I have profiled Notre Dame Holy Cross priest Fr. Peter P. Cooney in previous posts (here and here).
As mentioned in those previous posts, soon after joining his regiment, Fr. Cooney began writing letters, mainly to his brother, Owen, at home in Michigan. Fortunately, those wartime letters have survived. They give wonderful firsthand testimony to his activities as a chaplain, the role his regiment played in some major battles of the war, and the character – especially the religious habits – of some important military personalities of the war, especially General William Rosecrans.
The original letters and his other papers are held by the Archives of the University of Notre Dame. Some of the letters were published by Thomas McElroy in three parts as “The War Letters of Father Peter Paul Cooney of the Congregation of the Holy Cross,” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1933. The archives also maintains his wartime diary.
One of those letters to Fr. Cooney's brother was written on April 26, 1864, and he describes his religious duties and efforts during Holy Week leading up to Easter Day 1864:
Blue Springs, Tennesse (near Cleveland, Tenn.)
April 26, 1864
My dear Brother:
I am very surprised that I did not receive a single word from you since I left home. I have, I think, written you at least three or four letters. I hope that carelessness is the only reason why you did not write; and if you were sick or otherwise unable to write, you should have got some one to write me even a few lines. My health is and has been very good, thanks be to God.
I have been for the last two months very busy in preparing the men to complete their Easter duty, otherwise I would have written oftener, to you. Our division consists of about twelve thousand men and there are Catholics in every regiment. Protestants attend the sermons by thousands in the open field. I have baptized many of them and prejudice against to the Church is gone almost entirely.
A short time ago I baptized and gave his first Communion to the Major General commanding our division. He is now a most fervent catholic and his example is powerful over the men of his command. I have every assistance from him in anything that I require for the discharge of my duties. He is extremely kind to me.
After coming here it was very chilly and even cold and I had neither stove nor fireplace to warm my tent nor could I get any; nor brick or stone to build a chimney. During "holy week" we have about ten inches of snow on the level. Though it lasted but a few days, it was very damp and chilly.
He was at Mass on Holy Thursday and saw that I had no stove. He went to his headquarters and took a stove from one of his officers and sent it to me. The officer gave it cheerfully, although a protestant, when the General told him that I had to hear confessions and say my office in a cold tent, without fire. I have been very comfortable since, I have a fine tent in which I say Mass every morning.
The General is vice-president of a temperance society that I have established in the regiment. We meet the first Sunday of every month. At our last meeting after I had finished my lecture to them on temperance, I invited the General, who is also a member, to say a few words to the members. He cheerfully consented and made quite a speech on temperance. You may imagine the influence of a Majpr general in full uniform over the minds of officers and men who were present.
The General's name is D.S. Stanley. he waas brought up in Ohio and is an officer in the Regular army. I was at his headquarters yesterday evening and he gave me his photograph which I send you. He wrotehis name on it. I would like to have it fixed with one of mine the same as that of Major general Rosecrans', as a remembrance of their piety and our companionship in the trials of this war.
Another battle is expected ina short time. The main body of the Rebel army is at Dalton, Georgia, about eighteen miles from this place. I hope God will protect me in the future, as he has in the past. After the coming battle I will go to Indiana with the men's money and from there home for a few days, God being willing...
I hope you are well. Practice your religion Dear Brother, attend to your business at home. I was glad to see by the papers that there would be no draft in Michigan. I shall write you soon again. Write soon. My love aand blessing to my mother and all.
Your affectionate brother,
P.P. Cooney, Chaplain
25th Reg. Ind. Vol.
There is an artist in our brigade who took the picture of our regiment at Mass on Easter Sunday - my tent, etc. It was sent to Cincinnati to be engraved. It makes a beautiful picture. It will cost about five hundred dollars; when finished I will send a copy.
Did you get the book I sent you? The spring is very backward here although very warm now. I do not suppose the vegetation is any further advanced than it is at this time in Michigan.