In the Valley of the Shadow: The Rev. William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock, A.M., Chaplain, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (part two)

* Editor’s Note: To read the first part of this biographical sketch about the Rev. William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock, click here.


Spring 1864 – The Red River Campaign, Louisiana

U.S. military and New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western trains (railroad shop, Algiers Louisiana, c. 1865, public domain).

Steaming first for New Orleans via the Charles Thomas, the 47th arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February, and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th would become the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union General Nathaniel Banks.

From 14-26 March, the 47th passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, the regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield (8 April 1864, public domain).

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads. The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, those who were uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner and son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

Casualties were once again severe. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. .

And, once again, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock was called upon to minister to the dead and dying in the immediate aftermath of combat and the physically and emotionally battered survivors at regimental and divisional hospitals. Ultimately, he would also be forced to address even more challenging psychic scars as he ministered to men subjected to a new horror – capture and incarceration as prisoners of war (POWs) at Confederate States of America penal facilities.

* Note: At least 17 members of the 47th Pennsylvania were captured during the Union’s Red River Campaign. Most were marched 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as POWs until released during prisoner exchanges beginning 22 July 1864. At least two men from the 47th Pennsylvania never made it out of that prison alive; another died months later while being treated at a Confederate prison hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana. At least one survived imprisonment at the CSA’s infamous facility at Andersonville, Georgia, and returned to duty following his treatment by Union physicians.

Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore, where the men resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. They then continued their retreat toward Alexandria, Louisiana.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the Union officer overseeing its construction, this timber dam built across the Red River near Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 helped Union gunboats navigate the river’s fluctuating water levels (public domain).

On 23 April, the 47th Pennsylvanians and their fellow brigade members engaged in the Battle of Cane River near Monett’s Ferry and then, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May to enable federal gunboats to more easily navigate the Red River’s fluctuating water levels.

Beginning 16 May, G Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June.

Throughout this long and difficult campaign, a significant number of men from the 47th Pennsylvania were also felled with disease. Many deemed too ill to continue serving were transported to Union Army general hospitals in New Orleans; some died there, and were interred with military honors at what would ultimately become the Chalmette National Cemetery. Still others were honorably discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability and shipped home.

Meanwhile, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock took on a new challenge – helping to buoy the spirits of the surviving members of the regiment as they learned that their fight was still not yet over.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Undaunted by their travails in Bayou country, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued their fight to preserve the Union during the summer of 1864. After receiving orders on the 4th of July to return to the East Coast, they did so in two stages.

Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area beginning 7 July while the men from Companies B, G and K remained behind on detached duty and to await transportation. (Led by F Company Captain Henry S. Harte, they finally sailed away at the end of the month, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.)

Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln on 12 July, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock and the men from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I joined up with General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap in mid-July 1864. There, they fought in the Battle of Cool Spring and, once again, assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.

Halltown Ridge, looking west with “old ruin of 123 on left. Colored people’s shanty right.” Union troops entrenched here after Major-General Philip Sheridan took command of the Middle Military Division, 7 August 1864 (photo/caption: Thomas Dwight Biscoe, 2 August 1884, courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor. Records of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirm that the regiment was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia in early August 1864, and engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early. From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville, and engaged in related post-battle skirmishes with the enemy over subsequent days.

The opening weeks of September also saw a transformation of the regiment as a significant number of key officers and enlisted men opted to honorably muster out upon expiration of their respective three-year terms of service. Among those departing on 18 September 1864 were the captains of Companies D, E, and F. That same day, knowing the fight to preserve America’s union was far from over, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock re-enrolled and re-mustered at Berryville, Virginia for a second, three-year tour of duty.

* Note: While Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock was away serving in the military, his daughter Ida was also blazing her own trail in life, earning her degree from the Female Seminary at Fayetteville, Pennsylvania sometime in 1864.

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, Virginia (September 1864)

Battle of Opequan (aka Third Winchester), Virginia, 19 September 1864 (public domain).

Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company A and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon”). The battle, also known as “Third Winchester,” is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and their supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Finally reaching the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with the Confederate forces commanded by Early. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Rebel artillery stationed on high ground. Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and their fellow 19th Corps members were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but many Union casualties ensued when another Confederate artillery group opened fire as Union troops tried to cross a clearing.

As a nearly fatal gap began to appear between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units commanded by Brigadier-Generals David A. Russell and Emory Upton. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers opened their lines long enough to enable Union cavalry forces led by William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces, Battle of Opequan, 19 September 1864 (Kurz & Allison, c. 1893, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began whittling away and pushing the Confederates steadily back. Early’s men ultimately retreated in the face of the valor displayed by the “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Confederate Army retreated to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September), eight miles south of Winchester, and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one.

Sent out on skirmishing parties afterward, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania finally made camp at Cedar Creek. Moving forward, they would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, who mustered out on 23-24 September upon expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, Good and Alexander were replaced by others equally admired both for their temperament and the front line experience: John Peter Shindel Gobin, Charles W. Abbott and Levi Stuber.

Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia (19 October 1864)

Alfred Waud’s 1864 sketch, Surprise at Cedar Creek, captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle-pit positions, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

It was during 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crop-production infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops – weakened by hunger – peeled off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day.

From a military standpoint, it was another impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October 1864, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to historian Samuel P. Bates:

When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – ‘Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The Union’s counterattack stomped Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions thusly:

When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went ‘whirling up the valley’ in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn, and no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.

But, it was costly; casualties for the 47th were particularly high as multiple members of the regiment were killed or grievously wounded in action. Through it all, Regimental Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock was right there in the thick of the combat. Standing tall as a symbol of valor and faith in his beloved Almighty with men he had ministered to for more than three years, he survived multiple near misses as three bullets pierced his cap and coat while his comrades fell wounded and dying around him in carnage too terrible to contemplate.

As the guns stilled and the smoke of battle began to dissipate, he wearily began to minister to the dead and dying once again.

Following these major engagements, he and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December before taking up outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia) five days before Christmas.

Excerpt of Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock’s 31 December 1864 chaplain’s report to Brigadier-General L. Thomas (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

On New Year’s Eve 1864, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock reflected on his regiment’s most recent devastating, but successful combat experience in his year-end report to superiors:

…. Of the large number wounded in the terrible battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19th/64, comparatively few have died, probably fourteen, or even a less number will cover the entire loss, whilst nearly all the surviving ones, will be able to join our ranks.

No deaths have occurred in the Reg [sic] during the month, whilst few are sick in Hospital, and the health generally is good.

For some time past, the Reg. had been deficient in its quota of officers, but this deficiency is now being happily filled by suitable promotions from the ranks.

In the aggregate it now numbers 882 men. Of which 24 are officers.

In a moral and religious point of view, there is still a large margin for improvement and it is my earnest endeavor to devote all proper and available means for the spiritual welfare of the command.

Under its new organization and in the fourth year of its history, our Reg. has an encouraging future before it.

In conclusion, I may yet say that the review of our National life during the year that is about being numbered with the past, affords rare promise for the future. At no period in the history of our great contest for freedom ad unity has the prospect of returning peace, through honorable conflict been so promising.

The efforts, the sacrifices, the patience of the loyal states and People are crowned, at last, with triumphs worthy of the holy cause of liberty.

Yet a little while, and we shall rejoice in a peace based on the everlasting foundations of Religion, Humanity, Nationality and freedom.

For this defeat of traitors at home as well as of Rebels in arms and their sympathizers abroad, for this expression of stern and resolute purpose, for this unshrinking determination to make the last needed sacrifice, how can we be sufficiently grateful?

May the God of our fathers still smile upon us….

* NoteChaplain Rodrock’s 31 December 1864 report to superiors had noticeable errors, including his significant underestimation of his regiment’s casualty figures during Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Camapaign. During the Battle of Cedar Creek alone, more than 174 members of the 47th Pennsylvania were declared killed, wounded, captured, or missing (40 killed in action, 99 wounded in action, 15 of whom later died, 25 captured, 10 of whom later died while still being held as POWs or shortly after their release by CSA troops, 9 missing, 1 unresolved). While he may not yet have had full casualty figures by the time he penned the report above, he would certainly have been able to at least obtain accurate figures regarding the number of men who had been killed and mortally wounded.

To read the full version of this letter, see Chaplain William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock’s Civil War Letters and Reports (1864).

1865 – 1866

Excerpt of Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock’s 31 January 1865 chaplain’s report to Brigadier-General L. Thomas (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

In his 31 January 1865 report from Camp Fairview near Charlestown, Virginia to Brigadier-General L. Thomas Adjutant General of the U.S. Army, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock noted that the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division of the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps, and observed that:

Although God is not in men’s thought’s, his law being violated with impunity and his authority contemned ‘at will’; yet as a nation, our God is the Lord. The mind rest with pleasure on the abounding proof of this great fact. The history of the past, how full of it!

From the first planting of our Fathers on this soil, onward to this day, the true God has been claimed, as ours. The foundations of our government were laid in the full and firm apprehension and acknowledgment of this fact. There is one scene recorded in our history which more than all others prove this; we have it commemorated in the engraving of the First Prayer in Congress.

There were the sages and patriots of our land – the representatives of the whole country. They had reached a most critical point in their deliberations. They feel the need of higher wisdom than their own. They call in the minister of God, the servant of Jesus Christ; and there and then, in most affecting service, our country – our whole country is laid at the foot of the Divine throne.

If ever there was heartfelt acknowledgment of a living and true God, and most hearty and sincere invocation of his favor, it was there. For themselves, for their living countrymen, for those to come after them, they cast their all on Good, and bound themselves and all to him! Most touching and ever-memorable scene! Worthy the occasion and worthy of a great nation. In this spirit the Christian and patriot, whether in civic or military life strive to labor, and should fire all hearts and nerve all arms in our present fiery struggle for universal freedom….

He went on to report on “the favorable and healthy condition” of the 47th Pennsylvania, which had an “aggregate” strength of 891 at this time. “Of these 19 are transiently on the sick list.”  Adding that no deaths were reported during the month, he noted:

We employ all available means for promoting the temporal and spiritual welfare of the command.

Having a large library of select books, I am prepared to meet the wants of the men in this direction.

Besides I distribute several hundred religious papers among them every week. I am convinced, by exposure, that this is one of the most effectual and welcome means of gaining the attention of the mass of the men to religious truth, and keeping up the tie between them and the Church at home….

In his report from Camp Fairview near Charlestown, Virginia to Brigadier-General Thomas on 28 February 1865, Chaplain Rodrock observed:

That blessed peace whose type and emblem is our holy Gospel it is as yet not ours to enjoy. The stern alarums of war still resound in the ears of the nation. And as our victorious columns are marching on, these are sounding the death-knell of the so called Southern Confederacy.

In the strange system and series of paradoxes which make up human life, it often happens that the very disciples of ‘good will’ and brotherly love must buckle on the harness of war. Such emphatically is the case in our present contest. Nor should it be otherwise. Even our Saviour [sic] came not to bring peace, but a sword until the right should triumph and the sword be beat to a ploughshare. And as our present struggle involves on our side, all that is worth living for and all that is worth dying for, it may well fire all hearts and nerve all arms in its behalf.

The Flag which Hernando Cortes carried in that most extraordinary of expeditions in Mexico had for its device, flames of fire on a white and blue ground, with a red cross in the midst of the blaze, and the following words on the borders as a motto, ‘Amici, Crucem sequamur, et in hoc signo vincemur!’ ‘Friends, let us follow the cross, and, trusting in that emblem we shall conquer!’

In these more enlightened times, with more intelligent soldiers, with a purer Church at our back, and with a holier cause, we will keep the motto of Cortes steadily before our eyes; and in personal as in national experience, we shall turn the war into a blessing to the country and to humanity….

Again describing the health of his regiment as “good,” he also noted that there had been a “large influx of recruits … making our present aggregate 954 men, including 35 commissioned officers,” and that 22 men were on the sick list “all of which are transient cases” with no deaths having occurred that month.

Whilst in a moral and religious point of view there is still a wide margin for amendment and improvement, it is nevertheless gratifying to state that all practicable and available means are employed for the promotion of the spiritual and physical welfare of the command.

And in this connection, I desire to mention our indebtedness to the U.S. Christian Commission for furnishing us with a large supply of excellent reading matter and such delicacies as are highly useful for the Hospital.

That God is in this war of rebellion, that he has brought it upon us, that He over rules it, that its issues are in his hand, that He intends to teach us and the whole world some of the greatest and most sublime lessons ever taught in his providential dealings since the world began, is becoming more and more manifest….

Assigned in late February 1865 to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers remained at Camp Fairview near Charlestown, Virginia through 31 March 1865 when Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock penned his next report to Brigadier-General Thomas. Describing his regiment’s condition as “favorable and improved,” he added:

In a military sense it has greatly improved in efficiency and strength. By daily drill and a  constant accession of recruits, these desirable objects have been attained. The entire strength of the Reg. – rank and file, is now 1019 men.

Its sanitary condition is all that can be desired. But 26 are on the sick list, and these are only transient cases. We have now our full number of Surgeons – all efficient and faithful officers.

We have lost none by natural death. Two of our men were wounded by guerillas while on duty at their Post. From the effects of which one died on the same day of the sad occurrence. He was buried yesterday with appropriate ceremonies. All honor to the heroic dead.

In a moral and religious point of view, we can never attain too great a proficiency. And in our Reg. like all others, the vices incident to army life prevail to a considerable extent, whatever means may be employed for their restraint.

Still it affords me pleasure to state, that every possible facility is extended the men for moral and religious culture. Divine services are held whenever practicable, and a good supply of moral and religious reading matter, in the form of books and papers, is regulary [sic] furnished to the command….

During this month, the 47th Pennsylvanians continued to recuperate from the battering they took during Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Their presence on the periphery of the war changed, however, in early April 1865. According to a biographical sketch of Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock in the Acts and Proceedings of the Eastern Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, Chaplain Rodrock “was present with the regiment at Appomattox, Va., April 9th, 1865, when General Lee and his army surrendered to Union forces, General Grant in command,”

Excerpt of Rev. William Rodrock’s 30 April 1865 chaplain’s report to Brigadier-General L. Thomas with commentary regarding President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

Then, barely a week later, he and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians became eyewitnesses to history yet again. Moved via Winchester and Kernstown back to the Washington, D.C. area, they were responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital – this time following the shocking assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens on 19 April 1865, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.

On 30 April 1865, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock spelled out the grief he shared with his 47th Pennsylvania comrades, who were now part of the U.S. Army of the Shenandoah’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Division:

The present month claims more than an ordinary place in our National history. In the very hour of general exultation and rejoicing for vouchsafed blessings and victories on our arms, promising speedy restoration of internal peace and return of prosperity and happiness, our great and good Chief Magistrate, Abraham Lincoln, was slain by the hand of foul conspiracy and vile assassination. For the first time the annals of the country have been stained by a political assassination! It is a crime against God, against the Nation, against humanity and against liberty, that has thus been perpetrated! It is the madness of Treason and murder! And the day that commemorates the Crucifixion of the Saviour [sic] of Man is henceforth made forever memorable by a new crime against the Law of God and the Country.

But we must bow low, before the Almighty Hand that thus shows us the weakness and wickedness of man and the vanity of all human calculations!

May this fearful blow recall us all to our duties! We will draw near to the Altar of our country, also, as we approach the Altar of our God. We have great duties in this crisis. And the first is to forget selfishness and passion and party, and look to the salvation of the Country.

As to our lamented President, let us do justice to his memory! He dies in the hour of his country’s restored greatness, and in the full fruition of his own personal triumph. The assassin’s blow, will rank him in the memory of mankind among the martyrs of freedom.

The 19th inst. – the day set apart for the funeral of our late President, was duly observed with appropriate ceremonies by our Brigade. The Regiments present were the 47th Pa. V. V.’s, 8th Vermont, 12th Conn. and 153rd N. Y. It became my duty to officiate on the occasion, and it was one of the most solemn and impressive sciences I ever witnessed….

He went on to describe the regiment’s condition as “good and encouraging,” adding:

During the greater part of the month, we have been more or less on the move in [the] Shenandoah Valley. This interfered materially with our ordinary religious services. Still it is my earnest effort, to afford every possible facility and privelege [sic] for the spiritual advancement of the command. Holding divine services whenever practicable and furnishing the men with moral and religious reading.

Our present aggregate is 1020 men. 37 officers and 983 men.

The health of the Reg. continues remarkably good. The number of sick and wounded for the present month sums up 22. Of these 13 have been returned to duty, leaving but 9 today.

In the Reg. proper there have been no deaths. We have received intelligence, however, that several of our men captured in the Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19th/64, died in rebel prisons….

Spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (Matthew Brady, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Letters home and newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania in later years confirm that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during the earliest days of their imprisonment and trial.

As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade, Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, they participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May. Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock continued his commentary on the assassination of President Lincoln and its aftermath in his 31 May 1865 to Brigadier-General L. Thomas, penned from Camp Brightwood on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.:

The wise kind of the Scriptures speaks of a sorrow that pervades the human heart, ‘in the midst of laughter.’ The truthfulness of this Divine philosophy is [a] matter of daily experience. Our most joyous seasons are intermingled with a sadness that often challenges definition. Every garden has its sepulchre [sic]. Every draught of sweet has its ingredient of bitter. This fact has never been so fully realized as during this month. With the mighty army of brave soldiers congregated and reviewed in Washington, and the superadded hosts from civil life, expressions of deep regret, that Abraham Lincoln is not here to have witnessed the great pageant of the 23rd and 24th inst. have been universal. Not the splendid victories which our brave soldiers have won – not the pleasing prospect that they are ‘homeward bound’ – not the consolatory thought that the reins of government have fallen into the hands of so good and true a man as Andrew Johnson – have served to restrain these utterances of grief and sorrow. Had it been God’s will to spare Mr. Lincoln’s life, what an eclat his presence would have imparted to the mighty pageant!

But as He willed otherwise and ‘doeth all things well,’ it is ours to learn the great lesson of the hour….

He again reported on his regiment’s “good condition and discipline,” adding:

Now that the war is virtually over, our strength is being gradually lessened by the discharge of disabled men and those whose term of enlistment is about expiring. Our aggregate strength is now 1005 men – rank and file. During the month 15 men have been discharged, 5 on the sick list, and 3 died in General Hospital. In the Reg. proper no deaths have occurred….

Divine services are regularly held on all proper occasions, unless unavoidably interfered with…

On their final swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June, again as part of Dwight’s Division, but this time with the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Penning a report from Savannah to Brigadier-General L. Thomas on 30 June, Chaplain W. D. Rodrock observed:

Faith in Providence is natural to the human soul, and, indeed indestructible. It gives inspiration to all songs of hope, inflames the imaginations of Prophets, imparts a charm to Philosophy, exalts patriotism above the fear of suffering, and fills the eye of religion with a light that brightens like the dawn as it discerns the advent of the coming day.

Banish, the thought, the conception, or the faith which men in some sort cherish, that God worketh in all and through all for the consumation [sic] of his holy purposes, and time at once becomes a sepulchre [sic]! If riotous passions, vengeful prejudices, base animosities, low ambitions, and Satanic selfishness are the chief factors in the problem of human destiny, then what else is this world than a wandering hell. But God makes his presence and power known; and oftentimes in tones of such terrible majesty as causes the nations to quake before him.

The great struggle through which we have just passed is now over. The passions which begot it have nearly subsided. But the material forces which have met in arms, great as they have been in their sheer weightiness were as nothing when compared with the moral forces which they represented. We find our interest not so much in contemplating the tremendous display of heroic valor, which on either side has dazzled and awed the wondering world, as we do in estimating the civil and religious principles assailed and defended. The morality of a war is its sole excuse, and gives it all its dignity.

The sword is the horrid type of the utmost wickedness; and therefore Christian nations can only engage in a war, which is in some shape a defensive one. All nations who have seized the sword to gratify the lust of dominion or the greed of personal ambition, have perished by the sword.

Peoples who have delighted in war, have all, sooner or later, fallen under its crushing and ruthless violence. Ours has been a conflict between brethren, fatal indeed, in many ways, but still crowned with great and glorious results for all, North, South, East and West. Viewed in its widest horizon, this terrible civil war of the past four years reaches its triumphant close freighted with promises of immeasurable good to freedom and humanity. We have baptized anew the altars of freedom with our blood, and as a result of the war, behold a nation, living, teaching, and preaching the glorious doctrine on which it is founded, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness….

And, once again, he described the health of the regiment as “encouraging” and “good,” noting:

Notwithstanding our transition into a more Southern climate, since the beginning of this month, our list of sick is small. The present aggregate of the Reg. is 861. Rank and file. On the sick list there are but 16 transient cases. No deaths have occurred during the month.

Ruins of the Catholic Cathedral, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865 (George N. Barnard. U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Relieving the 165th New York in July, they were housed in Charleston, South Carolina in a mansion formerly owned by the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. But, once again, typhoid and other diseases stalked the men of the 47th. In his report to Brigadier-General L. Thomas from Charleston at the end of that month, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock observed:

In our age of breathless progress, great events jostle each other for the priority. And war and peace, prosperity and calamity, crises in politics, finance or social experiment, follow each other with the quick flash of the ever varying scenes in a kaleidoscope. It is difficult to imagine the posture of the nation a single year ago, or to realize how, already the achievements of the war are gathering the dust of history.

Already, too, we are counting up the cost of the late war.

And speaking reverently, and feeling all the weight of suffering it brought forth; mindful of the negligence, cowardice and lack of patriotism in which it was fostered at the  North, and the ambition, cruel selfishness and accursed treachery which nurtured it at the South, bating no jot from the amazing total of life and treasure which were spent in its prosecution, by every state, from California to Florida, and the desolation which scores of years cannot wholly hide under the mantle of present prosperity; but after all, the loyal people of the Union, beginning with those saintly sufferers whose first sharp pangs of the loss of loved ones have been soothed by the lapse of time and reflection, will pronounce the war to have been ‘for the best.’

The Nation, devoutly grateful to God, seems now to regard this terrible four years scourge as an instrument of His choice for our education and improvement.

Since my report of the previous month, our command was transferred from Savannah to this Post….

He then went on to report the “health of the Reg. as good” with 37 men on the sick list and the regiment’s “general condition as satisfactory,” adding:

Our number, however, is gradually diminishing through the mustering out of those whose time is expiring, and a few desertions.

Our aggregate is 816 – officers and men…. I regret to state that two of our comrades died, while detached on duty. Peace to their ashes and rest to their souls.

Every facility for moral and spiritual improvement is accorded the men. And the only poignant regret I entertain is that all do not equally strive to win the prize of the soul’s greatest and best interest.

Sometime during this phase of duty, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock assumed responsibilities as the Union Army’s post chaplain in addition to his regular duties as regimental chaplain. Continuing to reflect on the war’s impact in his 31 August 1865 report from Charleston to Brigadier-General L. Thomas, he then observed:

The great sentiment which should now move and pervade every heart is that of profound gratitude to Almighty God for the solution of a problem of world-wide significance involved in our recent struggle.

The mad discord and rage of battle gives place to the holy melodies of love and peace. The settlement of certain questions, however, growing out of the contest, will test the capacity and statesmanship of our wisest and best men, to the uttermost. But the God of our Fathers, who has been with us in all the past, will not forsake us in the present emergency. His interposition on our behalf has been of such a character for the last four years that only an atheistic fool can fail to regard it. Whether we consider the war in its conduct, or in the manner of its close, we feel constrained to say:– ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous [sic] in our eyes.’

It is now a time for good and patriotic men of all sections and parties to unite in saying, ‘This is the day which the Lord hat made; we will rejoice and be glad.’

That the long, fierce terrible war is done; that victory crowns our banners; that slavery has been swept from the land, that happy hearth-stones and every thing [sic] that adorns civilized life will take the place of war’s glories in our National diadem….

And describing the condition of the regiment once again as “favorable,” he added, “And taking into account the fact that the war is over, and the men anxious to go home, the morale and discipline is also encouraging.”

Religious services are held every sabbath [sic], and the privelege [sic] for attendance is extended to all. Our aggregate sums up 806. Of which 36 are commissioned officers. The number in the Hospital is 27. The Surgeon regards them all as transient cases.

It is our sad lot to record the death of three of our comrades for the present month. They were buried with the honors of war and appropriate religious services….

The year also had proven to be a sad one for Chaplain Rodrock personally, having received word, sometime that Fall, that another of his siblings – James J. W. Rodrock – had suffered an untimely death on 22 September 1865. Just 33 when he was laid to rest at the Greenwood Cemetery in Howertown, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, he had grown up to become a gentleman with an estate valued at roughly $2,400, according to the 1860 federal census, and had been residing in North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, with wife Catharine (Frantz) Rodrock.

In his 30 November 1865 report from Charleston, South Carolina to Brigadier-General L. Thomas, Chaplain W. D. C. Rodrock noted that:

Having discharged the duties of Post Chaplain for some time past, in connection with my duties in the Reg., my labors have been materially increased.

I hold religious services in Post Hospital every Sabbath and daily administer to the spiritual wants of our sick.

I have taken great pains to supply both the Hospital and Reg. with proper moral and religious books and papers. These have proved to be very profitable and useful.

Our Divine services are well attended and an encouraging interest manifested in them. Though it is always to be regretted and lamented that so many lose sight of their souls’ eternal interest and willfully neglect the means of grace….

He then added that there were just 19 men – all transient cases – on the regiment’s sick list with the 47th Pennsylvania’s aggregate strength at 720.

Finally, on Christmas day 1865, the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers began to honorably muster out, a process that continued through early January 1866. In the midst of this flurry of paperwork, Chaplain W. D. Rodrock penned final report to Brigadier-General L. Thomas. Writing his final thoughts on New Year’s Eve of 1865, he again noted that the regiment’s health was “good,” with “but a few on the sick list and these … only transient cases.” He was, however, less effusive this time in his estimation of his subordinates’ spiritual health:

With all the facilities afforded and all the opportunities extended men will ignore their religious duties and recklessly plunge into sin and wickedness.

It becomes my sad duty to note the death of one of our number. He was buried with appropriate religious services and military honors.

The aggregate strength of the Reg. is 710.

This number comprises 36 commissioned officers and 674 enlisted men.

As the Reg. is under orders to be mustered out and our muster our rolls are completed, we expect to embark for Penn’a in a few days.

Hence, I may safely presume that this will be my final report as Chaplain of this Reg….

He then signed his name to his final report to superiors, making sure to note that his future address would be “Fayetteville, Franklin Co., Penn’a.”

Following a stormy voyage home in early January 1866, the weary 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked in New York City, and were then shipped to Philadelphia by train, where the regiment was officially mustered out at Camp Cadwalader from 9-16 January 1866. According to his biographical sketch in in the Acts and Proceedings of the Eastern Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, at the time of his honorable discharge on 12 January 1866:

Mr. Rodrock [had] the distinction of serving his country longer than any other chaplain of a volunteer regiment. Besides attending to the sick and dying of his own command, he was frequently called upon, especially during the terrible campaigns of 1864 and 1865, to minister to the men in other commands in the absence of their chaplains, officiating at the funerals of hundreds of soldiers of other regiments. On April 19, 1865, he delivered in the open field the funeral oration on the death of President Lincoln to the entire first division of the 19th Army Corps.

To learn what happened to Rev. Rodrock after the war, read part three of In the Valley of the Shadow: The Rev. William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock, A.M., Chaplain, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

To read the full versions of Rev. Rodrock’s aforementioned reports, see Chaplain William Dewitt Clinton Rodrock’s Civil War Letters and Reports (1865).




1. Articles and notices, The Allentown Democrat. Allentown, Pennsylvania: 1884:

  • Notice of Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock’s appointment as Reformed church pastor in Smithfield and Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 4 June 1884.

2. Articles and notices, The Carbon Advocate. Lehighton, Pennsylvania: 1882:

  • Notice of sermon and lecture at the Weissport Reformed church. Lehighton, Pennsylvania: The Carbon Advocate, 9 September 1882.

3. Articles and notices, Lebanon Daily News. Lebanon, Pennsylvania: 1882-1888:

  • Notice of free lecture by Rev. W. D. C. Rodrock at the Coleman Institute. Lebanon, Pennsylvania: Lebanon Daily News, 15 March 1882;
  • The Bible He Carried Through the War. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Lebanon Daily News, 23 October 1888.

4. Articles and notices, The Perry County Democrat. Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: 1871:

  • Ida May Rodrock’s marriage notice (to John Black). Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: The Perry County Democrat, 22 February 1871;
  • Ida May Black’s death notice. Bloomfield, Pennsylvania: The Perry County Democrat, 20 November 1872.

5. Articles and notices, Reading Times. Reading, Pennsylvania: 1903:

  • W. D. C. Rodrock’s death notice. Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Times, 29 August 1903.

6. Articles and notices, The Times. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1888:

  • Notice of Rev. Rodrock’s attendance at the annual regimental reunion of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (including a description of his Civil War responsibility to transport funds home to families from their loved ones). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Times, 28 October 1888.

7. Cazalet, Sylvain. American Homeopathy Was Started in Bath and The Allentown Academy: America’s First German Medical School, in Articles on Homeopathy. Homépathe International, retrieved online 1 March 2018.

8. Fitch, Blanche R., in California Death Index. Sacramento, California: California Department of Health and Welfare, 1932.

9. Letter from Key West (letter from “W. D. C. R., Chaplain Forty-seventh Regiment, P.V.”). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Press, 31 March 1862.

10. Lines to the memory of Major General O. M. Mitchell [i.e., Mitchel], who died at Beaufort, S.C., Oct. 30, 1862 [electronic resource], in American broadsides and ephemera [Series 1, no. 11157, author/creator: George Douglas Brewerton, 1862, American Antiquarian Society copy of verses in seventeen stanzas on the death of Major Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel from yellow fever]. Stanford, California: Stanford University Libraries, electronic text and image data.

11. Reports and Other Correspondence of W. D. C. Rodrock, Chaplain, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (Record Groups R29, R91, R171, R283, R327, R460, R555, R756, R796, R951, R1007). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1864-1865.

12. Rev. Jacob C. Becker, in A History of Catasauqua in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Searle & Dressler Co., Inc. 1914.

13. Rev. W. DeWitt Clinton Rodrock (obituary), in Acts and Proceedings of the Eastern Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, Volumes 151-161. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Reformed Church Publication Board, 1901.

14. Rev. William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, in Franklin and Marshall College, Obituary Record, No. 8, Vol. II – Part IV, p. 110. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Franklin and Marshall College Alumni Association, June 1904.

15. Rodrock, W. D. C., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

16. Rodrock (obituary of Warren Alexander Rodrock), in Died. Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Franklin Reporter, 10 February 1864.

17. Rodrock, Edward M. and Emma Rodrock, in U.S. Passport Applications. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1920.

18. Rodrock, William D. C. and Julia M. Rodrock, in U.S. Civil War Pension Index (application no.: 296549, certificate no.: 260499, filed by the veteran on 17 July 1879; application no.: 793449, certificate no.: 574458, filed by the veteran’s widow from New Jersey on 24 October 1903). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

19. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

20. U.S. Census: Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California: 1820, 1830, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.

21. W. D. C. Rodrock, J. C. Emerson, et. al. To the Friends of Our Soldiers. Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: Valley Spirit, 27 August 1862.