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American Civil War and Fordham: Chaplains in the Civil War- articles from Fordham Monthly

Fr. Thomas Ouellet SJ


Fr. Thomas Ouellet, SJ

Born December 21, 1819  Quebec

Died November 11, 1894, Montreal

Thomas Ouellet came to Fordham as a theology student and was ordained in January 16, 1848. During the 1850’s he taught in the United States and France but when the Civil War began he joined the army and was appointed a chaplain of New York’s Fighting 69th.  He served in some of the bloodiest battles including Antietam, the Battle at Malvern Hill and Fredericksburgh.  Malvern Hill took the lives of 3,000 Union soldiers and 5,700 Confederate soldiers. Fr. Ouellet dodged bullets on the front lines to administer the last sacrament to dying soldiers.  When he asked a mortally wounded man “Are you a Catholic?” the soldier replied “No, but I would like to die in the faith of any man who has the courage to come out and see me in such a place as this.”  He was baptized and given absolution.

Following the war Fr. Ouellet taught at St Peter’s in Jersey City, Francis Xavier in New York City and Quebec City.  He was fluent in French, English, Polish and learned the Ojibway language in his sixties when he was assigned to an Indian mission in Ontario. He died at the age of 74 in Montreal.

Fr. Peter Tissot SJ

Father Peter Tissot, S.J.
Born: October 15, 1823, Mégêve, Savoy, France

Died: July 19th, 1875, College of St. Francis Xavier


Father Peter Tissot's experience serving as a chaplain with the 37th New York Volunteers not only benefited the men with whom he served but has also given generations to come an intimate view of life as a chaplain during the Civil War;  during his two-year tenure with northern forces from 1861 to 1863, Tissot kept a diary of his life.  While the diary is one of Tissot's greatest contributions, his work as chaplain provided inspiration, comfort and spiritual support to all of his men.


After joining the Jesuit Order, Tissot started his studies in Europe, before coming to the United States, and Fordham where he completed his studies.  After completion, he took up a job at the University as procurator and occasionally taught.  While working at Fordham he was admired and well-liked by the students, with whom he was perfectly comfortable playing a game of football or hand-ball.

During his service in the Army he became especially admired by his men for his dedication to them.  One account has him giving last rites to those lying dead on the battle field as the bullets were still flying.  His regiment was known as the "Irish Rifles" due to their ethnic makeup.  And, indeed, a few of the men in the regiment were Fordham boys, including the future-general, James O'Beirne.  He was always available for confessions and encouraged the soldiers in his regiment to attend.  Tissot urged one soldier who had not been to confession to go before he returned to the battle field, even though this soldier was a pious one; the soldier did not abide by Tissot's request and died in the next battle.

Following the war, Tissot returned to Fordham where he worked until in his last few years when he went on missionary work until his death in 1875. In 1900 his memoirs, A Year with the Army of the Potomac : Diary of the Reverend Father Tissot, S.J., Military Chaplain”  were published in The Fordham Monthly.

Fr. Michael Nash SJ

Father Michael Nash, S.J.

Born: 1825, County Kilkenny, Ireland

Died: 1895, Troy, New York


Father Michael Nash’s connection to St. John College extends to even before its founding, for he was a student at St. John’s forerunner, St. Mary’s in Kentucky.  At the outbreak of the Civil War his Jesuit superiors ordered him to serve in the Union Army as a chaplain; he was assigned to the 6th New York Volunteers.  Luckily for Nash the regiment, including Colonel William Wilson, the leader of the regiment, was predominantly Catholic.  His work with the men so inspired Wilson that he told Nash that would use his sword to spread the Catholicism as the only true religion. 

Nash’s first battle was at Fort Pickens off the coast of Florida in the gulf coast.  The Union controlled a fort off the coast near Pensacola, which was controlled by the Confederacy.  Most of his men headed into battle with little respect for their religion; as soon as they entered the fray much of that changed.  Nash was there to comfort, preach, hear confessions, lead mass and provide support for the men in the most harrowing of experiences: war.

After the war, worked at Holy Cross and in Troy, New York where he died in 1895.

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