Prayer Book Reveals A Tale Of War & Survival
By Hunter Lesser
(August 2012 Civil War News)
Union Pvt. Philip Bader took this prayer book from “a dead Secesh [Confederate] soldier” after the Battle of Rich Mountain on July 11, 1861. (Walt Lesser)
BEVERLY, W.Va. — Like all good mysteries, it started with a discovery.
In 1970 sisters Carey and Jennifer Flinn, now Carey Flinn Howells and Jennifer Flinn Marks, were exploring custom-made bookcases in the library of a 1915 home their family had just moved to in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Tucked in the dark recesses of a cabinet was a little leather-bound book. Numbering more than 500 pages, but measuring only 4 by 2.5 inches, it had been overlooked and left behind.
The sisters carefully opened the well-worn volume and read its title page: The Path to Paradise; Or, the Way of Salvation with the “Approbation of the Most Rev. John Hughes, Archbishop of New York.” The publication date was 1857.
This little Catholic prayer book filled with religious engravings was a curiosity in itself. But some old inscriptions just inside the covers sparked a real mystery.
In old brown ink, two of the inscriptions read: “Philip Bader, a Private in the 19th Ohio Infantry” and “Presented to Mary Drumm by Philip Bader. Taken on the Battle Field at Rich Mountain from a Dead Secesh Soldier.”
Recognizing the little book as an artifact of historical and spiritual significance, the family placed it in the house’s safe. There matters rested until recently when Carey’s husband, Dion Howells, contacted Terry Hackney of the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation. Terry did some background research and put me in contact with the owners.
The sisters and their families made it clear that the prayer book was not for sale. Their goal was to find a proper home for the artifact, where it could be shared with the public and its story revealed.
That place was the Beverly Heritage Center where the prayer book is now on exhibit.
By their own admission, the families take seriously a “commitment to make this world a better place,” as witnessed by Dion Howells’ book: The Story of David: How We Created a Family Through Open Adoption (Delacorte Press, 1997).
Research has begun to reveal the prayer book’s amazing story.
Twenty-one-year-old Philip H. Bader enlisted as a private in K Co., 19th Ohio Infantry, on April 23, 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War. Bound for Virginia, he was fated to fight in one of the war’s first battles.
On July 11, 1861, atop the lonely crest of Rich Mountain, Bader and some 1,900 Federal troops drove out 310 resolute Confederates. The Union victory on Rich Mountain made Maj. Gen. George McClellan a national hero and paved the way for West Virginia statehood.
Bader sought a memento of the fight. Taking the prayer book from a dead Confederate soldier, he inscribed it for posterity, using the term “Secesh” — slang for Secessionist — in describing his foe.
That prayer book had been carried into battle as a source of comfort and inspiration. For Private Bader, it became a trophy from his first battle — a grim reminder of a day he would never forget.
More remarkable was Philip Bader’s knack for survival. Records show he later served in the 65th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was discharged for medical reasons, and then reenlisted in the 10th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.
QM Sgt. Philip Bader was captured on Aug. 19, 1864, near Atlanta, Ga., and incarcerated at the South’s deadliest prisoner of war stockade, Camp Sumter, at Andersonville.
Surviving until his release in 1865, Bader boarded a paddlewheel steamboat on the Mississippi River to return home. That boat was the Sultana.
On April 27, 1865, Bader was among the few survivors of the Sultana’s explosion and sinking — the worst maritime disaster in American history — in which an estimated 1,800 of 2,400 passengers died.
Bader lost three fingers and a thumb in that disaster and was discharged from the army. He died on May 29, 1877, and is buried in Brookmere Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.
For more information see www.historicbeverly.org or www.richmountain.org or call (304) 637-7424. Information about the Beverly Heritage Center, which is a museum, research center and visitor destination, is at www.beverlyheritagecenter.org.
Hunter Lesser is a consultant to the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation. He is a member of the West Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and the author of Rebels at the Gate: Lee and McClellan on the Front Line of a Nation Divided (Sourcebooks 2004)