Rev. John Milton Whitehead is considered the noblest of Indiana’s war heroes. He never killed an enemy, he never fired a gun in anger, he didn’t even hold animosity for the enemies who sought to destroy his nation, yet he earned the Medal of Honor as a chaplain in the Civil War. A soldier only in name and because of the Uniform he wore, Rev. Whitehead was a man of God.
Whitehead is unique, even amongst those who earned our Republic’s highest honor. The United States has only bestowed the Medal of Honor on nine chaplains, plus 4 Chaplains medals (the only higher honor than the MOH)
Whitehead is known as the “The Angel of Stones River. At 39 Whitehead enlisted in the 15th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He figured a man of the cloth might be welcome on the battlefield.
When the 15th finally encountered the Confederates at a frigid river ford near Murfreesboro, Tenn. After a 4 day battle the Union prevailed, 1,730 Union lives and 1,294 Confederates were lost. Nearly 16,000 more were wounded.
The Rev. Whitehead never faltered in his faith of loyalty to his flag. In spite of balls “buzzing around him like angry bees, He stood unflinching and unarmed administering comfort and aid to the wounded. He personally carried many to safety.
“Our regiment was ordered to hold our position on the left, nearest to the river, at all hazards,” he wrote after the war. “Three times we charged (Brigadier John K.) Jackson’s Brigade and three times we put the enemy to flight … But only with a terrible cost with Half of the regiment dead or wounded by the 4th day.
Even though Whitehead was a noncombatant, and not expected to face enemy fire, he never left his regiment. It was Whitehead who took on the task comforting the dying, carrying off the injured. “
Capt. Robert J. Templeton fell wounded and Whitehead carried him to the rear and remained at his side until he breathed his last. The Rev. copied the man’s last message and sent it to his friends at home.
“John Long, a private, had one leg shot to pieces. He cut the dangling limb off with his own pocketknife and hobbled off using his gun for a crutch until whitehead found him and carried him to medical aid.
He comforted Confederates as well as Union soldiers. He wrapped bandages and knelt beside them as they died. He whispered words of comfort and promises from a loving God as the last sounds they would ever hear.
When the battle ended Rev. Whitehead was found drenched in his friends dried blood, exhausted but still rendering Spiritual and medical aid to all he found on the field of battle –regardless of the color their uniform.
If there is a model for humanity amid war’s inhumanity, Whitehead’s life endures as a beacon. In his later years, Rev. Whitehead never preached fire and Brimstone or the agony of hell. He said he had no wish to threaten any man or woman with hell’s suffering.
He would tell his congregation, “I was at Stones River – I’ve seen hell.”