Before the Civil War, few chaplains served with American armies. But on May 3, 1861, the Southern Congress approved Bill 102, stating, “There shall be appointed by the President chaplains to serve the armies of the Confederate States during the existing war.” On May 3, 1862, Rev. A. C. Hopkins, Presbyterian pastor from Martinsburg, West Virginia, joined them, commissioned as chaplain of the Second Virginia Regiment.
Hopkins wasted no time. On May 16 he led the men in a day of fasting and prayer. Two days later he conducted Sunday services at Mossy Creek. The ensuing week found him consumed by the wounded, dying, and dead.
During the Seven Days’ Battle near Richmond, he marched all day in the hot sun and spent a sleepless night ministering to the wounded and dying. The next morning, attempting to preach to his men on the line, he collapsed, strength gone. He was carried to the rear to recover, but when he returned to the front ten days later, he learned that his best friends were dead. Hopkins sank into despondency. Heavy losses at Malvern Hill further drained him, and Hopkins felt he could no longer continue.
He retreated for a season of intense prayer, and soon Bible classes were organized and flourished. Evangelists visited the brigade, and religious services were followed by group discussions, prayer meetings, and baptisms. Large sums were raised to provide Christian literature for ravaged cities. Generals and officers were saved, and prayer meetings were conducted three times daily.
In all, between 100,000 and 200,000 Union soldiers and approximately 150,000 Southern troops were converted during the Civil War revivals. Whole armies on both sides became vast fields, ready for harvest. And many of the soldiers who perished went to heaven through the efforts of chaplains like Rev. A. C. Hopkins, who continued hard in service until the bitter end.
With the Civil War, chaplains earned a lasting place with American troops around the world.
Don’t be afraid! I am with you. From both east and west I will bring you together. I will say to the north and to the south, “Free my sons and daughters! Let them return from distant lands. They are my people—I created each of them To bring honor to me.” (Isaiah 43:5-7)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 3.