Dr. Edwin C. Bidwell — Our Chaplain

Our Chaplain: His work at New Orleans, and His Little Romance
Received Nov. 22, 1898 from Dr. E. C. Bidwell

Dr. Edwin C. Bidwell, Surgeon (Image courtesy of Lyon Camp #10, (Vineland, NJ) Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.)

Dr. Edwin C. Bidwell, Surgeon (Image courtesy of Lyon Camp #10, (Vineland, NJ) Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.)

I reported for duty at Camp Chase, Pittsfield, Mass., under the order of Dr. Kimball, Med. Director of the Department of New England, on the first day of January, 1862. At the post hospital on my first visit that same day I met the Chaplain, Rev. F.E.R. Chubbuck. He was then, as ever afterwards, showing a more than merely professional interest in the sick of the regiment.

Mr. C. had been a teacher in the Maplewood Institute, a high-toned seminary for young ladies at Pittsfield. He had just taken orders in the Episcopal Church to qualify him for the appointment of chaplain, or at least he had anticipated the usual course of such an investment for that purpose. He was about twenty-six years of age, and was a tall, well-built, active,
handsome man. From my position as surgeon, and possibly from other circumstances, I saw more of him than did most of the other officers, and in fact I maintained with him quite a considerable intimacy so long as he continued in the military service, and afterwards. The memories of those times and events with which he was associated are among those which
I cherish most.

Our regiment being the first to land at New Orleans after its capture by Admiral Farragut, Mr. Chubbuck was of course the first chaplain there. This priority, together doubtless with
his familiar acquaintance with the Commanding General acquired during our somewhat protracted voyage from Boston to Ship Island, and again from Ship Island to New Orleans, brought him at once into a prominence quite peculiar. Without change in his official position, he became practically post or headquarters chaplain, and engaged in a range of labors even wider than that term implies. Among other things out of the ordinary line of duty of an army chaplain, he took possession of one of the largest churches, organized a vestry of his own selection, and conducted services Sabbath after Sabbath with large audiences, largely composed of the officers and men of the army of occupation, and of Northern people who in various capacities had come in with the army. In connection with the church, he also conducted a Sunday school with himself for superintendent, in which gathered together several hundred children.

When the St. James Hotel on Magazine street was taken by the Medical Director for a general hospital, becoming the St. James Hospital, Chaplain Chubbuck had a room assigned to him which he continued to occupy, not only while the major part of the regiment was quartered in the City, but for several months after it had been divided into several detachments
and sent out of the City for duty at other places. One of his daily duties was to attend the funerals of soldiers who died in the St. James Hospital. Regularly, every day during the summer and autumn of 1862, at a certain hour of the afternoon an ambulance carrying one or more coffins would start for the Soldiers Cemetery some five or six miles out of the City. The Chaplain followed a little later, but in time to perform the last rites for each deceased soldier. On these occasions he drove his own horse, a very fine trotter,well known, by the name of Texas, said to be worth a thousand dollars, which had been presented to him by a certain Mr. Harrison, for whom, when a prisoner and sick in the Hospital, he had procured some amelioration of rather hard conditions. He frequently, perhaps generally, took some friend with him in his buggy, and starting from the Hospital some half-hour or so after the departure of the ambulance, and having to reach the Cemetery as nearly as possible at the same time, he could drive at a pace that would afford some agreeable exercise.  On the return free from time limitations with a fast horse and a splendid shell-road, there was a still better opportunity for speed, and I am sure that for one of his tastes and temperament the temptation must have been sometimes irresistible.

The first time I saw Mr. Chubbuck after our return to the North I asked about Texas, for I had myself rather a pleasant memory of the horse. Did he bring him North? And what had become of him? He said that after keeping him here for awhile, a time came when he thought he wanted money more than he wanted the horse, so he sent him to Philadelphia to be sold. But he was disappointed when he got a return of only four hundred dollars.

