Spiritual Revival 26th Inf

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Spiritual Revival in the 26th Virginia Infantry
By L. Roane Hunt

     The principle regiment in the Confederate Army from the Middle Peninsula of Virginia was the Twenty-sixth Virginia Infantry, which was organized and mustered into service in May 1861 at Gloucester Point.  It consisted primarily of companies from King and Queen, Gloucester, and Mathews Counties.  William Wiatt  was pastor of the two Baptist churches near Gloucester Point of Gloucester County, and he enlisted as a private along with other members of his community and churches.  He was the natural choice to be their chaplain and was appointed on October 1, 1861.  He held this position and served faithfully for the duration of the war that ended with the surrender at Appomattox, Virginia.  Therefore, the story of Chaplain Wiatt's war ministry is also a story of the war experience of this confederate regiment from the Middle Peninsula.  This article is based on the work of Alex. A. Wiatt who has published the war diary of William E. Wiatt entitled, Confederate Chaplain William Edward Wiatt,[1] and 26th Virginia Infantry in the The Virginia Regimental History Series by H. E. Howard, Inc.[2]

     When the war began, William Wiatt had a vibrant gospel ministry in both churches (Union and Providence) and was happily situated with his wife and children.  During the war, he established and maintained his ministry of preaching, personal contacts to meet the needs of the soldiers, and helpful contacts with the families of his soldiers.  Later in the war, he was forced to remove his family to his wife's home in Alabama where she died before the war ended.  Following the war, he re-established his pastoral ministry in Gloucester County and continued until his retirement in 1910. During this time he also held other significant positions, serving as County Surveyor and the first Superintendent of Schools in Gloucester County. 

Early History

     William Edward Wiatt[3] was born at Independence, Gloucester County, Virginia, on July 31, 1826 (See map of the middle peninsula).  He was the son of Louisa Campbell Stubbs and Dr. William Graham Wiatt.  He attended Newington School located at the present site of Newington Baptist Church in Gloucester  Courthouse.  He was baptized on August 7, 1842, and became a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Gloucester County.  He later attended Fleetwood Academy in King and Queen County where he began his teaching career and was licensed to preach in 1847 by the Olivet Baptist Church.  This portion of the county was a hotbed of Christian education and the Baptist faith.  On December 19, 1846, he married Catherine Rebecca Spencer whose family was part of the Olivet Church.  Their first child died at birth, and Rebecca died on October 29, 1849, before their second child was one year old. 

     At the time of his wife's sickness and death, William accepted a teaching position in Covington, Kentucky.  However, in 1851 he accepted another teaching position in Lowndes County, Alabama, where he met and married Charlotte Laura Coleman on September 29, 1852.  From his own testimony, the most profound event in his life occurred in April, 1854, when he was ordained as a Baptist minister at the request of Hickory Grove Church in Lowndes County. Teaching became his second priority.  Elder William Wiatt had longed to return home to Gloucester County, and early in 1856, he received calls to become pastor of Union and Providence Churches in his native Gloucester County.  He accepted these calls and moved his family to Gloucester.  He was listed in the 1860 Gloucester census[4] at #347 with his wife, Charlotte, and three of their children, and his son from his first marriage.  In the Spring of 1861 at the age of 35, he enlisted in the confederate army at Gloucester Point.

The War Years

     The 26th Virginia Infantry mustered at Gloucester Point to support the naval battery there, to defend Gloucester County from invading forces, and to support Colonel Bohannon in the defense of Mathews County[5].  Although units of the Union Army remained on the Lower Peninsula south of the York River at Fort Monroe in Hampton, no military action occurred during the first year at Gloucester Point.  The regiment was re-assigned to locate south of Richmond, Virginia, along the James River to protect Richmond, the Confederate Capital.  They began their trip north on May 4, 1862.  Sad to say, some of the men that had homes along the coasts of Gloucester and Mathews deserted and went home instead of following the orders to guard Richmond.  Many of them had fulfilled their commitment of a one-year tour of duty and chose to stay home and protect their families and property.[6]  The regiment stayed at their position south of Richmond until September 1863 when they were sent south to Charleston, South Carolina.  In April 1864 the Regiment started back to Virginia and they joined the fighting at Petersburg, Virginia.  Eventually, the 26th Virginia Infantry and the confederate forces retreated westward and surrendered at Appomattox on April 12, 1865.

