A Catholic priest residing in New Orleans during the war and an exception rather than the rule, Claude Paschal Maistre supported the abolition of slavery and equal rights for blacks, a position that gained him the confidence of free African Creoles and earned him the ire of his bishop. By alienating Southern social convention and his religious superior through his radical political and social positions, Maistre and his African Creole congregants were part of a conflict that meshed religion and politics.
Born in France and ordained in the late 1840s, Maistre was embroiled in religious controversy that brought him to Chicago, Illinois. Maistre's religious superiors charged him with blessing marriages and baptisms of non-Catholics, and blessing burials of suicides and Protestants for a fee. Maistre arrived in New Orleans in 1855, where he became the pastor of a developing parish that included free blacks, to whom he immediately began to minister. Although Maistre and his bishop, Archbishop JeanMarie Odin, fell into disagreement over finances and church property, it was the priest's radical political position and cultivation of religious and social equality for bishops and archbishops actively affirmed the unity of the Catholic Church, while simultaneously supporting differing political positions on the war. Some bishops sought to avoid political participation at all levels. Bishop Martin Spalding of Louisville, Kentucky, for example, chose not to vote. He wanted his parishioners, however, to form their own opinions, and he maintained a private correspondence regarding the war with his colleague, Archbishop John Purcell of Cincinnati, Ohio. Other bishops chose to use the pulpit and their position of religious authority in a more public manner. Several bishops chose to display the American flag from their cathedrals, including Hughes and Purcell, along with Bishops Michael Domenec (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), John Martin Henni (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and James Wood (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick of St. Louis, Missouri, however, taking a pro-Southern stand, refused to display the American flag from his cathedral. Finally, like his counterpart Archbishop Hughes in New York City, Bishop Patrick Lynch of Charleston, South Carolina, traveled to Europe in 1864 at the request of Confederate officials to cultivate the support of European governments and the papacy. More often than not, the geographic residency of the Catholic hierarchy and their parishioners, like their Protestant counterparts, determined which side they supported during the war.
Catholic loyalty was most clearly addressed when Catholics enlisted in both the Union and Confederate armies. In Massachusetts, Irish regiments were formed, including the Ninth and Twenty-Eighth Massachusetts, and the First Missouri Confederate Brigade included a large number of Irish Catholics. Those Irish who enlisted in the Union Army articulated carefully that they fought in the war to uphold the constitution and the Union; they did not fight to end slavery. The ability to fight hard and well gained some Irish regiments a positive reputation, which often translated into eased blacks that led to the conflict between the two.
and stated that no Catholics should partake in the sacraments administered by Maistre. In defiance, Maistre continued to serve the spiritual needs of free blacks. Making appeals to Rome, the stalemate between Odin and Maistre continued well after the war and after slavery had been abolished by the Louisiana state convention in 1864. In 1870, Maistre wrote a letter of apology for his disobedience and the subsequent scandal, but not for his radical political and social positions regarding equal rights for blacks. He died five years later in 1875.
Odin, who accepted slavery as a part of Southern society, was upset by Maistre's interaction with free blacks and contraband slaves. Maistre provided contrabands with refuge in his church, refused to use separate registers for the sacraments administered to black and whites, and consistently condemned slavery and praised the Emancipation Proclamation in his sermons. As tensions mounted, Odin revoked Maistre's priestly faculties, placed his parish under suspension, anti-Catholic prejudice at home. When the objectives of the war shifted with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, the passing of a conscription law in 1863, and the recruiting of African Americans into the Union Army, Irish Catholics grew disenchanted with the federal government. In July 1863, anger among Irish Catholics erupted in violent riots, specifically in New York City in the wake of the draft law, and prompted fears that violence would take place in other cities with large Irish populations. In New York City, Hughes invited rioters to his home and attempted to calm them down and deter them from further rioting. In Boston the attack of a policeman by two women prompted Catholic priests to patrol the parish neighborhoods to ensure that the laity stayed out of trouble.
The hierarchy was concerned about two particular issues when it came to Catholics who served in the armies: (1) their conduct on the battlefield and how that conduct reflected upon Catholics in general, and (2) their spiritual state while on the battlefield and living among Protestants. To tackle both of these issues, Catholic chaplains provided a much-needed moral and spiritual role. The number of Catholic chaplains was minimal, with only 40 priests serving in a Union Army that had 400 chaplains. The number of Catholic chaplains in the Confederate Army was even smaller. Military chaplaincy was a work in progress throughout the war for both the Union and Confederate armies. Although the Union Army continually clarified the role and status of chaplains over the course of the war, the Confederacy initially did not provide an official order to meet the religious needs of the troops. Irish regiments often had access to their own chaplains, but many Catholic soldiers had limited access to a Catholic priest. Moreover, the sparse distribution of priests in the North and South, in general, placed greater strains on the Church to meet the religious and spiritual needs on both the
home front and the battle front. Because a priest's primary duty lay with his parish, many chaplains served only briefly before being called back by their bishop.
