The Civil War Letters of a Lovettsville Pastor, Rev. Xenophon J. Richardson


The following letters, written by Rev. Xenophon J. Richardson from New Jerusalem Lutheran Church, Lovettsville, Loudoun County, Virginia, were published in The Lutheran Observer in the winter of 1864-1865. The letters were discovered in 2015, and an edited version of the letters was recently published by the Journal of the Lutheran Historical Conference.

When Rev. Richardson came to Loudoun County in early 1860 from Augusta County, he had little idea of the isolation, turmoil and lawlessness that he would face over the coming years. Nonetheless, he managed not only to keep his sizeable congregation together despite its deep divisions during the Civil War, but he actually enlarged it, while other nearby churches were shutting their doors.

The Reverend Xenophon J. Richardson of Lovettsville, Virginia's New Jerusalem Lutheran Church.
The Reverend Xenophon J. Richardson of Lovettsville, Virginia’s New Jerusalem Lutheran Church.

As context, it should be noted that from its founding in 1765, New Jerusalem had always been a member congregation of the Maryland Synod and the General Synod of the Lutheran Church – and of the Pennsylvania Ministerium before that — and had never been part of the Virginia Synod. This is not surprising, since Lovettsville, previously known as “The German Settlement,” is situated just two miles from the Potomac River and the Virginia-Maryland border, and most of the settlers there had originally come from southeast Pennsylvania.

Rev. Richardson was the president of the Virginia Synod when, on February 27, 1860, he accepted a call to Lovettsville. Later that year, at the October 1860 convention of the Virginia Synod, the Lovettsville Charge (comprised of New Jerusalem and St. Paul’s in Neersville) applied for admission to the Virginia Synod, which was approved. One suspects that entering the Virginia Synod may have been a condition of Rev. Richardson’s accepting a call to New Jerusalem.

At the same time, there was much turmoil, including boundary disputes, within both the Maryland and Virginia Synods, over the breakaway Melanchthon Synod. The Maryland Synod was urging a merger, and it scheduled a meeting with the Virginia Synod to discuss this. The Virginia Synod appointed a committee, including Richardson, to present a plan to a joint meeting of the Virginia and Maryland Synods to be held in Winchester on May 29, 1861; the decision of the Winchester meeting was then to be reported to the next annual convention of the Virginia Synod, which, interestingly, was set to convene in Lovettsville on October 17, 1861.

The War Begins

In April 1861 the war broke out, and in May, Virginia seceded. Because of the war, it was considered “inexpedient” for the Synod convention to meet in a border area such as Lovettsville. Unable to attend the convention, Richardson sent a letter asking to be excused, and again inviting the Virginia Synod to hold its 1862 convention in Lovettsville. However, the convention decided, in view of the disturbed condition of affairs in the border counties, that it would still be inexpedient to meet in Lovettsville the next year. Lovettsville did submit a report to the Virginia convention, listing 450 communicants – making it by far the largest charge in the Virginia Synod. From 1862 to 1864, Richardson was unable to attend the annual Virginia conventions; it was this state of affairs that Richardson laments in his first letter to the Lutheran Observer.

In the second letter, he relates how he has avoided any discussion of politics and the war. Richardson may have regarded this as a necessity, since the congregation was deeply divided between Unionists and secessionists. Pastor Michael Kretsinger in his 1976 congregational history, counted 28 members who joined the Independent Loudoun Rangers, a Unionist cavalry and scouting unit. The number-two leader of the Loudoun Rangers, 1st Lt. Luther W. Slater, was not only a communicant, but he had attended the Lutheran preparatory schools at Roanoke and then Gettysburg, apparently on a path to becoming a Lutheran minister. There were at least two other New Jerusalem members who enlisted other Union Army regiments: William Wiard (80th Ohio Vol. Infantry), and William B. Downey (8th Kentucky Cavalry). A number of other New Jerusalem members, including some of the Coopers, John F. Downey, Gideon Householder, and Luther Potterfield, were scouts and clandestine intelligence operatives reporting to the Union Army command at Harper’s Ferry. [1]

We know of fewer New Jerusalem members in the Confederate army, but there was Peter Kabrich, William Snoots, and James Jacobs. Pastor Richardson likely performed a marriage ceremony for James Jacobs on Oct. 24, 1864, and he preached the funeral for Peter Kabrich, who was mortally wounded in the fight against the Loudoun Rangers at Waterford Baptist Church on Aug. 27, 1862. To make matters worse, Kabrich was shot by Charles Webster, while trying to steal a horse belonging to the Loudoun Rangers. A few months later, Webster married into the Downey family, who also were New Jerusalem communicants and Union loyalists. In the case of New Jerusalem’s Snoots family, it was literally a case of brother against brother, when the Confederate William Snoots had to be restrained from killing his Unionist brother Charles, after the Loudoun Rangers had surrendered at the Waterford fight. That gives you an idea of what Pastor Richardson was facing during the war.

