War By The Brave Against The Brave
That inimitable story-teller, Governor Robert Taylor, of Tennessee, delights his hearers by telling in charming style of a faithful colored man, Allen, a slave of his father's. Both Allen and his owner were preachers, and Allen was in the habit each Saturday afternoon of going to his master and learning from him what his text for the following day's sermon would be. On this occasion the Rev. Dr. Taylor informed the Rev. Allen that his text for the morrow would be the words, "And he healed them of divers diseases." "Yes, sir," said Allen; dat's a mighty good tex', and hit will be mine for my Sunday sarmon." Sunday came and Allen was ready. He announced his "tex'" in these words: "And he healed 'em of all sorts of diseases, and even of dat wust of complaints called de divers." Proceeding to an elucidation of his text, he described with much particularity the different kinds of diseases that earthly doctors could cure, and then, with deepest unction, said: "But, my congregation, if de divers ever gits one of you, jest make up your mind you's a gone nigger, 'cep'in' de Lord save you."
In 1861 a disorder had taken possession of the minds of the people in every section of the country. Internecine war, contagious, infectious, confluent, was spreading, and destined to continue spreading until nearly every home in the land was affected and hurt by it. This dreadful disease had about it some wonderful compensations. No one went through it from a high sense of duty without coming out of it a braver, a better, and a more consecrated man. It is.a great mistake to suppose that war necessarily demoralizes and makes obdurate those who wage it. Doubtless wars of conquest, for the sake of conquest, for the purpose of despoiling the vanquished and enriching the victors, and all wars inaugurated from unhallowed motives, do demoralize every man engaged in them, from the commanding general to the privates. But such was not the character of our Civil War. On the contrary, it became a training-school for the development of an unselfish and exalted manhood, which increased in efficiency from its opening to its close. At the beginning there was personal antagonism and even bitterness felt by individual soldiers of the two armies toward each other. The very sight of the uniform of an opponent aroused some trace of anger. But this was all gone long before the conflict had ceased. It was supplanted by a brotherly sympathy. The spirit of Christianity swayed the hearts of many, and its benign influence was perhaps felt by the great majority of both armies. The Rev. Charles Lane, recently a member of the faculty of the Georgia Technological Institute, told me of a soldier who could easily have captured or shot his antagonist at night; but the religious devotion in which that foe at the moment was engaged shielded him from molestation, and he was left alone in communion with his God. That knightly soldier of the Confederacy, whose heart so promptly sympathized with his devout antagonist, was also a "soldier of the cross."
The same spirit was shown in the case of a Pennsylvania soldier who was attracted by the songs in a Confederate prayer-meeting, and, without the slightest fear of being detained or held as prisoner, attempted in broad daylight to cross over and join the Confederates in their worship. He was ordered back by his own pickets; but his officers appreciated his impulse and he was not subjected to the slightest punishment. In a European army he most likely would have been shot for attempted desertion, although he had made no effort whatever to conceal his movements or his purposes.
The broadening of this Christian fellowship was plainly seen as the war progressed. The best illustration of this fact which I now recall is the contrast between the impulses which moved the two soldiers just mentioned, and that which inspired the quaint prayer of a devout Confederate at the beginning of the war and at the grave of his dead comrade. He concluded his prayer in about these words: "And now, Lord, we commit the body of our comrade to the grave, with the hope of meeting him again, with all the redeemed, in that great day and in the home prepared for thy children. For we are taught to believe that thy true followers shall come from the East and West as well as from the South; and we cannot help hoping, Lord, that a few will come even from the North."
It was not alone in the religious life of the army that these evidences of expanding brotherhood were exhibited. I should, perhaps, not exaggerate the number or importance of these evidences if I said that there were thousands of them which are perhaps the brightest illustrations and truest indices of the American soldier's character.