     Chaplain Wiatt's diary chronicles his regiment from the perspective of the soldiers over the period from October 1, 1862, to April 22, 1865, which included his return to Gloucester after the surrender.  Unfortunately, one major section of the diary covering over three months beginning in February 1864 is now missing.  When the diary began, the regiment had established itself to guard the southern flank of Richmond.  During the sixteen months of camp life there, Wiatt describes his ministry among the soldiers.  He took advantage of the inactivity to be a traditional pastor to his men, some of whom he had served in their home counties.  One project was to construct a chapel building adjacent to the camp in February of 1863.  The opportunity for preaching and regular services diminished when the regiment was ordered to move south to Charleston, and when they returned the fighting was too intense for such activity.  The latter portion of the diary consisted of listing the wounded, the captured, and the deaths of his men.

     Chaplain Wiatt recorded a number of trips to his home in Gloucester to visit his family and some of the families of his men.  He described trips in October 1862, February 1863, October 1863, and October 1864.  He referred to his meetings with B. F. Bristow of Shacklefords and Oswald Kemp, William Chapman, J. C. Crittenden, Augustine W. Robins, Levi P. Corr, Thomas C. Robins, and Robert A. Stubblefield of Gloucester.  He also visited many of the Baptist ministers of King and Queen, Gloucester, and Mathews Counties.  The purpose of his trip in October 1863 was to arrange for his family to move back to Alabama to live with his wife's family.  He visited his wife in Alabama in January 1864 and again in April when she was sick.  She died on April 19, 1864, while he was there.  His four children were distributed to family in Alabama, and Chaplain Wiatt returned to his regiment as they were returning to Virginia.

     Meetings of Revival.-  Although the full and varied ministry of Chaplain Wiatt covered the entire span of the war, the spiritual climax occurred in the summer months of 1863, toward the end of the two relatively idle encampments of his regiment.  On June 26, 1863, A. Broaddus began preaching daily until August 3.  He was described as a Baptist, army evangelist from Kentucky.[7]  Previously, Chaplain Wiatt had preached at regular Sunday services and had been teaching Sunday School lessons from the Gospel of Matthew.  When Preacher Broaddus arrived, services were held twice a day, seven days a week.  Elder George F. Bagby and other preachers assisted by sharing some of the preaching duties.  The response of the men as recorded by Chaplain Wiatt was remarkable.  Typical responses were that they were restored, converted, professed faith, came to Christ, requested baptism, etc.  Many were baptized; he estimated at one point that he had baptized one hundred men.[8]  One of the earliest responses was to be restored.  These were probably men that had previously been baptized and confirmed by their churches.  Chaplain Wiatt mentioned in his diary that Methodist respondents were referred to Joshua A. Garrett.  He wrote many letters to Baptist pastors to inform them of the men who wished to be added to their home churches.

    The names of the men listed in the diary as they responded to the preaching of the Gospel are also listed in the tables for the various units.  Although these lists do not tell the whole story, they do give us a general understanding of their spiritual experiences.  In general, the men of Companies A and B were from Upper Gloucester County and the men in Companies E and F were from the Lower portion of Gloucester.  Company D consisted of men from Mathews County.  Chaplain Wiatt's diary also gives the names of men for Companies C, G, H, and I that were from King and Queen County, where he was first licensed to preach, but these are not presented in this article.

