Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
With Easter religious services approaching, Megan Hunter, Frontier Army Museum museum specialist, installed a new exhibit highlighting the history of Fort Leavenworth chaplains in early March.
“We wanted to update our content since we’re slowly opening to the public, and we wanted to refresh some of our exhibits as quickly as possible,” Hunter said. “We haven’t had that Communion set out for a couple of years, and it such a beautiful set. … Plus, Easter is coming up and a lot of religious services are coming up, so I thought that would be kind of nice to have out.”
The circa 1872 silver-plated Communion set, which includes two chalices, a bowl and a wine flagon, was used by Rev. John Hodge who served at Fort Leavenworth from 1919-1944.
The exhibit also includes an example of chaplain collar patches, featuring the Latin cross insignia, adopted in 1898, signifying a chaplain of the Christian faith.
According to retired Lt. Col. Richard Wright’s book “Chapels of Fort Leavenworth,” there was controversy with the patches and insignias chaplains wore in the early 1900s.
“In 1918, … special regulations mandated the removal of grade insignia from chaplains’ uniforms (a right that chaplains had won in 1914). The cross was to be worn on the shoulder loops. A controversy resulted when members of the Chaplain School, including the commandant, were removed because they opposed the policy,” Wright wrote. “In a survey of 126 chaplains, 116 emphatically felt chaplains should wear insignia of rank.
Some of the comments included: ‘Removal has lowered the standard of the chaplain in the eyes of the enlisted men …’
“The (Army) chief of staff convened a board to review the testimony and concluded on 19 March 1926 with a recommendation that the insignia of rank be restored to the uniform of the chaplain,” Wright wrote. “A Congressional Act of 1926 provided further status to chaplains by guaranteeing chaplains the rank, pay and allowances of grades up to and including colonel. They may also wear distinctive insignia such as Latin crosses or tablets with the Star of David on their lapels.”
Wright also noted that at this time, chaplains began being addressed as “chaplain” instead of by their rank.
“This distinction helped to emphasize the role of the chaplain as a clergyman in uniform,” Wright wrote.
Along with the artifacts included in the exhibit, Hunter also included a panel highlighting the very beginnings of the chaplains on post. The panel notes that while religious services were offered since Fort Leavenworth’s founding in 1827, and even though the Chaplains Corps started in 1775, the first resident chaplain, Rev. Henry Gregory of the Protestant Episcopal Church, didn’t begin serving until 1838.
“Religious services were offered by clergy members that were either traveling through the area or working with local native populations,” the panel reads. “It was not until Congress passed an act in 1838 to reorganize the Army and authorized the appointment of clergymen to serve as chaplains on military forts (that Gregory was assigned).”
There is also a scanned page from a book of chaplain records documenting weddings, funerals, baptisms and confirmations performed in October 1862, proving an interesting tidbit, Hunter said.
“I found a general order (from 1875) that chaplains had to record all the specific information (about services held), but the scanned pages we had (in museum archives) were from before that, so they were recording all this information way before they were actually instructed to do so,” Hunter said. “It was nice that they did really good record keeping even before they were mandated to do so.”
Though the last piece of the exhibit includes a timeline of the history of Fort Leavenworth’s chapels, both past and present, Hunter said she had a reason for emphasizing the chaplains.
“Religious services are still a big part of the Army, and the chaplains themselves cover hundreds of different faiths today. There’s not just one type of chaplain that’s out there,” Hunter said. “I just wanted to give a personal edge to the story. It’s cool to see the architecture and the buildings themselves, and I know a lot of people still go to those chapels, but … these are the people that served. They were the actual chaplains that lived out here … and dedicated their lives to make sure that the soldiers in the area and their families could practice their faith.”
The Frontier Army Museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.