In 1896 an officer of the Union army told me the following story, which is but a counterpart of many which came under my own observation. A lieutenant of a Delaware regiment was officer of the picket-line on the banks of the Rappahannock. The pickets of the two armies were, as was usual at that time, very near each other and in almost constant communication. It was in midwinter and no movements of the armies were expected. The Confederate officer of pickets who was on duty on the opposite bank of the narrow stream asked the Union lieutenant if he would not come over after dark and go with him to a farm-house near the lines, where certain Confederates had invited the country girls to a dance. The Union officer hesitated, but the Confederate insisted, and promised to call for him in a boat after dark, and to lend him a suit of citizen's clothes, and pledged his honor as a soldier to see him safely back to his own side before daylight the next morning. The invitation was accepted, and at the appointed hour the Confederate's boat glided silently to the place of meeting on the opposite bank. The citizen's suit was a ludicrous fit, but it served its purpose. The Union soldier was introduced to the country girls as a new recruit just arrived in camp. He enjoyed the dance, and, returning with his Confederate escort, was safely landed in his own lines before daylight. Had the long roll of the kettledrum summoned the armies to battle on that same morning, both these officers would have been found in the lines under hostile ensigns, fighting each other in deadly conflict.
In Kansas City recently an ex-Confederate recorded his name upon the hotel register. Mr. James Locke, of Company E, One Hundredth Pennsylvania Volunteers, was in the same hotel, and observed the name on the register. Locke had lost a leg at the second Manassas, and a Confederate had carried him out of the railroad cut in which he lay suffering, and had ministered to his wants as best he could. Locke had asked this soldier in gray before leaving him to write his name in his (Locke's) war diary. The Confederate did so, and was then compelled to hurry forward with his command. He had, however, in the spirit of a true soldier, provided the suffering Pennsylvanian with a canteen of water before he left him. There was nothing unmanly in the moistened eyes of these brave men when they so unexpectedly and after so many years met in Kansas City for the first time since they parted at the railroad cut on a Virginia battle-field.
This spirit of American chivalry was exhibited almost everywhere on the wonderful retreat of Joseph E. Johnston before General Sherman from Dalton to Atlanta. At Resaca, at Kennesaw, along the banks of Peachtree Creek, and around Atlanta, between the lines that encircled the doomed city, the same friendly greetings were heard between the pickets, and the same evidences of comradeship shown before the battles began and after they had ended. In the trenches around Vicksburg, and during its long and terrible bombardment, the men in the outer lines would call to each other to stop firing for a while, that they "wanted to get out into fresh air!" The call was always heeded, and both sides poured out of their bomb-proofs like rats from their holes when the cats are away. And whenever an order came to open fire, or the time had expired, they would call: "Hello, there, Johnnie," or "Hello, there, Yank," as the case might be. "Get into your holes now; we are going to shoot."
What could have been more touchingly beautiful than that scene on the Rapidan when, in the April twilight, a great band in the Union army suddenly broke the stillness with the loved strains of "Hail Columbia, Happy Land," calling from the Union camps huzzas that rolled like reverberating thunders on the evening air. Then from the opposite hills and from Confederate bands the answer came in the thrilling strains of "Dixie." As it always does and perhaps always will, "Dixie" brought from Southern throats an impassioned response. Then, as if inspired from above, came the union of both in that immortal anthem, "Home, Sweet Home." The solemn and swelling cadence of these old familiar notes was caught by both armies, and their joint and loud acclamations made the climax of one of the most inspiring scenes ever witnessed in war.
The talking and joking, the trading and "swapping," between the pickets and between the lines became so prevalent before the war closed as to cause no comment and attract no special attention, except when the intercourse led the commanding officers to apprehend that important information might be unwittingly imparted to the foe. On the Rapidan and Rappahannock, into which the former emptied, this rollicking sort of intercourse would have been alarming in its intimacy but for the perfect confidence which the officers of both sides had in their men. Even officers on the opposite banks of this narrow stream would now and then declare a truce among themselves, in order that they might bathe in the little river. Where the water was shallow they would wade in and meet each other in the center and shake hands, and "swap" newspapers and barter Southern tobacco for Yankee coffee. Where the water was deep, so that they could not wade in and "swap," they sent the articles of traffic across in miniature boats, laden on the Southern shore with tobacco and sailed across to the Union side. These little boats were unloaded by the Union soldiers, reloaded, and sent back with Yankee coffee for the Confederates. This extraordinary international commerce was carried on to such an extent that the corn-manders of both armies concluded it was best to stop it. General Lee sent for me on one occasion and instructed me to break up the traffic. Riding along the lines, as I came suddenly and unexpectedly around the point of a hill upon one of the Confederate posts, I discovered an unusual commotion and confusion. I asked: "What's the matter here? What is all this confusion about?"
