Chaplain John Kilian


        John Kilian was born in Bremen, Germany in 1828, to parents who were members of a Moravian religious congregation. He took pastoral training in that denomination, which placed a strong emphasis on missionary activity, prior to coming to the United States in 1853. He served as a pastor in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Iowa until 1861. In that year he changed his religious affiliation to the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church and was assigned to St. John's Lutheran Church in Greenfield.
        Although quite a few members of neighboring Evangelical and Catholic churches volunteered for service in the Civil War, there was very little enthusiasm for it among the parishioners in Kilian's conservative German-speaking congregation. Nonetheless, the closeness of the war was brought home to Kilian when the neighbor at his new parsonage, Adam Muenzenberger, died in a Confederate prison.
        Kilian was 36 years old when he received his draft notice in September 1864, clergymen not being exempt. He decided to apply for a chaplaincy, and did so for the 9th and 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiments, at the same time requesting a deferment from service as a common soldier. He had not yet had an answer to his chaplaincy application when his deferment expired on November 4, 1864 so he was faced with either paying $550 for a substitute, or entering the service. No sooner had he made the payment with hastily borrowed funds than he received confirmation of his appointment as chaplain of the 26th Regiment.
        Although he was no longer obligated to serve, Kilian regarded his appointment as a divine sign, and left for New York on December 28, 1864. He arrived in Savannah to serve with the 26th on January 12, 1865. He is mentioned in letters and diaries written by several members of the regiment.
        Kilian was paid $85 per month. His official duties were to conduct weekly services and provide quarterly reports to the commanding officer regarding his services and the moral and religious condition of the men. He also had unofficial duties which were both religious and secular: comforting the ill and dying, distributing religious literature, and serving as stretcher-bearer, librarian, letter-writer, and business agent for the members of the regiment.
        After participating along with other members of the 26th Infantry in the Grand Review in Washington DC after the war, Kilian returned to his congregation in Greenfield, where he was pastor until 1867. He went on to serve as pastor of congregations in Dodge County, Wisconsin until his retirement in 1902. He died in 1917.

Information from William Behm.