Marines.Together We Served

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pass the Ammunition

The phrase, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” has been around a long time.

A few months ago I wrote about the “Quaker Guns” which were tree trunks cut down to look like real cannons and used as a ruse during the Civil War, mostly by Confederate forces, in an attempt to convince the Union forces that the southern boys were better equipped than they actually were.

Recently, while reading a book “Civil War Trivia and Facts,” I ran across a bit of information about Confederate Brigadier-General William Nelson Pendleton. It seems the general was quite the character, and a favorite of General Robert E. Lee. Prior to the “War of Northern Aggression,” as the southerners refer to the Civil War, General Pendleton was the Right Reverend William N. Pendleton, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia; a position he held from 1853 until his death thirty years later. When the war broke out in 1861, Rev. Pendleton asked for a leave of absence from his church so as to serve in the Southern Cause.

Pendleton began his military career as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During his years as a cadet he became friends with fellow students Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Upon his graduation from the Academy, the newly appointed 2nd Lieutenant was assigned to the 2d Regiment of Artillery, Augusta, Georgia. He was to become what is called in the military today, a “Cannon Cocker.” This is anyone who is a Marine or soldier serving in the artillery; or in the Navy – a gunner’s mate.

After serving for three years in the Army, Pendleton left to pursue his vocation as an educator and minister in the Episcopal Church. In 1839 the church formed a new school of 35 students. Pendleton was appointed as the first principal of “The High School,” the name still used for Episcopal High School in Alexandria because it was the first high school established in Virginia. To this day, the school still holds to its Honor Code: “I will not lie. I will not cheat. I will not steal. I will report the student who does.” Imagine that – an honor code!

War is rarely associated with things humorous. But the good minister obviously had a lighter side. When he was first appointed to serve as the commander of the Rockbridge Artillery under General Joseph E. Johnston, he named the four guns in his battery after the Four Apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is said that each of the Four Apostles roared so effectively in battle that Parson Pendleton, so named by his troops, was both promoted to colonel and appointed Chief of Artillery for Lee. When the Parson wasn’t firing his cannons, he was preaching from the Bible to his troops.

In the Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas), it was reported that Reverend Pendleton stood behind his loaded cannons, raised a hand as though offering a blessing and said, "May the Lord have mercy on their misguided souls--fire!!"

His only son, Col. "Sandie" Pendleton, was a member of Stonewall Jackson's staff, and fell mortally wounded at the battle of Winchester, in September, 1864.

The Four Apostles were later captured by Federal forces at the fall of Richmond. After the war they were returned to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) where they are kept today.

Pendleton served from First Manassas (July 1861) to Appomattox (April 1865) and was Chief of Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) for much of the time. Late in the war he would be in command of the reserve ordnance.

At the end of hostilities, Pendleton was selected to assist in formalizing the conditions for surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Pendleton was devoted to General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to Pendleton in 1864, Lee writes in closing, “I appreciate in the fullest manner your feelings of friendship which has always been to me a source of pleasure and am deeply obliged to you for your fervent pious prayers in my behalf – no one stands in greater need of them. My feeble petitions I dare hardly hope will be answered. Very Truly Yours, R E Lee.” After the war Pendleton resumed his duties as rector at Grace Church, where General Lee was a vestryman, a position dealing with handling the daily affairs of the church. During this time the reverend worked tirelessly to raise money for a Robert E. Lee monument. The relationship of the two men was clearly one of mutual respect and admiration.

I was further intrigued by the fact that, during the time he served with the Confederacy, Reverend Pendleton had to deal with the issue of his tenure at Grace Episcopal Church. Some people in his church complained about his being gone to war instead of staying home to care for the congregation. Even today with ministers serving as chaplains in our Armed Forces, some congregations are not willing to wait for their pastors to return from war. I know of many who simply resigned because they felt the church needed to move on with another shepherd. I have been more fortunate than some of my colleagues. My congregation chose to wait the two years for me to come home.

It has been my privilege to know a number of chaplains who once served as infantry officers, artillery officers, line officers, tank commanders, pilots, or as enlisted men. But all were willing to serve, and go into harms way in defense of our country.

I once served four years with a Marine artillery battalion as their chaplain. Unlike Reverend/General Pendleton, I never named any of our cannons (155 Howitzers) after the Four Apostles, but I did preach to them from the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!

We continue to be at war today. Please pray for those who faithfully serve us in the military.

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