Rev. Addison Shaw: Civil War Chaplain

This image is probably the Rev. Addison C. Shaw in his uniform.

MARQUETTE – Even in a time of war or perhaps especially in a time of war there is a need for men of peace. Chaplains were essential for maintaining good morale among troops facing the carnage of modern warfare. For young men away from home for extended periods for the first time, chaplains often served as surrogate parents in keeping a young soldier out of trouble with the “seductive influences of sin” including “spiritous liquors,” card playing, gambling, profanity, and camp followers.

They provided religious services and counseling as well as assuring the men that their cause was just, and their deaths were not in vain because they served God’s purpose. In addition to their pastoral care, chaplains fulfilled a variety of other duties including that of nurse, courier, postal clerk, carpenter, gunrunner, and in some cases soldier.

One of these chaplains was the Rev. Addison C. Shaw. Born about 1815, he married Emily Ellis and had nine children. An itinerant Methodist minister, Shaw moved his family to a different church every few years.

He arrived in Marquette in 1855 and oversaw the construction of the first church building in Marquette. Located on the corner of Washington and Fourth streets, the building later became St. John’s Catholic Church. Eventually they replaced it with a newer structure which some of you may remember. The site is currently a parking lot next to the Krist gas station.

While raising money for the building project he solicited funds from Peter White, who called Shaw’s attention to “the names of several applicants whom he considered utterly unable to pay the amounts opposite their names and whose pledges he considered entirely worthless. In each instance he was astonished to find that the reverend gentleman had secured the whole or a large portion of the amounts, taking anything which could be utilized in the construction of the church, such as shingles, timber, labor, etc.”

It amazed many residents of the town when the building was actually completed. The church was also notable for being the first painted building in town- white with green shutters. After the construction of the church Shaw moved on to other congregations in Michigan and spent four years as the presiding elder of the Lake Superior District, supervising the other ministers in the region.

Addison Shaw was nearly 50 years old when he entered service as a chaplain in the 23rd Michigan Infantry in March 1864. He served for approximately 6 months before resigning due to ill health. This might seem like a short amount of time, but the average enlistment for a chaplain was between three and nine months, although some served for longer periods.

Following the war Shaw and his family returned to Marquette where he farmed near Cherry Creek. In the late 1860s continuing ill heath led him to leave farming and move into town where he worked as a merchant and real estate dealer. In 1875 he moved to Ypsilanti where he died the following year. His body was returned to Marquette for burial because two of his children, Frankie and Etta, who died young, are buried here and because it was the home of two of his surviving adult children.


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