Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A REAL "Band of Brothers" - Part I

"It is not strange…that after the war not a few of the disbanded soldiers and officers found their way as priests and brothers into the ranks of the Community, the heroism of whose members they had admired on the field and in the hospital." - Notre Dame Scholastic, March 31, 1906

Among the really interesting stories connecting the University of Notre Dame and the American Civil War is one that happened after the war: veterans who came to the university to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross as priests or brothers of the order and then performed duties at the university.

They formed a literal "Band of Brothers."

Typical was Brother Leander (James McLain), who entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1872. Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in 1842, he served through three years of the Civil War with the 15th United States Infantry as a private and was engaged at the Battles of Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta. Brother Leander was prefect of one of the halls and taught classes for many years at the university.

One of the most interesting stories is that of Mark A. Wills, who took the name of Brother John Chrysostom. Wills had fought with the 54th Pennsylvania, a unit that saw significant action in the eastern theater during the last year of the Civil War, including the Battle of New Market, the capture of Fort Gregg and the pursuit of Lee to Appomattox, where the 54th was captured in the last week of the war (though released a few days later). In at least one of those fights, Wills was sufficiently shaken to make a battlefield vow to join a religious order should he survive.

You can read a previously unpublished letter by Brother John about that vow in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010).

The most distinguished record among the new arrivals belonged to William A. Olmsted. Born in Albany, New York, in 1834, Olmsted received his MD from Howard University. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he raised one of the state’s first volunteer companies for the 2nd New York Infantry and was elected captain; he quickly earned a promotion to lieutenant colonel. He then served as commander of the 59th New York Infantry and a brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac, where he was brevetted a brigadier general of volunteers. After
the war, Olmsted served in a medical capacity in the forts on the upper Missouri River, where he became close to (and respected by) the Sioux in his care. Olmsted then entered the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame in the 1890s, studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1901.

I will feature more on Fr. Olmsted in a future post.

Others among the "Band of Brothers" at Notre Dame included:

Brother Cosmas (Nicholas A. Bath)—2nd United States Artillery

Brother Raphael (James C. Maloy)—133rd Pennsylvania infantry

Brother Eustachius (John McInerny)—83rd Ohio Infantry

Brother Benedict (James Mantle)—1st Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery

Brother Ignatius (Ignatz Mayer)—75th and 157th Pennsylvania Infantry

Brother Agatho (Joseph Staley)—8th Indiana Infantry

Brother Richard (William Stoney)—38th New Jersey Infantry

Brother Polycarp (James White)—United States Navy

Brother Sebastian (Thomas Martin) - 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry

(Note: these regimental assignments were gleaned from published school histories and postwar newspaper accounts...I have been able to verify most of them but am still working on a few. Note that I have also seen multiple spellings for some of the surnames).

Stay tuned for my next post..."Band of Brothers" - Part II - A Unique GAR Post!

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