Chaplains of the Civil War

Posted by on Jan 2, 2014 in Military Prayer | Comments Off on Chaplains of the Civil War

On the 16th of August 1862 over fifteen hundred sick and wounded soldiers were brought to the hospital, most of them from the (second) battle of Bull Run. Many had died on the way [to the hospital] from exhaustion, others were in a dying state, so that the chaplain, Father McGrane, was sent to administer the sacraments.

The priest continued to minister in the hospital, baptizing converts, celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and anointing the dying. While he was stationary, most chaplains performed their ministry in mobile camps and on shifting battlefields for Union and Confederate forces. Among the latter, one of the most famous was Father John Bannon.

A tribute to him, written at the end of the 19th century, said that Father Bannon “left a comfortable living and prosperous parish in this city (St. Louis) for the privations and discomforts of an army life. … His influence … was felt by all who associated with him, and his presence wherever he went repressed the rude manners of the camp.

Not that he objected to gaiety and mirthful pleasure, for he had the most affable manners and genial nature, but he always frowned upon the soldiers’ unrestrained expressions and rude jests. … He became noted for his bravery in the field in attending the wounded and dying in very exposed places. He was both a pious and a practical man, and became a ministering angel wherever broken and bruised humanity needed help and consolation.”

Father Bannon became so renowned that Confederate President Jefferson Davis dispatched him to Ireland to appeal for support for the South. The priest remained there until his death in 1913.

On the other side of the front lines, Holy Cross Father William Corby, who would later become president of the University of Notre Dame, served Northern troops during the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa.┬áHe did so with such distinction that a statue of him now stands on that battleground. The sculpture portrays him with his hand raised in blessing. A plaque informs visitors that the monument shows “Father Corby, a chaplain of the Irish brigade, giving general absolution and blessing before battle at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.”

Share Button