Soldiers of the Cross, the Authoritative Text
The Heroism of Catholic Chaplains and Sisters in the American Civil War
- Catholic Press Association Book Award: History, Honorable Mention
Shortly after the Civil War ended, David Power Conyngham, an Irish Catholic journalist and war veteran, began compiling the stories of Catholic chaplains and nuns who served during the war. His manuscript, Soldiers of the Cross, is the fullest record written during the nineteenth century of the Catholic Church's involvement in the war, as it documents the service of fourteen chaplains and six female religious communities, representing both North and South. Many of Coyngham's chapters contain new insights into the clergy during the war that are unavailable elsewhere, either during his time or ours, making the work invaluable to Catholic and Civil War historians. The introduction contains over a dozen letters written between 1868 and 1870 from high-ranking Confederate and Union officials, such as Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Union Surgeon General William Hammond, and Union General George B. McClellan, who praise the church's services during the war. Chapters on Fathers William Corby and Peter P. Cooney, as well as the Sisters of the Holy Cross, cover subjects relatively well known to Catholic scholars, yet other chapters are based on personal letters and other important primary sources that have not been published prior to this book.
Unpublished due to Conyngham's untimely death, Soldiers of the Cross remained hidden away in an archive for more than a century. Now annotated and edited so as to be readable and useful to scholars and modern readers, this long-awaited publication of Soldiers of the Cross is a fitting presentation of Conyngham's last great work.
1.By Rev. J. F. Trecy
2.By Rev. J. F. Trecy
3.By Rev. J. F. Trecy
4.By Rev. Joseph C. Carrier, C.S.C
5.By Rev. Joseph C. Carrier
6.By Rev. Joseph C. Carrier
7.By Rev. Joseph C. Carrier
8.By Rev. R.C. Christy
9.By Rev. Thomas Scully
10.By Rev. Thomas Scully
11.By Rev. Peter Tissot, S.J.
12.By Rev Thomas Willet, S.J.
13.By Rev. C. L. Egan, O.P.
14.By Rev. Paul E. Gillen, C.S.C.
15.By Rev. Innocent A. Bergrath
16.By Rev. Peter P. Cooney, C.S.C
17.By Rev. Thomas Brady
18.By Rev. William Corby, C.S.C.
19.By Rev. Henry Gache, S.J.
20.By Rev. Charles P. Heuze
21.By Rev. James Sheeran
22.By Rev. James Sheeran
23.By Rev. James Sheeran
24.By Rev. James Sheeran
25.By Rev. James Sheeran
26.The Sisters in the Army
27.The Sisters of Mercy, Charleston
28.The Sisters of Mount St. Vincent, Cincinnati 29.Mount St. Vincent
30.The Sisters of Mercy, St. Louis
31.The Sisters of Mercy, New York
32.The Sisters of Mercy, New York
33.The Sisters of the Holy Cross
34.Sisters of the Holy Cross
"The most important contribution of Soldiers of the Cross is that it democratizes access to a very important document on the Civil War experience of Catholic chaplains and sister nurses. The book will appeal to lay readers, especially those who research particular regiments or have ancestors associated with particular units." —James M. Schmidt, author of Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War
"Conyngham's work, its subject, its language, and its tone, reveal much about what the editors call 'the state of the church and its uneasy place in American society at the time.' . . . There is much new here, and by comprehensively bringing together information about both priests and nuns, it suggests the direction and provides some of the facts for a full history of Catholics in the Civil War." —Lawrence Kohl, editor of David Power Conyngham's The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns
“Edited by Dr. Kruz and Fr. David Endres of the U.S. Catholic Historian, this book promises to be a major contribution to the growing historiography on Catholics and the Civil War.” —Patheos
"To have David Power Conyngham’s invaluable Soldiers of the Cross available in a well-edited edition with be of great benefit to students and scholars alike. The fine introduction by David J. Endres and William B. Kurtz offers a perceptive assessment of the entire work. Anyone interested in the wartime story of the Catholic Church and the religious life of soldiers will learn a great deal from Conyngham’s book. A valuable addition to the growing literature on religion during the Civil War era." —George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War
"Students of the Civil War, Catholic history, and women’s history, among others, will welcome the publication of David Power Conyngham’s Soldiers of the Cross. Brilliantly edited, this 'authoritative text' speaks to the uses of remembrance, hagiography, and memorialization in creating an 'American' Catholic identity and ascribing a religious meaning to the war." —Randall M. Miller, co-editor of Religion and the American Civil War
"This edited work of David Power Conyngham’s unpublished manuscript is a tour-de-force—a much needed history of the significant work of Catholic chaplains and sister nurses during the American Civil War. With clarity and historical sophistication, it is a great addition to scholarship on the Civil War, gender and religious history, and the history of American health care and society. The editors bring alive the many stories of well-known and more 'hidden' chaplains and sister nurses from both the North and South who helped change larger societal perceptions of Catholics, all for the positive." —Barbra Mann Wall, Thomas A. Saunders III Professor of Nursing, University of Virginia
"It’s telling that the sisters left little in testimony about themselves. What we know comes almost exclusively from the men they helped, and the book’s collection of primary documents shows soldiers offering high praise to the sisters. It’s unusual, considering the prevalent anti-Catholicism of antebellum America. But their service to American men of all faiths was living proof that these Catholics did not only take orders from the pope in Rome." —The Wall Street Journal
"Conyngham observed many chaplains at work, interviewed them, and recorded their experiences, making his work an important historical artifact. Hopefully, the publication of Soldiers of the Cross can lead to more research on the subject and provide broader understanding of religion during the Civil War." —The Civil War Monitor
“The fullest record written during the 19th century of the Catholic Church’s involvement in the war, his manuscript documents the service of 14 chaplains and six female religious communities, representing both North and South.” —South Bend Tribune
"Conyngham’s text gives journalistic descriptions of battles (Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg) and graphic accounts of the horrors of war." —First Things
