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Alexander Gregg, First Bishop of Texas

By His Son, the Late Wilson Gregg

Edited and Extended by the Reverend Arthur Howard Noll.

Sewanee, Tennesee: The University Press, 1912.

Chapter VII. A Bishop of the Church in the Confederate States.

ONLY a few days after the consecration of Bishop Gregg, and before the General Convention adjourned in 1859, there came to the assembled Churchmen in Richmond, the news of the raid of John Brown on Harper's Ferry, less than two hundred miles from where the Convention was then sitting. The genial warmth of friendly intercourse which had previously prevailed between Churchmen from different sections of the country, was suddenly chilled, and it is a great wonder that the General Convention was able to continue its sessions without the exhibition of deeper feelings of an opposite nature. Up to that time all discussions of the great burning question of the time had been excluded from the councils of the Church, and happily the General Convention adjourned, perhaps earlier than had been intended, without any departure from its settled habits of not meddling with matters purely political.

From this time on, however, the mutterings of the gathering storm grew clearer and louder; and when, the following year, it became evident that a slaveholding people and a non-slave-holding people could [69/70] no longer live together in peace in the same political household; and South Carolina passed its ordinance of secession on the 10th of December, 1860, and was followed by Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas (the last named adopting its ordinance of secession on the 1st of February, 1861, by the largest majority of any of the Southern States), the Southern Churchmen felt that political secession carried with it, perforce, ecclesiastical separation as complete "as if an abyss had suddenly yawned between the two sections, and the Churches within the several seceding states reverted at once to their primitive diocesan independence. [Wilmer, "The Recent Past," quoted in McConnell's "History of the Episcopal Church," p. 366.] And when the seceding states, early in February, 1861, in a Convention held in Montgomery, Alabama, by the adoption of a Provisional Constitution and the election of a Provisional President, organized themselves as "The Confederate States of America," the several Southern Dioceses took similar action for confederating themselves. In this movement, Bishop Elliott, of Georgia, and Bishop Polk, of Louisiana, the two senior Bishops of the states which had then seceded, took the initiative. Under date of March 23rd, 1861, these Bishops sent out from University Place (Sewanee), Tennessee, a communication to the ecclesiastical authority of [70/71] each Diocese of the Confederate States, proposing a convention of Episcopal, clerical and lay representatives from each Diocese, to meet in Montgomery, Alabama, on the 3rd of July, 1861, to "consult upon such matters as may have arisen out of the change in our civil affairs."

This communication reached Bishop Gregg in due time and shortly before the meeting of his Diocesan Convention in Austin, in April, 1861. He had in the preceding January prepared a pastoral letter to the members of the Church in his Diocese, on "the dangers and duties of the eventful changes through which they were passing," for he felt that "where so many of the people were scattered abroad in such an extensive territory, beyond the reach of pastoral oversight, communications of that kind were especially needed." The pastoral spoke of the good of "seeking to revive a primitive fellowship and to raise a spirit that could withstand the social disorders then imminent, as well as to promote the sacred cause of Christ and His Church."

Bishop Gregg laid the communication of the two elder Bishops before his Diocesan Convention, and three clerical and three lay delegates to the proposed Convention were accordingly elected. The Convention at Montgomery took action toward the organization of the Church in the Confederate States and [71/72] adjourned to meet in Columbia, South Carolina, the following October, and perfect the organization of that body.

At the same time and place the Board of Trustees of the University of the South, of which Bishop Gregg was now an Episcopal Trustee, was to meet. Bishop Gregg participated in the deliberations of both bodies in Columbia, South Carolina, in October, and after both adjourned, returned to his Diocese, and despite the disturbed conditions there, went on with his arduous duties.

The Convention of the Dioceses at Columbia was unanimous in declaring that "the formation of a new government, called the Confederate States of America, rendered it necessary and expedient that the Dioceses within those states should form among themselves an independent organization;" and in provisionally adopting the body of canons of the Church in the United States, "so far as they are not in conflict with the political relations of the Confederate States of America.". .. . "No change was made or desired in the faith or order of the Church, no relaxation in its discipline, no alteration in its liturgy; " but only a separate ecclesiastical organization was contemplated, based on the civil union and sovereignty, as originally acted upon by the Church in the United States.

[73] The Diocesan Convention of Texas the following year, meeting in Houston in June, ratified this action of the Columbia Convention and became an integral part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America.

