December 21: A Chaplain’s Letter

On Every Battlefield of Life, Christ is ever our Comfort and Strength.


Today we present a letter from the battlefield, penned on this day, December 21, in 1863. Here, the Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon writes to Susan G. Miller, sister of Witherspoon’s fallen commander, Colonel Hugh R. Miller, who died at Gettysburg. Of tragedy and loss, and of God’s comfort in our weakest moments, Rev. Witherspoon writes,

Truly God’s footsteps are in the great deep. We cannot comprehend his doings, but it is the part of faith to sit meekly & lean upon the arms of the Lord though it be in the dark. We know that He doeth all things well—that he doth not willingly grieve or afflict & therefore we should not faint under his chastisements, but gather strength from his promises & fortitude from his throne of grace, glorifying him even in the furnace of affliction, and striving by every visitation of his rod to be drawn nearer to Himself.

T. D. Witherspoon to Susan G. Miller, December 21, 1863:—

Camp 42nd Miss near Orange C. H.

Dec 21st 1863

My dear friend:

The enclosed letter sent to my care has been for a long time in the hands of Captain Cooper, but through some mistake the letter containing it was not handed me until day before yesterday. I have been intending to write to you every day since I reached Camp but have been prevented by the constant confusion & bustle incident to such a life as that we hare now leading. We have only one small tent for the Regimental, Medical & chaplains headquarters, so with the crowd always collected on business of some kind, or visiting some of us there is but little time given for writing or reflection. My thoughts have been very often with you since I come away, hoping that the slight improvement in your health during my stay might prove to be the earnest of your complete restoration to health,yet fearing that it was only the excitement of my hurried visit & that after I had gone, you would again feel keenly the power of the disease. Oh how gladly I should have remained with you longer if it had been at my option to do so. How happy I should be in any way possible to minister to your comfort & relieve the weariness of long & painful sickness. I have learned to think of you as a mother for his sake, who amid all the trials & deprivations of the camp, treated me ever as if I were a son. I cannot tell you how much I miss him now. There is a vacancy in my heart, there is a vacancy in the hearts of the men—there is a vacancy in the command of the Regiment wh. [i.e., which] cannot be filled. We shall never have another officer so active & vigilant, another leader so brave & true, another Colonel so much respected & admired, and I greatly fear we shall never again have a Regiment so thoroughly drilled & disciplined as that in which our lamented Colonel once took such a just & honest pride. All the men speak of him affectionately. All lament his death & long for some way to shew their appreciation of his worth.

We have just received official notice that Col. Moseley’s resignation is accepted. We have also a report in camp that Maj. Feeney is dead but I trust this report may not be true. [1] There will be a great contention for seniority amongst Captains & we do not know how the issue between them will be decided. Cpt. Locke has gone home on furlough, his wound is still troubling him. [2]

We have just received the sad intelligence of the death of Edward Miller, son of the late Rev. Jno. H. Miller, killed in battle & his remains left in the hands of the enemy. How distressing to this afflicted household. Truly God’s footsteps are in the great deep. We cannot comprehend his doings, but it is the part of faith to sit meekly & lean upon the arms of the Lord though it be in the dark. We know that He doeth all things well—that he doth not willingly grieve or afflict & therefore we should not faint under his chastisements, but gather strength from his promises & fortitude from his throne of grace, glorifying him even in the furnace of affliction, and striving by every visitation of his rod to be drawn nearer to Himself.

Of the state of religion in the Regiment I am not able as yet to say much as the weather has been so inclement since my return as to prevent me from mingling much with the men. On yesterday & the Sabbath before the attendance on preaching was very large & from other indications, I think there is still a deep interest. Tomorrow we move to our permanent quarters for the winter which will be three miles beyond Orange C. H. [i.e., Court House]. On the wagon road to Gordonsville. It is spoken of as an excellent location with plenty of wood, water etc. When we get a little time we purpose building a chapel & hope to have regular service all the winter. Oliver is quite well, has made application for furlough & is very impatient to get home—Dr. T. & Capt. N. [3, 4] are also well. They are all asleep or I know they would send messages. My only chance to write is at night after every thing is at rest in the camp & my candle gives so dim a light that I can scarcely see where I write. As we are to be up very early in the morning &move by then the new encampment, I must close making this my excuse for not writing a longer & more satisfactory letter. Give my love to George & Eddie. I trust you may be comforted in seeing them each brought into the fold of Christ, through the sore affliction which the Lord has sent upon you & upon them. May His gracious spirit, the promised comforter dwell richly in your heart, soothing the wounds for which earth has not remedy or balm. With kind regards to the members of the household & heartfelt prayers for you & yours

Your true friend & brother,

T. D. Witherspoon

[1] According to Military History of Mississippi, Major Feeney was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864.

[2] Capt. Robert A. Locke of Company D, 42nd Regiment, was wounded at Gettysburg and promoted to Major on December 18, 1863.

[3] Regimental Surgeon Robert L. Taggart.

[4] Probably Captain Andrew M. Nelson, who eventually succeeded Miller, Moseley and Feeney to command the 42nd.

Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

98,426 Spam Comments Blocked so far by Spam Free Wordpress

%d bloggers like this: