First Chaplain of the Confederacy Cover

First Chaplain of the Confederacy

Father Darius Hubert, S.J.

Katherine Bentley Jeffrey

Louisiana University Press, Baton Rouge, 2020, 216 pages

Book Review published on: September 3, 2021

Katherine Bentley Jeffrey’s biography, First Chaplain of the Confederacy: Father Darius Hubert, S.J., brings to life a story of an unassuming man largely unknown to the modern era, save through stories passed generationally from those who knew him. Darius Hubert did not leave behind a personal memoir of his civilian or military service. Relying on scarce diaries from Hubert’s peers, newspaper articles, and available personal letters from the antebellum period, Jeffrey’s biography is both timely and relevant. The author at times utilizes Confederate terms for Civil War battles (e.g., Sharpsburg for Antietam) but does not demonstrate bias to the southern cause.

Born in post-Napoleonic France, Father Darius Hubert’s life of service began with his entrance into the Society of Jesus. He traveled from his home country to the United States in 1847, initially to Grand Couteau, and subsequently to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Following Hubert’s fourteen years of ministering to the local communities, the commander of the 1st Louisiana Infantry Regiment requested that Hubert serve as his regimental chaplain when the American Civil War began. Jefferson Davis honored the request, making Hubert the first chaplain formally appointed as such into the Confederate army. He ministered devotedly to all faiths and political loyalties, and shared willingly in the war’s hardships with the soldiers entrusted to his care. Hubert returned to New Orleans after the Civil War and continued his concerted effort to attend to the religious needs of all persons. He grew an already sterling reputation, earned in the antebellum period through humility, compassion, and care for everyone regardless of race, economic status, or gender.

The book consists of six chapters, a concluding coda of testimonials offered upon Hubert’s death, and two appendices on anti-Jesuitism and chaplains assigned to Louisianan regiments. First Chaplain of the Confederacy portrays a man of humility and dedication to his calling. No request for his ministry went uncalled, in or out of combat. The author presents Hubert as a man who exemplified selfless service despite rampant anti-Catholicism and corruption within his own faith. He appears in First Chaplain as a man who demonstrated the attributes military and nonmilitary personnel should expect of their chaplains or religious officials, respectively. Called to a life of religious service, Hubert insisted on being with his flock regardless of personal feelings or proximity to danger.

Hubert was a Confederate chaplain, so some readers are likely to question his true character and the admiration he received during his life because of his Civil War allegiance. The author provides two examples one may utilize to assume a strong loyalty to the Confederacy and its political objectives. First, Hubert lamented the Confederate loss at Antietam. Second, when in contact with Union troops, he questioned their service to a government he considered oppressive.

Regarding Hubert’s analysis of Antietam, the Jesuit priest seemed to recognize the effect of the Confederacy’s military defeat on prolonging a war of destruction. Readers must make their own opinions regarding Hubert’s comments to Union soldiers on the Lincoln administration. Notwithstanding his opinion of the U.S. government, Hubert’s ministerial efforts to all before, during, and after the war indicate to me that care for his neighbors and immediate flock inspired his service in the Confederate army. The priest felt the end of the war reflected his God’s will; the book does not indicate malice or hatred for the U.S. government postbellum on his part. Regarding the lack of a written opinion of slavery, First Chaplain demonstrates clearly that Hubert willfully attended to anyone who requested him and went beyond the expectations of his religious peers to perform his calling.

I recommend this book for the story it tells of a generally unknown figure. The biography of Hubert provides a peek into the world in which he lived. Readers seeking a model of dedicated altruistic service may find one in this Jesuit priest. They should note but not hold against him his misguided support of the wrong cause in the American Civil War, and in reading Jeffrey’s biography, come to find that the concept of selfless service barely provides justice in describing Darius Hubert.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Matt Marfongelli, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas