Civil War History 50.2 (2004) 199-200
[Access article in PDF]
The four editors of Faith in the Fight have shed significant historic light on the important topic of chaplains who served in the Union and Confederate armies. Their careful attention to detail produced a volume that will serve as an important resource for scholars and generate significant debate on the role of religion in this bloody conflict. The book consists of two essays, oral accounts from a Union and Confederate chaplain, and a roster containing 3,694 men who attended to the spiritual needs of soldiers and sailors on both sides of the conflict.
The comprehensive roster of chaplains is the portion of the text that will draw the attention of scholars and contribute to a clearer analysis of religion and the war. Each entry in the roster contains name, birth and death years, religious denomination, and military association. This information provides an important framework for those interested in military history, denominational studies, and religious history. While some data are missing for certain chaplains, the Civil War chaplains "are identified here for the first time" (ix). [End Page 199]
Benedict Maryniak's essay, "Union Military Chaplains," deals with profound and trivial matters facing Union chaplains. The weighty issues include analysis of the character of an effective military chaplain: a chaplain was brave, manly, non-military in demeanor, authoritative, enthusiastic, and, above all, a friend to all. While striving to be an effective spiritual leader the chaplain was often distracted by dress code debates, pay policies, status in the military, bureaucratic red tape, and sheer boredom. John Brinsfield's "Chaplains of the Confederacy" covers similar terrain from the vantage point of Southern chaplains. The Confederate chaplains faced all of the challenges of their Northern counterparts and were face-to-face with great hardships in the closing years of the war. More importantly, these essays reveal the tasks facing all military chaplains in the Civil War, including fifty-two who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The first-hand accounts of Confederate chaplain Ransdell Cridlin and Union chaplain William Eastman provide important information and insights regarding their work during the Civil War. Cridlin's account places a more human face on the conflict because he recorded his impressions during the war, while Eastman's reflection is a retrospective account recorded in 1911.
Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains is a carefully researched, well written, and clearly organized treatment of this important, but often overlooked, aspect of military service during the Civil War. This book makes an important contribution to understanding the role and importance of chaplains throughout American military history. Alas, Faith in the Fight does not fill the historical lacuna that calls for a complete history of chaplains in the American Civil War. This observation aside, the editors have provided an important piece of scholarship that will interest Civil War historians, religious scholars, and a general audience interested in this topic
James T. Carroll