In 2017, historian M. Todd Cathey wrote an engaging book about the life and Civil War experiences of James H. McNeilly who served as a chaplain in the Tennessee Infantry Volunteers for a substantial part of the Civil War. However, nearly a century earlier, Chaplain McNeilly personally shared some of his experiences as a Confederate chaplain for the readers of a turn-of-the-century publication, Confederate Chaplain. In it’s November 1918 edition, McNeilly wrote about his ministry in the life-and-death drama of the war between the States.
A Day in the Life of a Confederate Chaplain
by James H. McNeilly, Chaplain, 49th Tennessee Infantry Volunteers
“It was my custom during the siege of Atlanta to take a couple of hours about midday, when there was a lull in the firing, to go back to the field infirmary, where our wounded were cared for and sent to the hospitals in the country south of us. I looked after our wounded, took note of their condition and of the hospital to which they were sent, wrote letters for them, and provided such little conveniences as they might need. We had at the infirmary a little Irishman named Billy, who was about five feet tall, with shoulders three feet across and arms and legs like solid posts of oak. He was the best and kindest nurse I ever saw, and there is no telling how many lives he saved. Billy always saved dinner for the parson and went with me on my rounds. He had one weakness. He wouldn’t take a drop from the medical supplies, but sometimes he would get a brand of stuff we called pinetop whisky and would become not drunk, but very talkative and effusive in his kindness.
“One day we had a little ‘scrimmage,’ as Billy called it, in which half a dozen or more were wounded. We captured some prisoners, among them a boy eighteen years old, a handsome youth, whose leg was shattered. He was the son of a widow from Oswego, N. Y. As he lay along with our wounded men, awaiting his turn on the operating table. I gave him some morphine to relieve his pain and asked him if I could do anything for him. He said he wished above all things that his mother might know of his condition…