John Dillard Kirkpatrick

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1836 - 1895


After this paper had gone to press news came the J. D. Kirkpatrick, D.D., of Cumberland University, had suffered a severe accident. While spending some days resting and fishing near Ripley, Tenn., he fell and either dislocated or fractured his left hip. The accident occurred July 24, and a personal note from him dated July 29, as also a letter from Mr. J. R. Frizzell, of Nashville, who is with him, bring the good news that in spite of Dr. Kirkpatrick's age his recovery promises to be steady and rapid. It will, however, probably be impossible for him to be removed to Lebanon for six or eight weeks. Meanwhile he is receiving every needed attention in the home of his nephew, Judge J. W. Kirkpatrick, Ripley, Tenn. His wife is with him. Thus suddenly has Dr. Kirkpatrick's proposed summer's work for our Theological School been cut off. Arrangements have been made to have other members of the faculty conduct his correspondence, and, relieved as far as possible from care, he will be the more able to triumph over the terrible suffering which must result from so bad an accident. All Cumberland Presbyterians will join us in the prayer that he may soon be restored to health, and that his good life and labors may be our for many years yet.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, August 1, 1895, page 36]


With feelings akin to a son's tenderness and grief, we make the sad announcement the Professor J. D. Kirkpatrick, D.D., of Cumberland University, died at 8 a.m., Friday, August 2d. Last week the statement appeared in these columns that he had suffered a painful accident, but that he was reported to be on the way to early recovery. Accompanied by a party of congenial friends, he was enjoying a brief period of recreation in West Tennessee before he entered upon further work for the Theological Seminary and for the new building at Lebanon. On Wednesday, July 24, the party went fishing. A sudden shower of rain coming up they all started to run for shelter. In turning to run Dr. Kirkpatrick slipped on a log and fell heavily to the ground, fracturing his left hip. He was immediately taken into the home of a relative at Ripley where he received prompt and skilled medical attention. With the tender nursing of his wife who was sent for, and with the care of other loved ones, he got along encouragingly for several days, when trouble with his stomach and bowels began to sap his vitality. He thenceforward grew rapidly worse, the end coming as stated. He died in peaceful faith. Among his last acts when he could no longer speak, was to point heavenward in answer to his faithful wife's tearful question, "Where is the home to which you are going?" His body was taken to Lebanon, where on Sunday morning it was laid to rest in beautiful Cedar Grove Cemetery. The participants in the funeral services were Dr. R. V. Foster, Chancellor N. Green, and Hon. E. E. Beard. The pastor at Lebanon, Dean Hubbert, was unavoidably absent. It is safe to say that no sadder company ever gathered in Lebanon than was that which last Sunday followed to the grave the body of him who was humanity's helpful friend and God's faithful servant.

Dr. Kirkpatrick was born July 6, 1838, on his father's farm near Lebanon, Tenn. After spending his boyhood in farm work, he secured in Cumberland University and elsewhere an education, fitting him for the career of great usefulness which has made him the benefactor of so many hundreds of those who will read with tear-dimmed eyes these lines. For a time he was a teacher. When quite a youth he became a candidate for the ministry; and when the war opened he was pastor of old Walnut Grove church in Lebanon Presbytery. Like thousands of other Christian ministers in both sections in that struggle, he heeded the call to arms, and about May 1, 1861, he joined Company B, Rock City Guards, C.S.A. Infantry, and marched to West Virginia where his company passed under command of General Robert E. Lee. His whole military career was a brilliant one. Twice he was sent home because of wounds or what seemed fatal illness; and both times he returned to the ranks as soon as his health as measurably restored. Four times he was wounded. Once when every other company under command of his General, John H. Morgan, surrendered, he refused to order the company of which he was captain to ground arms, and he escaped to safety amid a hail of bullets. "As gallant as Caesar," said a war comrade of him. "as gallant as Caesar and as conscientious and devout as he was courageous and tireless. I never saw him flinch in the face of a foe or do or say in war what was not in keeping with his religious professions." Exalted commendation, this; for war is the severest of all tests of Christian character. He came from the war with the rank of colonel and with a military record of which his comrades in arms love to speak with pride. But, like the true soldier he was, he quit fighting when the war was over and returned to the employments of peace with no bitter sectional memories to cherish and no unfraternal sentiments in his generous soul. The example of such men--and there are many of them North and South--leads to the conviction that he who was brave enough to fight when there was firing is charitable and manly enough to be at peace when peace has been declared. Only cowards cherish and cultivate sectional hate, and Dr. Kirkpatrick was no coward, a fact which he demonstrated even more often in the fearless preaching of the gospel than upon the field of battle.