Despite his banning of any political discussions in the church, Richardson’s loyalties were known. In the public vote on the Ordinance of Secession in May 1861, he voted against secession. In February 1864, he was one of 150 men and women who petitioned Secretary of War Stanton for relief from the Union-imposed blockade which prevented loyalists from obtaining food, clothing, and other necessities of life from across the Potomac in Maryland. The signers declared that that “we have borne the horrors of this ungodly war with all patience and forbearance in our power, while we hope for its speedy close and proud triumph of the Union Arms.”

In May 1864, Richardson wrote to the military commander at Harper’s Ferry asking for permission to go with his son and “other young men from the neighborhood” to Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg. The Commanding General replied that Richardson had permission to send his son and others to school in Pennsylvania, but that he could not go with them; and that he had permission to correspond with his son subject to approval by the military authorities at Harper’s Ferry.

In January and February of 1865, there was a Union Army winter encampment literally right outside the church door. 2500 Union cavalry troops were encamped in a circle around Lovettsville, and there were camps in the fields right across from the church and its cemetery. There is no indication that New Jerusalem was used as a hospital or barracks. The strongly-secessionist Presbyterian church was taken over for use as a hospital during the 1865 encampment, suffering a great deal of damage, and there are some indications that the German Reformed church (also more secessionist than Unionist) was also used by Union troops. Apparently there was some damage to New Jerusalem, or at least war-time deterioration, because later in the year Pastor Richardson wrote in the church records: “The church having undergone a thorough repairing was re-opened for divine service on Sabbath Dec. 10, 1865…”

After the War

Richardson was finally able to attend the October 1865 convention of the Virginia Synod held in Rockbridge County. For the first time since 1861, a parochial report was submitted for the Lovettsville Charge, showing 492 communicants (an increase from 450 in 1861), two Sabbath schools, 33 teachers, 190 scholars (students), and three prayer meetings. At the October, 1866 Virginia Synod Convention, Richardson asked, on behalf of himself and New Jerusalem, for permission to withdraw from the Virginia Synod, so that they could unite with the splinter Melanchthon Synod. In October 1869, the Melanchthon Synod was welcomed into the Maryland Synod, and Richardson was immediately elected president of the enlarged Maryland Synod!     Rev. Richardson remained at New Jerusalem until 1873, when he was called to Trinity Lutheran Church in Smithsburg, Maryland, near Hagerstown, where he served until 1887. He died in 1889, and is buried in Smithsburg with his wife Mary.

Here, in his own words, is Rev. Richardson’s remarkable account of his travails –- and the faith that sustained him — during these awful years. His letters have been transcribed from microfilm of the Lutheran Observer in the United Lutheran Seminary’s A. R. Wentz Library at Gettysburg.

– Edward W. Spannaus

LUTHERAN OBSERVER, December 23, 1864, p. 3

MESSRS. EDITORS: — I am ministerally isolated from the world around me. Though nominally connected with the Virginia Synod, that connection amounts to nothing practically as I have not attended any of its meetings nor forwarded any parochial reports since the commencement of the war. Military movements, together with a total suspension of mail facilities, have been the cause of this. I am, however, laboring in my pastorate with a view to an account of my stewardship during these years of horrible war, that I expect to render to the synod some day, if a merciful providence shall continue my life to meet with my brethren in synodical convention once more. Meanwhile, I have concluded to report to the church generally, through the medium of the Observer, what I have been doing the last two or three years, the progress the church has made, and its present condition and prospects. And if the Observer reaches any of the members of the Virginia Synod who attend its meetings, or can communicate with it, I shall be much obliged to them if they will preserve these numbers containing my papers and forward them for presentation at the next meeting. I hope all the members of the synod will be gratified to hear from me and know what I am doing.

