THE CHAPLAIN AND HIS WORK.
RELIGION and war, though at variance in principle, were closely associated in the War of the Rebellion, perhaps more so than in any war of modern times. While it was the function of the latter to kill and destroy, it was the duty and work of the former to minister to the wounded and care for the dead, though the fallen ones may have been foes in the conflict. How it may have been in other regiments the writer cannot say, but in our favored command there was no officer who did his duty more faithfully than the Chaplain, and no department of the military life that was more vigorous and useful. Rev. J. W. W. Bolton was the chaplain of our regiment in the whole of its service, so that he and his work were one, and so inseparably connected that a description of the work is a sketch of the noble officer who had charge of it.
Rev. James W. W. Bolton, D. D., M. D., was born November 7, 1834, in Harrison county, Va., (now W. Va.) He is a son of John and Sarah I. Bolton - the father a native of Rockingham county, Va., and the mother of Franklin county, Pa. His paternal grandfather, Abraham Bolton, served in the war of 1812, and his maternal grandfather, James O'Hanlon, served throughout the Revolutionary war, under Gen. George Washington. The subject of this sketch was brought up on a farm, in Tyler county, Va., now Pleasants county, W. Va., near the town of Hebron, and received such schooling as the times afforded, being a close student from his early boyhood. His parents taught him from childhood, by precept and example, the importance and obligations of the Christian religion. He was industrious, and obedient to his parents. The books that most deeply interested his young mind were the Bible and the life of George Washington. He had a great desire to acquire knowledge, and made rapid progress in his studies, having an excellent memory. While a boy he often committed to memory, during the week, a chapter, and sometimes more, of the New Testament, and recited the same at Sunday-school. As he grew up he often engaged in debates, in societies for that purpose, in his neighborhood and the surrounding country. He delivered his first Fourth of July oration in 1848. He united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, at Hebron, in 1854, under the ministry of Rev. John B. Hill, now of the Iowa Conference, and was by him licensed to exhort in 1855. He was licensed to preach, in 1856, by Rev. A. J. Lyda, D. D., then Presiding Elder of the Parkersburg District, by order and in behalf of a Quarterly Conference of the Harrisville Circuit. He was engaged in teaching in Virginia and Ohio from 1854 to 1857, and was admitted to the Western Virginia Conference of the M. E. Church (now the West Virginia Conference) in the spring of 1857. His first appointment was the Williamstown Circuit, his colleague being Rev. James W. Latham, brother of Col. George R. Latham. This circuit embraced fifteen appointments which were met by each preacher once every four weeks. In 1858 and 1859 he had charge of the Murrayville Circuit. In December, 1858, he engaged in a four days' theological debate, at Belleville, Va., which gave him a great reputation as a polemic; and the debate was a very useful one to the Church. He was ordained Deacon in April, 1859, by Bishop Thomas A. Morris, at Parkersburg, Va. In 1860 he was stationed at Weston. He was ordained Elder in March, 1861, by Bishop Osmon C. Baker, at Wheeling, Va.
From the firing on Fort Sumpter to July, 1861, Dr. Bolton was active in preaching, making union speeches, in flag raisings, and in the organization of the Home Guard at Hebron. This was an important work, resulting in great and lasting good to that section, and to the state. The union men were in constant peril, and sacrificed and endured much for their country, a service that cannot be fully appreciated except by those intimately acquainted with it. On July 4, 1861, he delivered an oration at a celebration at Hebron, and the next day went to Clarksburg, Va., where he preached to that part of the Second Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment remaining there after July 5th. He was appointed chaplain, and ordered by Colonel John W. Moss to join the regiment being concentrated at Beverly, Va., which he did on August 2, 1861, and was commissioned chaplain of the Second Regiment Virginia Volunteer Infantry, and at once entered on his duties. During the encampment at Beverly, the regiment had no stated place of worship, but frequent services were held in the open air. The first service was held there on Sunday evening, August 4, 1861, when the regiment was gathered in front of the colonel's tent. The chaplain introduced the services by reading the hymn, the first stanza of which is as follows:
After the singing of the hymn, he offered a fervent prayer. He then announced as the text, the following: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians, 5th chapter, 17th verse. It was a beautiful evening, and there was a hush and quiet not usual in a military camp. The men not long from home, with its priceless blessings yet fresh in their minds, felt the solemnity and sacredness of the hour; and there were but few that were not touched by this new phase of service as soldiers. The sermon was clear, forcible and eloquent. The greatest interest was manifested by all, and the service, so sacred and beautiful, was of great benefit to the men, who evidently greatly appreciated it.
During the stay of the regiment at Beverly, the chaplain was busy visiting the sick, burying the dead, and administering to the men; and the services were very laborious. At Elkwater frequent services were held, and of necessity all were out of doors. The regiment had no buildings until near the close of our stay there, when some small ones were erected for winter quarters, and during the stormy months there the open air was the only tabernacle. One of these services will be remembered, held near the breastworks, when the chaplain used one of the cannons for his desk, on which he laid his books. He preached with his usual spirit and fervor, and while the sermon was in progress a heavy snow storm swept down the valley. The chaplain was not in the least discomfited, but continued the services, the men remaining with him to the last. As they had not been in the habit of fleeing from the enemy, they refused to be driven back by the elements. When the exhausting and dangerous raid, beginning December 31, was made to Huntersville, the chaplain went along, and was in the front, exposed to the dangers of the trip, and deported himself with true soldierly bearing, setting a worthy example of bravery and cheerful endurance. The next three months, January to April, 1862, were passed on Cheat Mountain Summit. Here the chaplain rendered a service that was of great value to the men. Very little preaching could be done, except in the company quarters, where occasionally the men were treated to a discourse of great power. The most of the religious work was done in a quiet way in the organization of Bible classes in most of the companies, which were attended by many bright minds, and the discussions that followed the truths brought out, were of incalulable value to all who took part. Preaching out of doors was impossible. Snow storms, heavy drifts, furious winds, and a general warfare of the elements prevented service of that kind. To attempt it was for the preacher to invite a tornado to catch his breath and fill his mouth with snow. But the debates, the sharp criticisms and the close study of the Bible laid the foundation for good and successful work afterward. On the 22d of February, when the anniversary of Washington's birthday was celebrated, the elements harmonized with the occasion, and much and good oratory from Col. Moss and Surgeon Hazlett followed. The exercises of the day were appropriately opened by the chaplain, who devoutly invoked the Divine blessing.
Then followed the active and perilous campaign of the Mountain Department. The troops were almost constantly in motion, but religious services were not omitted on that account. At Monterey, McDowell and Franklin meetings were frequently held, generally out of doors, though the weather at times was very rough. At the battle of McDowell, May 8, 1862, the chaplain asked and obtained permission to join our forces on the mountain, that were fighting so furiously, and kept to the front, rendering what service he could. The campaign up the valley followed, the battle of Cross Keys was fought, and in the latter part of June the brigade was in camp at Strasburg, getting ready for another and more severe campaign. On the 4th of July, Gen. Milroy had a brigade meeting to celebrate the day, on which occasion he made a speech to his admiring and delighted men, who came about as near idolizing him as ever men did a brigade commander. The general made a special request that Chaplain Bolton should open the services with prayer, which he accordingly did. The general had great confidence in the chaplain, and lost no opportunity of showing it. Preaching services were held whenever practicable, and with our chaplain that meant when it was not impossible. In the Pope campaign, and until the order to return to Western Virginia, religious services were held as frequently as possible. After crossing the Blue Ridge, and while in camp at Woodville, the chaplain preached to the regiment, and omitted nothing that could be done for the spiritual benefit of the men. At Cedar Mountain, the day after the big fight, and while our forces were yet contending, services were held, the bullets coming uncomfortably near the improvised pulpit, but not interrupting the services. In the exciting campaign that followed, services were held as often as circumstances permitted, but there was very little time, for some days, for anything but fighting. After the retreat to Washington, while lying in the defences at that city, regular services were held for the remnant left of the regiment, and continued until the order came for our return to Western Virginia.
