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The "Silent Preachers" of the Chaplaincy

The [Confederate] soldiers had an insatiable appetite for reading material, and tracts were especially attractive for them because they were relatively short in contrast to the much longer newspapers or books that colporteurs distributed. They could be read quickly, perhaps during a rest stop on a long, tiring march, and then thought about for hours. Their subject matter often reminded the soldiers of home, especially of their mothers.


Tracts were referred to during the war as "silent preachers," "assistant chaplains," "chaplains in miniature," and "weapons in the chaplain's arsenal." These phrases each testify to the immense power of these deceptively simple pieces of literature.


Typically, chaplains and colporteurs did not distribute tracts indiscriminately. That would have been wasteful as some soldiers who were not interested would merely throw them away or use them to kindle the campfires. Rather, the chaplain or colporteur would first talk with the person, learn as much as he could about the person's spiritual condition, and then give him a tract that contained subject matter relevant to and suitable for his individual situation.


Some colporteurs were volunteers. Others were paid by the tract societies or publishers. . . . But colporteurs did not just pass out literature; they also followed the materials by their personal involvement with the soldiers. They became de facto missionaries. They talked and prayed with them in their encampments. They visited the sick and the wounded in the hospitals. And they sometimes even ministered to them on the battlefields.


The preceding paragraphs are excerpts from Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies by Dennis L. Peterson. You can get your copy and learn more about this topic at https://bit.ly/Christ_in_Camp_Combat_FBblog


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