One-time pastor makes way to do interview of a lifetime
The Rev. George W. Pepper, a former pastor of the Methodist-Episcopal Church in Bellevue in the 1870s to early 1880s, had a distinguished career before coming to Bellevue and even more distinguished career after he left Bellevue.
He was born near Gilford, County Downs, Ireland. His father was an Episcopalian and his mother a Presbyterian. His father died when he was quite young and his mother devoted herself to his education. He was placed in a seminary in Moore, County Darby, where he made rapid progress.
It was the wish of his mother that Pepper become an orator and to that end she took pains to have him listen to addresses by many of the eminent speakers of the time. Pepper became interested in the temperance cause and his first public speaking was in the 1850s when he made addresses against the drink evil.
At the age of 18 he was united in marriage to Christina Lindsuy, daughter of a prominent farmer, who to use his own words, “for 40 years cheered and comforted me in sickness and disappointment.” A large family was born to them.
He moved to America in 1854. Shortly after landing he was recommended to Kenyon College at Gambier, Ohio. After attending Kenyon for one year, he made application to the Methodist-Episcopal Church of the North Ohio Conference. He became a circuit rider and served a number of churches.
In 1861, while pastor of a church at Keene, Coshoction County, he preached war sermons to the extent that a proposition was made to form a company. Names were written in the hymn book and Company H of the 80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was formed. The Rev. Pepper was made captain despite his protest. The regiment began at Corinth and ended at the conclusion of Sherman’s march to the sea.
When the army of General Sherman was making its famous homeward march to Washington, D.C., it rested for a few days in Richmond, Va. Because of rank and because of being a chaplain, Capt. Pepper had the opportunity to interview the highest ranking Rebel officer of the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee.
What follows is the transcript between the Union Chaplain and the highest ranking Confederate officer:
When the army of General Sherman, with which I was connected, was making its famous homeward march to Washington, it rested for a few days in Richmond. Accompanied by General Geary, afterwards governor of Pennsylvania, and provided with a letter of introduction from General Hazen, who knew General Lee at West Point, I made my mind to call and interview the Rebel commander. Ringing the bell with considerable anxiety, I awaited the result of my rash attempt to get a glimpse of the most gallant and most illustrious man of the South. Quickly there appeared at the door a good-looking mulatto, who awaited my demand.
“Can I see General Lee?” was the simple question I put on this occasion. “This is not the regular day when he receives company, and he has not yet entertained any visitors, but —” and he surveyed me with a hesitating air, not knowing what to say next. I observed, “Perhaps he would see a chaplain of Sherman’s army in his private parlor for a few moments.” “Your name, sir?” he asked. “Chaplain Pepper, of the 15th Corps of the Army of the Tennessee.” Giving him General Hazen’s letter, he quickly disappeared and in a few moments returned, saying it was all right, and for me to walk into the parlor. I took my seat upon a very plain sofa. The house was simplicity itself. There were no rich carpets, soft cushions, elegant furniture. There was not a wall decoration, nothing to attract attention, — a few chairs, a table covered with pictures of battlefields; but absolutely nothing that betokened that this was the home of the mightiest man in the South.
(To be continued)
Bellevue Historian Bill Oddo writes a weekly column for The Bellevue Gazette.