The Civil War was over after the surrender at Appomattox Court House. (Well, almost – there were still a few Southern armies which had to surrender, but that was only a matter of time.) The Army of Northern Virginia had laid down their weapons.
What happens next?
Today, I’m going to take a semi-fictionalized viewpoint and tell some history from the perspective of a Union soldier on the evening of April 13, 1865 (thus placing it before Lincoln’s assassination). I think this will be more interesting to you, dear readers, than lists of facts and “random” information. Keep in mind that the following information is based on real historical facts, but does not contain actual written quotes by a Union soldier.
It’s over. After four years of fighting, our nation is one country again. It’s a time of triumph, and while there are some events which I shall proudly tell my children, there are many others I wish I’d never seen or done. War has changed me. It’s changed our nation. Can we move on and start again? I believe so.
I swat at a pesky mosquito – that’s one thing I won’t miss: Virginia weather, mud, and bugs! And while I’m listing on those topics – I shan’t miss the army food either. I’ll gladly trade tasteless hardtack, salt pork, and a million pounds of army beans for my dear wife’s cooking and her delicious apple pies. (I did learn to make decent coffee…)
But the memories of hundreds of miles, campaigns, battles, and skirmishes fill my mind tonight. I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess. How many men and boys from my small home town won’t be coming home? Their places around the fire are empty, and we who have survived sit a little closer, trying to fill the vacant spaces. We don’t say anything, all lost in our thoughts.
We’d enlisted…how long ago was it? Months, years, or another lifetime? When the war started it was only supposed to last three months. How wrong we all were! But we enlisted and came – thousands and thousands of men from all stations, classes, and stages of life. Something bigger than ourselves brought us here. For the younger men, it might’ve been a love of adventure or running from home. For others committed to a cause of liberty, a chance to strike a blow at slavery. Still others came for the money. Others, speaking with foreign accents, wanted a chance to prove they were worthy citizens. But most, myself included, came because we believed America should be one nation and we wanted to defend that idea for future generations.
And so we fought. We bled. We died. For what we believed was right. And the graves stretched for endless miles behind us. We were soldiers in Union blue.
The cannons are silhouetted on the low ridge. They’re silent now. It’s over.
That glorious fact is still not fully real in my mind. Won’t we be force marching again tomorrow? Won’t we be fighting another battle, watching our comrades tumble to the ground, crying out in agony? Won’t we be burying the dead and writing those letters home?
No. It’s over.
The stars shine brightly, as if all of heaven is illuminated and celebrating peace. Stars – you beacons of hope, shining through the darkness nights above cold battlefields, above lonely tenting grounds, above the homesick soldier. Stars – now seeming to dance in the sky. It’s over and you seem to know. The battlefields will become hallowed grounds, the tents will disappear, the soldier goes home.
It’s over. The stars now point the way home.
Rumor has it that there will be a grand review of the Union army, then we’ll all be mustered out and head for home. I’ll trade this blue wool uniform for civilian clothes again and return to my pre-war job – providing for my family in a peaceful setting.
Home and family – ah, blessed words. Never take for granted the place and those you love most. They were always there, waiting for your return.
I wonder what will happen next. I mean – I know what I will do – go home and hold my family close. But what will the country do? Will we welcome back the Southern states like long-lost family? Or will we send them to the woodshed for punishment like rebellious, bratty children? Which would be most effective? As a father, I think now it is the time to welcome them back. They’ve been punished enough. But will the politicians, the leaders see that? And what about these freedmen? How will they fit into our society? How will we welcome them?
So many questions. That is the future: unknown.
But one thing I know – I cannot speak for the commanders or the politicians – but I can speak for myself and my comrades here. We are men in blue. We dared to fight to defend our country. We are stronger. We will be better citizens.
The stars in the sky have witnessed it all. Now, they are our witnesses as we see the future dawning. We are going home. It’s over.
P.S. What other thoughts and conflicts would a Union soldier have felt at this time? Share your opinions or historical resources.