Sometimes you run across a story that makes you laugh; or in this case two stories involving a haughty South Carolina chaplain, a stolen buffalo robe, and a naughty member of the 16th Mississippi Infantry with an above-average writing ability and great sense of humor.
Our tale begins with an article in the Richmond Enguirer (Richmond, VA), on June 10, 1863:
An Appeal to Conscience
We received a curious document, on yesterday, from the Rev. T. D. Gwin, Chaplain of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, dated Greenville, S.C., July 8, 1863. It makes an appeal to rather a doubtful sinner. We give the following extract:
‘To the Man who Stole my Buffalo Robe!’
Sir: The Holy God, our Judge, amid the thunderings of Sinai, gave this command: ‘Thou shalt not steal!’ On or about the first of April last, you stole my buffalo robe, with four or five blankets, a plush shawl, a pillow, and a pair of gray pants, from one of the hotels at Weldon, N.C.
On my arrival in camp near Franklin, Va, I found the ground covered with snow. For the want of my robe, I slept uncomfortably on the cold ground, caught a severe cold, and was, in consequence, sick and unable to do any work for more than a week. From that time to the present my health has been feeble and I have not been able to endure the hardships and privations of the camp life, as I did before, when I slept comfortably. I have been in the S.C. Hospital, at Petersburg, Va., suffering from a settled cold and bronchitis.
I am now, through the kindness of the surgeon and commanders of Jenkins’ Brigade, at home on sick furlough, endeavoring to regain my former health. You, by this act of theft, are the cause of my disability to discharge the sacred duties of my office.
Return the robe and contents to the hotel whence you stole them, and leave them in the care of the proprietor. The robe is marked on the flesh side thus: ‘Capt. T. D. Gwin, 1st S.C.V.’
Do this and steal no more, and you will have a better conscience, and oblige
T. D. Gwin
Chaplain 1st S.C.V.
Greenville, S.C. July 8, 1863
If the good Reverend Gwin was expecting his letter to cause a crisis of conscience in the thief of his buffalo robe, he was sorely mistaken. What it did was inspire the miscreant to compose his own letter in reply and send it to the Richmond paper. His writing was so good, in fact, that it was reprinted in newspapers near and far for years after the war, and this version I found in the Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, VA) from May 14, 1869:
A Good Joke on the Chaplain
During the war there was published in one of the Richmond papers a humorous letter from Rev. T. D. Gwin, Chaplain of the First South Carolina Regiment, calling upon ‘the man who stole his buffalo robe’ and sundry other baggage, to return the same, if he valued at all the blessings of a clear conscience and an improved prospect of future salvation. The response to the reverend gentleman will show that the appeal was not altogether unproductive;
Sixteenth Mississippi Regiment, Posey’s Brigade, Camp near Bunker Hill, Va, July 16, 1863 – My Dear Gwin: I was inexpressibly shocked to learn from your letter in the Enguirer of the 4th inst., that the temporary loss of your ‘buffalo robe’ blankets, pillow and shawl should have given you such inconvenience, and even suspend your arduous duties in the field for a week.
But supposing, from the mark, ‘Captain’ that it belonged to some poor officer of the line, and knowing that it was more baggage than he was entitled to carry, I relieved him of it from motives that will be appreciated by any officer of the line in the field.
On my arrival in camp I divided the blankets, among my mess, and in a sudden fit of generosity I retained the buffalo robe, shawl and pillow for my own use.
The other members now join me in returning thanks, and feel that to your warm and gushing heart these thanks will be the richest recompense.
We are all of us exceedingly anxious for you to change your field of labor to this army, where the duties of chaplains are much higher than they could possibly be any where else. Here they devote themselves to trading horses and collecting table delicacies with a zeal that eminently entitles them to the appellation of birds of prey.
I am now waiting patiently for your coat and boots, which I presume you will send me in accordance with the following instructions: ‘If any man takeaway thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.’ – Matt. chap. 5, verse 40.
For the regulation of the amount of baggage which a chaplain in the army should carry we refer you to the following: ‘Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purse. Nor scrip for your journey, neither shoes, nor yet staves; for the workman is worthy of his meat.’ – Matt. chap. 10, verses 9 and 10.
Anything you may have in excess of the above allowance will be most respectfully received by me.
I remain, my dear Gwinney, with sentiments of gratitude,
THE MAN WHO STOLE YOUR BUFFALO ROBE
Note: I looked up the service record of Reverend Gwin, and found that Thomas D. Gwin began his military career as captain of Company F, 1st South Carolina Infantry, on March 16, 1862. He served in that capacity until January 7, 1863, when he resigned to take the position of regimental chaplain for the 1st South Carolina. He served as the regiments chaplain until February 15, 1864, when he resigned from the service.