Bishop Gregg was clear and firm in his political convictions, which were those of the Calhoun school of politics; and in all his personal and social relations, was in sympathy with the secession of his native state, the state of his adoption and the other slave states. As a slave-holder he was, as we have seen, a very humane master, and had been specially mindful of the religious welfare of his own slaves and those of others. His views of the ecclesiastical situation are best expressed in the report of his Diocese to the General Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America, held in St. Paul's Church, Augusta, Georgia, in November, 1862. This was the only General Council the Church in the Confederacy was permitted to hold, and Bishop Gregg was prevented by the blockade from attending. The report of his Diocese, though probably not written by him, no doubt expressed his sentiments upon the relations of the Diocese to the Council:

"The Church in the Diocese of Texas, induced by the fact, that an actual separation of certain states from the United States had taken place, and that a [73/74] new Nation was thus established, adopted a principle of action for her future guidance, which, catholic in its nature, was also the only one by which she could be governed under the peculiar circumstances in which she is placed, in her relations to the State of Texas.

"Convinced that the Churches in the Diocese within that new Nation were called upon--both in conformity to the catholic usage in all ages of the Church, and in harmony with the system on which the Church in the United States herself is organized--to form themselves into an Independent National Church; and believing that no future connection could exist between the States of this Confederacy and the United States: And, in the language of her own adoption: 'That, not merely in order to conform with the spirit and action of the Church Catholic from the Apostolic age down to the present time, but also, that the Church might be enabled to exist at all, and fulfill the commission conferred on her by Christ, within these Confederate States, she must sever her connection, in so far as Government and Discipline are involved, with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.

"The Church in Texas, proceeding thus to effect the organization of a permanent, distinct and National Church; declaring that she 'severed not the bonds of unity which unite her in "the communion of Saints" with the Church in the United States, and all other Churches with whom she was in communion previous to the changes which have led to our National [74/75] existence.' Thus induced and to this proceeding, she declared that 'The Church in Texas has ceased to be a Diocese of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States'; elected delegates to the several Conventions which were convened as preliminary, and on the sixth day of June, A.D. 1862, in Diocesan Convention duly assembled, agreed to and adopted that Constitution by which was organized 'The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America.' "

The report which followed showed that there were twenty-six parishes in the Diocese, nineteen clergymen, twelve lay readers licensed by the Bishop, 822 communicants, forty-nine Sunday School teachers, and 366 Sunday School scholars.

Despite this declaration of union with the other Southern Dioceses in the Church in the Southern Confederacy, the Diocese of Texas was practically an independent church throughout the years of the Civil War; for the state was cut off from the world to a large extent, and the exigencies of war prevented free intercourse with the other Dioceses composing the new National Church. And the work of the Bishop during those years differed probably from that of any other Bishop in the Church, owing to the conditions which then existed.

Bishop Gregg delivered his triennial charge to his Convention, in 1863, on the subject of "Church and [75/76] State," and preached several sermons in line therewith upon the duties incumbent upon Christian people in such times of stress and storm, which attracted so much attention that, at the urgent request of several prominent officials of the state, they were published. On the 1st of February, 1862, the bodies of Confederate States Senator Hemphill and Colonel H. McLeod were brought to Austin for interment in the State Cemetery, and were accorded a public funeral. The former had long been Chief Justice of the State of Texas, before entering the Senate of the Confederate States; and the latter had fallen in the performance of his duty in the field. Bishop Gregg delivered the funeral oration in the State Capitol on that occasion which was also published. He was a man of recognized prominence in the affairs of the state, and his house received frequent visits from the leading public men and from the officers of the Confederate Army stationed in Texas.

He and his family were "active partisans" in the war. Mrs. Gregg and the eldest daughter were energetic in the organization and work of the Confederate Ladies' Aid Societies, which in many ways rendered substantial assistance to the cause of the Confederacy. Miss Gregg received the honor of election as Sponsor for some of the military organizations which went from Texas to the seat of war, and was selected to [76/77] deliver one of the battle flags to a famous regiment. And the family contributed a soldier boy to the cause. Alexander Gregg, Jr., the first-born of Bishop and Mrs. Gregg, came home from college at Oxford, Mississippi, in time to volunteer in the service of his country in the first regiment to leave Texas,--the Fourth Texas. He contracted pneumonia from exposure in the camps of Virginia in the severe winter of 1861-62 and died in the hospital in Richmond, at the age of nineteen. About the same time an infant son, born in Texas, was taken from the family by death, and so the Bishop felt the hand of bereavement very sore upon him at the time that his Diocese was in such distress by reason of the war which raged without. In the spring of 1863 he had a protracted illness with typhoid, but resumed his visitations before he had fully recovered from the resultant prostration after the fever had been broken, and for a while he was compelled to use crutches in walking.

