Civil War Chaplain

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Civil War Chaplain History

Civil War Chaplain John Paris, 54th North Carolina Infantry Regiment

John Paris, 1809-1883

John Paris (1 Sept. 1809-6 Oct. 1883), Methodist Protestant clergyman, Confederate chaplain, and author, was born in that part of Orange County that became Alamance in 1849, the son of Henry and Mary Johnston Paris. There appears to be no record of his education, but in 1842 at the annual conference he received deacon's orders in the Methodist Protestant church in North Carolina. At some unknown time he apparently was awarded the honorary doctor of divinity degree, as in later life he was referred to as Dr. Paris.

Under the direction of the president of the conference, he was assigned to the Roanoke Circuit early in 1843, but in November he became an associate pastor in the Guilford Circuit. In 1846, at his own request, he was left without an appointment, when he probably engaged in mission work or in writing. He was a delegate to the General Conference of the church in 1846, and in 1849 he published a History of the Methodist Protestant Church: Giving a General View of the Causes and Events that Led to the Organization of that Church. In 1850 he was again a delegate to the General Conference and in 1852 he moved to Virginia. In the latter year he brought out his second book, Baptism, Its Mode, Its Design and Its Subjects, considered as an ordinance of the Church of Christ, in Baltimore. Apparently a third book, of which no copy may have survived, was published; in 1860 B. W. Wellons, editor of the Christian Sun, was the author of The Christians, South, Not Unitarians in Sentiment: A Reply to Rev. John Paris' book, Entitled "Unitarianism Exposed, As It Exists In the Christian Church, &c."

On 11 July 1862 Paris was commissioned chaplain of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of North Carolina Troops, perhaps one of the oldest chaplains in Confederate service. He was considered by the men with whom he served, however, to be one of the most efficient chaplains. Paris participated in military action to a greater extent than was expected of chaplains and he suffered the same hardships as the men. In addition, it was reported that he "walked hundreds and hundreds of miles to preach to the soldiers."

In February 1864, twenty-two Confederate deserters were hanged at a hastily constructed gallows at the brigade's encampment on the south side of the Neuse River about a mile from Kinston. Paris's diary for 5 February records that men named Jones and Haskett were sentenced by a court martial to be hanged, having been "found in the enemy's lines in arms against us." After visiting them in their confinement, the chaplain wrote: "They were the most hardened and unfeeling men I ever encountered and met their fate with apparent indifference." On the eleventh he visited five more convicted deserters whom he found "in Great distress apparently." On the following day in the prison he baptized John L. Stanley and William Irving, shortly before they were taken to the gallows, while five others "made confession of penitence at the gallows." On Sunday, 14 February, Paris visited each of the thirteen men who were to be hanged the following day. He also visited two others, newly convicted, and heard their sentences read to them. "They insisted they should not be hanged as they had been persuaded to do so [that is, join the enemy]." On the morning of the fifteenth he baptized eight of the prisoners just before they were taken to the gallows.

The group of thirteen revealed the names of the Union men who had "induced" them to desert, and Paris turned a list of them in to the commanding general's headquarters. His diary records that the condemned men were then "arranged on the scaffold and all were ushered into Eternity at a given signal." It was further noted that some women and children, presumably relatives, were present at the hanging and that they were deeply moved by the scene.

On Monday morning, 22 February, the chaplain met and prayed with the two most recently convicted men—one named Kellam, who "professed to be prepared for death," and another named Hill, who was "calm and said he was not afraid to die." Some of these men, all of whom were recently Confederate soldiers, had joined the North Carolina Union Volunteers but were captured on 1 February in a Confederate drive on enemy-held New Bern. After these several days of hangings, Paris preached a long and impassioned sermon at the regimental encampment site on the south side of the Neuse River about a mile from Kinston, taking as his text verses 3-5, chapter 27, of the gospel according to St. Matthew, concerning Judas's betrayal of Christ for money. While he dramatically explained that the deserters had been lured by Union soldiers from their sworn allegiance for a few pieces of silver, he also made a strong appeal for renewed patriotism and a drive to Confederate victory. The men who witnessed the hanging and heard the sermon probably never forgot it. The sermon apparently was delivered extemporaneously, as Paris spent the next two days writing it down "by request" and then revising it. Soon afterwards it was printed in Greensboro and widely distributed. It bore the title A Sermon: Preached Before Brig.-Gen. Hoke's Brigade, At Kinston, N.C., on the 28th of February, 1864, By Rev. John Paris, Chaplain Fifty-Fourth Regiment N.C. Troops, Upon the Death of Twenty Two Men, Who Had Been Executed in the Presence of the Brigade for the Crime of Desertion. In the North there was criticism of Union leaders for permitting Confederate deserters to serve in Federal units, thereby risking capture and such a fate as this.