Upon our return to Beverly, we were again in position to hold regular religious services. The Presbyterian Church had been used by the quartermaster department, and the seats were all gone and the building in very bad condition. The chaplain asked permission of the trustees to use the building for religious services, which was cheerfully granted. He then called for volunteers to put the church in proper condition, when men of all the trades needed offered their services, and seats were made, flues built, and the house was thoroughly cleaned and everything put in good shape for occupancy. The church was opened with Thanksgiving services in November, and used until we were compelled to leave in April, 1863. A protracted meeting was held lasting about two months, during which Chaplain Bolton did all the preaching, except two or three sermons by a Presbyterian preacher. The revival was one of great power, deep and lasting in its work, resulting in about fifty conversions, and the strengthening of many believers. Many who gave their hearts to God in this meeting, afterward fell in battle, and they died as true soldiers of the cross, as well as of their country. The meetings were characterized by great power, with the choicest singing, the very best of order and the highest respect for the place; and were attended by a fine, noble appearing class of men, who reverently took part in the services and helped materially in them. The church was packed, audience room and gallery, and there was preaching every night, and sometimes during the day. When the revival services were not in progress, regular services were held on Sunday and prayer meetings during the week, which were attended by the soldiers and many citizens; among the latter Mrs. Arnold, the Bakers, Harts and others. After the retreat from Beverly, Thanksgiving and other services were held at Buckhannon. There were services in camp at New Creek, the latter part of November, 1863. During the series of raids by Gen. Averell, to January, 1864, the chaplain was along doing whatever he could, and always at the front, but there were but few public services. He helped the surgeons, prayed and talked with and cheered the men, and proved himself to be what he always was, a true, noble, brave man, ready for whatever duty fell to his hands. Our command lay in camp at Martinsburg, West Va., over two months from January 1, 1864, one of the most trying places in its history. Here services were held regularly, and during the time a revival of great power was enjoyed. The meetings were held in the Lutheran Church, and were conducted by Chaplains Bolton, Osborn, 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and Pomeroy, l8th Connecticut, and lasted about six weeks. Chaplain Bolton preached each alternate night. At first the singing did not go smoothly, and there was some concern about it. Chaplain Bolton took hold of it, and with his strong, musical voice started a familiar old Methodist hymn. That night a large number of his regiment was present, and the boys understood at once that they were to help, and scores of voices joined the chaplain's. The regiment had in it an unusual number of good singers, and when these grand voices joined in, there was no longer any doubt as to the singing. The charming old hymn was sung with a will, the church fairly ringing with the melody, to the great delight of Chaplain Pomeroy and the gallant Connecticut boys, who were evidently not used to such singing. It was a glorious series of meetings, and many were converted. Other services were also held. Chaplain Bolton went to Hedgesville, where a portion of our regiment was in camp, among the number, Maj. Barclay, Lieut. Colmer and others, and preached one Sunday to them. The last services he held in the regiment, were at Charleston, in the Kanawha valley, before entering on the expedition that led to Cloyd Mountain.
The duties of the chaplain were varied and many, and the office was not one of leisure, but of continual and severe work. In time of battle he was called to minister to the wounded and dying, and in the hospitals to comfort the unfortunate inmates of both armies. He had particularly heavy duties at Second Bull Run and Rocky Gap. While at Washington many days were spent in visiting the hospitals and ministering to the sick and wounded. Chaplain Bolton was severely wounded at the battle of Cloyd Mountain, Va., May 9, 1864, being shot in the right ankle by a musket ball. He was taken to Charleston, West Va., on May 23, and remained there till June 15, when he was removed to the General Hospital at Parkersburg, West Va., where he entered June 17, 1864. The trip from Cloyd Mountain to Charleston, in all 14 days, was very painful and exhausting. He was taken in ambulance, by way of Dublin Union, Meadow Bluffs, Sewell Mountains and Gauley bridge, to a point on the Great Kanawha river, about 20 miles above Charleston; and from that point by boat, to the last named place. The roads were very rough and mountainous. He was very much prostrated when he reached Charleston. From there he was taken by boat to Parkersburg. When he reached there he was very much reduced in health and strength, by reason of his wound. The Rev. Thomas H. Monroe, of the West Virginia Conference of the M. E. Church, was the chaplain of the hospital. While there Chaplain Bolton sometimes preached to the boys, but he had to sit down while preaching. Soon after he was able to sit up, he was invited by Chaplain Monroe and others to preach. All were anxious to hear the wounded chaplain. It was arranged for him to preach on Sunday evening, about the first of September. When the hour came, some of the boys placed him in an armchair and carried him into the chapel, which was filled to overflowing with brave soldiers who had experienced hard service in the army and had stood in the front of battle, but who, on account of wounds or diseases were then inmates of the hospital. In the congregation were some who had heard him preach when he was strong and could stand. Although he was weak and in pain, he preached to the great delight and edification of the audience. The Lord helped him, and Chaplain Monroe and the brave soldiers encouraged him with their sympathies and prayers. The audience was very much affected. Brave men wept while he preached. The ball was extracted from the wound on February 3, 1865, by Surgeon W. A. Banks, U. S. A., assisted by Drs. C. D. Safford and J. C. Clemmer. The operation was difficult and painful, but the brave chaplain endured it like a hero. He was discharged from the hospital at Parkersburg on March 21, 1865, and was mustered out of the service March 24, 1865, at Wheeling, West Va. He suffered intense pain, and the wound has greatly hurt him ever since, making him very much of a cripple for life.
