Civil War Chaplains
In reading the about the 2nd Fredericksburg and Salem Church recently I saw a reference to a chaplain who was awarded the Medal of Honor. I remember the chaplains I knew when I was in the service and the contribution they made to our morale in Korea and Vietnam. I remember smiling as I saw them visiting with the troops in the field. and I decided to investigate chaplains in the Civil War.
What distinction do Milton L. Haney, Francis B. Hall, James Hill and John M. Whitehead have in common?
All three were chaplains in the Union Army who were awarded the Medal of Honor in the Civil War.
Francis Bloodgood Hall, a Presbytarian Minister, was chaplain for the 16th New York, and cited for his bravery carrying wounded under enemy fire to the rear at Salem Church, 3 May 1863. Hall was the only non-combatant chaplain presented the Medal of Honor.
John Milton Whitehead, a Baptist chaplain for the 15th Indiana, was cited for carrying wounded to the rear while under heavy fire at Stones River, 31 December 1862.
James Hill, 1st Lt, 21st Iowa, captured three pickets at Champion’s Hill, Mississippi 16 May 1863, Later he was named chaplain of his regiment.
Milton Lorenzo Haney, called “The Fighting Chaplain”, was elected company commander of Co. F, 55th Illinois and later appointed regimental (Methodist) chaplain. His award was for his heroism on 22 July 1864 when he voluntarily took up a musket and joined in the fighting.
Haney was not the only “fighting chaplain” during the Civil War – some 97 Union clergymen carried a weapon during the conflict. Many chaplains filled multiple roles in addition to their religious support – from surgeon’s assistants to line officers. A total of 2,546 chaplains served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
These were Union Chaplains. What about Confederates? Father John Bannon and Father Peter Whelan come to mind. Father Bannon served in the First Missouri Confederate Brigade, during the Civil War. He was on the field at the battles of Corinth, Fort Gibson, Big Black River, and Vicksburg. He was detained on 4 July 1863 when Vicksburg surrendered. In August 1863 after being released by Union forces he went to Richmond where President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin asked him to go to Europe to discourage recruitment for the Federal forces and try and get international help for the Confederacy. He went to Rome and had state level discussions with the Vatican that were unsuccessful in gaining Papal recognition for the Confederacy. He then went to Ireland to attempt to turn away Irish immigrants explaining that they would be quickly given a blue unirorm, $50 and sent south. He never returned to the US and is buried in Ireland, the land of his birth.
Father Whelan, a parish priest in Savannah, ministered to his parishioners at Ft Pulaski. He voluntarily went with them to prison at Governor’s Island in New York. He was eventually exchanged with the members of his unit. Returning to Savannah he heard about the suffering at Camp Sumter, Andersonville, and went there to minister to the captured Union soldiers. He borrowed $16,000 from a friend and bought flour to feed the prisoners at Andersonville. The prisoners called it “Whelan’s bread”.
Whelan testified at the trial of Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville,, to no avail.
Both these priests could easily be recognized for efforts of special merit and recognition.