27 June 2012
A “Moss Backed Yankee” in a Rebel Uniform
Civil War Heritage 150 Years
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
A “Moss Backed Yankee” in a Rebel Uniform
By Ken Robison
For The Great Falls Tribune
April 29, 2012 Sunday Life
Robert Martin Craven was a “moss backed Yankee” in a Rebel uniform. Born Nov. 7, 1842 in cotton-growing Colleton County, South Carolina, Robert’s father was a “Unionist” [loyal to the Union] small planter of Scot descent, who worked his land in competition to plantation slave labor. His mother, a Connecticut “Yankee,” died early leaving seven children. The family was viewed as traitors or “mossbacks” when the war began. Young Craven fought for both sides during the Civil War, and that put him on the wrong side of the fence in both North and South. Yet, Robert Craven achieved striking success as a force for good in frontier Montana.
Craven’s early years working on the farm limited his education. Apprenticed as a carpenter, the outbreak of the War for Southern Independence changed his life. In August 1861 eighteen-year old Martin Craven joined the Colleton Guards, 11th South Carolina Infantry Regiment. Craven remained with the 11th until May 16, 1864 when he was captured near Richmond during the Battle of Drury’s Bluff and sent to prison camp.
At Point Lookout, MD Craven opted to enlist for three years in the Union Army’s new 1st Regiment U.S. Volunteer Infantry formed by Confederate prisoners of war. The 1st U.S. Volunteers, known as Galvanized Yankees, was sent up the Missouri River to garrison Fort Rice in Dakota Territory during the Sioux Indian Wars. Private Craven served as Post Librarian and Company Clerk until Sept. 1865, when he was hospitalized in St. Louis and then discharge from service Oct. 28.
Robert Craven’s wars were over, and at age 22 he struck out for Leavenworth, KS where he found work building Fort Leavenworth. During this time he converted to the Methodist Episcopal Church. Working hard and saving his money, in 1868 he took passage on the steamboat Columbia to Fort Benton. Four years before the famed minister Brother Van, Craven arrived in frontier Montana. Working as a carpenter in Helena, Craven helped build the Southern Methodist Church. In 1870 he married Miss Mary E. Frazier of Ohio.
While working at his building trade, Craven pursed religious work, and in 1871 the Methodist Church South, licensed him as preacher, becoming the first be licensed to preach in Montana. The Cravens soon became friends with newly arrived Brother Van, and Robert worked well with the other Methodist ministers. Moving to full time ministry, Craven was admitted to the Western Conference of the Methodist Southern Church and in 1876 was ordained Deacon. Three years later he was ordained Elder and worked in the Gallatin Valley. An epidemic took three Craven children, and Robert was forced to leave the ministry for almost a decade while he worked to pay off debts.
In 1887 Craven returned to the ministry of the Methodist Northern Church. Jacob Mills, a Union Army veteran, was the presiding elder of the Bozeman District, and he and Craven, the son of the Confederacy, met and became life long friends. The fact they had once been enemies in war made no difference. In a Decoration Day speech at the Great Falls Opera House in 1895, Craven expressed his feelings, “There are those who do not seem to know that the war is over, but they are not numbered among those who fought with the gun and the saber; their fight is by means of the ink bottle.”
Reverend Craven held many pastorates in Montana, including Belt, Kalispell, West Side Great Falls, Fort Benton, Sand Coulee, and Columbia Falls. He served as presiding Elder of the Lewistown District and Superintendent of the Kalispell Mission. In 1913 Craven retired although his good works continued through his children: daughter Ina E. Craven who served as Superintendent of Public Instruction in Cascade County; son George W. Craven, professor in Montana School of Mines; and son Walter W., a civil engineer in Ogden, UT.
Confederate Private, Galvanized Yankee, and Methodist Minister Robert Craven passed away June 27, 1919 at Columbia Falls. In the cemetery is a large pine tree that he and his wife often admired. At his request he was buried at its foot, and later Mrs. Craven was placed at his side. Brother Van eulogized his friend with these words:
“Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel,
Servant of God well done
Thy glorious welfare’s past,
The battles’ found, the victory’s won, and thou art crowned at last.”
1. Reverend Robert M. Craven
2. Craven Gravestone, Woodlawn Cemetery, Columbia Falls, MT