     After the Summer meetings of 1863, Chaplain Wiatt wrote letters to Elder Council of Mathews Baptist Church informing him of the men who wished to become members of that church.  His letter on July 30th included: John Lloyd Minter, Peter W. Jarvis, Hugh K. Hudgins, and John T. Hughes.  Later, on September 9th, he added Leonard Smith and Alexander Davis.  Before the war Mathews had only one Baptist church. 

 Nine  years after the war, three additional Baptist churches were started in Mathews County indicating the real effects of the spiritual  experience during the war.  Similar effects were demonstrated in the Methodist, Episcopal, and Disciples of Christ Churches of the county.  Chaplain Wiatt also sent names to pastors of many other churches across the state of Virginia and to some in King and Queen County.  However, he sent none to pastors in Gloucester County; he evidently passed the names of Gloucester men by hand or by word of mouth when he traveled there.

     It is clear that many of the men who were converted or renewed spiritually made great contributions to the work of the county churches.  However, at least fourteen of those from Gloucester and Mathews were soon to die in action and in prison camps. 

     John William Robins[9] was married to Mary M. Moore and enlisted in Co. A on April 20, 1861, at the age of 38.  He "returned to faith" on September 13, 1863, and was captured on June 15, 1864, near Petersburg.  He died from diarrhea on March 15, 1865, in the prison camp at Elmira, NY. 

     Peter W. Bristow enlisted in Co. B on October 24, 1861, at the age of 35.  He "came to Christ" on July 21, 1863, and was wounded and died on September 24, 1864. 

     James T. Bristow enlisted in Co. B on April 23, 1862 at the age of 21.  He "came to Christ" on July 25, 1863, and was captured a year later.  He died of chronic diarrhea on October 10, 1864, in Elmira, NY.

     Edward C. Brushwood enlisted in Co. B on April 23, 1861, at the age of 31.  He was "converted" on July 17, 1863 and he died on June 28, 1864, in the hospital in Richmond, VA.

     Richard Dutton enlisted in Co. B on April 23, 1861, at the age of 34.  He "came to Christ" on July 21, 1863, and was killed in action on June 2, 1864 in Chesterfield, VA.

     John Baylor Foster was married to Lucy Ann Corr and enlisted in Co. B on October 19, 1861, at the age of 33.  He was "converted" on July 17, 1863, and was captured on June 15, 1864, near Petersburg, VA.  He died from pneumonia on December 7, 1864, in Elmira, NY.

     Mathew B. Kemp enlisted in Co. B on April 23, 1861, at the age of 18.  He "came to Christ" on July 21, 1863, and was killed in action on June 15, 1864, in Petersburg, VA.

     James W. Lawson enlisted in Co. B on April 23, 1861, at the age of 34.  He "came to Christ" on July 21, 1863, and was assumed by Wiatt to be killed in action on June 15, 1864 ,in Petersburg, VA.

     Fairborn Wilbur Mason enlisted in Co. B on July 25, 1861, at the age of 19.  He "returned to faith" on July 17, 1863, and died on May 21, 1864, in Petersburg, VA.

     William Davis enlisted in Co. D on July 29, 1861, in Mathews, VA.  He was "converted" on July 16, 1863, and was baptized later.  His name was sent to Mathews Baptist Church for membership.  He died on September 11, 1863, in King and Queen Co., VA.

     Thomas J. James enlisted in Co. D on May 28, 1861, at the age of 22.  He was "restored to faith" on July 16, 1863, and died on November 18, 1863, in Savannah, GA.

     John J. Cooper enlisted in Co. F on April 29, 1861, at the age of 20.  He "trusted in Christ" on August 29, 1863, and was baptized later.  He was killed in action on May 31, 1865.

     David West was married to Mary Susan Sparrow and enlisted in Co. F on April 20, 1861, at the age of 29.  He returned to faith on July 17, 1863.  He was killed in the trenches near Petersburg, VA on October 11, 1864.

