I never could quite enjoy being a “Conquering Hero.” No, my dear, there is something radically wrong about my Hurrahism. I can fight for a cause I know to be just, can risk my own life and the lives of those in my keeping without a thought of the consequences; but when we’ve conquered, when we’ve downed the enemy and won the victory, I don’t want to hurrah. I want to go off all by myself and be sorry for them—want to lie down in the grass, away off in the woods somewhere or in some lone valley on the hillside far from all human sound, and rest my soul and put my heart to sleep and get back something—I don’t know what—but something I had that is gone from me—something subtle and unexplainable—something I never knew I had till I had lost it—till it was gone—gone – gone!
Yesterday my men were marching victoriously through the little town of Greencastle, the bands all playing our glorious, soul inspiring, southern airs: “The Bonny Blue Flag,” “My Maryland,” “Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still,” and the soldiers all happy, hopeful, joyously keeping time to the music, many following it with their voices and making up for the want of the welcome they were not receiving in the enemy’s country by cheering themselves and giving themselves a welcome. As Floweree’s band, playing “Dixie,” was passing a vine-bowered home, a young girl rushed out on the porch and waved a United States flag. Then, either fearing that it might be taken from her or finding it too large and unwieldy, she fastened it around her as an apron, and taking hold of it on each side and waving it in defiance, called out with all the strength of her girlish voice and all the courage of her brave young heart:
“Traitors—traitors—traitors, come and take this flag, the man of you who dares!”
Knowing that many of my men were from a section of the country which had been within the enemy’s lines, and fearing lest some might forget their manhood, I took off my hat and bowed to her, saluted her flag and then turned, facing the men who felt and saw my unspoken order. And don’t you know that they were all Virginians and didn’t forget it, and that almost every man lifted his cap and cheered the little maiden who, though she kept on waving her flag, ceased calling us traitors, till letting it drop in front of her she cried out:
“Oh, I wish I wish I had a rebel flag; I’d wave that, too.”
The picture of that little girl in the vine-covered porch, beneath the purple morning glories with their closed lips and bowed heads waiting and saving their prettiness and bloom for the coming morn—of course, I thought of you, my darling. For the time, that little Greencastle Yankee girl with her beloved flag was my own little promised-to-be-wife, receiving from her Soldier and her Soldier’s soldiers the reverence and homage due her.
We left the little girl standing there with the flag gathered up in her arms, as if too sacred to be waved now that even the enemy had done it reverence.
Greencastle, Pa., June 24, 1863.
— The Heart of a Soldier: As Revealed in the Intimate Letters of Genl. George E. Pickett, C.S.A., New York: Seth Moyle, 1913.