Historical Notes: Fire & Brimstone. Ambrose raises cane with the Union President

On a lark, I did a quick search wondering if there’s a familial relationship with the Roes or Macks to the Minister M.J.W. Ambrose. The answer is no. He was a hospital chaplain (and doctor) during the Civil War who had intensely taken issue with President Abraham Lincoln. Worded with fury and pain by the Senate’s dismissal and implied treason, Ambrose raises cane in the ruination of his  good name. His crime was being a clergy member of the Methodist E. Church, South, in Kentucky and thus must be part of the Confederacy even though Kentucky claimed neutrality. One observer noted the United States had look like it “had become three countries: the Union, the Confederacy and Kentucky.”

The five page letter archived at the Library of Congress from M.J.W. Ambrose to President Lincoln is a passionate plea for re-instatement as Hospital Chaplain. The letter is filled with anguish, patriotism, faith, and loyalty demanding fairness and justice to restore his good name and continue to serve the Union. Below is Ambrose’s plea to President Lincoln:

Page 1

Paris, Kentucky. August 3, 1864

To His Excellency, Abraham Lincoln, President, U. States

Dear Sir,
It was with emotions of burning pain and regret that I received the mortifying intelligence of the non-confirmation of my appointment as Hospital Chaplain. Why such a thing should be done I cannot conceive. But, I am informed it was because I am a member of the Methodist E. Church, South(!) What an idea? Is a man to be proscribed, because of his faith in the U.S., whose constitution guarantees to every man the right of conscience? ’Tis true, I am a Local Preacher of the Kentucky Conference of the M.E. Church, South. What has that Conference done? As an ecclesiastic body is it loyal or disloyal? Let its acts testify. [A]t its last session, held in Shelbville Ky., in September last, it tried and cited to trial some of its members for treason. (I herewith send you a copy of at the proceedings.) What northern Methodist E. Church, Annual Conference has arraigned any one of its preachers to trial for treason? I have seen no account of a single case; yet, some of the vilest traitors that ever polluted the soil of Liberty are, if reports be true, in those Conferences. But suppose they- the M.E. Church South, were all traitors and, I only loyal; should I be condemned? Rather among all honest men be justified and honored. Every pure man would approve my source and award to me accordingly.

What is the [sic] origen of the Methodist E. Church, South? Waiving details_we simply state it was by an aggrieving, of two parties of which that large body, the Methodist E. Church was composed, to [sic] sepirate peaceably and divide the property like honest men. The first proposition the North complied with, but refused to divide the property. The South sued the North and the Supreme Court of the U.S. decided in favor of the South. She was thus compelled to divide the funds. The wrath of the Northern Church has never ceased its [sic] ebulition. I do not justify her proceedings-she has erred-does err.

Strange I should say so! [S]he is numerous, powerful, popular and caters about the President. Policy says. kiss her hand, salute her, but_Justice says do it not though you fall a martyr. I am not seeking popularity_I spurn it_It is a bane of evil. I want to have principle_to be right before God-not worshiping man. Henry Clay said he would rather be right than be President.

This is a ruinous stroke to me and my family. In one [sic] sence of the word, I am out of doors_in fact out of business_and why? because I have been and am an unconditional union man. Yea! I am a Radical. I am for amending the Constitution of the U.S. so as to prohibit involuntary slavery hereafter except for crime. I not only desire this to be, but firmly believe it will be. I thank God I can read in the Bible the destiny of the U.S. It is onward and progressive. Let me say this, the rebellion will be put down. Its leaders and those who may be captured with them at the close will not be put to death but banished.

I have served my country two years_and now am Picked out because______, I have done my duty. I was born in Ky., raised in Ky., lived most of my time in Ky. and when the rebellion broke out I took sides with the Federal Government from principle. I have kept step with the march of Civil Liberty_defended the President and policy of the Government. I have…better Official Reports at the Surgeon General’s Office in Washington than any Chaplain in Nashville, Tenn. for the months reported. When my country becomes imperiled I ran to her rescue___and still, after all these things, while in the full discharge of my Official duties__, by my Country’s Legislatives and Executives I am [sic] stabed in the back to death!! “If a man die shall he live again?” A blustering English-man – a Dutchman or any other foreigner, ignorant of out institutions, – commended by a foreign Potentate can get place and position and order me about as a dog. I must be murdered by those whom I have upheld, am upholding and will uphold. I ask your Excellency if this is right. I talk plain. There is no flattery about me. “That’s what is the matter.” I don’t say I have not erred. No one but an egotistical ignoramus would say he has not erred. Must everyman that has erred be decaptitated? If so, the U.S. would have been long since a vast Cemetery. The King of Terrors would sign in undisputed triumph. A voice from the winding-sheet says your Excellency’s Tomb would be moss grown. I would that I could visit you and talk with you. I know I would satisfy you that I am badly treated.

Now, I ask in all justice, to my Country- your Excellency- the U.S.’s Senate and myself and helpless family that, I be [sic] re-enstated and that that re-instatement be dated back to the 11th day of July 1864. I am conscientious in asking this as a right that I am justly entitled to. If you will not do this- I am compelled to ask something else. Will you give me a QuarterMaster’s Commission in the Regular Army with rank not less than Captain or higher if possible? Or some other position. But, Sir, I prefer the Chaplaincy because it is more consistent with my feelings and duty to God. If you want any reference- please say so, and you shall have it. I am thrown out of business and will be a [sic] hoby for Kentucky secesh and copperheads. These things may be my ruin. Men must have help. I must have it or suffer. But, as there is so much [sic] exageration by men to obtain position you may think I am playing that game too. Far from it. I tell you the simple truth. Now Sir, must I be cast away when I have done all in my power for my country? I have electioneered for your Excellency and Andy Johnson since June one year ago. But- you are already wearied and must insist that my request be granted.

I shall expect an immediate answer. It will be but a few minutes well-spent time.
    I am Sir,
         Very Respectfully yours.
                                M.J.W. Ambrose.

P.S. I send you my Photograph taken when I was Regimental Chaplain.

[Secesh is an archaic regional word for secessionist and supporter of the Confederacy during the United States Civil War. A Copperhead was a Northern Democrat who opposed the Civil War, advocating peace and restoration of the Union even if slavery continued.]

Curious if Ambrose’s fervent letter was effective in restoring his good name and service to the Union, the Official Army Register For 1864 (pg. 67) lists M.J.W. Ambrose under ‘Hospital Chaplains’: M.J.W. Ambrose*…28 Sept. Born in Ky. Appointed Com. Ky.

Prior to 1864, Mordecai J. W. Ambrose of Kentucky is also listed in the United States Service Magazine; Volume 1, pg 217: Official Intelligence. To Be Hospital Chaplains: September 23, 1863.

It’s truly amazing how a simple marriage certificate diverged onto a path of one man’s emboldened letter demanding reinstatement of his good name and livelihood. I wonder if Fannie and Fayette Roe in 1871 knew the history of Minister Ambrose who joined them in union? And his own struggles to remain in a Union with an administration intent on labeling him as a member of the Confederacy and the enemy of the North?

Was Ambrose the recipient of one president’s mistaken ire and thus eventual recompensed? Or was Ambrose’s ire filled with fire and brimstone towards those holding power over a man’s life by a government at war?

Cont’d: An impassioned letter of outrage from one Mason to another President and Mason.

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