When stretcher bearers carried the badly wounded Brig. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain ashore at Annapolis, Maryland on June 20, 1864, the news soon reached Reverend Henry C. Henries, the chief Army chaplain at the United States General Hospital in Annapolis.
The War Department had opened the hospital on “the neat, comfortable buildings and beautiful grounds of the U.S. Naval School” in Annapolis, Maryland, wrote Reverend Amos Stevens Billingsley, an Army chaplain who served at the hospital during the war.
The Naval Academy, its shore “washed by the swelling tide of the pure water of Chesapeake Bay … is most delightfully situated, and enjoying the sweet, refreshing breeze rolling up from the “old ocean,” and surrounded by a salubrious atmosphere, rendered it very conducive to the health and comfort of the patients,” Billingsley commented.
“Well supplied with surgeons and a good corps of faithful lady-matrons [nurses], the patients fared very well,” he believed.
Chaplains ministered to soldiers spiritually and physically. Henries was at Annapolis a long time, “for nearly four years” during the war, according to a tribute. Born in Orrington on May 8, 1820, he attended college, and, by now an ardent abolitionist, became a Methodist minister.
Henries married Abbie Paine, “a small energetic” Bostonian who shared his abolitionist views. They moved to Lincoln so he could serve at a Methodist church. The Henries had at least two children, daughters Adelaide and Emma.
The first chaplain of the 8th Maine Infantry, Henries fell sick during the 1861 expedition against Confederate-held Hilton Head and resigned due to poor health. He rejoined the Army some months later and reported to the new U.S. General Hospital in Annapolis.
Billingsley described Henries as “a kind and generous friend.” Sifting through historical records, a researcher senses Henries caring for the diverse patients, men felled by combat or disease, a minister who well represented Christian mercy in dark circumstances and who ften found death knocking at his door.
Billingsley “took charge of the religious work of the hospital” when Henries later went “East,” evidently in winter 1865. “With a good chapel, organ, and choir, we had a good attentive congregation and very interesting prayer-meetings,” Billingsley wrote, suggesting that other ministers worked with him.
“With a very large, well-selected library and a good supply of [news]papers, the patients were very well supplied with reading matter,” he observed.
Representing the United States Christian Commission (a private organization) at the U.S. General Hospital, Henries played a similar role amidst the Confederates in a nearby POW camp. “His only compensation was the assistance given him by delegates who occasionally labored under his direction, throughout his immense parish of disabled men.”
On a late July 1862 morning, Henries walked through a particular ward in the General Hospital. “On the vacant bed of a soldier, he placed the single-paged tract, entitled, ‘Will you go?’ It was a copy of the hymn bearing the same name,” recalled an eyewitness, Reverend R.J. Parvin of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.
The soldier, John Waugh of the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves, returned to his bed, “picked up the hymn … and threw it down,” Parvin said. Waugh again picked up the hymn, read the prayer-meeting invitation printed on it, and tossed the hymn aside.
But he picked it up a third time, read the invitation and hymn, and “that night … [with] his wounded arm in a sling and tract in hand” attended the prayer meeting run by Henries. Waugh became a Christian that night.
He soon rejoined his regiment and later died in a Virginia skirmish. Parvin read Waugh’s name in a published casualty report; setting aside the newspaper, Parvin picked up and re-read the hymnal tract “that he had given me as a gift.”
Their work at Annapolis was tough, physically and mentally, for Henries and other chaplains, who “with all these comforts and appliances … could not keep death out of the camp,” Billingsley admitted. Hundreds of the sickest patients were returning Union prisoners of war, malnourished and often frighteningly ill. Many died at Annapolis.
“In spite of all their [chaplains’] skill and attention, ‘the king of terrors’ would invade their thick brick walls and tent wards and pluck off his victim daily,” Billingsley sighed, speaking for Henries, who encountered death too many times.
“To see the brave heroes drop off, and four or five consigned to the tomb in a day, was, to one not accustomed to such rapid mortality, deeply impressive,” Billingsley admitted.
Eight days after Chamberlain reached Annapolis, “believing that the numerous friends” of the general “would be glad to hear whatever may be of interest in his case[,] I take the liberty of sending these few lines” to the Daily Whig & Courier, Henries wrote. Relating how Chamberlain was shot at Petersburg and then promoted to brigadier general, Henries added the sweet news that “Mrs. Chamberlain is with him, together with two of her lady friends,” and that the general received every possible attention.
Working in intimate proximity with disease and death, Henries ultimately contracted typhoid fever in late winter 1865 and resigned his commission. En route home to Maine, he died in Philadelphia on March 30, ten days before Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Courthouse.
In death Henries received a final honor: He was buried beside the Soldiers’ Monument dedicated at Mount Hope Cemetery in 1864. Just a little time-worn, his stone stands within the monument’s enclosure to this day.
“Chaplain of the U.S. Gen. Hospital Annapolis, Md.” the front engraving reads.
On the back are the lines possibly written by Abbie Henries: “Counting not his life dear unto himself, he labored day and night to relieve the sufferings of our returned prisoners, until he fell a victim of a malignant fever prevalent among them.”
Sources: Reverend Amos S. Billingsley, Christianity in The War, Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, Philadelphia, Penn., 1872, p. 77; Craig L. Claybrook and John W. Reed, editors, Triumph Amidst Bloodshed: Civil War Soldiers’ Spiritual Victories, Primedia eLaunch Publishing; Reverend H.C. Henries, Daily Whig & Courier, Wednesday, July 6, 1864; Brett Harvey, A Good Man, 2013 Civil War Essay Contest, Maine Historical Society. Harvey is a great-granddaughter of Reverend Henry C. Haines.
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Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.