Early in the summer of 1862, a small force was sent up to Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. It was captured without difficulty, in fact, I think without resistance of any kind. But a little later in the small hours of a foggy morning, a Confederate force under Gen. John C. Breckenridge who was vice-President of the United States before the War, made an attack upon our camp the result of which was a drawn battle, the Confederates not succeeding in the capture of the place, but withdrawing without material loss. The Federal loss, except in
the death of Gen. Williams who was killed in the action, was unimportant. For some reason or other, perhaps because nothing really important was to be gained by holding the place in the then existing conditions, perhaps because the force that could be spared from the entire force then in the Dept. of the Gulf could be greatly outnumbered by the Confederates at any time when they might choose to make attack, the General decided to abandon the post and withdraw the army, at the same time giving loyal citizens an opportunity to escape. When the withdrawal was ordered, Chaplain Chubbuck, more in the spirit of adventure, I think, than from any more serious motive went up on one of the boats sent up for the return transportation. When there, he made the acquaintance of two ladies, sisters, who were at the head of a previously prosperous Female Seminary. They were Northern people, loyal to United States, and naturally wished to get away with as much of their belongings as possible. The Chaplain was able to render them valuable assistance especially in the matter of transportation to New Orleans. I remember that he had one of their pianos in his room in St. James Hospital with which he sometimes amused himself as an amateur musician.

These ladies invoked the Chaplain’s assistance in behalf of a young lady, sometime formerly a pupil-assistant in their school, of whose character and accomplishments they spoke in
the most complimentary terms. They thought he might assist her to secure a position as teacher in one of the public schools of New Orleans. Like themselves, she was a refugee. With her parents and two brothers abandoning their plantation in the vicinity of Baton Rouge, they had already come to New Orleans, and naturally were pecuniarily in straightened circumstances. The Chaplain laid the case before Lieut. Weitzel of the general staff, at that time in charge of that department of the City government, and obtained from him an assurance that, if she was such as he described her, she could undoubtedly have an engagement as a teacher. He suggested that she should apply in person at the Office of Public Instruction. Accordingly, under the escort of the Chaplain and one of her brothers, she did apply as suggested, with the result that she at once secured a position at a salary of one hundred dollars a month. A further result of the visit to the office of Lieut. Weitzel was that the brother, who had been educated for the position of civil engineer, made so favorable an impression on the Lieut., that he suggested to him to enter the military service and procured for him a commission; and a few months later when he himself was promoted to a Brigadier Generalship, took him on his staff as aide-de-camp. It was while serving in this capacity at the siege of Port Hudson that having climbed a tree for the purpose of observation, he was killed by a shot from a Confederate sharpshooter.

The lady who thus became a New Orleans school-teacher was Miss Emma Wrotnoska. The Chaplain was so charmed with the appearance and deportment of his protege that he lost no time in cultivating her acquaintance and offering her his hand and heart. They were married and set up a household in New Orleans, and there their first child was born. Stanilaus they named him, which naturally became Stass. I was absent from the City when they left it to come North, and I lost track of them until I was myself mustered out and came home a year or more later.

Stopping one day in the early part of 1866 in the house of a friend in Northampton, I saw then a copy of Mr. Landis’ advertising sheet “The Vineland Rural”. In it I found the name of Rev. F.E.R. Chubbuck, Rector of Trinity Church. I dropped him a line at once to renew acquaintance, and received in reply a cordial invitation to visit him and the place. As soon as I could make it convenient, which was in the following May, I accepted the invitation and came to Vineland. Later I decided to locate in Vineland, and bought a drug-store which I intended to conduct in connection with such professional business as I might be able to do. Mr. Chubbuck’s was the one family in the place with whom I had a previous acquaintance.

In 1866, Vineland was still in its infancy, dating from 1861, at which time it was an almost unbroken forest. The people drawn thither were of all nationalities and all creeds. From the beginning there were as many sects or denominations as as in most older and much larger places; indeed I think there were more. And the settlers were mostly people of moderate means. The membership of Mr. Chubbuck’s church was not large, and I presume the salary was small. In the following year, he established a school which he conducted with some success.

About 1869, he left Vineland to become Rector of a church in Clarksboro, N.J. He had been there not more than a year when he found his health giving way with symptoms of lung trouble. He spent a winter at St. Paul, Minnesota, with apparent benefit, which however did not prove to be permanent. In the following November, 1871, he went to Malaga, Spain, in the hope that the climate of that region would stay the progress of the disease. Appealing to the physician whom he consulted there for a candid opinion of his prospect of benefit there, and receiving an unfavorable prognosis, he returned immediately, barely able to reach home. Two weeks later, Jan. 2, 1872, he died.

Mrs. Chubbuck survived her husband about three years. She left three children from five to eleven years of age. Two of them have since died, both I think of consumption at 24 and 26 years.  The youngest only survives.

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