During the Revolutionary War against England, army chaplains worked tirelessly to win the souls of our soldiers for Jesus Christ.
These heroic chaplains distributed Bibles to the soldiers, visited the sick and wounded, and worked tirelessly to sustain the morale of the colonial armies. But unfortunately, these chaplains were often exposed to the same dangers of the battlefield and the same deprivations as the soldiers of army encampments. Nevertheless, these men of God were true soldiers of the cross.
The Hymnal was often used for these purposes by the chaplains. In addition, the messages found in Hymnals were believed to encourage the soldiers of our armies. We still need hymns for worship in this post-modern world.
An example of one such bold chaplain was the Reverend James Caldwell. Reverend Caldwell was a Presbyterian minister who served as a chaplain in the Continental Army between 1776 and 1781. The British called Caldwell “The Rebel Priest” and “The High Priest of the Rebellion.” They offered a reward for his capture.
While serving with a Colonial Military Company, the company ran out of musket wadding during a Springfield, New Jersey battle. Recognizing the value of encouragement of hymns, Caldwell went to a nearby Presbyterian Church, retrieved several of Isaac Watt’s hymnals, and returned them to the soldiers. Caldwell reportedly shouted, “Now put Watts into them, boys.”
It is evident that the hymn writer, Isaac Watts, was such a profound inspiration to Reverend Caldwell that he used Watt’s hymns to inspire the Colonial Army to which Caldwell was attached as chaplain.
Who was The Reverend Isaac Watts? Watts was a Congregational minister, hymn writer, theologian, and logician. He was credited with writing many hymns. Watt’s hymn writings included “When I survey the Wonderous Cross,” “Joy to the World,” and “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past.” Isaac Watts is recognized as the “Godfather of English Hymnody.” Many of Isaac Watt’s hymns remain used today in our churches. In addition, they have been translated into many languages and remain indispensable in church worship services today.
Reverend Caldwell was not only an influential clergyman; his bold patriotism as a Chaplain for our Revolutionary Colonial Army represented what serving God and man was all about. He was fearless in the face of enemy threats to his personal safety. He, however, was greatly concerned about enemy threats to his family. While Reverend Caldwell was away from his home and family on a military mission, British soldiers arrived at his home. His wife was shot to death by a soldier in front of their children. The British soldiers then destroyed Reverend Caldwell’s home. He was devastated by the death of his wife. Reverend James Caldwell met his death the following year in service to his country.
Many other Chaplains served during the Revolutionary War with the same commitment to God and our armies as freedom was won on the battlefield against the mighty British army. The Chaplains and Clergy during the Revolutionary War were ultimate role models and examples of what real “Soldiers of the Crosses” were then and now. Their ministry callings carried them far beyond their pulpits on Sunday mornings for more remarkable services for the Glory of God, their country, and their fellow man.
Columnist, Circleville Herald subscriber and longtime law officer Keith Throckmorton, Fairfax County Police (Ret.), may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org