     Ambrose West (brother to David) enlisted in Co. F on April 20, 1861, at the age of 30.  He was baptized on July 22, 1863, and was killed in action on July 11, 1864, in Petersburg, VA.

     Other men that responded to the religious meetings returned to Gloucester and Mathews to make important contributions to their churches and communities.[10]

     George Washington Horsley[11] was married to Lucy Jane Sheppard and enlisted in Co. A about the age of 28.  In the 1850 census he and his family was listed next to the Robert C. Selden farm where he probably labored.  Wiatt wrote that he "came to Christ" on July 27, 1863.  After the war he settled in the Petsworth District of Gloucester County.

     Richard Allen Fitzhugh enlisted in Co. B on April 23, 1861, at the age of 16.  His father, Patrick Fitzhugh, was captain of Co. B.  He "came to Christ" on July 21, 1863, and was baptized later.  He married Matilda Elizabeth Johnston and settled in Gloucester.  He was buried in the Ebenezer Cemetery.

     John D. Hall[12] was married to Mary Susan Browne and enlisted in Co. B at the age of 31.  Evidently, John and his brother ,William Foster Hall, could not write because Chaplain Wiatt wrote many letters for them, as he did for many of the soldiers.  John "came to Christ" on July 21, 1863.  He was captured on June 15, 1864, near Petersburg, VA and taken to the prison camp in Elmira, NY.  He was released on July 3, 1865, and returned to Gloucester.  John and his large family are listed consistently in each census indicating their stability in community residence.

     Thomas Jefferson Ash, Jr. enlisted in Co. F on February 21, 1861, at the age of 20.  He was "restored to faith" on July 15, 1863.  After the war he settled in Gloucester and married Mary Elizabeth Minor, daughter of Deacon John W. Minor, Jr., and granddaughter of Elder Henry Mouring, one of the earliest pastors of Union Baptist Church in Gloucester. 

     Thomas Jefferson Rowe enlisted in Co. F on April 20, 1861, at the age of 19.  His brother, Achilles Rowe, was in the same company.  Thomas was "converted" on July 16, 1863, and was baptized later.  He and Achilles were buried in the Union Baptist Church cemetery.

     Revivals of religion during the war were well documented and occurred throughout the military camps of the South and the North.  Also, the Christian faith of many of the officers of both armies are well known.  Consistent with this established history, the climax of religious experience for the 26th Virginia Infantry occurred in the summer of 1863.  Chaplain Wiatt's diary identifies many of those men affected who then returned home to affect their churches and communities.

     Sermons.-  Chaplain Wiatt recorded the Bible texts of each of his sermons and the sermons of the visiting preachers.  The texts used by the preachers during a two week portion of the special meetings held for July 12-26, 1863, are presented in the table at the end of the article.  The preachers included are Evangelist A. Broaddus from Kentucky, Elder George F. Bagby and Elder Isaac Diggs[13] from King and Queen County, Elder Leyburn from Bedford County, T. A. Haynes from Loudon County, and Chaplain William E. Wiatt.  As shown earlier, the diary contains names of men and their response to the preaching.  Typically during this summer, Chaplain Wiatt recorded a few responses each day, but during the concentrated schedule of meetings the response increased greatly.  There were 25 men (17 from Gloucester units) and 29 men (18 from Gloucester units) recorded on July 17 and 21, respectively.  The texts used in the preaching during these days are presented to give some understanding of the message content to which the men were responding.  It is clear that the selection of Scripture was broad in scope and a good representation of the overall message of the Bible.  The typical text contained phrases of invitation and challenges to commitment and holiness of character.  I believe those sermons would be well received by congregations of any generation.  Within these texts one can see the language of commitment contained in the diary, such as repentance, faith, belief, coming to Christ, and following him.  It is easy to imagine that these experiences combined with the overall disaster of the war could motivate the survivors to do the work of the Church with greater energy in the years that followed.

