Army Correspondence: October 8, 1864

Black and White Soldiers: Source: WikiCommons
Army Correspondence

By Chaplain Turner

Head Quarters U.S. C. Troop

Harrison’s Landing, Va., Sept. 25, 1864


Christian Recorder: October 8, 1864


Turner writes a humorous story about his time resting in a graveyard and the need for reading material and spelling books for the troops. 

Mr. Editor: - The change of events which are so singularly and significantly revolutionizing other localities, are not wanting in the place we now occupy. Two years ago, a torn shattered and demoralized army, under General McClellan, fled to this place for refuge, where the wrecks of his scattered and peeled forces are still visible to the spectator. But now the scene has changed; our regiment is here, with some other companies, holding this as a post well garrisoned by a brave set of Uncle Sam’s sable sons, who have passed through the fiery ordeal more than once, and are found to be free from dross of gross materials, with a formidable fort, through whose embrasures several angry-looking howitzers and rifled cannons seem to be madly peeping for a reb; besides, a ten-gun man of war lies out upon the bosom of the James, ready at a moment’s notice to spit her lurid vengeance into the flanks of any invading foe,—accompanied by a small war tug, which pickets around and makes itself quite a busy body, especially by trying to pry into whatever rebels matters indicates an interference with us. It reminds me of what we frequently term a little fice dog, barking around at everything it hears, until it gets the old, shaggy-headed bull-dog aroused, and there is a great fuss.

But this does not constitute one-half of our defenses. We are regularly fortifying ourselves as securely against the devil and his subalterns, or angels, as we are against the rebels. A glorious revival is going on in our regiments, and stronger appeals for mercy were never heard from human lips. We have preaching three times on every Sabbath, and most of the remaining intervals are consumed in prayer meetings, besides preaching or prayer meeting every night in the week. While I am now writing, brothers John Hames and Stephenson are pouring the words of eternal life into the ranks of the regiment, regardless of whom it may riddle asunder. During the entire night, mourners can be heard groaning and praying in every direction for God’s pardoning grace; and, thank God, several have not mourned in vain, having found the Pearl of great price.

I must tell you a circumstance which lately occurred, which tried my faith to its very bottom: it is this. A short distance from our camp there is a grave-yard, where the Harrison family is buried, as were several of McClellan’s soldiers two years ago. It being a very beautiful grove, where there are several trees and green verdure, I pitched my quarters there, for the purpose of securing retirement and the shade, and also to have a good view of the passing boats,—concluding that the dead were very quiet company, and not as apt to talk or interrupt one as the living. So everything moved on very nicely, for I was lord of all I surveyed throughout the grave-yard, night and day. A few nights ago, about 11 o’clock, while reading the New York Independent, I heard a conversation going on right among the graves. I stopped and listened, but still things seemed to talk on. As a natural consequence my curiosity was aroused, because I knew that no one had any right there but I and the dead, and it was not customary for the dead to talk in my part of the country. I got up, however, and went out to look around; and, in spite of all I could do, I thought my hair would turn to hog bristles, for it rose up, and pushed off my hat, as though every hair had eyes, and was trying to see what was the matter. But I asked God for faith, for I never felt more need of it, because the talking party, as I imagined, seemed to get more and more conversational. Lifting up my feet to see if I could walk, I found my legs exceedingly nimble, and judged I could have given a locomotive quite a race from that grave-yard, and all others, if that were the way the dead were going to talk, But, determined to see what was the matter, I set out to find my loquacious guest; and, after blundering around some ten minutes, I found one of my soldiers near the iron railing of some graves, lying upon his face, pleading with God in behalf of his sinful soul. After feeling his head, body, feet, and pulse, to be certain it was a living person, I rose on my feet, and said, ( I do not know how it came out,) but I know I said , “AH, THANK GOD,” for it was a great relief, and I returned to my tent, cherishing my former conclusion that the dead don’t talk.

To-day I received a new order from the War Department, designating the Chaplin’s uniform, which I will give verbatim: -

War Department,

“General Orders, Adjutant-General’s Office,

No. 217 Washington, D. C., August 25, 1864

“ The uniform for Chaplains in the army, prescribed in General Orders, No. 102, of November 25, 1861, is hereby re-published, with modifications, as follows:

“Plain black frock coat, with standing collar, one row of nine black buttons on the breast, with ‘herring bone,’ with black braid, around the buttons and button holes.

“Plain black pantaloons.

“Black felt hat, or army forage cap, with a gold unbraided wreath in front, on black velvet ground, encircling the letters U.S. in silver, old English characters.

“On occasions of ceremony, a chapeau de bras may be worn.

“By order of the Secretary of War.

“E. D. Townsend,

“Assistant Adjutant-General.

“(Official.)

“Chaplin 1st U. S. Col. Troops.”

This uniform, prescribed by the Secretary of War, is fine enough for any man; indeed, it is too fine. Black cloth is the worst in the world for field service; a few rains and dusty rides will soil it more than five times the same amount of exposure will blue cloth, - nor can one buy this suit (ready made) in any store, but must always have it made to order; - nor can he get such a suit, with the rest of the necessary attire, for less than one hundred and twenty-five dollars. If he have much marching to do, he will require four suits a year, (or be an ashy-looking chaplain,) which will cost annually five hundred dollars. That is pretty expensive dressing. Mr. Chaplain, though you will be very fine, the Secretary of War has ordered it, and you must be silent. Chaplains have now, I think, everything they deserve. They have a special rank assigned them between a major and captain, two horses allowed them, and a fine uniform. Well done, good and faithful chaplain, enter thou into the labors of thy work!

I have often spoken concerning the white officers of my regiment, commending them when I thought they deserved it, but my soldiers have been referred to aggregately. I intend hereafter to call attention to some of my colored officers, too, whose soldierly deportment and brave deeds of daring merit the widest circulation.

Probably there never was such an anxiety to learn to read and write as there is now in the colored regiments. I am called upon so much for spelling-books, and have to refuse because (I am) unable to comply, that it mortifies me exceedingly, especially when I know many second-hand spelling-books are lying about through the country, for which there is no use. I occasionally run off a few days, and ransack all the benevolent institutions that can spare a book or primer, besides the thousands of papers, tracts, and periodicals which I weekly procure for those who can read, and the weekly packages of Recorders and Anglo-Africans. As soon as my return is known, my quarters are invaded by hundreds of soldiers, shouting over each other’s heads, “Chaplain, for pity’s sake, if you have a spelling book, let me have one.” “No”, says another, “I am ahead of you.” And thus rages the spelling-book clamor, until one or two hundred are eagerly grabbed and carried off. Then comes the cry from one or two hundred more, “When are you going to get more?” "When you do, save me one.” “Yes, save me one, too.” And a hundred or more cried out the same thing. Then follows the rush of those who can read – “A hymn book, a Testament, a Bible, if you please.” Christian Advocate, New York Independent, Boston Herald, Anti-Slavery Standard, &c, come in a general cry from every direction, until several hundred are gone. But what we mostly need are spelling-books; as for reading matter, we can get the best the country affords very easily, and in great abundance.

I have the honor to be yours very truly,

H. M. T.