Returning to the pulpit after the war he was for several years in charge of the Goodlettsville and Beech congregations, near Nashville. For six or more years he was pastor of the First Edgefield Church, Nashville. He organized this church, secured the building of its house of worship and was very successful as its pastor. In 1875 he became financial agent of Cumberland University, and in the six years following he raised much money therefor. Dec. 17, 1880, he was elected Murdock Professor of Ecclesiastical History in our Theological Seminary. In this chair he remained until death claimed him. Dec. 6, 1882, he was elected a trustee of Cumberland university; and in this and other relations he gave constant care to the interests of the institution; and even when the friends at his death-bed told him he must die, he declared that he wanted to live until he saw the university at home in the handsome new building which is yet unfinished. Just here let us suggest that the speedy completion of this stately structure is due to the memory of this grand man gone, who would have desired for himself no other monument than this building finished and furnished should be. Let it be "Kirkpatrick Memorial Hall," and let every lover of this great-souled, heroic, self-sacrificing teacher and preacher contribute to a fund for the immediate completion of this fitting monument to our beloved and deserving brother, father, friend.

Dr. Kirkpatrick was married Nov. 1, 1866, to Miss Sue Kirkpatrick, of Sumner county, Tenn. She still lives with three sons, the youngest of whom is 17 years of age. The eldest son, Curry, a brilliant young man, died a few years ago. Our hope is that the surviving sons may be as true and consecrated and manly as was their father; and that the sorrowing widowed mother may have, as we believe she will have, the comforting care of her sons grown to a manhood worthy of their noble parentage.

Dr. Kirkpatrick is dead, but the memory of his loving sympathy and open-hearted and open-handed generosity can never die. Only God knows how many heart-aches he has cured, as, with fatherly tenderness, he entered the holy of holies of sorrowing souls, and talked with despondent students who loved to tell him of their disappointment. Only God knows how many poverty-oppressed probationers for the ministry he helped through school, contributing the lion's share of the funds himself. Only God knows how much he will be missed in the homes where his coming was a benediction, and in the councils of his church where he was ever as discreet as he was progressive. Speaking out of his own experience this writer desires to bear humble testimony to Dr. Kirkpatrick's always superior judgment about the affairs of his church and his brethren in church work. No man seemed quite so practical, far-seeing and clear headed; while surely none could be more unselfish and sympathetic in giving advice.

His dearest desire was for the peace and prosperity of his church. Our prayer is that, as in his life he did no much to secure this peace and promote this prosperity, we who remain may honor him dead by being at peace with each other and by laboring together for greater prosperity than our beloved Zion ever before enjoyed.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, August 8, 1895, page 57]

Mortuary List.

Name: J. D. Kirkpatrick, D.D.
Presbytery: Lebanon
Date: Aug. 1, 1895
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1896, page 45]

John Dillard Kirkpatrick, D.D., was born near Lebanon, Wilson County, Tennessee, July 8, 1836, of Scotch-Irish descent. He died August 2, 1895, and his death was regarded as a calamity to the University. Throughout the Civil War he was a gallant soldier, and rose to the rank of colonel. At one time he was the chaplain of his regiment, and, at another time, on the staff of General John H. Morgan. After the war, he was pastor of a church in Goodlettsville four years, 1865-69, and then pastor of the Second Church in Nashville six years, 1869-75. In 1875 he became Financial Agent of the University. In 1880 he was appointed Murdock Professor of Church History in the Theological School, in which work he continued until his death fifteen years later. When the end of his useful life came, Chancellor Green paid him this tribute: "Soldier, scholar, Christian gentleman, friend of the students, loved by all."

For twenty years the Faculty and Trustees looked to Dr. Kirkpatrick as their leader in the financial affairs of the institution. When friends made gifts to the University, he was the one consulted. Such confidence did people have in him that they were more inclined to give when he presented the need, whether the money needed was for students, buildings, or endowment. During his last illness, his chief thought and last wish were the completion of Memorial Hall, which could hardly have been built without his aid. It was a pleasing coincidence that the last brick that was to go into the building was laid on the day of his death.

