Macomb Presbyterians and the Civil War

Macomb Presbyterian’s greatest contribution to the war effort was arguably Carter Van Vleck.  Van Vleck resigned his position as an elder when he joined the 78th Illinois Infantry in 1862.  He died of wounds near Atlanta in 1864.  His widow and their young daughter would return to Ohio after his death.

Nelson Abbot, W. E. Withrow, and Carter Van Vleck, all three Presbyterians,  were part of the committee that in April 17, 1861, responded with a proclamation of support for the Union.

Apparently, the political divide within the Presbyterians of Macomb was significant. Nelson Abbott, editor of the Macomb Eagle newspaper from 1858-1865, born in Indiana in 1825, was a Democrat, and a member of the congregation.  The Eagle and its rival the Macomb Journal, a Republican paper, report the conflict:

Come to Grief.

The editor of the Eagle has at last succeeded in suffering martyrdom. – Ever since the war broke out the Eagle has been panting for notoriety.  It has preached treason in every possible shape, in hopes that the Government would suppress it, and thus add another to the list of “blessed martyrs” and secure its Copperhead editor a chance to make a show of himself as a victim of the Lincoln despotism.  ….  But Abbott is determined not to be satisfied without some one will kick him, and being a member of the Presbyterian Church, he proceeds to make himself a nuisance to that extent that the Church kicks him out, whereupon he turns around and announces himself through the Eagle as a “blessed martyr,” and calls upon the unterrified to fall down and worship him, and we suppose they will do it.  …. We understand that the charge upon which Abbott was tried before the Church was for slandering another member of the Church, but judging from the Eagle, it was for being a Democrat.  We know nothing of the merits of the case, but the only wonder we can see in the matter is that the Church had not turned him out long ago, for as a general thing Copperheadism and Presbyterianism don’t mix well together anyhow.  But in Abbott’s case policies had nothing to do with it, for there were too many other charges that could be substituted to require a resort to political prejudice.

Will Not Succeed. – Various scams have been resorted by the republicans here to silence or overawe THE MACOMB EAGLE.  These attempts have been made heretofore in the way of personal assault and unscrupulous abuse.  They have ignominiously failed.  The last effort comes through the session of the Presbyterian Church in Macomb.  That body is composed exclusively of our political enemies, and we can assure its members that their recent attempt to constitute themselves [unclear] over THE EAGLE will fail as completely as have failed all other efforts of their political co-laborers outside of the church.  We can assure them that as regards their recent attempted exercise of discipline so far from having any “repentance” to make, we should pursue a similar course under similar circumstances.  We might have had some lingering faith in their impartiality and freedom from political prejudice toward us, had it not been for the indecorous and unchristian haste with which they published their action, without waiting to be informed whether an appeal to Presbytery would be taken.  This we regard as removing the thin veil with which the animus of the session was supposed to be concealed.  We trust we have a proper respect for church authorities; but we are equally confident that we have our rights and privileges, and we are certain that we dare maintain them.

“Have you any consecrated lye here?” inquired a little girl at one of our grocery stores the other day.  “No,” was the reply, “but we can refer you to Blackburn’s church for a pure article.” [a reference to Alexander Blackburn?]

We noticed the above in the last Eagle, and at once made inquiries in regard to the matter, and was informed that a few weeks ago the Presbyterian Church had a large supply of the article, but in getting rid of the editor of the Eagle, they entirely exhausted their stock.

During the war years, Macomb First Presbyterian’s Session was composed of the following elders:

  • Joseph Wyne
  • Alexander Blackburn
  • Carter Van Vleck
  • Dr. David B. Rice (1858-1862) born in Greenville, KY, July 10, 1817. To Illinois in 1833 and graduated McDowell College, St Louis in 1844. Surgeon of the 102d Illinois. Also brigade surgeon. Had charge of hospital No. 3 at Gallatin, TN. Resigned and returned to Monmouth. In 1865 to Oregon. Professor, Oregon Medical College.
  • William E. Withrow, native of Lewisburg, VA, graduate of Yale; married Hannah Chase, sister of Rev. James M. Chase
  • John McMillan

Chase, William Thomas. Brought Home. – The remains of Wm. T. Chase, a son of Rev. James Chase, of this county, was brought home from the army last week for interment here. Mr. Chase enlisted last November, and we learn had never reached his regiment. He was sent from Chattanooga with others to guard a train to Knoxville, Tenn., and on the road he was taken sick with the pleurisy, and died in a few days. He was buried last Friday from the Presbyterian Church. (April 1, 1864, Macomb newspapers)

McCandless, Moses A. – Mr. Moses A. McCandless, who was killed at the battle of Missionary Ridge last December, was also brought home last week for burial. The funeral services took place at the Presbyterian Church last Saturday. (April 1,  1864, Macomb newspapers)

Withrow, James Edgar. 78th Illinois Infantry, Company I.

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