"Nothing at all, sir. It's all right here, general."
I expressed some doubt about its being all right, when the spokesman for the squad attempted to concoct some absurd explanation as to their effort to get ready to "present arms" to me as I came up. Of course I was satisfied that this was not true; but I could see no evidence of serious irregularity. As I started, however, I looked back and discovered the high weeds on the bank shaking, and wheeling my horse, I asked:
"What's the matter with those weeds ?"
"Nothing at all, sir," he declared; but I ordered him to break the weeds down. There I found a soldier almost naked. I asked:
"Where do you belong?"
"Over yonder," he replied, pointing to the Union army on the other side.
"And what are you doing here, sir ?"
"Well, general," he said, "I didn't think it was any harm to come over and see the boys just a little while."
"What boys ?" I asked.
"These Johnnies," he said.
"Don't you know, sir, that there is war going on in this country ?" I asked.
"Yes, general," he replied; "but we are not fighting now."
The fact that a battle was not then in progress given as an excuse for social visiting between opposing lines was so absurd that it overturned my equilibrium for the moment. If my men could have known my thoughts they would have been as much amused at my discomfiture as I was at the Union visitor's reasoning. An almost irresistible impulse to laugh outright was overcome, however, by the necessity for maintaining my official dignity. My instructions from General Lee had been to break up that traffic and intercourse; and the slightest lowering of my official crest would have been fatal to my mission. I therefore assumed the sternest aspect possible under the circumstances, and ordered the Union soldier to stand up; and I said to him: "I am going to teach you, sir, that we are at war. You have no rights here except as prisoner of war, and I am going to have you marched to Richmond, and put you in prison."
This terrible threat brought my own men quickly and vigorously to his defense, and they exclaimed: "Wait a minute, general. Don't send this man to prison. We invited him over here, and we promised to protect him, and if you send him away it will just ruin our honor."
The object of my threat had been accomplished. I had badly frightened the Northern guest and his Southern hosts. Turning to the scantily clad visitor, I said:
"Now, sir, if I permit you to go back to your own side, will you solemnly promise me, on the honor of a soldier, that--" But without waiting for me to finish my sentence, and with an emphatic "Yes, sir," he leaped like a bullfrog into the river and swam back.
I recall several incidents which do not illustrate precisely the same elements of character, but which show the heroism found on both sides, of which I know few, if any, parallels in history. After the battle of Sharpsburg, there was sent to me as an aide on my staff a very young soldier, a mere stripling. He was at that awkward, gawky age through which all boys seem to pass. He bore a letter, however, from the Hon. Thomas Watts, of Alabama, who was the Attorney-General of the Confederate States, and who assured me that this lad had in him all the essentials of a true soldier. It was not long before I found that Mr. Watts had not mistaken the mettle of his young friend, Thomas G. Jones. Late one evening, near sunset, I directed Jones to carry a message from me to General Lee or to my immediate superior. The route was through pine thickets and along dim roads or paths not easily followed. The Union pickets were posted at certain points in these dense woods; but Jones felt sure that he could go through safely. Alone on horseback he started on his hazardous ride. Darkness overtook him before he had emerged from the pine thicket, and he rode into a body of Union pickets, supposing them to be Confederates. There were six men on that post. They seized the bridle of Jones's horse, levelled their rifles at him, and ordered him to dismount. As there was no alternative, one can imagine that Jones was not slow in obeying the order. His captors were evidently new recruits, for they neglected to deprive him of the six-shooter at his belt. Jones even then had in him the oratorical power which afterward won for him distinction at the bar and helped to make him governor of the great State of Alabama. He soon engaged his captors in the liveliest conversation, telling them anecdotes and deeply enlisting their interest in his stories. The night was cold, and before daylight Jones adroitly proposed to the " boys" that they should make a fire, as there was no reason for shivering in the cold with plenty of pine sticks around them. The suggestion was at once accepted, and Jones began to gather sticks. The men, unwilling for him to do all the work, laid down their guns and began to share in this labor. Jones saw his opportunity, and burning with mortification at his failure to carry through my message, he leaped to the pile of guns, drew his revolver, and said to the men: "I can kill every one of you before you can get to me. Fall into line. I will put a bullet through the first man who moves toward me!" He delivered those six prisoners at my headquarters.