After the war Paris reestablished his North Carolina affiliations and became pastor of Methodist Protestant churches in the Albemarle Circuit of the state. He was a delegate to the General Conferences of 1866, 1870, 1874, 1877, and 1879; in the latter year he was president. In 1881 the needs of the church in La Grange were such that he served it as well as his regular churches a hundred miles distant. Finally, during the last year of his life, he served only the La Grange Mission.

While a chaplain Paris kept a detailed diary and from its entries the sketch of the Fifty-fourth Regiment was largely compiled for publication in Walter Clark's five-volume history of North Carolina troops. His diary and other unpublished writings are in the Southern Historical Collection at The University of North Carolina. The diary is noteworthy for its record of casualties. Paris remained a loyal Confederate for the rest of his days. To the periodical, Our Living and Our Dead, he contributed a fourteen-part "Soldier's History of the War." The first installment was dated from Enfield, 1868, but it appeared in the issues of the magazine between December 1874 and March 1876. To the Southern Historical Monthly in January and February 1876, he also contributed a two-part article, "Causes Which Produced the War." Another book by him, The Methodist Protestant Manual: A Concise Treatise Upon the Principles of the Government of the Methodist Protestant Church, was published in Baltimore in 1878.

Paris's first wife was a Miss Bellamy of Edgecombe County who died shortly after their marriage. On 19 Dec. 1849 he married Maria Yancey of Mecklenburg County, Va., and they became the parents of eight children. On 5 Mar. 1864 he noted that he had just received the first letters from two of his children, Mary Ellen and John. Suffering a chronic illness in his last years, he nevertheless continued his work until shortly before his death when he went to Buffalo Springs, a health resort in Virginia. He died there in the family of his father-in-law and was buried at La Grange, Lenoir County, N.C.

William S. Powell

Source: DICTIONARY OF NORTH CAROLINA BIOGRAPHY, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright (c) 1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Recommended Reading: Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South, by A. James Fuller (Southern Biography Series) (Hardcover: 343 pages) (Louisiana State University Press). Description: This biography of Basil Manly, a neglected-but-important Southern Baptist minister and educator, illuminates our understanding of how the Civil War was a culture war. Manly's long career as a preacher and university president, his experiences as a father, husband, and slaveowner, all reveal the complexities of life in the Old South. Fuller argues that Manly resolved the many tensions and problems in his life through a steadfast reliance on Calvinist theology, especially the doctrines regarding Christian duty. Duty as a Christian intertwined with the ethics of Southern honor, allowing Manly to develop a sense of Christian gentility. Continued below...
Throughout his career, Manly worked hard to establish a distinctive Southern culture, including separate institutions. Thus he led the movement to form the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, as well as helping to found Southern schools like Furman University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Manly served as the official chaplain to the Confederate congress in Montgomery and delivered the inauguration prayer for Jefferson Davis. This well-written book provides a detailed study of a working minister, delves into nearly every aspect of life in the South, including family life, gender relations, slavery, economics, and higher education. It is a must read for Southern historians and anyone interested in the causes and origins of the Civil War.

