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Hospital Chaplaincy

Civil War Hospital Chaplains

Ward in the Carver General Hospital, Washington, D.C. (National Archives Identifier: 524592).

During the Civil War, “for every hospital bed occupied by a soldier wounded in battle, there were at least seven others filled by those with diseases such as measles, typhoid fever, malaria, and dysentery. Such a high incidence of disease early in the war caught the Army Medical Department unprepared. For that reason, most Civil War hospitals were initially overcrowded and understaffed. Since no chaplaincy service was available in military hospitals, local ministers and church members ministered to the wounded.” (Mayniak, 183-184)

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Religion Follows the Troops

Chaplain Robert P. Canis Describes How Religion Follows the Troops

Washington, D.C. [ca. 1945] – Chaplain Robert P. Canis now assigned to a general hospital in Europe has described to the General Commission on Army and Navy Chaplains, Washington, D.C. how he has conducted services in strange and inconvenient places. He pays high tribute to the response given to spiritual matters by American men in uniform. Chaplain Canis said:

“Three weeks after arriving in England, I was assigned to a general hospital. Our chapel was a Nissen hut completely furnished with every aid to worship. In May we took leave of it and ever since have worshiped in a chapel in the fields. In our England staging area that chapel was a long tent with mother earth for pews and a rough board covered with the chaplain’s blanket for an altar.

“On our last Sunday in England this chapel became the scene of a most unusual departure Communion Service. All else was already on its way across the channel. A few hymn books, and a field organ borrowed from a neighboring hospital chaplain constituted the equipment of our tent filled with officers, nurses and enlisted men seeking that extra bit of spiritual strength needed on the shores of Normandy. But in spite of the absence of every traditional touch of a normal chapel service, the atmosphere seemed more alive with honest faith than ever before. Members of all denominations came to the altar to receive the Communion. Some knelt, some stood, and some cupped their hands to receive the bread. Others received it directly in their mouths. While still others served themselves.

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