July 1: Rev. Horatio Howell

Chaplain Gave the Ultimate Sacrifice

The Union chaplain was assisting the medical staff in the sanctuary of College Lutheran church on that chaotic day of July 1, 1863. Hearing shots outside on Chambersburg Street, he said to the surgeon working on one of the 140 wounded Union men inside, “I will step outside for a moment and see what the trouble is.” Walking through the door with Sgt. Archibald Snow, they both saw a Confederate soldier at the bottom of the church steps demanding them to surrender. Chaplain Howell began to explain that he was a non-combatant, when the Southern soldier let his rifle finish the conversation. Chaplain Howell fell dead on the top step of the church.

Horatio Howell was the Presbyterian chaplain of the 90th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment. He had graduated from Lafayette College and Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  After marriage with Isabella Grant in 1846, he served a couple of Presbyterian churches before entering the Federal army on March 13, 1862.  His reason was the wickedness of slavery, then being practiced by the Southern states. He believed that this practice of slavery would “reduce to the condition of brutes those whom God had created in his own image, and for whom Christ had died.”

He was the  regimental chaplain for the 90th Pa. Volunteer Regiment at this battle, which was  mauled on Oak Ridge of the battlefield by Southern troops of Robert Rodes.  He was 42 years of age when he died, and buried on the church grounds of what is now Christ Lutheran Church. After the battle, his remains were shipped to Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1889, in the first monument to honor a fallen Union chaplain, members of the Survivors Association of the 90th Pa. Volunteers along with personal friends of the lamented chaplain erected a memorial featuring an open bronze book at the foot of  the front stairs of the Lutheran Church.  Located on the same spot as the Confederate soldier who fired the fatal shot, the moment reads, “In memorium Rev. Horatio Howell, Chaplain 90th Pennsylvania Vol. was cruelly shot dead on these church steps on the afternoon of July 1, 1863  “He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou lifteth me up above those that rise up against me.”—Psalm 18:48; “he being dead yet speaketh”—Hebrews 11: 4

Also on this date:
July 1, 1643 marks the first gathering of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, considered by many to be the greatest gathering of theologians of all time.

Words to Live By: Armchair “generals” in later days point out that the chaplain’s uniform in the Civil War was an officer’s coat and a dress sword. This appearance thus confused the Confederate soldier who obviously had a chaotic day in this first day of the battle of  Gettysburg. It is difficult to rationalize in split seconds time what could or should be our action when our life depends on it. We need pray much for those of our citizens and fellow members who are fighting on far flung battlefields who are in harm’s way, that God will providentially guard His people and protect them from harm. And pray for their loved ones at home, and serve with love any of them who may be near you in location.


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