“Soldiers of the Cross is the long-delayed publication of a remarkable unfinished manuscript. . . . The editors are to be congratulated for rescuing Conyngham’s research from relative obscurity.” —American Catholic Studies
The service of priest chaplains, on both sides of the conflict, began with the war’s commencement. During the four years of conflict, about fifty priests, often called “Holy Joes” by the soldiers, ministered to the Union’s Catholic soldiers. Another thirty priests ministered to Confederate regiments, providing the sacraments to Catholic soldiers from the South. Other chaplains stationed near places of battle or in proximity to hospitals served in an unofficial capacity, sometimes providing spiritual care indiscriminately to federal and Confederate soldiers. The Catholic clergy faced most of the same hardships as their Protestant and Jewish counterparts, not the least of which was the lack of standard regulations for chaplains in the Union and Confederate armies at the conflict’s beginning. Clergymen working in Union hospitals, for example, were not officially considered military chaplains until May 1862. Union regimental chaplains received two rations a day and were paid the same as captains of the cavalry while their Confederate counterparts received only $80 a month. In both cases, chaplains were generally nominated by their regiment’s troops or commander, pending an official commission by the Union or Confederate government. While better paid than enlisted men and treated as officers without an official command, chaplains on both sides shared the tedium of camp life, the difficulty of long muddy or dusty marches, and, occasionally, the possibility of violent death at the front with the men of their regiments. Even hospital chaplains far from the front suffered and even died from diseases they contracted from hospital patients. Chaplains on both sides were generally expected to look after the morale of their men, provide spiritual instruction and preaching, and help take care of the sick and dying. According to one recent study, 3,694 men served as chaplains on both sides of which the approximately eighty Catholic priests were only a very small part. The role of Catholic women religious as nurses was more numerically significant than that of the Catholic clergy who served as chaplains. Perhaps twenty percent of all American nuns served as nurses in the war, totaling nearly 700 from at least twenty different religious communities. One historian estimated that one in six female nurses during the war was a Catholic sister. The sisters, invariably called “Sisters of Charity” or “Sisters of Mercy” no matter their membership in a particular religious congregation, served in proportionally higher numbers than any other group of American women, irrespective of region of origin or denomination. In addition to the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Charity who comprised more than half of all female religious nurses, significant numbers of Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sisters of St. Joseph, Mercy Sisters, Dominicans, and Franciscans also served. Many of these sister nurses remain unknown, omitted even from the historical record out of a sense of modesty. In some cases, especially when abbreviations were used in records, further research has determined their identities. While many Catholic sisters were better trained in nursing than Protestant lay women in the mid-nineteenth century, the sister nurses shared many of the duties and experiences as other women nurses in the Union and Confederacy. When compensated at all, female nurses or hospital workers were poorly paid. To obtain work they required letters of reference from local politicians, prominent civilians, or military officials, and to keep their places they needed to win the trust of the male surgeons and doctors in charge of most Civil War-era hospitals. Many male doctors on both sides initially opposed the appointment of female nurses, preferring instead to employ convalescing male soldiers as helpers around hospital wards. Nonetheless, the famous examples of the English nurse Florence Nightingale and the Sisters of Mercy in the Crimean War (1854-1856) paved the way for Civil War female nurses like Kate Cumming in the South and Clara Barton in the North. Nurses cared for the sick, washed clothes, cleaned hospital wards, assisted at surgeries, wrote letters to loved ones, distributed rations and care packages, and did whatever was necessary to comfort their patients. In addition to their filthy and exhausting work, many women contracted diseases from their patients with some dying as a result. Despite such dangers, the good service Catholic sisters and Protestant lay women rendered during the war helped pave the way for women’s greater participation in nursing and health care to the present day. In the later decades of the nineteenth century, Catholic historians and leaders began to herald publicly the service of Catholic chaplains during the war. Among chaplains on both sides, the most famous is Father William Corby, C.S.C., two-time president of the University of Notre Dame and long-serving chaplain of the North’s famous Irish Brigade. A member of several veterans’ groups including the Grand Army of the Republic, Corby wrote a memoir of his service in 1893 that was well-received by his fellow veterans and the Catholic community. Corby is memorialized with a bronze statue on the Gettysburg battlefield at the spot where he famously gave absolution “under fire.” A copy of the statue and a large painting depicting the event can be found on prominent display on the University of Notre Dame’s campus. James B. Sheeran, C.Ss.R., among the best-known Confederate chaplains, served the many Irishmen of the 14th Louisiana Infantry. The Irish-born father of three was an unusual candidate for the chaplaincy, entering the priesthood after his wife died. During the war the self-assured Sheeran famously informed his general, Stonewall Jackson: “As a priest of God I outrank every officer in your command. I even outrank you.” Sheeran’s extensive war-time journal, first published in excerpted form in 1960, has been recently published in its entirety, helping to assure that Sheeran will continue to be remembered. Despite the fame of a few of the chaplains, the experiences of the rest of the approximately 80 government-recognized priest chaplains and many of the 700 sister nurses who served are relatively little well-known to Civil War scholars or students of American history. Several recent works detail the contributions of individual chaplains or communities of nuns, but many of their contributions remain obscured because of a lack of published sources. (from introduction)