I do not now recall the name of the Confederate who was selected, on account of his conspicuous courage, as the color-bearer of his regiment, and who vowed as he received the flag that he would never surrender it. At Gaines's Mill he fell in the forefront of the fight with a mortal wound through his body. Raising himself on his elbow, he quietly tore his battle-flag from the staff, folded it under him, and died upon it.
At Big Falls, North Carolina, there lived in 1897 a one-armed soldier whose heroism will be cited by orators and poets as long as heroism is cherished by men. He was a color-bearer of his regiment, the Thirteenth North Carolina. In a charge during the first day's battle at Gettysburg, his right arm, with which he bore the colors, was shivered and almost torn from its socket. Without halting or hesitating, he seized the falling flag in his left hand, and, with his blood spouting from the severed arteries and his right arm dangling in shreds at his side, he still rushed to the front, shouting to his comrades: "Forward, forward!" The name of that modest and gallant soldier is W. F. Faueette.
At Gettysburg a Union color-bearer of one of General Barlow's regiments, which were guarding the right flank of General Meade's army, exhibited a similar dauntless devotion in defence of his colors. As my command charged across the ravine and up its steep declivity, along which were posted the Union troops, the fight became on portions of the line a hand-to-hand struggle. This lion-hearted color-bearer of a Union regiment stood firmly in his place, refusing to fly, to yield his ground, or to surrender his flag. As the Confederates crowded around him and around the stalwart men who still stood firmly by him, he became engaged in personal combat with the color-bearer of one of my Georgia regiments. What his fate was I do not now recall, but I trust and believe that his life was spared.
I sincerely pity the man who calls himself an American and who does not find in these exhibitions of American manhood on either side, a stimulant to his pride as an American citizen and a support to his confidence in the American Republic. The true patriot must necessarily feel a glow of sincere pride in the record of the Republic's great and heroic sons from every section. There is no inconsistency, however, between a special affection for one's birthplace and a general love for one's entire country. There is nothing truer than that the love of the home is the unit, and that the sum of these units is aggregated patriotism. What would be thought of the patriotism of a son of New England or of the Old Dominion whose heart did not warm at the mention of Plymouth Rock or of Jamestown ?
An incident in the war experience of General Newton M. Curtis, a leading and influential Republican member of Congress from New York, is worthy of record. A finer specimen of physical manhood it would be difficult to find. Six feet six inches in height, erect as the typical Indian, he weighs two hundred and thirty-two pounds; but if he were six feet twelve and weighed twice as much his body would not be big enough to contain the great soul which inhabits it. He had one eye shot out by a Confederate bullet, but if he had lost both his lofty spirit would have seen as clearly as now that the war was fought in defence of inherited belief, and that when it ended the Union was more closely cemented than ever.
Near Fairfax Court-House, during the war in that portion of Virginia which had been devastated by both armies, biting want necessarily came to many families near the border, particularly to those whose circumstances made it impossible for them to remove to a distant part of the State. From within the Union lines there came into the Union camps, one chilly day, a Virginia lady. She was weak and pale and thinly clad, and rode an inferior horse, with a faithful old negro as her only escort. She had come to solicit from the commissary department of the Union army supplies with which to feed her household. The orders to the commissary department in the field were necessarily stringent. The supplies did not belong to the officer in charge, but were the property of the government. That officer, therefore, had no right to donate anything even to the most deserving case of charity, except according to the orders; and the orders required all applicants for supplies to take the oath of allegiance to the United States before such supplies could be furnished. This hungry and wan woman was informed that she could have the necessaries for which she asked upon subscribing to that oath. What was she to do! Her kindred, her husband and son, were soldiers in the Confederate army. If she refused to take the oath, what would become of her and those dependent upon her? If she took the oath, what was to become of her own convictions and her loyalty to the cause of those she loved? It is not necessary to say that her sense of duty and her fidelity to the Southern cause triumphed. Sad and hungry, she turned away, resolved to suffer on. But General Curtis was in that camp. He had no power to change the orders, and no disposition to change them, and he would have scorned to violate a trust; for there was no braver or more loyal officer in the Union army. He had, however, in his private purse some of the money which he had earned as a soldier, and he illustrated in his character that native knighthood which ennobles its possessor while protecting, befriending, and blessing the weak or unfortunate. It is enough to add that this brave and suffering Virginia woman did not leave the Union camp empty-handed. I venture the opinion that General Curtis would not exchange the pleasure which that act gave him at the time, and has given him for the thirty years since, for the amount of money expended multiplied many times over.
