by Benjamin L. Miller
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2019. Pp. xiv, 256.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0700627669
Bringing Spiritual Guidance to the Troops
In his first book Miller, a history instructor at Howard C. C. (Maryland), addresses the role of the military chaplaincy in creating “religious space” during the Civil War.
Miller defines “religious space” as “a physical site that offers spiritual guidance and fulfillment”, that is, a church or a chapel or even just a place set aside temporarily for religious observance. This is in contrast to the “profane space”, the sphere of human vices without guidance, and “contested space”, such as the battlefield, an ambiguous area where clergy could offer guidance and comforts, yet also endorse the violence as necessary to “a holy struggle”, given that both sides believed in the righteousness of their cause.
Miller opens with a group profile of the chaplaincy. The several thousand chaplains, both sides together, were overwhelmingly Protestant, with only a few score Catholics and handful of Jews. The latter two faith communities were subject to often serious discrimination in the period, but provided chaplains who were, Miller notes, along with Episcopalians and Presbyterians, much better educated than most of the military clergy, many of who were essentially self-ordained.
Miller looks at the work of chaplains in the camps, on the battlefield, in the hospitals, noting that Catholic nuns often tended both physical and spiritual wounds, and in the prisons. He offers some interesting insights into the spiritual life of the troops, and religious and cultural belief and practice in mid-nineteenth century America.
A volume in the Kansas series “Modern War Studies”, In God’s Presence is a good read for anyone interested in the life of the soldier in the war or in American religious life at mid-century.
Note: In God’s Presence is also available in several e-editions.
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