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Monday, November 9, 2015

The Chaplain and the Captain

The Rev. James Junius Marks, D.D.(1809-1899) was a chaplain in the Union Army from August 1861 until resigning because of ill health just before Christmas 1862.* He served first with the 12th Pennsylvania, and then in the field with the 63rd Pennsylvania during the Peninsula Campaign. The below is from his 1864 account of his Peninsula experiences.
During the afternoon we were at work removing the stores of provisions from the railroad track to the hospital. I had all the nurses engaged in bearing these across the fields on their backs and on stretchers, and in various ways we were securing what had been spared for us.
During one of these trips we observed a company of horsemen riding swiftly towards us. When they approached within fifty yards of us, I saw the young men around the captain throw the strap of their carbines over their shoulders placing their guns over the pommel of their saddles cock them and moving slowly they drew near. I thought the action was strange and threatening and commanded the men to drop their loads and sit down on the grass. I advanced in front. When the captain came within ten paces of us, I saw him turn and wave his hand to his followers. They uncocked their pieces, threw the strap over the neck, and came up to us.
The leader bowed and introduced himself as Captain Taylor, of New Kent, and the commander of a company in the celebrated Stuart cavalry. He was much of a gentleman, asked me when we were taken prisoners? how we were treated? how many sick we had? After he had satisfied himself, he asked me if I was not a chaplain. I replied that I was. 
"I thought so," said he. "Do you know Chaplain Sloan?"
I told him I did not. (I subsequently saw Mr. Sloan at Harrison's Landing.)
"Mr. Sloan," said he,"once preached for us at New Kent; we thought a great deal of him. My mother and myself and wife were members of his church. These young men said he were all students in the classical school he superintended at New Kent. He was a very valuable and useful man amongst us. At the commencement of the war he left us and went, as we understood, to Philadelphia. But we afterwards heard that he had become a chaplain in your army, and we all took a solemn vow that wherever we should meet him we would shoot him; and when we first saw you we supposed that you were Mr Sloan, and you may have observed the young men cocking their guns; this was when we took you for him. And now," said he, "I am very glad that you are not Mr. Sloan, for it would have troubled me all my life to have shot him." I told him my pleasure at not being Mr. Sloan was fully equal to his in not finding him.
He then went on conversing, with the manner of one who had thrown a mighty load off his soul. He evidently did not relish the thought of being the murderer of Mr. Sloan, and sincerely hoped that he might never come in their way. He then told me that he had left his family, mother, wife, and children, at New Kent; and the families of most of the men about him were in that same neighborhood, and that their anxiety had been intense when our army advanced to New Kent. "But," said he, we have been fifteen times in your rear and know all that was done by your troops; and to your credit I must say that your men behaved well. They did not rob the families nor molest them, and I have not heard of a single case of violence. We have heard, indeed, of your taking pigs, turkeys, and chickens; this is what is to be looked for in an army; but we have not heard of a single case of violence or insult to families; that speaks loudly for the discipline of your army."
I told him "I thanked him for that drop of comfort. I knew that the officers aimed to restrain the troops, but sometimes men broke over all discipline."
"Your men," said he, behave well, but don't fight like our men."
"Pray, captain," said I, "where did your men show any superiority to ours?"
"Why, I think in battle fought and nowhere more than at Williamsburg. We fought you with our rear guard we had no expectation of being able to do more than hold you in check until the main body of our forces were out of harm's way. But when your generals were so easily checked this emboldened us to hurry back reinforcements and attempt greater things and I do believe that if we had resolved to make a final stand at Williamsburg we could have bound you there another month and then the heat and fever would have finished the work we began."
"Captain," I replied, "you know that the battle of Williamsburg was mainly fought by one division, General Hooker's. Generals Kearney and Hancock rendered very essential aid, but it was almost night when they reached the field. We had not so many men in that battle as you had, and yours were all the advantages of position, intrenchments, and strong earthworks and we had to debouch into the fields in your front, over a narrow neck of land. You had every advantage that men should ask; the storm was drenching and disheartening; our artillery was engulfed in the mud; yet, notwithstanding all these things, General Hooker, with the aid of three or four regiments of General Kearney's, held his position for five hours, until, by a flank movement of General Hancock, you were driven from the field. In the strength of your intrenchments you ought to have held out against fifty thousand men."
"Well," said he, "we have thought that one of our men was equal to four of yours: that may have been slightly too large; do you not think, in all honesty, doctor, that our men are greatly superior to yours in military qualities?"
"No," said I, "our men are fully equal to yours, and in many respects superior. We are cooler, will endure more, suffer greater hardships, and fight more unflinchingly than yours."  
"Well," said he, smiling, "you have never shown those qualities yet; but I hope, for the honor of the American name, you may in the future. We have had several battles on the Peninsula: in which of these do you think you were victorious?"
"Were you at Savage Station last night, captain, in the battle.?"
"No, we were on the left. But what of it?"
"Why, simply this: that you were most thoroughly whipped, and if you had been there at the conclusion of the firing you would have seen our columns standing where they did at the commencement of the fight; and of your men, there was not one in the open fields, and all your artillery was removed or silenced.'
"And how many men do you suppose General Jackson brought into action?"
"I do not know, certainly, but suppose from forty to fifty thousand.- Well, sir, we had but twenty thousand, all told; and men who have been under arms for twenty-five days, who, during all this time, were enduring the severest toil and exhausting duties, and yet they repulsed twice their number of fresh troops; and in the engagement of last night your men pursued their usual tactics: they crept into ravines, hid behind fences, and skulked like Indians into forests. No captain you have asked my opinion and I have given it to you. Your men, as a general thing are not equal to ours."
He laughed, and said: "Doctor, I have provoked this; we will not be likely to agree, but I don't think less of you for answering and defending your soldiers with spirit. But do you not think that your cause is fatally defeated and the independence of the South certain? We have just come up from the left of your army; we consider the escape of General McClellan hopeless. We have seventy thousand in your rear, and fully as many in front; and entangled in the forest and swamp, how can you escape? It was understood when we left that General McClellan had sent an aid to General Lee, to arrange the surrender of his entire army."
"you may believe it, but I will not; if twenty thousand men could beat back your army last night, I feel sure that seventy thousand will do more than that to-day."
"Well," said he, "there are some things which even brave men cannot do; you cannot drag your cannon through swamps; you cannot move your trains through forests so deep and dark that the light of the sun never reaches the earth; you cannot bridge rivers in the face of a powerful and victorious enemy; we know all this country well, and I assure you the escape of your army is impossible."
"Well, captain, you will find that when you press such men as ours to the wall, they will defend themselves with a desperation which will end in your defeat. Even now, the roar of the battle is the proof that we still have an army."
In the meantime the men on both sides had become quite familiar, and were fully exchanging views. The captain bade me good-bye, and hoped we might meet in better times.

-The Peninsular Campaign in Virginia, or, Incidents and scenes on the battle-fields and in Richmond James Junius Marks
J. B. Lippincott & co., 1864

*Biographical information in Under the Red Patch: Story of the Sixty Third Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1864 by Gilbert Adams Hays.

Next- Who Was Sloan?

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