Never Again Will Reign

No, my child, I had no conception of the intensity of feeling, the bitterness and hatred toward those who were so lately our friends and are now our enemies. I, of course, have always strenuously opposed disunion, not as doubting the right of secession, which was taught in our text-book at West Point, but as gravely questioning its expediency. I believed that the revolutionary spirit which infected both North and South was but a passing phase of fanaticism which would perish under the rebuke of all good citizens, who would surely unite in upholding the Constitution; but when that great assembly, composed of ministers, lawyers, judges, chancellors, statesmen, mostly white haired men of thought, met in South Carolina and when their districts were called crept noiselessly to the table in the center of the room and affixed their signatures to the parchment on which the ordinance of secession was inscribed, and when in deathly silence, spite of the gathered multitude, General Jamison arose and without preamble read: “The ordinance of secession has been signed and ratified; I proclaim the State of South Carolina an independent sovereignty,” and lastly, when my old boyhood’s friend called for an invasion, it was evident that both the advocates and opponents of secession had read the portents aright.

You know, my little lady, some of those cross-stitched mottoes on the cardboard samplers which used to hang on my nursery wall, such as, “He who provides not for his own household is worse than an infidel” and “Charity begins at home,” made a lasting impression upon me; and while I love my neighbor, i.e., my country, I love my household, i.e., my state, more, and I could not be an infidel and lift my sword against my own kith and kin, even though I do believe, my most wise little counselor and confidante, that the measure of American greatness can be achieved only under one flag, and I fear, alas, there can never again reign for either of us the true spirit of national unity whether divided under two flags or united under one.

The Heart of a Soldier: As Revealed in the Intimate Letters of Genl. George E. Pickett, C.S.A., New York: Seth Moyle, 1913.

Bear and Serve

[Exeter Mills, April 2, 1865.]

Ah, my Sally, the triumphs of might are transient; but the sufferings and crucifixions for the right can never be forgotten. The sorrow and song of my glory-crowned division nears its doxology. May God pity those who wait at home for the soldier who has reported to the Great Commander! God pity them as the days go by and the sad nights follow.

The birds were hushed in the woods when I started to write, and now one calls to its mate “Cheer up—cheer up.” Let’s listen and obey the birds, my darling. Let’s try to cheer up—cheer up. I remember that Milton said: “Those who best bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best.” Let’s bear and serve Him best, my darling wife.

The Heart of a Soldier: As Revealed in the Intimate Letters of Genl. George E. Pickett, C.S.A., New York: Seth Moyle, 1913.

Mexico and Richmond

Abraham Lincoln once asked General Scott the question: “Why is it that you were once able to take the City of Mexico in three months with five thousand men, and we have been unable to take Richmond with one hundred thousand men?”

“I will tell you,” said General Scott. “The men who took us into the City of Mexico then are the same men who are keeping us out of Richmond now.”

Without Any Exception

But, after all, this ruffianism was really not a whit worse in its effects on the national character than was the case with certain of the “universal peace” and “non-resistance” developments in the Northeastern States; in fact, it was more healthy. A class of professional non-combatants is as hurtful to the real, healthy growth of a nation as is a class of fire-eaters; for a weakness or folly is nationally as bad as a vice, or worse; and, in the long run, a Quaker may be quite as undesirable a citizen as is a duelist. No man who is not willing to bear arms and to fight for his rights can give a good reason why he should be entitled to the privilege of living in a free community. The decline of the militant spirit in the Northeast during the first half of this century was much to be regretted. To it is due, more than to any other cause, the undoubted average individual inferiority of the Northern compared to the Southern troops; at any rate, at the beginning of the great war of the Rebellion. The Southerners, by their whole mode of living, their habits, and their love of out-door sports, kept up their warlike spirit; while in the North the so-called upper classes developed along the lines of a wealthy and timid bourgeoisie type, measuring everything by a mercantile standard (a peculiarly debasing one if taken purely by itself), and submitting to be ruled in local affairs by low foreign mobs, and in national matters by their arrogant Southern kinsmen. The militant spirit of these last certainly stood them in good stead in the Civil War. The world has never seen better soldiers than those who followed Lee; and their leader will undoubtedly rank as without any exception the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth and this, although the last and chief of his antagonists may himself claim to stand as the full equal of Marlborough and Wellington.

Theodore Roosevelt, Life of Thomas Hart Benton, Boston: Houghton and Mifflin and Co., 1887.

A Cold-Blooded Set

While our citizens were collecting the bodies of the Confederate dead the Federal Government was engaged in the same work and some three hundred Federal dead in our county were removed to the National Cemetery at Winchester. These men were buried in many places, often in the neglected spots where they had fallen in battle. In a field adjoining my home nine men, killed in a charge, May 30th, 1862, were buried in one grave. A few weeks later a soldier belonging to an Ohio Regiment died in the home of one of our citizens and was buried in this lot. Some days later his friends came and removed his body and left the grave open with the coffin in it. About the same time a negro died in one of the camps and was buried in this open grave. This negro had on an old uniform of a Federal captain. When these bodies were removed to Winchester the body of the negro was marked “Federal captain. Name unknown.” He rests now with the Federal dead in the National Cemetery. What is fame?

