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The Civil War Letters of Joseph Hopkins Twichell: A Chaplain's Story
University of Georgia Press, 2006
338 pp., $42.95
Gerald L. Sittser
A Chaplain's War
We know something of the grand scale of the Civil War—the battles, the generals, the various factors that led to the conflict—but we know much less about how it affected the people who actually lived through it and fought in it. The Civil War Letters of Joseph Hopkins Twichell thus provides us with an invaluable resource, weaving the mundane and extraordinary events of the war into a seamless narrative that allows us to view the war as it really was, at least through the eyes of one rather remarkable man. His attention to detail, human sympathies, and religious sensibilities make him a trusty observer of a conflict that forever changed the course of American history. Moreover, his convictions hearken back to a time in American history when evangelical faith, moral reform, and social justice were allies rather than enemies.
Joseph Hopkins Twichell (1838-1918), the son of a tanner, was born and raised in New England. After graduating from Yale, Twichell enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in New York to prepare for the ministry. But his abolitionist sympathies drove him to volunteer as a chaplain in the Excelsior Brigade of Lower Manhattan, a unit mostly made up of Irish Catholics. From 1861 to 1864 Twichell served as chaplain of the brigade, which saw action in several major Civil War battles, including Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. After his tour of duty Twichell returned to New England, married Julia Harmony Cushman, with whom he had nine children, and completed his ministerial training at Andover Seminary.
Twichell then served as pastor of Asylum Hill Congregational Church for 47 years. The church grew steadily under his leadership and started many outreach programs to Hartford's needy. But Twichell's interests were not confined to church ministry alone. He enjoyed a deep friendship with the élite of New England, including the writer Mark Twain and the composer Charles Ives, who married his daughter Harmony. He became involved in ...