But I cannot commence my report proper without saying something first in regard to my painful ministerial isolation. From the time I was licensed until the commencement of this war, about twelve years, I was present at every annual convention of synod; I really loved to be there. Every minister, with the soul of a Christian brother in him, knows the pleasantness of these annual seasons of fraternal communion and conference. They are the green spots in ministerial life. They are seasons of refreshing. The heart is warmed anew with holy love, faith is strengthened, zeal is animated, all the Christian graces are quickened, and we go away prepared to engage with increased vigor in the work we have to do. Need I say, then, that the loss of these annual meetings of synod, and of the conferences during the intervals, is a serious `ode to me?’ Moreover, our synod was indeed a band of brethren. I believe we all truly loved one another. In all our business transactions and discussions, the feelings and opinions of the humblest members were always respected by all the rest. In our debates embittering personalities were scarcely ever heard, and if heard never failed to receive merited rebuke. The result, was, that our partings were always regretful, and with cordial wishes and earnest prayers for each other’s welfare. Pardon me, Messrs. Editors, for writing thus, for some of the most pleasant memories of my past life are connected with the Virginia Synod; and one of my chief ministerial sorrows now is that the prospect for a repetition of them is so dim.

I feel the loss of these associations in another aspect – the heart-expanding influences of those objects of general benevolence that always claimed the attention of a synod. Missions, home and foreign, education, church extension, and other benevolent enterprises, having in view the conversion of the world to the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ, claiming the earnest attention of synod. To be actively engaged in those works of love for God and a fallen world are no less good for ministers than for people. We all know that active Christian benevolence is a principle that must be developed by being kept in continual exercise. If, therefore, men are placed in such circumstances as prohibit the out-goings of a benevolent nature, that nature will undoubtedly deteriorate. Prevent the stream from flowing, and the foundation will become a stagnant pool. And this, I confess, is in a certain sense my condition. Not that I have lost all interest in these things, but that interest is not a practical one; and the difference is one which, through easily described in words, must be realized to be appreciated. So too I know it is with my people; it is not possible that they should feel that warmth of interest in the great enterprises of Christian benevolence which would characterize them if they actively participated in them. But what we have lost in one direction may we not have gained in another? Whether this is so or not may perhaps appear in the sequel. More next week.


LUTHERAN OBSERVER, January 13, 1865, p. 1

MESSRS. EDITORS: — It is a source of devout gratitude to God, that during these years of civil war, my church has been wholly free from internal strifes and dissensions. Other churches, both north and south, and, indeed, some not far from us, have been rent and torn asunder, the pastors are gone, and the doors of the sanctuaries in which they worshipped are scarcely ever opened now. But it has not been so with us. God’s grace has mercifully preserved us from this, and I deem it worthwhile to note, in passing, the means we employed to accomplish an object that was certainly no less desirable to others than ourselves, but which they failed to secure.

The fierce political excitement, which, for months immediately preceding the war, so fearfully agitated the country, affected this community as well as others. Here appeared a fearful danger against which I felt it my duty, as a minister of the Gospel and pastor of a church, to guard with all the care and diligence of which I was capable. The question with me was, shall this political strife enter the church and rend it in pieces? Shall those who have so long worshipped in the same temple of God, so often communed around the same altar, and in so many precious seasons of revival, labored, prayed, and rejoiced together—shall they now become enemies to each other, to the dishonor of the Gospel, the ruin of the church, and the curse of the community? With God’s help, I determined that this should not be. I therefore avoided all political discussions, and preached no political sermons, nor would I allow any subject to be introduced and action taken within our council or congregational meetings liable to a political construction. I tried to show my people their sins, and held up, to view as well as I could in all their aggravated guilt, the iniquities of the nation on account of which the just judgment of God was about to overtake us, and only the more fearful because so long delayed. Thus, as the storm gathered strength and increased in awful threatening, I tried to keep the attention of my people directed to the moral aspects more than its political. The leading members of my church approved of my course, seconded my efforts, and exerted all their influence to preserve peace and godliness among us; members of other churches whose pastors are gone have lent us their aid in this good work; God’s gracious blessing has rested upon us, so that, as will be seen in my future numbers, we have not only held our own, but have enjoyed no small measure of spiritual prosperity.

