From the Depths of Battle - To The Realms of Glory

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First Sergeant
Forum Host
Aug 6, 2016
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, as Chaplains rose in prayer,
and gazed upon their soldiers, when in battle they prepared.
A crucial service Chaplains gave as men faced their enemy,
there’s nothing like the fear of death to bring one to their knees.

A soldier is so far from home and the family he adores,
how he wishes he were there but his country is at war.
A Chaplain slowly approaches, a hush now fills the air,
every soldier on his knees as he leads his men in prayer.

July 1863

A great victory has been won in the North. General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac has met General Robert E. Lee commanding his Army of Northern Virginia in the quiet farming fields at Gettysburg and the southern army has been stopped and sent back home.

Meanwhile, in a 3-story brick warehouse located on Tobacco Row located where the James River quietly flows, is Libby Prison. It houses Union soldiers that have been captured in this the war. The estimated 3000 prisoners in 1863 were housed in deplorable conditions where filth and disease were common companions. In the midst of such conditions came joyous sounds in celebration of that July victory.


Photo - Wikipedia - Public Domain

Pastor Charles McCabe was born in Athens, Ohio on October 11, 1836. When the Civil War began, he helped raise a regiment for the Union Army. October 8, 1862 saw him assigned as the Chaplain of the 122nd Ohio Infantry. In June, 1863, he would be captured by Confederates after he stayed to minister to his troops after the Battle of Winchester.

He had a great love for the words Julia Ward Howe penned; “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. As he ministered to his fellow prisoners, it was a passion he had to teach and sing the words. It’s no wonder when he heard of the great Union victory that he lead the prisoners into singing this hymn. It was reported that “after a few resounding choruses of Glory, glory, hallelujah!" the guards put a stop to the singing”. [1] His stay at Libby Prison ended in October, 1863 obtaining a release due to ill health.

Many have credited Pastor McCabe in popularizing this hymn. One of his greatest honors occurred in 1864, when he had the privilege of singing this hymn before President Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln reportedly told friends regarding Pastor McCabe’s baritone voice singing the Battle Hymn - - "Take it all in all, the song and the singing, that was the best I ever heard." Sadly, in 1865, he would journey to Illinois and sing one more time for President Lincoln; his funeral service. Pastor Charles McCabe died December 19, 1906 in Torrington, Connecticut

A Time of Firsts

Every soldier knows what's coming, they know what lies ahead,
they’ve seen many battles, the wounded and the dead.
They know the bullets soon will fly, the cannons will be shot,
for this is war, they know the drill, they have been well taught.

So how does a lady named Elvira “Ella” Gibson born May 8, 1821 in Winchedon, Massachusetts, end up being a Chaplain for a Wisconsin regiment?


Photo - Find a Grave - CapnKen

It wasn’t going to be easy for Elvira “Ella” Gibson to reach her position as Chaplain, but she was determined to fulfill the call. Before the war, Miss Gibson was a teacher, writer and gave lectures on moral issues of her time, including the ending of slavery. She married Rev. John Hobart in 1861. He was the Chaplain of the Wisconsin 8th Volunteer Regiment (“Live Eagle Regiment” with their eagle “Old Abe).

She was ordained in 1864, and at that time the Wisconsin Governor James T. Lewis recommended her as Chaplain to the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery. Then came a problem from Washington, not with President Lincoln (for he had endorsed her), but Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. He refused to muster her simply because she was a woman, however she served at Fort Lyon, Alexandria, Virginia and was there until the war ended. She divorced her husband in 1868 and resumed her maiden name. On March 7, 1876, she received a payment from the government for her service totaling $1,210.56. She continued her advocacy for women’s rights until she died in March, 1901. It took time, but she was finally recognized for her service - - -

“One hundred years after her death a military appropriations bill of 2001, the 107th Congress, Senate Bill 1438 became Public Law 107-107 (2002), posthumously granted her the grade of captain in the Chaplains Corps of the U.S. Army.” [2]

The Angel of Andersonville

An “Amen” is heard to rumble from those gathered there,
the Chaplain now is finished, the soldiers in God’s care.
It’s time to perform your duty what you have prepared for,
you wish you could be anywhere else, but your country is at war.

