1861: “I Have Never Contemplated A Long War”

Gazette665 Blog Series 1861: In Their Words

September 15, 1861

Father and Major Bry think that the war will continue through Lincoln’ administration, but I pray that God in His mercy may avert this trial, I have never contemplated a long war, I have steeled myself to bear great and bloody battles and, many privations and even suffering for a little while, but four long years of war, of suspense which is worse than defeat almost; my heart sinks, my courage utterly fails; can I bear it?

But why speak thus, I know I must bear it, and it only rests with me to decide whether I shall bear cheerfully or repiningly. I hope I may be enabled to be cheerful, and I sometimes think I can be so, but there are moments of darkness, in which I cannot think of the brightness which is often hid by clouds, and waits but for the stormy wind to scatter them and make its glory apparent.

Oh, that I might have grace given me to wait on the Lord’s good pleasure, I am too impatient, and I sometimes fear that God has wholly withdrawn His countenance from me, else I should not so rebel against His chastisements. I think too much of my sorrows and too little of my blessings, truly God has been very kind to me, and though He has sent trials to me, yet how do I know but that if it had not been for them I should never have tested the sweetness of God’s mercy?

Sarah Lois Wadley, September 15, 1861, Onachita Parish, Louisiana

A Northern Girl In The South

Imagine growing up in New Hampshire and moving to Louisiana early in 1861. That’s what happened to Sarah Lois Wadley. She was sixteen when the war began and her family had recently moved to the South when her father became a railroad company president. Miss Wadley had been keeping a journal since she turned 11, and frequent writing became a habit she continued throughout until her death in 1920. During the war years, she kept journal notes on prices, everyday activities, and her brother’s service with Confederate forces.

Confederate Children watching Union Cavalry near Sudley Ford (c. 1861). This photo summarizes the silent conflict between soldiers and civilians. (Public Domain).

Confederate Children watching Union Cavalry near Sudley Ford (c. 1861).
This photo summarizes the silent conflict between soldiers and civilians.
(Public Domain).

Civilian Surprises

Miss Wadley’s journal excerpt illustrates a continuing theme in 1861 sources: few people thought the war would last as long as it did. Yes, Manassas and Wilson’s Creek had awakened America to the horrors of Civil War, and some military commanders were preparing for a lengthy fight. However, many folks continued to believe the war would still finish in a relatively short time. Maybe after one or two successful campaigns the following year?

That the war might last the length of the Lincoln administration is an interesting comment to highlight. It reveals that at least a few wise people realized Lincoln was not going to back down from his position; he was not going to compromise with the Southern states. That would leave three possible options:

  1. The war continues until the South can’t fight any longer or chooses to come back into the Union. (Not a popular idea in the South.)
  2. Lincoln doesn’t win a second term in the executive office and is replaced by an new commander in chief who might be willing to let the South have their own country.
  3. The North gets conquered. (Obviously not a popular idea in the North.)

Whether civilians and soldiers wanted to realize it, the lines were drawn. With Lincoln at the helm of the United States, those were the choices.

Historical Musings

Despite her fears, Miss Wadley decides that she has a choice to be cheerful or miserable – no matter the circumstances. She eventually decides to rely on her faith and trust in Providence. Her worries and decision to take courage exemplify the situation across the homefront during this time in 1861.

The war hadn’t ended with the first battle; it might go on a little longer than expected. And the civilian men continued to enlist while the ladies and children bravely proceeded with their support their side’s war effort.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Four years of war. That’s 1,460 days. If you had been a civilian in 1861, how long do you think the war would’ve last?

Civil War Quotes

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