John M. Whitehead

Portrait of John M. Whitehead
Congressional Medal of Honor Society
War & AffiliationCivil War / Union
Date of Birth - DeathMarch 6, 1823 - March 8, 1909

Chaplain John M. Whitehead was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness during the Civil War, carrying, comforting and praying with injured men from the front lines of battle.

Whitehead was born on March 6, 1823, in Wayne County, Indiana, where he received an education and joined the Baptist church at the age of 16. Ordained as a Baptist minister at the age of 21, he served in the role for about 20 years before joining the Union Army as a chaplain in 1862.

Serving with the 15th Indiana, Whitehead witnessed the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee, on December 31, 1862. Throughout the battle, he risked his life many times by moving to the front lines to carry injured soldiers to safety. He dressed the wounds of the injured, comforted and prayed with them and was often the receptive ear to their last words. Although smaller than many other famous engagements, with fewer than 80,000 men engaged, the Battle of Stones River had the highest percentage of casualties of any major battle fought during the Civil War. In the thick of it, Whitehead committed himself to saving every man he could.  

“Comrades,” his fellow soldier Edwin Nicar extolled, “Do you remember that Chaplain Whitehead was always at his post of duty? Do you remember how in the red front of battle he carried wounded men from the battlefield on his brawny shoulders; how his arms supported the dying soldier and tenderly laid him to rest in that sleep which knowns no waking? Do you remember how he gave comfort to the mortally wounded soldier whose life’s blood was fast ebbing away; how he received his last messages for the loved ones at home and faithfully delivered them to those for whom they were intended? You do remember these, and much more, and with me you are ready to say ‘May God bless and keep John M. Whitehead.’”

For his actions during the battle and throughout the war, Whitehead earned the nickname “The Bloody Chaplain,” as his uniform was constantly covered in the blood of those he helped, Union and Confederate soldiers alike. His brave acts of service throughout the war were all carried out without ever lifting a rifle; he simply wanted to provide the counseling and comfort of a minister when people needed it most. He was also known as the Angel of Stones River.

Whitehead served with the Union army until the end of the Civil War and received the Medal of Honor for his selfless actions at Stones River on April 4, 1898. His citation read, “Went to the front during a desperate contest and unaided carried to the rear several wounded and helpless soldiers”  Regarding his time in the service, Whitehead noted that, “My official position as your Chaplain gave me a real knowledge of the true nature and mettle of my comrades when in camp, hospital, or on long gloomy marches; also on the terrible battlefields; I know their true nature at home and in camp life; I know their history well, and I can say truthfully, for bravery on the battlefield; for endurance in hardships, and true soldierly conduct, no regiment can be named with a better record, no truer men be found, who defended the old flag of our fathers.”

After the war, John Whitehead and his family moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he helped to build the First Baptist Church there. He delivered sermons there until his death on March 8, 1909. He is buried in Topeka Cemetery.

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Related Battles

Rutherford County, TN | December 31, 1862
Result: Union Victory
Estimated Casualties