This is the general course that I have pursued in my ministerial and pastoral work since the commencement of the war. Is any argument necessary to show that I did right? Perhaps so, for the majority of ministers around me, of the leading denominations, acted differently, treating their people Sabbath after Sabbath to fiery political discussions of the war, its causes and results. Let me remark then the Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. What have we then as ministers, as Christian people, as subjects of a purely spiritual kingdom, with a work in the world, of an exclusively spiritual character to perform, and having our conversation in heaven, to do with earthly affairs? What may be our duties, rights, and privileges as subjects of earthly governments, or members of the social state, is not the question now; nor is it denied that political subjects as well as others may be legitimately introduced into the pulpit and discussed in their internal [?] aspects and bearings, but further than this, in my humble opinion, ministers and churches should not go. That this war in its origin, progress, and results is a question in which every man has a life and death interest is not to be wondered at, but men view it from different standpoints, and arrive at radically different conclusions; shall I now in my ministerial character, sit in judgment upon my parishioner whose opinions on this subject differ from our own, call him every ill name I can find or invent, and denounce him as a child of the devil and an heir of perdition? No, never. And if ministers with their people, and their people among themselves, cannot discuss their differences of political opinion [illeg] every Christian virtue and [illeg] certainly give poor evidence to [illeg] of being truly converted to [illeg] which bring glory to God in the highest and peace and good will to men.


LUTHERAN OBSERVER, January 27, 1865, p. 1

MESSRS. EDITORS: — I assumed the pastoral care of this church about one year before the commencement of the war. Its condition then was not good. Various causes had operated to produce dissensions, heart burnings, and alienations. I was, however, kindly received by all, and a general disposition was manifested to aid and sustain me in my efforts to do good. My first object, of course, was to improve the spiritual condition of the church, to remove as far as possible the causes of distraction and disaffection, and to bring back again those who had become estranged away. In this I was as successful as could be expected. After some months I had a protracted meeting; the Holy Spirit was poured out upon us in copious measure, Christians were revived, sinners were converted, and fifty members were added to the church by confirmation. The influence of this season of grace upon the church was of the most happy character. It united the church as it had not been before for years, increased its moral power in the community, and gave me a hold upon the confidence and affections of my people, that has been of incalculable value to me and my efforts to save the church from evil, amid the distractions of succeeding war.

From the spring of 1861 to the fall of 1863, we did not deem it prudent, in consequence of military excitements and for other reasons, to open the church at all for night service. Our ordinary Sabbath appointments were, however, but seldom suspended; we held our sacramental meetings as often as the condition of things around us would permit, and special attention was given to Sabbath School and catechetical classes. With God’s blessing, we were thus enabled to keep up a religious interest in the congregation. The Sunday School in the summer of 1863 numbered 166 scholars, with a corresponding force of officers and teachers.

But with all this there was one direction in which we failed to accomplish the good we earnestly desired — but comparatively few of our young people were being gathered in from the world and added to the church. True, we never had a communion without confirmations; but the number was not large. Meanwhile, wickedness of every description was on the increase, and demoralizing influences were become daily stronger. What was to be done? Last winter (1863-’64). I appointed several special prayer meetings in different parts of the congregation, to be held, all except one, semi-weekly, sometimes at school houses, and then at the houses of members, changing from place to place, so that all could occasionally attend, for the purpose of confessing our sins and imploring the pardoning mercy and compassion of our God. No public announcements were made of these meetings, the appointments were privately circulated among the members, and but few attended them or knew of them except those who would go to pray. It was good to be there. The Spirit of heavenly grace descended upon us. Christians renewed their covenant with God, and were blessed. Then the burden of unconverted souls began to come upon us as it had not before. We prayed for them in all the earnestness of longing desire for their conversion.

Thus we continued in prayer until the later part of last February, when, without any public announcement, I commenced a protracted meeting at the Tankerville school house. The power of God was manifested, sinners were converted, they prayed for mercy, and found peace in believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole community seemed to become aroused, and in the course of two or three nights the school house became so crowded that we had to move away privately to another place, confining ourselves to the instruction of mourners. As the meeting progressed, we several times found it necessary to have services at two different places at the same time, in order to meet the interest and prevent disorder. The result was the conversion of more than forty souls. From the deep impression made upon the minds of the people I am satisfied this result would have been doubled but for lack of house room to accommodate the congregations.

I next went to Frye’s School House* and there pursued substantially the same course as at Tankerville. The result was the conversion of over twenty. Our next effort was at the church. The result here was the conversion of about forty more, and the aggregate result was the conversion of about one hundred souls, and the addition of about ninety to the church. Connected with this work were many interesting incidents which I should like to record, but I cannot do this now.


