By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability and expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, altho' death was levelling my companions on every side. George Washington, letter to John A. Washington, Jul. 18, 1755
Possibly because of his close encounters with death, General George Washington understood the meaning of the Bible verse, II Corinthians 12:9, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
|George Washington praying|
After the battle at
Lexington and , many pastors enlisted in the
Continental Army and encouraged the men in their congregations to follow suit.
In its infancy, the chaplaincy service was not organized as some clergy were
commissioned by the army, some by governors, and some were aligned with
American Chaplaincy Corps
|Chaplain Joel Barlow|
In August 1775, General Washington reported that fifteen chaplains were serving twenty-three regiments and that twenty-nine regiments did not have a chaplain. In September, there were twenty regiments supplied and twenty vacancies. The situation worsened, and by January 9, 1776, there were only nine chaplains and eighteen vacancies. Because
thought that chaplains weren’t paid enough, he suggested assigning a chaplain
for each two regiments as a means of doubling the salary. Washington
Chaplains usually served six months. Some served during the week and returned home each weekend. Some were responsible for paying for their temporary replacements back home. Although officers without rank, they had no specified uniform, but did bear arms, at least the sword of an officer and a gentleman, and occasionally a firearm.
|Chaplain James Caldwell|
Another chaplain, a young man named Joab Trout, became known for his sermons, in particular the sermon he preached on September 11, 1777, before the Battle of Brandywine, near Chadds Ford, the present-day
West Chester, PA.
The entire sermon, which can be found in the New Hampshire State Archives, is too long for me to copy in this post, so I have chosen excerpts that moved me the most.Soldiers and Countrymen: We have met this evening perhaps for the last time. We have shared the toil of march, the peril of flight, and the dismay of the retreat; alike we have endured the cold and hunger, the contumely of the internal foe and the courage of foreign oppression. We have sat, night after night, beside the campfire; we have together heard the roll of the reveille which called us to duty, or the beat of the tattoo which gave the signal for the hardy sleep of the soldier with the earth for his bed and knapsack for his pillow.
And now, soldiers and brethren, we have met in the peaceful valley on the eve of battle while the sunlight is dying away behind yonder heights, the sunlight that, tomorrow morn, will glimmer on scenes of blood. We have met amid the whitening tents of our encampment, in time of terror and gloom, have gathered together, God grant it may not be the last time.
It is a solemn moment, Brethren, does not the voice of nature seem to echo the sympathies of the hour? The flag of our country droops heavily from yonder staff; the breeze has died away along the green plains of Chadd's Ford--the heights of the
Soldiers, I look around upon your familiar faces with a strange interest. Tomorrow morning we will go forth to battle, for I need not tell you that your unworthy minister will march with you, invoking God's aid in the fight--we will march forth to battle! Need I exhort you to fight the good fight, to fight for your homesteads, for your wives and children? I might urge you by galling memories of British wrongs; I might paint all this again in the vivid colors of the terrible reality, if I thought your courage needed such wild excitement. But I know you are strong in the might of the Lord. You will march forth to battle on the morrow with light hearts and determined spirits, though the duty of avenging the dead may rest heavy on your souls.
And in the hour of battle, when all around is lit by the lurid cannonade-glare, and the piercing musket-flash, when the wounded strew the ground, and the dead litter your path, then remember that God is with you; God the awful and infinite fights for you and will triumph Great Father, we bow before thee, we invoke thy blessing, we deprecate thy wrath, we thee return thanks for the past, we ask thy aid for the future; for we are in times of trouble, O Lord, and sore beset by foes, merciless and unpitying. The sword gleams over our land, the dust of the sod is dampened with the blood of our neighbors and friends. O God of mercy, we pray thy blessing upon the American arms. Make the man of our hearts strong in thy wisdom; bless, we beseech thee, with renewed life and strength, our hope and thy instrument, even George Washington. Shower thy counsels on the Honorable the Continental Congress. Visit the tents of our host, comfort the soldier in his wounds and afflictions; nerve him for the fight and prepare him for the hour of death. And in the hour of defeat, O God of hosts, do thou be our stay, and in the hour of triumph be thou our guide. Teach us to be merciful. Though the memory of galling wrongs be at our hearts knocking for admittance, that they may fill us with the desire of revenge, yet let us, O Lord, spare the vanquished, though they never spared us. In the hour of death do thou guide us to the abode prepared for the blest. So shall we return thanks to thee through Christ our Redeemer. God prosper the cause. Amen.