Father Peter Whelan was born in Ireland in 1803. Upon “hearing God’s call in an appeal for priests to support the new Archdiocese of Charleston” {6} he left his birth homeland and traveled to Charleston where he was ordained in 1830. In 1854, he would serve the states of Georgia and Florida. When the Civil War arrived he had been ministering to the Irish-American soldiers that were garrisoned at Fort Pulaski. When the Union troops arrived, he was offered his freedom, yet he would not leave his men and was taken to Governor’s Island in New York.


Photo - Wikipedia - Public Domain

Several times during his stay, he had been offered the opportunity to leave his men for his freedom, but he remained with his men. At one point, a new suit was brought to him to replace his thread-bare wardrobe, and he gave it to a newly arrived soldier who came in nearly naked. He was finally granted his freedom, and returned to Savannah, yet soon he heard about a prison called Andersonville, and began to minister there. He served when conditions forced others to leave. His compassion was appreciated by all - Union and Confederates. A former prisoner would say of Father Whelan ; “Without a doubt he was the means of saving hundreds of lives.” {6}

Father Whelan stayed and ministered there until General Sherman’s march through Georgia. Due to his time at Andersonville, he was exposed to illness and died in 1872. His funeral in Savannah was the largest attended funeral they had ever seen.

It Took An “Act of Congress”

The soldier sees his enemy, hears music from the band,
the bugle sounds, he marches forth, his future in God’s hand.
He proudly marches forward, towards the blazing artillery,
his heart is beating like the drums, yet he doesn’t flee.

“The military chaplaincy law of 1861 stipulated that any clergymen serving as chaplain to Union forces in the Civil War must be a “regular ordained minister of some Christian denomination.”

It would take another year and frequent visits by Rabbi Dr. Arnold Fischel, the minister of New York’s Shearith Israel, to directly plead to President Lincoln before the law would be changed. On July 17, 1862, Congress sent Lincoln an amendment to the (1861) law, stipulating that chaplains needed to be ordained only by “some religious denomination.” [3]. The president would personally sign Rabbi Jacob Frankel’s commission on September 18, 1862, and he would forever be known as the 1st Jewish Chaplain of the US Army.


Rabbi Jacob Frankel Photo Military History (ca 1870)

Rabbi Jacob Frankel was born in 1808. He was a popular rabbi and cantor of Philadelphia’s Congregation Rodeph Shalom. His first assignment was a hospital in Philadelphia. There had been a death of 2 Jewish soldiers there, with no chaplain of their faith. The request came from the Board of Ministers of the Hebrew Congregations of Philadelphia.

Over the years that was the Civil War it has been reported that as many as 7,000 Jews served with the Union. The total Jewish population of the entire country was estimated at 250,000. Rabbi Jacob Frankel died in 1887.

The Chaplain waits behind the lines, as men are coming back,
they are hurt, they are scared, from this awful attack.
A hurt and dying soldier reaches out to grasp his hand,
tell my wife” I love her and I’m bound for Glory land”.

The Chaplain’s work is constant for there are so many men,
all day and into night, he is there again and again.
To hold a hand, lead a prayer, to laugh, to talk, to cry,
yet their hardest job would be to watch a soldier die.



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Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jul 30, 2018
Wonderful portraits, Donna! They might not have gone into battle themselves, but - like you said in your last stanza - to sit with the wounded and dying, to hold their hands and give them comfort in their last moments must have been equally hard if not worse. And to refuse getting released from prison and even seeking to service in one just to be able to be there for the men and to provide for their faith and prayers - what selfless acts.

Thank you for sharing. :smile:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!