The National Civil War Chaplains Museum at Liberty University has acquired a rare journal written by a pastor depicting events related to the Civil War in 1865.
“This artifact will assist us in creating a world-class museum here on the Liberty campus,” said Kenny Rowlette, Assistant Professor of English and Director of the National Civil War Chaplains Museum and Director of Liberty’s Summer Academic Programs. “Liberty is becoming known more and more as a center for the study of religion during the Civil War.”
The museum is the only one in the nation dedicated solely to honor the chaplains, priests and rabbis who served soldiers of both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War.
The journal, written by the Rev. Albert Ira Dutton, a delegate in the U.S. Christian Commission, provides a unique, first-person account of the key events of the last month of the Civil War, generally referred to as the “Pursuit to Appomattox Campaign.” The writings take the reader into the trenches of Petersburg and through the Battles of Five Forks, Sailors Creek, High Bridge and Appomattox Court House.
The Christian Commission was a group of unarmed volunteers who distributed tracts, newspapers and hymnals and shared the Gospel with soldiers of the Union armies during the Civil War. In addition, they wrote letters for soldiers and gave them goods not easily obtained from the U.S. Army, such as sugar, coffee and condiments.
Though Dutton was an observer of the events, not a participant in them, he provides unique perspective. His commentaries range from discussions with Union troops in the trenches before Confederate defenses at Petersburg to witnessing Lee and Grant entering and leaving the McLean House on April 9, 1865.
“We have this (perspective) when no other museum will,” Rowlette said, explaining that this perspective from a “man of God” sees the evidence of a “grand design” over the events of the spring of 1865.
Rusty Hicks, a member of the museum’s Board of Trustees and a renowned Civil War artifact collector and trader, said the journal was purchased last August from an area couple who had kept it in their family.
“The acquisition of this artifact is exciting for the museum, since such first-person accounts of wartime experiences – especially those dealing with impressions, not just chronicling events – are exceedingly rare,” Hicks said. “(Dutton’s) newly discovered words add a fresh, interpretable, new insight to those final days of the Civil War.”
The journal is currently being fully studied and interpreted. The museum plans to display it next spring, around the April 9 anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox.
“Both the artifact and the museum remind us of the close relationship that the nation as a whole had with God during this difficult period in our nation’s history,” Rowlette said.