question? Are you, our readers, earnestly praying for our Presbyterian and Reformed chaplains? Do you belong to a congregation which has chosen a chaplain and his work as your church chaplain. If not, contact the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personal, Chaplain (Lt Col) Jim Carter, Director, to be a part of this Chaplain Sponsorship Program.

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