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Loyal Soldier or True Christian?

As a chaplain, I am often engaged in conversations with Soldiers about life, death and their spiritual journey. Most Soldiers expect that a chaplain will talk about eternal things while most chaplains hope that Soldiers will be receptive to their concern. This exchange between chaplain and Soldier is not new. I recently came across a newspaper from 1864 in which a Civil War chaplain shares a story about a similar conversation he had with a Soldier dying from a battlefield wound.

Chaplain Jacob Eaton

Chaplain Jacob Eaton, 7th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers

“After crossing the James, we ascended to the elevated plane which lies between this river and the Appomattox. This brought us upon the old familiar ground where we were encamped and fought last summer. The soldiers of the gallant 7th will long remember the “Bermuda Hundred Sin”. Here are sad reminders of our bloody struggles. Again I stood beside the graves of those noble men and valiant soldiers, Sergeants Nichols and Edwards. I was reminded of the last hours and last words of the kind-hearted heroic Edwards. I recalled and relived the bright but bloody morning when I entered the old log house, where he lay in one corned on a rude bunk, sinking slowly and surely into a soldier’s grave. He had only three months longer to serve. With bright hopes and fond anticipations he looked forward to the day when he would return to his happy home in New Haven-to his beloved wife and noble boy. And how anxiously the loved ones awaited his return. How many little things they did, how many preparations they made in view of the joyous meeting. He had been spared during nearly three long years of exposure, hardship and battle. Could he be taken now from all he loved on earth, from the  wife and child who had so often prayed, so much longed for his safe return? Yes, for God’s ways are not always our ways. He does not afflict willingly, nor malignantly, but wisely, tenderly, for our profit. The sergeant did not expect to die when I entered the room where he lay. He was wounded the night before, and Dr. H. pronounced his wound “superficial” -not dangerous, not fatal. But the seal of death was stamped on his manly face. He had nearly reached the outer limit of life when I called.

“Wiping away the tears and repressing my emotion, I said calmly, “Sergeant, it is my painful duty to tell you that you are mortally wounded and must soon die.” His look of anxiety and disappointment I will not attempt to describe. “You will not let me die before I once more see my dear wife and beloved child! Oh, I cannot be denied this privilege, this blessing, “said the heroic sufferer. This cannot be, I replied, and as your spiritual friend and teacher I advise you to leave whatever messages you have for your wife and child, and make whatever arrangements you think necessary concerning your worldly interests. Then he was calm. He lift messages tender and expressive for those who were waiting his return. He gave directions for the disposal of his effects, and for the education of his little son. Then looking into my face, he said, with a calm, firm manly voice, “Chaplain, I will die like a true and loyal soldier.” I am glad to hear you speak thus, I said; but, sergeant, are you prepared to die like a true Christian? “I have thought much on that subject of late, Chaplain, and I do want to cast myself in humble, heart felt penitence upon the atoning merits and infinite mercy of Christ.” I prayed with him. He became calm, hopeful, happy in that Holy One, who, in the fullness and freeness of his love, forgave the dying penitent on the cross. Soon after came the death struggle, and the brave sergeant, the kind husband, the loving father died in my arms. Then we laid him to rest in the burial ground, where sleep many of is brave comrades. Oh, Virginia, your soil will be held as sacred in all time to come, for the hero and patriot dead who rest in thy bosom.”

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Story from “A Chaplain’s Notes from TEF 24th Corps. Camp 7th Regiment, Conn. Vols., Dec. 24, 1864” which appeared in The Hartford Evening Press, 28 December 1864.

The rest of the article written by Chaplain Eaton can be found at “A Chaplain’s Notes.”

Photo from WorthPoint.com

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