He was about five feet tall and thin. When weighted down with his backpack and equipment, he amused his fellow soldiers who called him “the walking bundle.” He served in the Confederate army as a soldier-chaplain. He got captured and released twice. For most of his life both before and after the Civil War, he labored as a Methodist preacher.
Edward McKendree Bounds, known among his readers as E. M. Bounds, is one of the most successful of Southern religious writers. He only had two books published in his lifetime, Preacher and Prayer and The Resurrection. His nine other books were published after his death in 1913. His works have remained in print to this day. He basically focused on one theme in writing—prayer. Rising at four every morning, he prayed until seven, so he knew personally about his topic.
Besides his labors as a pastor, revivalist, and writer, he learned vital lessons about prayer during his time as a soldier. The Battle of Franklin was a defining time for Bounds. But it was not his first experience in that war.
Early in the war, Bounds was a Methodist pastor in Monticello, Missouri. That border state had its own internal and truly civil war. Missouri was a slave state; ever since the Missouri Compromise, it was a microcosm of the slave versus free debate in the United States. When Southern states began seceding, there were strong forces on both sides of the issue in Missouri. Sons of Missouri donned both the Confederate gray and the Union blue. Political tensions in the state were rife, and Missouri was represented by one of the eleven stars on that very familiar battle flag of the Confederacy. Yet Missouri did not secede. Blame it on or credit it to outside forces, such as General John C. Fremont, for Missouri’s pro-Confederate political leaders were bested.
Remaining with the Union did not remove the internal strife from the state, and although few of the larger battles took place there, many less known skirmishes did. One such incident involved Union troops confiscating churches. Another problem was that prior to the war, the Methodists had split over the issues that later split the Union. Since Bounds was then a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church South, he was expected, along with other pastors, to take an oath of allegiance to the United States and to post a $500 bond. Pastor E. M. Bounds opposed these actions by the Union army. He was then charged with being a Confederate sympathizer and was arrested. Prison then became his parish and there he ministered to other prisoners.
After more than a year of being a prisoner, Bounds was turned over to the Confederacy during a prisoner exchange. He then became a chaplain in the 3rd Missouri Infantry of the Confederate Army. This unit became part of the Army of Tennessee, which was under the command of General John B. Hood in 1864. The Confederate army had its share of preachers and revivals. But soldiers also witnessed some chaplains who willingly preached in the quiet peace of the camps but who pulled back to safety when the shooting started. Not so with E. M. Bounds. When his flock, that is, his soldiers, were on the front lines in the heat of battle, he was there with them shouting encouragements. No wonder they loved the little man they called “the walking bundle.”
The Army of Tennessee, when under Hood’s command, endured one of the most grueling and tragic campaigns of the entire war. In a move more desperate than bold, Hood disengaged his army from Sherman’s Union forces following the fall of Atlanta. Hood then marched the army back into middle Tennessee with the short term hope of disrupting the Union supply lines and the long term hope of connecting with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The gamble accomplished neither goal.
The first great disaster was the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, on November 30, 1864. Sometimes called “Gettysburg of the West,” this battle—climaxed by an afternoon frontal assault—cost the Confederates over one-third of their 18,000-man army. Among the battle dead were thirteen generals. Among the many prisoners was Chaplain Bounds.
As the armies moved on, the prisoners were given the task of burying the thousands of dead soldiers. Most were Confederates who had fallen in their attempt to capture the entrenched Union army. The large numbers of dead soldiers, the need for hasty burials, and the sheer horror, fatigue, and ugliness of the task would have disheartened most.
But E. M. Bounds once again turned a difficult situation into a ministry. With shovel in hand, he prayed, sang hymns, quoted Bible verses, and encouraged the other prisoners as they buried their comrades. As the Confederacy unraveled in the late spring of 1865, Bounds was released on condition that he would not take up arms again. He then returned to Missouri.
He remained there for only a short time, for he felt the need to return to the scene of the battle of Franklin. The shallow mass graves he helped dig had been a necessity at the time, but he believed the fallen soldiers deserved better. His vision was a noble one, but ghastly to accomplish. He wanted the soldiers to be reburied and their names to be recorded.
The result was the burial grounds now found on the Carnton Plantation in Franklin. With some seven hundred dollars he raised, he hired men to do the burial work. The land was donated and so during the summer of 1865, nearly 1500 Confederate soldiers were exhumed from the battlefield and re-buried at Carnton.
Even that was not enough for Bounds. He made a list of all his fellow Missourians that were buried there. He saw to it that these names were published in Missouri newspapers. We often overlook that families of dead or missing soldiers might never have heard when or where their sons and husbands had died. Bounds kept his list of Missouri soldiers with him until he died nearly fifty years later. When he could, he either visited or wrote to the families of his fellow soldiers. He also labored to get scholarships for their children’s education.
During the years after the war, Bounds was called to pastor the Methodist Episcopal Church in Franklin. Although he later moved on to serve other churches in Alabama and Georgia, Franklin would always be a place with deeply etched memories and life-changing experiences in prayer and ministry.