Addressing the spiritual and moral needs of Catholic soldiers proved to be a challenge for chaplains because of the chaos and instability of military life. Accompanying soldiers who were always on the move, chaplains needed to improvise the tools they used to celebrate the Mass, often using whatever was at their disposal. In addition to the Catholic chaplain's role in the most important ceremony of the Catholic faith in the Mass, they heard confessions—in large numbers on the eve of battles—and administered last rites to soldiers in hospitals or on the battlefield. The presence of a chaplain also provided a moral center within a regiment to temper the rowdiness, drinking, and carousing that took place in the camps.
The chaplaincy service of Father John Bannon demonstrates the cen-trality and difficulty of being a chaplain during the war. Bannon, an Irish immigrant during the early 1850s and a parish priest in St. Louis, Missouri, served as the chaplain to the St. Louis militia before the war. When the war began, Bannon fully immersed himself in the duties of a chaplain with the 1st Missouri Confederate Brigade from 1861 to 1863. Interpreting the war through a religious lens, Bannon believed that Northern aggression threatened a religious way of life, and he supported Southern self-determination. Bannon continually offered his religious services, hearing confessions on the eve of battles, offering the Mass, and advancing with the army when they went into battle. Moreover, while serving with the brigade, Bannon earned a reputation as the ''fighting chaplain'' for aiding the artillery during dire situations in battle.
Many chaplains remained behind the lines during battles, opting to stay at a military hospitals. Recognizing that this latter option often contributed to negative images of chaplains, Bannon placed himself directly in the line of fire and danger to offer religious and moral support to his men from beginning to end. Bannon entered into a battle carrying only a crucifix and a Bible, and with only a red cloth cross on his arm to indicate his status as a chaplain. When downtime was available, Bannon continued to carry out his priestly functions, often tending to the religious needs of local civilian communities. This dedication became most apparent during the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, by the Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant during the spring and summer of 1863. Bannon worked with the city's parish priest to serve the 700 Catholics who lived there. In addition, he worked at the hospital full time and visited the breastworks where the troops were stationed on a daily basis. Bannon's wartime activities became political when he undertook a diplomatic mission for the Confederacy to the Vatican and traveled to Ireland to temper the exodus of Irish to the North and the Union Army. Although Bannon may have been the exception rather than the rule, his ardent support of the Confederacy and his devotion to his religious responsibilities illustrate the compelling presence of Catholics during the war.
Much like chaplains and the fighting ability of Catholic soldiers, the activities of Catholic Women's Religious Orders and the contact between these women and soldiers helped to break down anti-Catholic prejudice existing in both the North and the South. Women religious provided a necessary service during the war in their capacity as nurses. Antebellum anti-Catholic literature often focused on women religious, publishing stories of rampant sexuality or targeting them for their vows of celibacy. However, their ability to tackle the demanding tasks of providing medical care and administering hospitals on a daily basis, and the daily contact they had with doctors and soldiers altered opinions about these Catholic women. Nearly 3,200 women worked as nurses during the war, and more than 600 of those women were Catholic sisters from a variety of religious communities in both the North and the South. Upon entering a religious community, Catholic sisters took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, all of which made them desirable for the demanding and chaotic work of taking care of the wounded and dying and for helping to run the hospitals. Requests for their services came from several arenas, including government officials of the Union and the Confederacy, bishops, and doctors, and they often came without warning. These women demonstrated a willingness to go where their services were needed by not only working as nurses in hospitals, but also by tending to the wounded on the battlefield, visiting prison camps, and aiding the wounded on transport ships. Women religious from the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame remained in the service of the transport ship, the Red Rover. In dangerous conditions and cramped quarters, these women ministered to the needs of nearly 2,400 patients on the transport ship that traveled back and forth on the Mississippi River between Memphis, Tennessee, and Mound City, Illinois, over the course of the war.
United institutionally, individual Catholic archbishops, bishops, and laypersons presented a diversity of viewpoints on the war and the proper role of Catholics in the war. Amid this diversity of opinion between Catholics of the North and the South, the patriotic and diplomatic work undertaken by the Catholic hierarchy, the taking up of arms by Irish and other Catholics, the spiritual and moral support offered by chaplains, and the tending to the wounded by Catholic sisters all altered the negative perceptions of and prejudice toward Catholics in the United States.
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