LUTHERAN OBSERVER, February 3, 1865, p. 3

MESSRS. EDITORS: — In my last number I gave a brief account of a work of grace with which this church was blessed last winter and spring. We entered upon a series of meetings with fear and trembling. This county for the past two or three years has been neutral ground – neither army holding it, and detachments from both overrunning it. We feared interruptions by soldiers, but, to their credit, and the praise of God’s restraining grace, let it be said, they caused us no trouble. – We feared collisions between opposing parties, but though we had both occasionally, providentially they never met at any of our meetings. But how unfavorable, in human view, was such a condition of things for a work of this character. To God’s grace be all the praise for the success that crowned our humble efforts to promote this glory. His ear is never heavy that he cannot hear, nor his arm shortened that he cannot save.

This church now numbers over four hundred members. The number of confirmations since I became the pastor, is one hundred and sixty-seven. The number of infant baptisms since October 1861, is eighty-six. The number of marriages solemnized since that time, is thirty-one. The number of funerals attended within the same period, is ninety-six. We had a Sabbath school this year numbering about one hundred and sixty scholars, and a corresponding number of teachers.

The situation of churches and communities along the border is to say the least a very unenviable one. We have no civil law; at least this is the case here, and I presume it is the same elsewhere. There is not a single human instrumentality in operation to protect the good and punish the wicked. Society is dissolved into its original elements, and every man, according to his own moral instincts and feelings, has become his own protector and avenger. Sometimes armies pass through, leaving destruction and desolation to mark their course; while scarcely a week elapses that we do not have scouting parties and detachments from both armies going in almost every direction. This state of things causes continued excitement and alarm, and its fearfully demoralizing tendency can only be known and appreciated by those whose lot is cast within its range. The worst passions of human nature are aroused, and every man, except where the most thoroughly tested confidence exists, is disposed to look upon his neighbor with suspicious distrust. No wonder, therefore, that we hear of neighborhoods filled with contention and strife, where mobs’ will, in all their fiendish violence, and murders are the order of the day. But in our church, and in this community generally, we have had peace. The Gospel has taught us to love one another, and under the influence of that love we respect each others’ rights, bear each one another’s burdens, and meet our mutual responsibilities. It is under such circumstances, as those that have surrounded us here, that the power and value of the Christian religion, as the only effectual conservator of social morality and order, are peculiarly manifest. And this is effectual wherever it is cordially embraced. Let the Gospel of Jesus Christ take deep roots in the hearts of the people, and its spirit pervade society, and we have comparatively little use for human courts and laws; men then do right from religious principle, and not from any compulsion of political legislation.

I have endeavored to keep my people forewarned of dangers appearing in the distance, and have urged upon them a high standard of piety as our only safeguard against the evils they threatened. The German Reformed pastor has remained at his post, preaching regularly to his people, who have conducted themselves peaceably and quietly as becometh the disciples of Christ. The members of other churches whose pastors are gone have also felt the responsibility resting upon them, and have cordially united with us in efforts to promote the peace and piety of the community. But this church embraces a larger portion of the population than all the rest together. Its responsibilities are, therefore, great. With these we have been greatly impressed, and have tried to meet them in the fear of God.

It may be supposed that, under the circumstances, we are bound, as pastor and people, very closely together. It would be hard for me to leave them, and I believe not less sorrowful to them to see me go. I have no wish to do so. They give me a comfortable support, and still assure me, not withstanding their heavy losses, that as long as they have, I shall not want. Sore calamities have befallen us recently, and others still, however, may be in store for us. But hitherto the Lord hath helped us, and we will trust his mercy and grace for the future.


NOTE: In 1835, John and Elizabeth Frye donated a half-acre of land, “tucked in the Morrison lands,” for a schoolhouse, which became both a church and school. In 1836, they donated another half acre for public worship by Lutherans and others, so as not to interfere with the school. Rev. Daniel Hauer would preach there every month or two. This is what became the Shinar/Zion Lutheran Church. (Kretsinger, A People of God in Mission, Vol II.)

 [1]     See Chamberlin and Souders, Between Reb and Yank, p. 252.

Reverend Xenophon J. Richardson
Reverend Xenophon J. Richardson commemorative stained-glass window, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Aurora, West Virginia.

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