The Bishop's journeys in these early days of his episcopate took him more frequently to rural communities or to plantation houses than to towns, and the scenes in these places were interesting and unique. From the house whose hospitality he was enjoying, he would ride in his robes to the building or room selected for his services, and not infrequently had as large a congregation outside its walls as within. In [77/78] the evening, friends from within a wide radius would collect at the house and all would join in conversation led by the Bishop. The evening would close with family prayers and the singing of familiar hymns.

To this service the Bishop insisted that the servants of the household should be invited; and they took their places in the hall, on the porches or at the windows, and were reverent participants in the singing. On such visits Cato was a lion in the negro quarters, and faithful negroes would see that the "big bays" had good attention after their long drive. In those early days visits were made to places which have since disappeared from the map of Texas.

In his travels the Bishop showed a deep interest in the lives and deeds of the early settlers and frontiersmen, and collected a fund of reminiscences of them. History was always his delight, and he early urged upon the clergy the duty of collecting historical data about the Church in Texas. Under his direction such historical notes were collected about each parish and mission in Texas, and were endorsed and filed after his usual methodical habits, ready to be used whenever the time came for the preparation of a history of the Diocese.

With the withdrawal of the frontier protection at the opening of the Civil War, the Indians became more daring and made encroachments upon the [78/79] territory of the settlers. It became necessary for the Bishop on long journeys in his carriage to arm himself and his driver. So close did the Indians come to the settlements that a fight took place between a large force of the Comanches and some white men and Rangers within forty-five miles of Austin. One of the captured braves was brought to Austin, and the Bishop, with his intense interest in ethnology, went to see him, and with the aid of an intelligent interpreter secured much information regarding the conditions, habits and religion of the tribe.

The roads of Texas in those days were infested with highwaymen and desperadoes; but despite the amount of travel which the Bishop accomplished he was never molested by any representatives of these classes of society; though the biographies of some of the noted desperadoes of the frontier give graphic descriptions of a stage containing "Bishop Gregg, of the Episcopal Church," being held up between San Antonio and Austin, some years subsequent to the War. [The Bishop narrowly escaped such a "hold up" in April, 1874, being in the next stage which passed over the road.]

In later years he often found strange travelling companions, sometimes of the desperado and gambling classes, on trains or in stages, and these seemed to esteem the privilege of conversing with the Bishop, [79/80] to whom they showed in their way every mark of respect, while he sought by his manner and words to awaken in them the better element which he felt was in everyone. He was always interested in people of strange occupations, and enjoyed for a whole day the companionship, on a stage ride, of a circus clown. The Bishop made the clown feel wholly at his ease and by a few well-directed questions succeeded in getting the latter to talk freely of his career under the canvas, and then answered the clown's respectful questions about the ups and downs of life in the episcopate, and both confessed that the conversation had been mutually edifying.

In all his travel by stage or train in a country where travel of any kind was beset by peculiar dangers, his narrowest escape from accident was in December, 1864, when he was the only passenger in a Concord stage coach just starting from Austin. It was a cold morning and the four white horses, young and restive, started down the street at such a pace as to alarm the driver who evidently thought they were running away. He first turned them back towards the starting point and around a vacant lot; but failing to check them he turned them into the street again. As they sped on he became panic stricken and deserted the stage coach, leaving the Bishop inside, wholly at the mercy of the now thoroughly frightened [8081] bones. The hones, tearing down the street and trying to turn a corner, ran the stage coach into a post, damaging it badly, and then broke away. The Bishop was considerably shaken up and stunned by the fall he received; but after being released from the wrecked stage coach and recovering his consciousness, he found he was only bruised, and after dispatching a messenger to notify his family that he was but slightly injured, he at once proceeded on his journey with another conveyance and team.

