Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Joseph Twichell and I

Started reading The Civil War Letters of Joseph Hopkins Twichell: A Chaplain’s Story (editors Peter Messent and Steve Courtney).

Very interesting thus far. At 22 years old, Twichell, a seminary student, signed up with a New York regiment in the Union Army. Twichell wrote his father regularly (usually at least once a week) throughout the Civil War. Bright and articulate (he was a minister), I find the letters I’ve read thus far to be fascinating. Part of that has to do with the fact that he is a minister as well. While circumstances of our ministries are different, yet there are also many commonalities.

Points of interest thus far:

Place of ministry. Twichell signed up with a particular regiment because the men were “rough, wicked men”: “If you ask why I fixed upon this particular regiment, composed as it is of rough, wicked men, I answer, that was the reason. I saw that the companies of the better class of citizens were all attended by Chaplains, but nothing was said about these. There, I thought, is a place for me” (17-18).

Ecumenism. The brigade Twichell ended up in was composed of two regiments initially, and he was eager to meet the chaplain of the other regiment, nervous that he would be an Episcopalian and not a Congregationalist. He was relieved to find the other chaplain a Congregationalist, who, incidentally, likewise feared that Twichell would be an Episcopalian, neither man desirous of adjusting to the Rome-ish formalities of worship.

Scripture distribution. A few weeks into his new role, Twichell and the other chaplain made a formal presentation of 1500 Testaments and Psalms to their brigade (Testaments donated by the American Bible Society). They organized a service with several speakers, including the brigade commander, Gen. Daniel Sickles. “In speaking I announced that they were free-gifts and that no one was compelled to accept. Only one man so far as I knew declined to receive one” (23).

Appearance of evil. Only two years prior Gen. Sickles was tried for the murder of his wife’s adulterous lover. He was acquitted on the plea of temporary insanity, the first time such a plea was used. At the time of the Scripture distribution, Twichell was invited by the other chaplain to ride in a carriage with Mrs. Sickles and her mother. Twichell declined: “Some how or other I had not the courage. I did not want to look the woman in the face. I have no doubt she has paid dearly in bitter repentance for her past dark sin, but without much reflection I preferred not to see her in so close proximity as the same courage” (24).

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