     Chaplain Wiatt seems to have assumed a supporting roll during these special preaching meetings, but he preached faithfully before and after them.  He recorded for himself 226 sermons from November 1862 until April 1865.  This included the teaching of the Gospel of Matthew in chronological fashion beginning in May 1863.  Judging from the varied selection of texts, he was very balanced in his pastoral preaching ministry.  This was most evident during the many months of preaching when the men were encamped south of Richmond, Virginia, in relative idleness, waiting expectantly for action.  First of all, there was some repetition which was no surprise, especially considering that his congregation probably varied as he moved among the units.  Also, the variety suggests that he preached from texts that arose from his own private daily study and reading of the Scriptures.  He recorded 176 sermons using New Testament text and 50 using the Old Testament.  In the New Testament, he used the four gospels 106 times and the remainder was distributed between the books of Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation.  In the Old Testament, he included the books of law, the Psalms, and the books of the prophets.  Overall, his selection would please all modern Christians with a high view of Scripture and its message.  His preaching ministry seems to reflect the strong Baptist leadership in central King and Queen County where Chaplain Wiatt was educated and began his ministry.

Post War

     Having lost his second wife during the war, his children were scattered and the youngest ones remained with his wife's family in Alabama.  He first returned to Gloucester County, and his last entry in his diary on Saturday, April 22, 1865 expressed his true emotions. 

Crossed over to Cappahosic in the morning; I felt thankful to my Heavenly Father for permitting me to return to my native county once more; but it is with a heavy heart that I come back; my beloved County is subjugated; I have lost nearly all of my property; I am far away from my dear little ones; know not when or how I shall go to them; I am about to begin life anew with many & great responsibilities weighing upon me; Oh! my beloved Country; has God cast thy people off? hath He forgotten them Why so much blood shed, so many wounds inflicted, so many noble lives lost, so many hearts crushed, so much devastation & ruin in the land? is it all for naught, Oh! God have all of our prayers, faith, hope & love of liberty and privations & sacrifices been in vain, Oh! God? has God closed His ears to our cries & His eyes to our suffering and is His heart unfeeling toward us? will God, can God forget His people? Impossible! Impossible! God has humbled us, that we may be blessed; all of His works are in Wisdom & Love, as well as in Power & Righteousness; all is right, because He does it, Oh! Lord, our Father .  .  .  rode up to Belle Roi and walked to Mt Pleasant (Airville); as I passed my place, my troubles pressed heavily upon me; here I lived for several years, happy in my family relations & blessed much of God; now I look upon my once fine home with a stricken heart; my home is desolate, my heart is more so; I feel that there is little, very little earthly happiness in store for me;[14]

     He continued by expressing his faith and commitment to the Lord.  Then, he finished his journal by writing:

Here my journal ends for the present, it may never be resumed by me as Chaplain in the Confederate Army, which position I was commissioned to hold on the 4th of October, 1861; may the blessing of God be upon all of my labours as such; may I have some "Crowns of rejoicing" in the great day as chaplain in the army of my beloved country; this journal was begun on the 1st day of Jan'y 1862 and has continued till the present without interruption; I regret the ending of it.[15]

     He sold his home to pay off his debts and accepted the pastorate at Union Baptist Church.  At the same time he taught school near Bena Post Office in Guinea.  In 1866 he was appointed County Surveyor, a position which he filled for eleven years.  In 1870 he was appointed the first Superintendent of Schools in Gloucester County, and he served for seven years.  In the 1870 census he was listed in the Abington district at #165.  He married Nannie B. Heywood on July 18, 1871, and eventually, they had four children.  In 1874 he was called to the pastorate of Providence Baptist Church, where he served until 1880.  According to the church history of Newington Baptist Church, he also accepted the pastorate of Newington Baptist Church in 1874.  He left Newington in 1887 when he was appointed State Missionary in the Mountains of Virginia.  He moved to Giles County, where he preached for seventeen months.  He returned to Gloucester and accepted the pastorate of Newington, Beulah, and Petsworth Churches, where he served until 1910.

