Henry Kyd Douglas: A Pastor’s Son at War


“Here I am, H. K. Douglas, a student in the junior class of Franklin and Marshall College, about to commence the keeping of a diary. How long I will continue in my good resolve is the first question that arises. Let the Future and the Fates determine. But where am I? I am boarding in No. 12 room, third story of Hubley House. S. E. Corner of King and Queen Sts., Lancaster, Pa. There are two other students boarding in this house, D.C. Rench, my roommate from Wash. Co., Md. And Jas. B. Tredwell of Somerset, Pa. ….”1Douglas, Henry Kyd, The Douglas Diary, (Franklin and Marshall College, 1973) p.1.

Kyd Douglas, who would become one of the most celebrated officers of the Confederacy, kept his diary faithfully for the remaining two years of college, though it was lost for more than a hundred years until discovered by a student in 1973. One falls easily into the cadence of college life when reading his daily entries. He was usually found at the college chapel service on Sunday mornings, but also frequently attended other churches in the city, both mornings and evenings.

Sunday, December 20, 1857

I went [to] Chapel, where Dr. Gerhart preached a Christmas sermon, which was very well written. In the afternoon I was in Fisher’s room part of the time and sitting at home. In the evening I went to hear Rev. H. Harbaugh, who is preaching a series of sermons on the Virgin Mary. His subject this evening was the Immaculate Conception, which in a very beautiful and forceable way he showed was altogether wrong, as held by the Catholic Church. His sermon was remarkable for his charity in speaking of dissenting congregations. Mr. Harbaugh is undoubtedly a fine writer, but a poor speaker.2Ibid., p.101

Rev. Henry Harbaugh

Douglas proves himself a keen observer, as with his comments on such men as Gerhart, the college’s first president and an accomplished, albeit controversial, theologian and historian. His description of Harbaugh’s sermon is also intriguing since Harbaugh would later create a furor after preaching a sermon series in which he was roundly condemned by the Philadelphia Protestant community for “Romish” ideas. Harbaugh, once described as being “too good a poet to be a theologian and too good a theologian to be a poet,” wrote in the Pennsylvanian German dialect and was an ardent defender of John Williamson Nevin and the “Mercersburg theology.” Nevin’s brother William was an-other of Douglas’s professors, so one is never far in the Douglas diary from a firsthand account of a lecture or sermon by one of the leading theological men of his era. It is remarkable that surrounded by such luminaries that he could nevertheless bring a discerning eye to the nuances of both theology and politics.

Douglas, who as a boy had lived near Harper’s Ferry about three miles from the abolitionist John Brown, once met the old man down by the ferry. He was having difficulty transporting some boxed “farm implements,” and Kyd gladly went home to fetch a wagon to help him. A few weeks later, the “farm implements” proved to be weapons used by Brown and his associates to murder slave owners. Douglas himself called slavery a “curse,” and vowed “never to own one,” although he bristled at what he believed to be the hypocrisy of Northern abolitionists who financed Brown.

“Whether I would have followed the example of shrewd New Englanders in compromising with philanthropy by selling my slaves for a valuable consideration before I became an abolitionist, I will not pretend to say.”3Douglas, Henry Kyd, I Rode With Stonewall (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press) 1968, p. 3.

Abolitionist John Brown

The vast majority of Southern soldiers were not slave owners, yet despite the variety of principles that can be summoned to buttress the secessionist cause, slavery remained the unanswerable conundrum for Christians in the South. After the war, Douglas would remain active in public life, running for office and losing, and even managing to get himself arrested for treason back in Shepherds town for donning his Confederate uniform at the request of a young lady who wanted her picture taken with him. Douglas remained a bachelor and though he kept a series of diaries, he largely kept his religious views to himself in later life.

While it is reasonable to assume the broader issues influenced each person’s decision as to whether to ally themselves with the North or South, it is also true that individual circumstance and experience was often more responsible. The fate of D. H. Rench, whom Douglas describes as his roommate at college and close friend, surely had a profound effect on him. According to the prologue to his diary published by Franklin and Marshall College:

De Witt Clinton Rench, of Maryland, attended college from 1853 to 1857, and was a member of the Fiagnothian Literary Society and the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. He practiced law in Baltimore until May 15, 1861, when he returned home with the intention of joining the Confederate army. On June 5, 1861, he went to Williamsport, Maryland, on business for his father, but was attacked by a mob with clubs and stones, shot from his horse and murdered in the street by Federal soldiers.4Douglas, Diary, p. xxii

During the war, Douglas was approached by the wife of a Union soldier who asked that he might try to determine the whereabouts of her missing husband. Douglas knew the woman and faithfully but unsuccessfully attempted to learn if he had been killed or imprisoned. He did so despite knowing that the woman’s family members were among the mob that had murdered Rench.

Stonewall Jackson (on left) in camp, c. 1862

Douglas enlisted in the Virginia 1st Brigade, which would become the famous “Stonewall” brigade under General Thomas J. Jackson. The brigade had its origins in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and was composed of many German Americans. Although Douglas himself had been born in Ireland, he was raised in the German church community. He became a favorite of the General, and on one occasion, when Stonewall and his army had ventured into Maryland, he was asked by Jackson to arrange for them to worship at a local Presbyterian church. Learning that the Presbyterian church had suspended services that Sunday due to the invasion, Douglas arranged to take Jackson to the German Reformed Church in Frederick City, Maryland, pastored by his friend, Rev. Daniel Zacharias.

Some say Zacharias did not know who his guests were that morning, although he surely knew Douglas. Nevertheless, Zacharias reported that he preached the sermon he had intended, and offered a resounding prayer for the President, Abraham Lincoln. It is also reported that the hymns sung that morning included “The Stoutest Rebel Must Resign.”

Hail, mighty Jesus! How divine

Is Thy victorious sword!

The stoutest rebel must resign

At Thy commanding word.

Zacharias was no country preacher. He had studied at the Theological Seminary at Carlisles under the towering Dr. Lewis Mayer, served on the Tercentenary Committee with Harbaugh in preparing a new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, and was President of the Synod of the German Reformed Church.5Harbaugh & Hesler, Fathers of the German Reformed Church in Europe and America, Vol. 5 (Reading, PA: Daniel Miller Publisher, 1881) p. 708. Yet, that day, he preached to a fellow pastor’s son dressed in gray, sitting alongside the devoutly Presbyterian Jackson. All in attendance agreed that despite the tension that could have permeated the church building that day, it was severely lessened by the fact that the General quickly nodded off to sleep in his pew and did not awaken until the service was over.

What is not well known is that another member of that church was Barbara Frietchie, a frail elderly lady whose name would be immortalized by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier. The popular story is that when Jackson’s troops entered Frederick that she proudly waved her red, white and blue flag from her window. That she did something of the kind is reasonably certain. That it occurred the day Whittier says, less so, and if not, then it was not Stonewall Jackson himself who, coming upon the scene, ordered his troops to protect her and her Union flag. In the accompanying article, we will explore the path that she chose and its consequences.


1 Douglas, Henry Kyd, The Douglas Diary, (Franklin and Marshall College, 1973) p.1.
2 Ibid., p.101
3 Douglas, Henry Kyd, I Rode With Stonewall (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press) 1968, p. 3.
4 Douglas, Diary, p. xxii
5 Harbaugh & Hesler, Fathers of the German Reformed Church in Europe and America, Vol. 5 (Reading, PA: Daniel Miller Publisher, 1881) p. 708.