Sunday, April 4, 2010


By Mike Jones
Christ is risen! Risen indeed!
This has been an excellent Easter Sunday for me and I thought it a good occasion for reflection on one of my favorite figures of the War for Southern Independence, Father Abram Joseph Ryan, "Poet-Priest of the Confederacy." Being a  Christian, Roman Catholic, Southerner I've been particularly drawn to Father Ryan. But you don't have to be Catholic to appreciate Father Ryan's strong Christian devotion and his unshakable Southern patriotism.

Father Abram J. Ryan
(Fr. Abram J. Ryan Archives
Belmont Abbey)
Father Ryan's was either born in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1838 or in Norfolk, Virginia in 1839, depending on the source you consult. His parents were natives of Ireland. An ordained Roman Catholic priest, he was a volunteer chaplain and seems to have been most associated with the 8th Tennessee Infantry. Father Ryan is believed to have been present for the Battle of Lookout Mountain and was possibly wounded in the hand at the Battle of Franklin. His brother David was killed in action in the Confederate Army during the war and this greatly affected Father Ryan.

His most famous poem was "The Conquered Banner" which he wrote at the end of the war, reportedly in a fit of dispair, while he was pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Catholic Encyclopedia wrote this about the poem, "In the hour of defeat he won the heart of the entire South by his 'Conquered Banner,' whose exquisite measure was taken, as he told a friend, from one of the Gregorian hymns. The Marseillaise, as a hymn of victory, never more profoundly stirred the heart of France than did this hymn of defeat the hearts of those to whom it was addressed. It was read or sung in every Southern household, and thus became the apotheosis of the 'Lost Cause'."  My favorite of his poems is "The Sword of Robert Lee"

Father Ryan Statue in Father Ryan
Park in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo
by Mike Jones)
Following the war he founded a weekly magazine, "Banner of the South." He wrote most of his poems for this magazine. He also wrote a book of poety that was very popular, and still is. Father Ryan was greatly beloved as a priest as well as a poet. He served in many church parishes throughout the South but patricularly notable was his care for the sick in a yellow fever epidemic. The Catholic Encyclopedia article characterized him, "As a pulpit orator and lecturer, he was always interesting and occasionally brilliant. As a man he had a subtle, fascinating nature, full of magnetism when he saw fit to exert it; as a priest, he was full of tenderness, gentleness, and courage. In the midst of pestilence he had no fear of death or disease. Even when he was young his feeble body gave him the appearance of age, and with all this there was the dreamy mysticism of the poet so manifest in the flesh as to impart to his personality something which marked him off from all other men."

Father Ryan Bust in
Confederate Memorial
Hall, New Orleans, La.
(Photo by Mike Jones)
Father Ryan died in Louisville, Kentucky on April 22, 1886 and he was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama, not far from the grave of another Catholic Confederate hero, Admiral Raphael Semmes. There is a park named in his honor in Mobile. The Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans has a stained glass window in honor of him as well as the pictured bust.

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