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The Chaplain Shot in His Breadbasket

James Hugh McNeilly was a Cumberland Presbyterian chaplain in the 49th Tennessee Infantry (CSA) during the War Between the States. Perhaps his greatest contribution for the modern historian is an article he wrote after the war for the Confederate Veteran. In the article, he described "A Day in the Life of a Confederate Chaplain."


Because the chaplaincy was technically part of the medical staff of the army, the expected place of service for a chaplain was with the surgeons. "But in camp they were often in the mess of the regiment field officers. . . . In a battle he established himself as near the line as possible, where water was to be had."


. . . [O]ne of the constant themes of chaplains, evangelists, and colporteurs throughout the war was the possibility of one's being killed at any time and in a multitude of ways. . . .


But in all the gruesome scenes of the battlefield he did not lose his sense of humor. For example, he related in the article that while they were busy constructing a shelter, "one alarming report marred the pleasure of the boys. It was that the parson had been wounded, shot in a very dangerous place. . . . I had secured a nice little basket of splits beautifully woven for my bacon and bread. We had hung these on a limb of the tree while we worked, and a stray bullet from a Yankee gun had gone through my basket. The helper reported that the parson was shot in his breadbasket. . . . So, the inference was that I had been shot in a mortal part of my anatomy, and I received many sympathetic inquiries as to my wound. How ready we all were to turn things into fun in the presence of death!"


[Excerpt from Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies, available at Amazon.com]



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