The men employed by the Government to remove the dead were a cold-blooded set. I watched them open a number of graves, and when they found anything on the dead that was worth keeping they appropriated it to their own use. They invariably examined the teeth to see if any had gold fillings, and if such fillings were found, the teeth were removed and placed in the men’s pockets. No gold was ever buried with the dead, if these ghouls could help it.

These inhuman practices were the outgrowth of the war. These men,– now employed by the Federal Government to collect the bodies of the men who had lost their lives in service,– were members of the same army that had pillaged and robbed our people during the last two years of the war. As they could no longer rob the living they were robbing the remains of their dead comrades. I saw one of these men take a skull of one of these dead soldiers, and on examining it he found some four or five of the teeth were filled with gold. He took a stone and deliberately knocked out these teeth and put them in his pocket, with the remark, “They are of no use to this dead man, and they are of some value to me.”

A Federal soldier had been buried in a field in front of my home. A depression in the ground marked his grave. I had often passed the place and thought it was a hog wallow. One of my boy associates had seen the man buried and called the attention of the grave-diggers to the spot. I was somewhat shocked at the way they asked for the information. We boys were watching the removal of some of the dead and one of the men, turning to us, asked if we knew where any more of these men were “planted.” It was then that the boy called attention to the grave. I followed the grave-diggers and saw them open the grave. The man had been buried in a shallow grave without a coffin. When the earth was removed one of the diggers discovered a black silk handkerchief and pulled it from under the earth. He then shook off the dirt and held it up for inspection. It was in good condition, so he put it in his pocket. He next examined the teeth for gold fillings, but found none. The bones were collected and thrown into a small box for transportation to Winchester.

— Thomas Almond Ashby, The Valley Campaigns: Being the Reminiscences of a Non-Combatant While Between the Lines in the Shenandoah Valley During the War of the States, New York: The Neale Publishing Co., 1914.

Impracticable

In asserting the right of secession, it has not been my wish to incite to its exercise. I recognize the fact that the war showed it to be impracticable, but this did not prove that it was wrong; and now, that it may not be again attempted, and the Union may promote the general welfare, it is needful that the truth, the whole truth, should be known, so that crimination and recrimination may forever cease, and then, on the basis of fraternity and faithful regard for the rights of the states, there may be written on the arch of the Union, “Esto Perpetua.”

Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 2, New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1881.

In Plain Violation of the Constitution

Whereas, seven of the States formerly composing a part of the United States have, by authority of their people, solemnly resumed the powers granted by them to the United States, and have framed a Constitution and organized a Government for themselves, to which the people of those States are yielding willing obedience, and have so notified the President of the United States by all the formalities incident to such action, and thereby become to the United States a separate, independent and foreign power; and whereas, the Constitution of the United States has invested Congress with the sole power “to declare war,” and until such declaration is made, the President has no authority to call for an extraordinary force to wage offensive war against any foreign Power: and whereas, on the 15th inst., the President of the United States, in plain violation of the Constitution, issued a proclamation calling for a force of seventy-five thousand men, to cause the laws of the United States to be duly executed over a people who are no longer a part of the Union, and in said proclamation threatens to exert this unusual force to compel obedience to his mandates; and whereas, the General Assembly of Virginia, by a majority approaching to entire unanimity, declared at its last session that the State of Virginia would consider such an exertion of force as a virtual declaration of war, to be resisted by all the power at the command of Virginia; and subsequently the Convention now in session, representing the sovereignty of this State, has reaffirmed in substance the same policy, with almost equal unanimity; and whereas, the State of Virginia deeply sympathizes with the Southern States in the wrongs they have suffered, and in the position they have assumed; and having made earnest efforts peaceably to compose the differences which have severed the Union, and having failed in that attempt, through this unwarranted act on the part of the President; and it is believed that the influences which operate to produce this proclamation against the seceded States will be brought to bear upon this commonwealth, if she should exercise her undoubted right to resume the powers granted by her people, and it is due to the honor of Virginia that an improper exercise of force against her people should be repelled. Therefore I, JOHN LETCHER, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, have thought proper to order all armed volunteer regiments or companies within this State forthwith to hold themselves in readiness for immediate orders, and upon the reception of this proclamation to report to the Adjutant-General of the State their organization and numbers, and prepare themselves for efficient service. Such companies as are not armed and equipped will report that fact, that they may be properly supplied.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the Commonwealth to be affixed, this 17th day of April, 1861, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth.

JOHN LETCHER.