Soldiers in both armies often turned to religion for comfort as they prepared for battle. On May 4, 1864, just as the arduous Atlanta campaign began, a Confederate chaplain found blessed assurance under much different circumstances.

Today I witnessed a sight, sad indeed, I saw fourteen men shot for desertion. I visited them twice yesterday and attended them to the place of execution. Most of them met death manfully. Some, poor fellows, I fear were unprepared. I saw them wash and dress themselves for the grave. It was solumn [sic] scene, they were tied to the stake, there was the coffin, there was the open grave ready to receive them. I have seen man die at home surrounded by loved ones, I have seen him die on the battle field among the noble and brave, I have seen him die in prison in an enemy land, but the saddest of all was the death of the deserter, but even there Christ was sufficient. “Tell my wife,” said one but a few minutes before the leaden messengers pierced his breast, “not to grieve for me, I have no doubt of reaching a better world.” Let me then continue to hold up that savior and point sinners to him. I think they were objects of pity, they were ignorant, poor, and had families dependent upon them. War is a cruel thing, it heeds not the widow’s tear, the orphan’s moan, or the lover’s anguish.

Chaplain Thomas H. Deavenport, 3rd Tennessee Infantry, Brown’s Brigade, from Voices of the Civil War: Atlanta

Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.