HISTORIC PATHWAYS: The Sharpshooting Chaplain from Taylorsville

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By Tom Watson

An article composed by this scribe once referenced Isaac Taylor Tichenor of Taylorsville as the first president of Auburn University. It was the Alabama State Agricultural and Mechanical College before becoming Auburn University, so other names will appear as Auburn’s first president, but our native son was actually the man.
Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg’s biography tells a great deal about Tichenor:
“Isaac Taylor Tichenor’s entrance into this world was on November 11th, 1825 in Spencer County, Kentucky. He was the son of James and Margaret Bennett Tichenor and was descended from Martin Tichenor, who was said to have been of French extraction. This Tichenor took the oath of allegiance at New Haven, CN in 1644 and was later one of the settlers of Newark, NJ. Martin’s great-grandson Daniel, the grandfather of Isaac, moved from New Jersey to Kentucky in 1790.
At fifteen he received his early education at the nearby Taylorsville Academy. Here he was under the instruction of two very able teachers, Moses and David Burbank, who were graduates of Waterville College, a Baptist college in Maine. His education was excellent, but a severe case of the measles and subsequent complications prevented Tichenor from attending college and added complications to his physical well-being for time to come. He continued his education under the tutelage of his academy instructors even as he taught at the school in his late teens, and he remained a voracious reader in many disciplines for the remainder of his life. Tichenor was gifted with great intellectual power. Governor Thomas H. Watts of Alabama, a very close friend, once said that Isaac Tichenor had the best intellect with which he ever came in contact. He was thoroughly acquainted with theology, history, and science. After experiencing the saving grace of God in Christ young Tichenor began to preach. He was licensed December 19th, 1846 at Taylorsville, KY. His gifts as a preacher soon won him the title “Boy Orator of Kentucky.” In 1847 he was appointed agent for the American Indian Mission Association, and while fulfilling his duties he was extended a call to the Baptist church of Columbus, Mississippi. Here he was ordained in 1848. Next he served the Baptist church in Henderson, Kentucky. In 1852 Tichenor was called to Alabama to serve as pastor of Montgomery’s First Baptist Church. Here he served until 1860. He had pastored many of Alabama’s most prominent leaders, and he became recognized as one of the region’s most outstanding orators. Tichenor also advocated the enhancement of educational enterprises in the South, most notably Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Howard College (now Samford University).
Tichenor’s health returned as the War for Southern Independence began. A large number of the men whom he pastored at First Baptist volunteered their services to the Seventeenth Alabama Regiment that was organized at Montgomery in August 1861. The regimental commander was Thomas H. Watts who later became one of the war governors of Alabama. The Seventeenth Alabama was composed of companies consisting mostly of Watt’s fellow Butler County citizens, although six other Alabama counties would contribute troops. On the 5th of September 1861 Tichenor received his appointment as chaplain (Bill 102). His pay was set at $50 a month. Cross Keys in Marion County was where the regiment received its first training. In November the Seventeenth was posted in Pensacola, Florida with the division under Gen. Braxton Bragg.
Chaplain Tichenor was in his element as a combat chaplain in the Confederate Army. Dr. J. B. Hawthorne (another Confederate Chaplain) had frequent opportunities to hear him preach and said, “it was like the blast of a brazen trumpet.” W. L. Yancey, a great Southern patriot, described Tichenor as “one of the most instructive, impressive, and irresistible of living preachers.” It was obvious to all who knew him that this attribute of fervor totally permeated his life. Joe W. Burton said of this preaching warrior in Road to Recovery, “His service as chaplain was marked by an intensity that always characterized the man. Never the kind to remain at the rear, when the battle became furious and the troops were in disarray, Tichenor left the rear. Neglecting his ministerial responsibilities, and with gun in hand taken from a fallen comrade, he rallied the men at the front and helped lead them to victory.” This is the way his actions were described at Shiloh. This event will be considered later. But the point of this writer and of Burton was the mark of fervor or intensity that characterized “the man.”
Hermon Norton in Rebel Religion wrote, “He was not a man to pray and preach and then to hide himself in the hour of battle.” This intensity was so great that his Southern spirit never waned with the years. Anyone who reads the life of Tichenor is brought to the realization that his Southern patriotism never flagged even when the hostilities ended. Whether preaching or warring he was “fervent in spirit; serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).
Isaac T. Tichenor had quite a reputation as a sharpshooter. Tichenor was one of those in the honorable class of warrior chaplains. He was adept with the Sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) as well as with the rifle. The Seventeenth Alabama began to waver during the battle of Shiloh. The men began to panic under the weltering barrage of enfilading fire. Tichenor pressed to the front and began to rally the men. This event is described in a letter to his old deacon and his former Colonel now the Attorney General, Thomas H. Watts, whom he tried to keep informed about the regiment.
Despite his support of the Confederate cause, Tichenor became a beacon for African Americans after the war, encouraged women’s work and Native American missions. He died in Atlanta, Ga.