He was appointed by Bishop E. S. Janes, in March, 1865, to Ellenboro and Harrisville, an appointment made by the kind Bishop for the special benefit of the heroic chaplain, as he had attended to his ministerial duties on crutches. He entered on the duties of the charge on the first of April, though weak and suffering. He had to be helped on his horse to ride to his appointments. He used his crutches for months after being mustered out of the service, and has had to use a stout cane from that time on. Until the spring of 1885, the wound continued to break out, at intervals, and discharge pieces of bone; and since that time there have been, at times, indications of re-opening of the wound. He is never free from pain, and at times suffers greatly from the wound. He may yet have to undergo amputation of the wounded limb. In 1866, be was appointed to Fairmont Station, where he did good service for the church, although suffering daily in consequence of his wound. Having studied medicine, he entered on the practice of the same in the spring of 1867, and continued the practice until the summer of 1870. He had charge of the Sistersville circuit in 1869-70. In 1871 he was stationed at Parkersburg, remaining there until 1874. While he was there a fine church and parsonage were built. In the spring of 1874 he was appointed Presiding Elder of the Clarksburg district, and remained until the fall of 1877, the time of the Conference having been changed from spring to fall. He was then appointed Presiding Elder of the Morgantown district, and served till the fall of 1881. He was elected delegate to the General Conference in 1876, and served on the Committees on Episcopacy and Revisals, and participated in the debates of the Conference. He was appointed on the Publishing Committee of the Pittsburgh Christian Advocate, to serve from 1870 to 1880. On account of the severity of his wound, Dr. Bolton was compelled to take a supernumerary relation from 1867 to 1869, also from 1881 to 1885, and from 1888 to 1889, though often preaching while in this relation.
In 1881 his wound opened, causing great pain and discharging pieces of bone. He then concluded to attend medical lectures, which he did at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Md., in the fall and winter of 1881, the spring of 1882, and the fall and winter of 1882, and he was graduated in March, 1883, with, the degree of, M. D., and was authorized to practice in West Virginia by the State Board of Health, and then resumed the practice of medicine, continuing in the same till the fall of 1885, when he again entered the active work of the ministry, and was appointed to Short Creek and Liberty, 1885 to 1887. In the fall of 1887 he was appointed to Oakland, Md., and to Fairmont Station in 1889. In the year 1879, he was honored with the degree of D. D., by Allegheny College, Meadville, Pa.
Dr. Bolton was married on September 26, 1865, to Miss Eunice C. Buckley, daughter of Harrison W. and Eliza J. Buckley, near Worthington, Marion county, W. Va., by Rev. A. J. Lyda, D. D., then presiding elder of the Clarksburg district. The parents of both Dr. Bolton and wife were strong union people, together with their families, and endured much for their country. It was at times at the peril of their lives that they maintained and expressed their loyalty to the old flag and the union, but they never wavered, for a moment, in their duty. They were active in every possible way to help maintain the union, and did their full share in stemming the tide of disunion that threatened at one time to overwhelm Western Virginia. It was owing to loyal people like these, that this noble young state threw off the shackles of the pro-slavery power, and emphatically and early declared for the union. Too much honor cannot be awarded them for their patriotic and brave services. Dr. Bolton is a man of strong intellect, highly educated, of a high order of ability, and an accomplished gentleman. He has been a very useful man in his conference. He showed signal ability as a presiding elder. He has succeeded well in all departments of ministerial work. Since the war he has often been called on to dedicate churches, and in that work he has always succeeded grandly. He commands large congregations; and those who hear him once, desire to hear him again. He is most loved and respected by those who know him best and have been longest acquainted with him. He is often requested to preach funeral sermons in memory of old friends in the country where he was brought up, and elsewhere. On these occasions vast crowds of people, old and young, come to hear him. He is also often called on to deliver lectures and addresses on special occasions and select subjects. He has been frequently called on to preach the annual sermon in memory of our deceased soldiers, and to deliver the address on Decoration day. He at one time read quite an extensive course in law, though not with the intention of practicing the profession of law. He is well informed in medicine, theology, the sciences, and general literature. He is a skillful physician and an able minister. He has a good knowledge of the dead languages, and reads, with facility, the Bible in the original tongues. He has a kind heart and is very benevolent to the needy. He is a man of strong convictions, and has the courage to avow and follow them.
He was chosen chaplain of the Society of the Army of West Virginia in 1886, 1887 and 1889. The late General George Crook was President of the Society of the Army of West Virginia at the time of his death. He and the Chaplain were very warm friends. When General Crook was buried at Oakland, Md., Chaplain Bolton attended and participated in the services. The present year (1890) is one of the most successful in his ministry. During the past winter he conducted revival services in Fairmont, with great success. The church there is in a very prosperous condition, and is increasing in numbers and spirituality. He is much loved and admired by the people of his charge, and he reciprocates their affection. The relations of pastor and people are mutually pleasant. Dr. Bolton is a true friend of the old soldiers, and is warmly attached to the members of his regiment.