Monday, January 14, 2013

'An evil blast full upon our noble cause'

Rev. Henry E. Parker spent June 21, 1861, tending to bloody men removed  from the battlefield at Bull Run. He was chaplain of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers, and the battle was his regiment’s first. But when he sat down to write his wife the next day, it was not the carnage of a long day’s fighting that troubled him most.

At a lunch on Wednesday, I will have the privilege of speaking to members of Parker’s church, the South Congregational Church in Concord, N.H.

Rev. Henry E, Parker
The church has a long history. Started in 1835 at the southwest corner of Main and Pleasant streets, it was rebuilt on its current site after a fire destroyed the original building in 1859. In the house that once stood where the church is now, the Marquis de Lafayette stayed during his visit to the city in 1825 and Ralph Waldo Emerson married an 18-year-old Concord girl, Ellen Louisa Tucker, in 1829.

Parker was the church’s second pastor. It was his church when Capt. Edward E. Sturtevant, New Hampshire’s first volunteer, led a group of new enlistees into the pews on the Sunday after President Lincoln’s call for the first 75,000 troops. The pastor soon enlisted himself, as chaplain to the 2nd New Hampshire.

Parker gave long sermons. Fortunately for history, he also wrote long letters, which have been preserved and are now online, courtesy of Larry Brown, his great-great-grandson. You can access them here.

Parker’s letter to his wife Mary right after Bull Run, written from Washington the day after the battle, is typically poignant and descriptive.

“I do not know that I ever had less heart for writing to you than I have tonight,” he wrote. “This defeat of our army, of which the telegraph has already informed you, is so sad an event that I hate to revert to it. To have such an evil blast full upon our noble cause, & to have our country’s interests periled thereby more than ever, smites my very soul.”

What bothered Parker more than the horrors of the battlefield was the ignominy of the Union army’s headlong retreat.

Lt. Col. Fiske, Quartermaster John Godfrey, Chaplan Parker.  
“I had read of defeats & retreats, but little did I expect to be ever in the midst of one; and I pray that I may never be again,” he wrote. “The falling soldiers, the wounded men & horses, the mangled slain are terrible but not so sad as such a retreat: the sight of a whole army disorganized and demoralized.”

Disgusted with Union reverses during General George B. McClellan's Peninsula campaign a year later, Parker resigned and went home.

As I researched Parker's service for Our War, I had some good luck. Larry Brown sent me several photos of his ancestor, including the portrait reproduced here. Then, while looking through the photo collection of the Historical Society of Cheshire County in Keene, I found two pictures of Frank Fiske, lieutenant colonel of the 2nd New Hampshire. Seated opposite him in one of them was a man with bushy sideburns and an erect frame – Chaplain Parker.

One reason I chose Our War as the title for my book is that the Civil War remains our war today. The men and women who fought and lived it walked the same streets we walk, and our times were shaped by theirs. This should be an easy point to make on Wednesday when I sit down to lunch with members of what is known locally as “South Church,” once the realm of Rev. Henry E. Parker.

No comments:

Post a Comment