     Elder Wiatt grew up in a society where negro slavery was accepted.  He owned slaves until he had to sell them when he closed his home in Gloucester and sent his wife and children to Alabama.  He wrote in his diary of his sorrow and sympathy for the "coloureds" who were being used by the "Yankees."  However, the county records show that he, like the other white ministers, performed great numbers of marriage ceremonies for the negroes.  It is interesting that Elder Wiatt is included in the history of Bethel Baptist Church[16] in Sassafras, Gloucester County, Virginia.  John William Booth (1847 - 1923) was their first pastor.  He was born a slave to William Jones, but he had been taught to read.  In the early years of his pastorate, Elder Wiatt helped him with his religious education and they would study together.  Within and without the evil system of slavery, Elder Wiatt showed himself to be a friend of the negro.

     On March 28, 1905, he wrote . . . "to sum up my labors in the ministry for fifty years, I will say I have preached, I suppose 2,500 sermons, baptized 600 persons, married 360 couples, traveled 50,000 to 75,000 miles, been instrumental in building six houses of worship, organized many temperance societies and distributed many thousands of religious papers and tracts."  Elder Wiatt died Feb. 14, 1918, in his 92nd year, and was buried at Newington Baptist Church, Gloucester County.[17]

A common question about those who survived the Civil War is, "How were they affected by their experiences?"  From my study of Elder Wiatt's life, my answer is that he affected the war and the soldiers that fought in it.  He seemed to maintain an even tempo throughout his life.  After the war, he did much to shape the modern Gloucester County with his leadership in general education and in the shaping of its Baptist churches.  He had a long association with Levi Corr and must have influenced greatly his son, Harry.  Harry Corr was the next home-educated and -trained preacher that served many of the Baptist churches of Gloucester County in the subsequent generation.  Therefore, much of the present Baptist loyalty of Gloucester natives can be traced to Elder William E. Wiatt. 

1 Wiatt, Alexander Lloyd, Confederate Chaplain William Edward Wiatt, An Annotated Diary, H. E. Howard, Lynchburg, VA, 1994.
2  Wiatt, Alexander Lloyd,
26th Virginia Infantry, H. E. Howard, Lynchburg, VA, 1984.
3  Wiatt, Alexander Lloyd,
The Wiatt Family of Virginia, McClure Printing Company, Inc., Verona, Virginia, 1980.
4  William Wiatt was listed next to Claiborne Coleman, who may have been an uncle of his wife, Charlotte
5  Wiatt, Alexander Lloyd,
26th Virginia Infantry, H. E. Howard, Lynchburg, VA, 1984, Pg. 2.
6.  Ibid. Pg. 4.
7.  Bagby, Alfred F.,
King and Queen County, Virginia, Neale Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1908. Pg. ??. (Historical Address by J. Ryland, Sr.).
8.  Ibid.
9.  He was a grandfather to Frank Alford Robins of Gloucester County.
10. The present author has identified each of the men that responded in the meetings of revival in his personal research.  He would be pleased to share his information with other researchers.
11. He was the father of Calvin Horsley of Gloucester County.
12. He was a grandfather to Decator Lee Belvin of Gloucester County.
13. He followed Elder Wiatt to Goucester County; he accepted a call to be pastor of Providence Baptist Church and he was buried in the church cemetery.
14. Wiatt, Alexander Lloyd,
Confederate Chaplain William Edward Wiatt, An Annotated Diary, H. E. Howard,
    Lynchburg, VA, 1994., Pg. 241-242
15. Ibid. Pg. 242.
16. The History of Bethel Baptist Church in Sassafras, Gloucester County, Virginia
-- office subject files of
    Gazette-Journal, Gloucester-Mathews.
17. Wiatt, Alexander Lloyd,
The Wiatt Family of Virginia, Pg. 28.

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