In 1863, when General Longstreet's forces were investing the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, there occurred an incident equally honorable to the sentiment and spirit of Confederate and Federal. During a recent visit to that city, a party representing both sides in that engagement accompanied me to the great fort which General Longstreet's forces assailed but were unable to capture. These representatives of both armies united in giving me the details of the incident. The Southern troops had made a bold assault upon the fort. They succeeded in reaching it through a galling fire, and attempted to rush up its sides, but were beaten back by the Union men, who held it. Then in the deep ditch surrounding the fortress and at its immediate base, the Confederates took their position. They were, in a measure, protected from the Union fire; but they could neither climb into the fort nor retreat, except at great sacrifice of life. The sun poured its withering rays upon them and they were famishing with thirst. A bold and self-sacrificing young soldier offered to take his life in his hands and canteens on his back and attempt to bring water to his fainting comrades. He made the dash for life and for water, and was unhurt; but the return--how was that to be accomplished! Laden with the filled and heavy canteens, he approached within range of the rifles in the fort and looked anxiously across the intervening space. He was fully alive to the fact that the chances were all against him; but, determined to relieve his suffering comrades or die in the effort, he started on his perilous run for the ditch at the fort. The brave Union soldiers stood upon the parapet with their rifles in hand. As they saw this daring American youth coming, with his life easily at their disposal, they stood silently contemplating him for a moment. Then, realizing the situation, they fired at him a tremendous volley--not of deadly bullets from their guns, but of enthusiastic shouts from their throats. If the annals of war record any incident between hostile armies which embodies a more beautiful and touching tribute by the brave to the brave, I have never seen it.
And now what is to be said of these incidents? How much are the few recorded in this chapter worth! To the generations that are to follow, what is their value and the value of the tens of thousands which ought to be chronicled ? Do they truly indicate that the war did lift the spirit of the people to better things? Was it really fought in defense of cherished convictions, and did it bury in its progress the causes of sectional dissensions ? Did it develop a higher manhood in the men, and did it reveal in glorious light the latent but ever-living heroism of our women? The heroines of Sparta who gave their hair for bow-strings have been immortalized by the muse of history; but what tongue can speak or pen indite a tribute worthy of that Mississippi woman who with her own hands applied the torch to more than half a million dollars' worth of cotton, reducing herself to poverty, rather than have that cotton utilized against her people? The day will come, and I hope and believe it is rapidly approaching, when in all the sections will be seen evidences of appreciation of these inspiring incidents; when all lips will unite in expressing gratitude to God that they belong to such a race of men and women; when no man who loves his country will be found grovelling among the embers and ignoble passions of the past, but will aid in developing a still nobler national life, by inviting the youth of our country to a contemplation of the true glories of this memorable war.
In my boyhood I witnessed a scene in nature which it now seems to me fitly symbolizes that mighty struggle, and the view of it which I seek to present. Standing on a mountain-top, I saw two storm-clouds lowering in the opposite horizon. They were heavily charged with electric fires. As they rose and approached each other they extended their length and gathered additional blackness and fury. Higher and higher they rose, their puffing wind-caps rolling like hostile banners above them; and when nearing each other the flashing lightning blazed along their front and their red bolts were hurled into each other's bosoms. Finally in mid-heavens they met, and the blinding flashes and fearful shocks filled my boyish spirit with awe and terror. But God's hand was in that storm, and from the furious conflict copious showers were poured upon the parched and thirsty earth, which refreshed and enriched it.
Source: "Reminiscences Of The Civil War" by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, CS
This Page last updated 02/16/02
RETURN TO CIVIL WAR POTPOURRI PAGE