As to church management and the practical details of a minister's life, Dr. Kirkpatrick was the student's best adviser. His private library was a good one, and it finally came into the University's possession. His activities were varied. During the greater part of his teaching activity, he taught Biblical Introduction as well as Church History. He was well acquainted with the history of his own denomination and its leading men. From 1880 to 1884 he was the Managing editor of the Church's Theological Quarterly. It was by his fine and noble life, by his wonderful sympathy and unselfish friendship, by his distinguished labors for the Church and the University, and by all his heroic services for the public good that he came to have such a large place in the public esteem.

Dr. Kirkpatrick was a very religious man. As Tennyson would say, he had in him "the passion of the second life." He was a man who could "hear in his bosom the drumbeat of eternity." As Dr. R. V. Foster, his intimate colleague, said, "He heard the soldier's sunset gun, and went to rest."

"A whiter soul, a fairer mind,
A life with purer course and aim,
A gentler eye, a voice more kind
We may not look on earth to find,
The love that lingers o'er his name
Is more than fame."

It may be said that Dr. Kirkpatrick could make more friends for the University than any other man during his connection with it. Every day he himself lived according to the Golden Rule. His chief characteristic was unselfishness. His chief passion was to help others, especially students in their struggles. No one else was altogether like him in this respect.

"The regal pride was not driven from its throne,
But chastened to a high humility;
The opulent, sweet, worldly wisdom blent
With such clear innocence of worldly guile."

[Source: Bone, Winstead Paine. A History of Cumberland University 1842-1935. Lebanon, Tennessee: By the author, 1935, pages 232-234]

JOHN D. KIRKPATRICK, D. D., professor of historic and practical theology in Cumberland University and editor and proprietor of the Lebanon Register, was born July 8, 1836, son of Anderson and Eliza (Moss) Kirkpatrick, who were the parents of nine children. The father was of Scotch-Irish lineage, born in Wilson County in 1808, a farmer and stock raiser by occupation. He was married about 1828, and has since resided on the the old homestead, which consists of several hundred acres. The mother was born in 1814 in Christian County, Ky., and died in 1875. Our subject received his rudimentary education in the county schools, and afterward attended the Hartsville High School for three years and the high school at Mount Juliet two years. At the age of nineteen he entered Cumberland University, remaining two years. In 1857 he entered the Theological Seminary of. the same institution. He began teaching in 1854, and in 1858 became a minister of the [Cumberland] Presbyterian Church, being ordained in 1860. In April, 1861, he enlisted in Maney's company, First Tennessee Regiment. In 1862 he returned to Sumner County and raised Companies C and D, and was elected captain of Company C, Seventh Tennessee Cavalry. He participated in many of the principal battles of the war, and rose to the rank of colonel. He was seriously wounded at Cynthiana, Ky., and was compelled to give up active duty, and was given charge of the enrolling department at Richmond, Va. He was also chaplain of his regiment. After his return he resumed teaching, and November 1, 1866, he married Susan Kirkpatrick, who has borne him four children: Curry B., Donnell B., John D. and Harry B. In 1865 he was given the pastorate of the Goodlettsville Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where he remained four years, and then took charge of the Second Cumberland Church of Nashville. In 1875 he was called to Lebanon to become the financial agent of Cumberland University, and at the same time accepted the chair of historic and practical theology, which lie has since filled with credit to himself and honor to the institution. In 1880 he was made managing editor and proprietor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Review. This he disposed of, however, and in 1885 took charge of the Register. In December of the same year the building caught fire, and was consumed with all its contents. He immediately re-established himself and is at present editing a newsy and valuable paper. In 1884 the degree of D. D. was conferred upon him entirely unsolicited. He is a man of unsullied reputation, a gentleman and a scholar. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, and K. of H. and K. of P.


Stevens, Thomas G. Tennessee Preacher, Tennessee Soldier: The Civil War Career of Captain John D. Kirkpatrick, CSA One of Morgan's Raiders. Denver, Colorado: Outskirts Press, 2013.

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Updated August 5, 2013