Summon Only the Brave! Cover

Summon Only the Brave!

Commanders, Soldiers, and Chaplains at Gettysburg

John W. Brinsfield Jr.

Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 2016, 265 pages

Book Review published on: November 16, 2018

John Brinsfield authors Summon Only the Brave! Commanders, Soldiers, and Chaplains at Gettysburg with authority; he was an Army chaplain after all. His time as the Chaplain Corps historian and a professor of history at West Point enhanced his understanding, and it helped him present historical evidence portraying the role and responsibilities of Civil War chaplains. Brinsfield arranges an appealing account of the battle of Gettysburg and the actions of commanders and soldiers through the lens and recollection of chaplains. He highlights the chaplain’s courage that is important before, during, and after the battle. His historical account captures the movement of the Union and Confederate armies marching to the decisive battle and concludes with the Confederate’s retreat and Union’s pursuit. Through it all, chaplains were present and provided for commanders and soldiers through personal sacrifice: nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.

The book offers a historical account from chaplains on both sides. The movement of the armies to Gettysburg was a treacherous and long journey. The accounts of the chaplains demonstrate how they ministered to soldiers along the route. Although chaplains were not issued a horse, they could ride their personal one. Brinsfield tells of a few accounts where chaplains would offer soldiers turns riding their horse, so soldiers could rest their feet from marching.

The Union and Confederate chaplains shared similar roles and responsibilities—caring for casualties was the priority of chaplains. Assisting medical personnel through caring for the wounded extended beyond the normal ministry of encouraging words and offering prayer. Chaplains recognized that conducting religious services and offering prayers were vital at the frontlines prior and during battles. One example of offering a religious service under artillery fire was the account of Chaplain William Corby. He offered a service of abolition for all on the battlefield that caught the attention of soldiers and commanders. In his memoirs, Corby accredited God’s providential hand in victory because the soldiers took time for the religious service.

Two interesting accounts recorded in the book show the wide spectrum of Civil War chaplains. A Union chaplain served as noncombatant and the other a Confederate chaplain who was known as the best shot in his regiment. Chaplain Horatio Stockton Howell, like most chaplains, served as a noncombatant after caring for the wounded in a church used as a hospital. As he exited, a Confederate soldier shot and killed him midsentence while he was explaining that he was a noncombatant. On the other hand, Chaplain Dwight Witherspoon was known as “the fighting chaplain.” He actively engaged the enemy and led the fight with his own firearms. Following Gettysburg, Witherspoon was taken as a prisoner of war. Unlike the other Confederate chaplain prisoners, the guards put an additional watch on Witherspoon.

Summon Only the Brave! is worthwhile for commanders and soldiers to view Gettysburg from the perspective of chaplains. In this bloody battle, chaplains played a key role in managing causalities and inspiring hope. As the U.S. Army continues to train and prepare for large-scale combat operations, this book is a reminder of the effects of large-scale combat. It highlights the need for chaplains on the frontlines and in the rear to execute their role and responsibility of caring for the wounded and honoring the fallen.

Book Review written by: Chaplain (Maj.) Carson M. Jump, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas