Ministering to Troops on Hart and Davids Islands During and Shortly After the Civil War
Home Page of the Historic Pelham Blog.
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."
Mon., Jul. 07, 2014: More About Pelham Residents Who Served Their Nation During the U.S. Civil War.
Thu., Jun. 12, 2014: Eyewitness Account of Prisoner of War Concentration Camp That Once Stood in Pelham.
Fri., May 21, 2010: The Announcement of President Abraham Lincoln's Assassination in Pelham, NY on April 15, 1865.
Tue., Mar. 30, 2010: Obituary of William McAllister Who Built Civil War Gunboats in Pelham.
Mon., Mar. 29, 2010: Nathaniel H. Bouldin, a Poor Confederate Prisoner of War Who Died in Pelham in 1865.
Tue., Nov. 03, 2009: Pelham Students Help Civil War Soldiers on Davids' Island in 1864.
Fri., Nov. 18, 2005: A List of Pelham Residents Who Served the Union During the Civil War.
Mon., Jul. 11, 2005: Pelham Cemetery on City Island.
Fri., Jun. 3, 2005: Davids' Island Off the Coast of Pelham Manor During the Civil War.
Tue., Apr. 12, 2005: Pelham and the Civil War Ironclad USS Monitor.
Wayne Kempton, Archivist for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, has studied efforts by members of the Episcopal Diocese of New York to minister to Union and Confederate troops on Hart Island and Davids Island during and shortly after the Civil War. Some of his findings are contained in an important paper, a small portion of which is quoted below. See Kempton, Wayne, "In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; And In All Things Charity" -- A Historical Account of The Mssion of the Diocese of New York of the Protestant Episcopal Church To the Instutions and the Potter's Field on Hart Island, pp. 7-8 (NY, NY: Wayne Kempton, Archivist for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2006).
In his paper, Mr. Kempton traces the construction of the Union Chapel and, later, Grace Church, on City Island. He details the use of Hart Island, then part of the Town of Pelham, as a mustering in location and a training post for Union soldiers beginning as early as 1863. The Federal government built facilities on the island to house between 2,000 and 3,000 troops. Eventually more than 50,000 Union troops were trained on Hart Island.
With the rise of Hart Island as a mustering in and training facility, the Federal government also leased nearby David's Island on the border of Pelham and New Rochelle where it built hospital and military facilities. By 1863, the women of Christ Church in the Town of Pelham were among the many who were ministering to the needs of sick and wounded soldiers -- both Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners.
As archivist Kempton notes, the Christ Church parochial report found in the 1864 Journal of Convention notes that Christ Church Rector Edward W. Syle visited Hart Island on Sunday afternoons:
"Hart Island, a military depot, with an average of 2,000 men upon it, is as yet unprovided with a Chaplain of its own; the Rector (then the Rev. Edward W. Syle) visits the post on Sunday afternoons, as often as weather and other circumstances will permit. . . . Several ladies in the parish are unwearied in their attention to the sick and wounded soldiers in the Hospital on David's Island."
Mr. Kempton further notes that by the following year, the Assistant Minister at Christ Church, William Feltwell, visited Hart Island "diligently" to minister to the troops, and "for a few weeks held one of the regimental chaplaincies." By this time, a rather brutal and horrific prisoner of war camp had been built on Hart Island by enclosing an open space with fencing and housing thousands of men without any adequate shelter inside. Though the prisoner of war camp operated only about four months before the war ended, thousands were crammed into its confines and nearly 7% of the men perished, principally from cholera, in a dark chapter of the history of the Town of Pelham.
* * * * *
"Part I: The Early Missionary Days on Hart Island
In 1849 the Rev. Cornelius Winter Bolton, son of the Rev. Robert Bolton - Rector and founder of Christ Episcopal Church in Pelham Manor, Westchester County - came to City Island. A building known as the 'Union Chapel' was secured 'for the use of all denominations' there. In 1862, the Rev. Marmaduke M. Dillon Lee, then rector of Christ Church, in his parochial report found in the Episcopal Diocese of New York's Journal of Convention for that year, indicates that 'a church is in the course of erection' on City Island. He reportedly held the first service on City Island on February 7, 1862. The church building was completed in 1863 and on October 13, 1863 Grace Church, City Island was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, the Sixth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
In a timeline found on correctionhistory.org, the website of the New York City Department of Correction, we read that in 1863 on Hart Island the 25th [Cavalry] mustered in during February, March, and Apirl, the earliest known recorded mustering on the island of Union recruit units in the Civil War. Facilities on the island housed between 2,000 and 3,000 recruits and over 50,000 men were trained there.
By this time the Civil War was raging and many sick and wounded soldiers were cared for on David's Island. The ladies of Christ Church participated in this ministry.
The first mention of missionary work on Hart Island appears in the Christ Church parochial report found in the 1864 Journal of Convention.
'Hart Island, a military depot, with an average of 2,000 men upon it, is as yet unprovided with a Chaplain of its own; the Rector (then the Rev. Edward W. Syle) visits the post on Sunday afternoons, as often as weather and other circumstances will permit. . . . Several ladies in the parish are unwearied in their attention to the sick and wounded soldiers in the Hospital on David's Island.'
Again from the timeline we read that the 31st United States Colored Troops Regiment was organized on Hart Island during April 1864, one of New York State's three USCT regiments. The Hart Island regiment would see action at the fall of Petersburg on April 2, 1865. It would pursue Lee's army from April 3 through April 9 and be at Appomattox before, during and after the Confederate surrender on April 9, 1865. . . . In November, 1864, construction began for barracks on Hart Island to house Confederate POWs. The final prison established by the Union for Confederate soldiers opened on Hart Island in April of 1865, a month before the Civil War came to an end yet 235 POWs perished there. Within three weeks of its opening, 3,413 POWs are crammed into the post's tiny enclosed area. Hart does not become complete cleared of prisoners until July. Within the four months of its operation, nearly 7 percent of all the camp's POWs died.
In his 1865 report Fr. Syle writes that 'Hart Island, a military rendezvous, where large numbers of soldiers are constantly to be found, has no Government Chaplain. The Rev. Wm. Feltwell (then Asst. Minister at Christ Church) visits the post diligently, and for a few weeks held one of the regimental chaplaincies.'
By 1866 Fr. Syle reports that City Island had been organized into a separate parish with the Rev. Feltwell elected as Rector. 'The important post at Hart Island is included in the bounds of the new parish' he wrote.
Another early mention of the presence of a minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church on Hart Island appears in a New York Times article dated June 2, 1865. The heading of the article reads, 'The Rebel Prisoners at Hart's Island'. The text of the article appears in full below.
'At Hart's Island yesterday, the day was observed in the prison camp by the suspension of the rules requiring marching for exercise, and by religious services in the forenoon, conducted by the Rev. Robert Lowry, Chaplain U. S. A. He was invited by General Wessells at the suggestion of the prisoners themselves, who had seen the President's proclamation for a day of humiliation and prayer, and wished to observe it. Nearly 2,000 of them were gathered in the centre of the grounds, which cover four and a half acres, and gave good attention to the preaching and prayers, and joined in the singing. After the exercises several pressed forward to shake hands with the Chaplain; they had known him when they were prisoners in David's Island Hospital. Several of the squads also held prayer meetings at 8 a.m. and in the evening. The papers, hymn books, tracts, and testaments, of which a liberal supply have been placed in their hands by the agents of the American Tract Society, and are very much prized, and will mostly be preserved and taken home with them. Whether sitting within their comfortable barracks or outside, or walking around the ground, many are constantly reading these. They hope soon to be sent home. The hospital is located in a fine airy position outside the camp.'
The Rev. Robert Lowry is listed in the 1865 and 1866 Journal of Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York as Chaplain U. S. V. and Missionary."
Source: Kempton, Wayne, "In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; And In All Things Charity" -- A Historical Account of The Mssion of the Diocese of New York of the Protestant Episcopal Church To the Instutions and the Potter's Field on Hart Island, pp. 7-8 (NY, NY: Wayne Kempton, Archivist for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2006).
Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."