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Union Chapel - South Township


Posted By: Kent Transier
Date: 9/26/2023 at 12:47:36

Civil War Beacon: A Union Chapel Memory
Author: Fred C. Runkle
Date: Unknown
Source: Madison County Historical Museum Collection
Transcriber: JoAnne Walker

The history of Union Chapel antedates the Civil War. Its early history to me is only traditional facts and impressions gleaned and retained from fireside stories as a boy as the older members of the family talked of earlier days. The church standing on our old homestead, towered from the hill across the ravine from the farmstead. It was the center of the social and religious life of the neighborhood, and stamped unforgettable impressions upon the memory of an impressionable lad.

The first church stood on the old Guilliam’s homestead about 40 rods east of the present farm house. It must have been built in the later (eighteen) fifties. Exciting stories of Civil War activities, which I have retained through the years, were often recited about our fireside that assures me that the church was built before the war. Its organization, its membership, its ministers, have been lost to history, unless there is someone living that can supply the unwritten history of the beginning. I do not know if the Christian (Newlight) denomination was in control from the first or not. It was in control from the earliest memory that I have, although the church was opened for services to other denominations, and all religious beliefs seemed to have been welcomed.

The Civil War stories often told aroused my interest and made a vivid impression, were stories of the Copperheads who came to break up the services during the war. One was how a Copperhead once arose during services to interrupt by hurrahing for Jeff Davis. A few Union soldiers home on furlough were attending and they also arose and leveled pistols at the head of the enthusiastic follower of Jefferson Davis, which caused a sudden lull in his enthusiasm and a rapid withdrawal, and the religious devotions of the congregation continued.

Another was that the Copperheads served notice that no funerals could be held in the church for Union soldiers. Father Storrs at Winterset, a Union army lieutenant discharged because of disabilities was sent for. Father Storrs was a soldier, a minister, a Christian and a fighter. He came to conduct the funeral of a Union soldier. He mounted the pulpit, opened the Bible, adjusted his glasses, reached under the tail of his long ministerial coat, drew out two huge army pistols, placed them on the open Bible and announced that he would conduct the funeral services of any soldier without any interruption - there was no interruption.

It is impossible to determine how long the church stood on the Guilliam’s farm, but sometime after the Civil War and before my advent in the neighborhood in the late seventies, the church had been moved to its present location at the cemetery. The cemetery had been established in 1852 by my father who buried his first wife, the mother of John Runkle, Mrs. Molly Brassfield and Mrs. Fayette Taylor, on the hill overlooking the home. Others used the plot as a burial place for their dead, and many favored the removal of the church to the burying ground although there was some opposition to the change of location.

There still remains vivid memories of the services at the old church, the Sunday school and the preaching - the congregation that crowded the building to the walls and filled every pew - the long sermons - the fervent Amen’s - the Amen corner, the men to the right of the preacher, the women to the left - the mourners bench in front of the pulpit - the shouting of those who did not control their religious emotions, and who now will doubt their piety or their Christianity. They rest beside the church awaiting the call of the God they worshipped there and obeyed.

As a small boy I was compelled to attend all these services. All the family attended and there was no one at home to leave me with, so I trudge along with the family down one hill and up the other to the church. There was no riding in those days for such short distances.

About the author: Frederick Clarence Runkle was born 15 April 1876 in Madison County, Iowa. His father was Thomas Runkle and his mother was Mary A. Berry. In 1900 he was living in New Hope, Union County, Iowa with his uncle, William M. Berry, and was a school teacher. On September 12, 1918 Frederick registered for the WWI draft in Webster County, Iowa with his occupation listed as Superintendent of Schools for the Independent School District of Dayton, Webster County, Iowa. Frederick died in 1944 in Stanhope, Hamilton County, Iowa.


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