In 1776, General George Washington issued an order allowing for chaplains: “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary, but especially so in times of public distress and danger ... and as a chaplain is allowed to each Regiment, see that the men regularly attend divine worship.” In 1777, Congress confirmed the post of chaplain (see at right).
In 1818, Congress cut the size of the army and eliminated salaries for several positions, including chaplains. From 1818 to 1836, there was one chaplain on active duty, serving at West Point.
When the War with Mexico began in 1846, there were only 13 chaplains located at army posts. These individuals were not deployed with troops in the war zone, remaining at their assigned posts.
When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, both the North and South considered the need for chaplains.
Confederate Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker issued a report calling for chaplains on April 27, 1861. On May 3, 1861, Confederate Congressman Francis S. Bartow (at right) had reported a bill #102, which passed to create the post of chaplain. No uniforms were ever mandated by the Confederacy nor duties specified. Salaries were set a $85 a month and then cut two weeks later to $50 a month.
Chaplains for Union forces were established initially by General Orders 15 and 16 from the U.S. War Department on May 4, 1861. The orders provided for Christian Chaplains to be chosen by a vote of field officers and company commanders. Pay varied from $60 to $150 before being set in 1862 at $100 a month. In November 1861, the U.S. Congress established the chaplain’s uniform as a black frock coat with a single row of nine brass buttons, that could be covered with black fabric. In July 1862, the wording of the 1861 orders were changed to allow appointment of chaplains from ordained ministers from “some religious denomination,” opening the way for Jewish chaplains to be appointed.
In 1862, Congress would authorize the appointment of chaplains to hospitals. Both sides had hospital appointments.
(Click to see about Hospital Chaplains).
In 1863, when the Union allowed black soldiers to serve, their officers were overwhelmingly white. However, there were 17 black chaplains appointed who served. (Click to see about Black Troops & Black Chaplains)
Nearly 3,700 chaplains would be appointed both North and South to regiments, hospitals and prisons during the war.
Chaplains & Denominations
Chaplains were from many denominations. The majority were ordained, but there were significant numbers of lay Methodists and Baptists that were nominated to the post of chaplain by their regiments. Initially, there was resistance by some denominations of ministers serving in the military and being paid by the government.
Of all chaplains, North and South, the denominational statistics are:
Less than 1% were Lutheran, Jewish, Disciple of Christ,
Dutch Reformed, German Reformed and others.
In addition to chaplains, there were hundreds of camp missionaries by both the Presbyterians, Baptists and others.
Length of Service
Chaplain service varied greatly in length, sometimes due to the
enlistment period of the troop or regiment they were connection.
One study of Union chaplains’ length of service reveals:
|46 - 52 months service
|36 - 46 months service
|| 3 %
|Three full years
|30 - 36 months
|| 5 %
|24 - 30 months
|| 5 %
| Two full years
|18 - 24 months
|| 8 %
|12 - 18 months
|1 full year
|| 5 %
|9 - 12 months
| 6 - 9 months
|3 - 6 months
|0.5 - 3 months
|| 6 %
Source: Faith in the Fight.
Congress establishes post of Chaplains July 1, 1777, Pennsylvania Gazette
1862 Hospital Chaplain Appointment, Rev. H. M. Smith
Presbyterian Chaplain Robert F. Bunting, Texas 8th Cavalry
Union Chaplain Henry M. Turner, 1st U.S. Colored Troops
(official name of black soldier units formed in 1863)
9th Corps Union Chaplains, c, Oct. 1864 near Petersburg, VA, showing official black military frock coats and black brimmed hats or kewpi (cap).
Chaplain Uniforms and accessories
Epaulet of Confederate Chaplain Lachlan C. Vass
Brass buttons from Rev. L. C. Vass' Confederate chaplain uniform which he covered with black fabric. The buttons are those of the Confederate General Staff.