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Recommended Reading: Religion and the American Civil War (448 pages) (Oxford University Press, USA). Description: The sixteen essays in this volume, all previously unpublished, address the little considered question of the role played by religion in the American Civil War. The authors show that religion, understood in its broadest context as a culture and community of faith, was found wherever the war was found. Continued below...
Comprising essays by such scholars as Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Drew Galpin Faust, Mark Noll, Reid Mitchell, Harry Stout, and Bertram Wyatt-Brown, and featuring an afterword by James McPherson, this collection marks the first step towards uncovering this crucial yet neglected aspect of American history.

Recommended Reading: This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. Editorial Review from Publishers Weekly: Battle is the dramatic centerpiece of Civil War history; this penetrating study looks instead at the somber aftermath. Historian Faust (Mothers of Invention) notes that the Civil War introduced America to death on an unprecedented scale and of an unnatural kind—grisly, random and often ending in an unmarked grave far from home. Continued below...

She surveys the many ways the Civil War generation coped with the trauma: the concept of the Good Death—conscious, composed and at peace with God; the rise of the embalming industry; the sad attempts of the bereaved to get confirmation of a soldier's death, sometimes years after war's end; the swelling national movement to recover soldiers' remains and give them decent burials; the intellectual quest to find meaning—or its absence—in the war's carnage. In the process, she contends, the nation invented the modern culture of reverence for military death and used the fallen to elaborate its new concern for individual rights. Faust exhumes a wealth of material—condolence letters, funeral sermons, ads for mourning dresses, poems and stories from Civil War–era writers—to flesh out her lucid account. The result is an insightful, often moving portrait of a people torn by grief. Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Recommended Reading: They Went into the Fight Cheering: Confederate Conscription in North Carolina. Description: They Went Into The Fight Cheering focuses on the inner workings of conscription and its related enforcement in North Carolina. It is meticulously researched and presents the often overlooked aspect of troop procurement by the Confederacy in North Carolina as initial enlistment periods expired. The discussion of conscription (and desertion) in this book does not besmirch the honor of southern soldiers. Continued below…

Hilderman's book, They Went into the Fight Cheering, is a fascinating read on the North Carolinian and conscription during the War Between the States. Much has been written on the New York City draft riots and on the bounty jumpers of the north, but here is a factual and well documented history of how North Carolina, a late secession state, grappled with the effects of compulsory military service. Hilderman draws from a vast resource – the soldiers’ actual letters – to enable the reader to experience the war from the soldier's perspective. Be they volunteers or conscripts, after reading this book, there should be no question as to the bravery of the Tar Heel State’s soldiers. Hailed by many and criticized by others, it is, however a well written and balanced work. It is also a refreshing study that brings balance to the immense volumes that have previously presented history as either black or white. They Went into the Fight Cheering is a welcome addition to personal, school and community library Civil War and North Carolina history collections.

Recommended Viewing: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns. Review: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns is the most successful public-television miniseries in American history. The 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation, reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era he depicts. Continued below...
The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller, and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. "Hailed as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling." "[S]hould be a requirement for every student."

Recommended Viewing: Gone with the Wind (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) 1939 (1941) Description: First off, if you're a GWTW fanatic, you must buy this four-disc collection. But then again, you probably don't need to read this to make that decision. For the rest of us, know that the kitchen-sink approach has been established here with two full discs of extras. Continued below…

The film's restoration under Warner's brilliant Ultra-Resolution process is the major contribution to the set. However, the bare-bones version released years ago isn't bad and the film still doesn't pop off the screen as do films from the headier days of Technicolor (like the earlier Ultra-Resolution DVD release of Meet Me in St. Louis). That said, the set is worthy of the most popular movie ever made. Rudy Behlmer's feature-length commentary is dry but an exhaustive reference guide to the entire history of the film. Need more? There's the excellent full-length documentary The Making of a Legend (1989) narrated by Christopher Plummer, plus two hour-long older biographies on the two main stars. There are many new vignettes on the rest of the cast, all narrated by Plummer (a nice touch to tie everything together). The new 30-minute interview/reminisce with Oliva de Havilland will be interesting to older fans, but tiresome for the younger set. The usual sort of trailers and premiere footage is here along with a curious short ("The Old South," directed by Fred Zinnemann) that was produced to help introduce the world to the history of the South. --Doug Thomas

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