Father Walter Elliott: From Soldier to Priest

Authored by Melissa Henderson

Letter written by Father Walter Elliot

Letter written by Father Walter Elliot


Father Walter Elliott was a Paulist Father and the author of the “Life of Father Hecker.” Prior to joining the Paulist Fathers, Father Elliott was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. Father Elliott is known as not only being an intense American, but for also being a leader among those who were in favor of New American Catholicism (McNamara, 2011).

In a letter written to his brother R.R. Elliott dated March 26, 1862, Father Elliott describes the first battle of Kernstown, which would make up the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The Shenandoah Valley was a crucial region because of a variety of factors; the geological formation afforded an avenue of invasion as well as counter-invasion for the opposing sides (National Park Service, 2014). Furthermore, its fertile soil made it one of the most significant wheat producing areas in the south (National Park Service, 2014). As the Union army continued to gain control and began to advance further south, it was imperative for Major General Stonewall Jackson to defend western Virginia against the invasion of the Union Army (Ecelbarger, n.d.). While a campaign began its advance toward Richmond, Virginia, a separate Union force of 35,000 men marched into Winchester in early March (National Park Service, 2014).

The Shenandoah Campaign led by Stonewall Jackson is considered one of the most outstanding campaigns in military history (National Park Service, 2014). Although the battle described in Father Elliott’s letter resulted in a Union victory, Jackson’s aggressiveness was noteworthy. Because of this battle,  President Lincoln redirected thousands of Union troops, ultimately diverting them from Richmond, thus protecting Virginia’s capital from Union control (HISTORY.com, 2014).

This letter demonstrates Father Elliot’s earlier and adventurous life before joining the order. After leaving the army, Father Elliott went on to practice law in Cincinnati (McNamara, 2011). At a banquet hosted by the bar of Detroit in honor of Father Hecker, Elliott was introduced to the founder of the Paulist Fathers and was determined to enter the order himself (McNamara, 2011).


Works Cited:

Ecelbarger, G. (n.d.). First Battle of Kernstown. The Shenandoah Valley Civil War History and Battlefields Foundation. Retrieved from: <http://www.shenandoahatwar.org/The-History/The-Stories/First-Battle-of-Kernstown>

Elliot, Fr. Walter. (1862). Father Walter Elliott to his brother R.R. Elliott. [tif filesimage_01 through image_03]. Retrieved from Paulist Fathers Archives.

HISTORY.com. Stonewall Jackson. (2009). Retrieved from:  <http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/stonewall-jackson>

McNamara, P. Father Walter Elliott, C.S.P. (1842-1928): Union Army Veteran. (2011) McNamara’s Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mcnamarasblog/2011/05/father-walter-elliott-c-s-p-1842-1928-union-army-veteran.html#disqus_thread>

National Park Service. (2014). Overview of the 1862 Stonewall Jackson Valley Campaign. Retrieved from: <http://www.nps.gov/cebe/historyculture/overview-of-the-1862-stonewall-jackson-valley-campaign.htm>