The Bishop's home life was very simple and methodical. He attended to his correspondence in the morning, usually going out to mail his letters and to attend to any business he might have in town. The afternoon he devoted to reading, sermon study and writing and calling, about which he was very punctilious. He was fond of chess, which furnished almost his only recreation, and he was considered a fine player. To relieve the tedium of his long carriage or stage rides, he obtained a board so constructed that the chessmen retained their positions despite the unsteadiness of the conveyance, and with this he studied out chess problems while on long journeys alone. He had also a portable writing case with which he could attend to some of the episcopal correspondence while on the road.

He had a large number of servants at the episcopal [81/82] residence in Austin, and these were so well trained that after their emancipation they were eagerly sought by housekeepers and were at a premium.

The General Missionary Society of the Church in the United States formally resolved, in October, 186r, that no further appropriations be made for missionaries in the seceded states, and no proportion of what those states had contributed was returned to them; though as a matter of fact, for several years before the war, the contributions from the Southern States had exceeded the appropriations made to those states. Referring to this action and its effect upon his work, in his address before the Convention of 1862, the Bishop wrote: "All this was not complained of, as distribution was expected to be made according to the needs of the Church at large for the advancement of its missionary work--and should be considered as ground of encouragement for the future." The sum pledged by the Rev. Dr. Coxe was also of necessity suspended under the changed order of things. For a while the Diocesan Missionary Society came to the relief of the Bishop's missionary enterprises, but its last annual meeting was held in Austin in 1863, and like many others worthy projects, it succumbed to the fortunes of war.

In the progress of the war the Bishop took the keenest interest, as was natural. He set forth special [82/83] prayers to be used in the churches in his Diocese, and a form of thanksgiving to be used after certain victories of the Confederate arms. Unfortunately, all of his clergy were not of one mind in matters political, and with one of them, a man having more zeal than discretion, a controversy was begun in 1861 and was prolonged until after the close of the war and the return of the clergyman to his home in the North. The clergyman in question seems to have been afflicted with the cacoethes scribendi, loquendi, disputandique, and the paper and ink expended upon the discussion of matters of very trivial importance, could they have been properly taxed, might have relieved the Diocese of some of its pressing needs. The controversy culminated in the publication by the disputant clergyman, of a book of 131 pages, entitled "A Few Historic Records of the Church in the Diocese of Texas during the Rebellion; together with the correspondence of the Rt. Rev. Alexander Gregg, D.D., and the Rev. Chas. Gillette, Rector of St. David's, Austin," which was an avowed effort to get the controversy before the people of the North and prejudice their minds against the Southern Bishops and clergy; and eventually to get the General Convention to take some action in the matter. The book failed to awaken any interest in the North, where the people were concerned about more serious things than the [83/84] relations of a Bishop to his clergy during the war, and the author of the book died soon after its publication. Throughout the controversy the Bishop conducted himself with becoming dignity and made every effort to bring the controversy to a speedy close, but without yielding in the slightest degree any principle involved. The clergyman probably never realized in what peril of personal violence he often stood, in the excited state of popular feeling in those times, or that but for the interposition of his Bishop, on more than one occasion, he would have suffered bodily harm as the direct result of his conduct.

To anyone who would now take the trouble to read of this controversy in the numerous letters which passed between the Bishop and his clergyman, in so much of it as was forced into the Diocesan journals and in the book of Mr. Gillette, the whole controversy must seem much ado about nothing, and the subject of the controversy inconsequential. But it illustrates the times and the conditions arising out of a Northern clergyman working in a Southern Diocese during a sectional war such as that of 1561-65. It is remarkable, in the first place, that a Northern clergyman should have continued his work under such circumstances, and that he should have done so without meeting with opposition would have been impossible. The incident illustrates also the wisdom of those [84/85] Northern clergymen, who, when elected to the Episcopate of Texas, declined.

At the time of Bishop Gregg's consecration there were two parishes in Austin, Epiphany and Christ Church, though the conditions were such that the support of more than one was very precarious. The two were accordingly merged under the rectorship of the younger parish, Christ Church, and the names of both parishes being dropped, the new parish thus formed was named St. David's, much to the gratification of the Bishop who had such delightful memories of the parish bearing the same name he had just left in South Carolina.

In August, 1865, the Bishop removed his residence to San Antonio, as being better suited to his work, which he felt was destined to expand in a westerly direction with the westerly trend of population. The day of railroad transportation was not yet, having been retarded by the four years of war. The household effects were removed by a train of large freight wagons, accompanied by one of the older sons and some of the men servants giving it their oversight. The other members of the family proceeded by a heavy carriage and a buggy.

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