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.”
Washington was a Christian who regularly attended church, read his Bible, and gave to missionary organizations. Often, he would leave his military camps on Sundays to attend the services of any church he could find, no matter which denomination. Prayer was a big part of his life, and he was often seen riding into the woods to find a solitary spot to pray, or found in his private quarters on his knees with the Bible opened.
Washington recognized the need for clergy on the battlefield for encouragement, admonishment, and comfort, and he empathized with the men’s desire for spiritual guidance and instruction in understanding Biblical concepts such as the grace he personally experienced. Consequently, he was a champion of the establishment of a chaplaincy corps.
After the battle at Lexington and Concord, 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 -- some clergy were commissioned by the army, some by governors, and some were aligned with militias. July 29, 1775, is considered the official birthday of the American Chaplaincy Corps when Congress recognized chaplains in the national army with a rank equal to that of a captain and with a monthly pay of twenty dollars.
In August 1775, General Washington reported that fifteen chaplains were serving twenty-three regiments and that twenty-nine regiments were without any. 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 Washington thought that chaplains weren’t paid enough, he suggested assigning a chaplain for each two regiments as a means of doubling the salary. 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.
Normally, chaplains conducted services, offered Holy Communion, acted as representatives of God, prayed with the men before a march and before roll call at night, and comforted the wounded. Some served as surgeons. They also officiated at funerals and performed marriages.
|Chaplain James Caldwell|
|Chaplain prays with troops in Iraq.|