Confederate Gray, Firelight, & Home

Last week we read about a Union soldier looking at his “long road” beyond Appomattox. Today, we’ll take the Southern point of view. The war was over, but the Confederates had lost. For many of these Southern men, their road home would be more difficult and symbolically longer.

The following selection is semi-fictionalized. In other words, it’s based on real history, but these thoughts do not belong to any particular Confederate soldier. The setting is the evening of April 13, 1865 (Lincoln has not been assassinated yet).

Looking Back

We’ve lost. Don’t bother with flowery language. Until now, I could always hope for a better day, another victory for our army. But now it’s over. All the grief and regret which I’d keep back cannot be avoided.

If we’d won, perhaps we could have justified the sacrifices. But now, we are left with too many questions, too many memories. I’ve buried too many cousins and brothers.

Confederate artillery unitWe’d believed the war couldn’t last long…that Southern tenacity would win the day. We’d volunteered to defend our homeland from invasion. I know the politicians have their story and their views and I know history may not treat us kindly. But I fought to defend my family. I didn’t even own any slaves and many of the men I fought beside didn’t either.

Battlefields now behind us will be the silent monument to us…places were we fought: Manassas, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Amelia Springs, Saylor’s Creek, Appomattox. Appomattox: here the armed struggled ended and the road home and the questions began.

Faded gray, dusty gray, torn gray – I guess those are ways to describe my uniform. I ain’t got any other clothes. Mother and sisters made it for me at the beginning and it’s been through it all – the forced marches, the charges to single victories. There a tear in the sleeve from the bullet wound last year. It hangs loosely because of the winter of hunger and the reoccurring malaria.

The ranks of the company and regiment – indeed of the whole army – are thin, like my gray coat. We soldiers fought to defend our Constitutional rights and our families. We believed we were right and that’s what kept us strong. We were men in gray, following a cross flag.

Reality

The gun is gone. That weapon had almost become like a friend, I’d had the thing so long. Laid it down yesterday. The war’s over.

I don’t really believe it yet. Someday, I’ll realize it. You see, it’s not a desire to kill, a burning anger, or even bitter resentment in my heart…it’s just a feeling of shock, too hard to describe.

Confederate prisoners at GettysburgIt seems to strange to think the old bugle won’t call us to the march again…that Gener’l Lee won’t ride the lines again while we cheer…that Old Stonewall won’t sudden return from somewhere far off in the mists of time. Four years establishes new habits and routines and now it’s hard to realize we’ll never be the feared Army of Northern Virginia.

The firelight dims, but the embers burn a little longer. It’s like hope. The grand fire of enthusiasm and fight is dead, but in the coals we again find the iron qualities which drew us here first. We’re reminded of what we hold dear: faith, family, home. I can actually go home. That is a single grand reality. Home.

Fire refines. Have we been refined? Our lives, our souls, our character have been thrown in the hottest fire of war and defeat. Can we emerge as stronger, better men?

Looking Forward

Perhaps we’ve been tested and prepared. Perhaps forgiveness is stronger than victory. We’ll go home and…

But what will be left at home? Haven’t had a letter since late last autumn when Mother said the crops had been burned. Did the girls survive the winter? What will I be going home to? Will my sweetheart still be waiting for me or has the war destroyed her?

So many questions…

And then how will the Yankees treat us? Sure, we were paroled, but will they all be kind like those fellows who shared their food with me? We’d never had slaves, but what about the people who did – how will they like doing their own work? And what about the freedmen? Will they be better off in freedom and will the northern people accept them kindly? I don’t have answers. To speak honestly, I mistrust Yankee politicians.

Soldiers of the 10th Virginia CavalryIt’s a long road home. Looking at my comrades, I know we’ll all face different struggles…to forgive, to forget, to heal, to accept, to reunite. But I guess I’ve learned more as a Rebel soldier than I’d thought…more than shooting and killing. I’ve learned not to give up what’s important to you.

The war’s over. I’ll accept that. I ain’t going to keep fighting. It’s over. But I’ll take the courage I’ve gained and go home. I’ll keep my mother and sisters safe again. We’ll plow the ruined fields. We’ll rebuild the barn and expand the house.

My gray coat may hang behind the door, hidden from prying eyes, but the manly qualities mastered on battlefields and the hope kindled in this last night can guide this soldier. I’m a soldier in gray, starting the long road home to forgive and rebuild.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. The Confederates faced a harder post war “road.” What other feelings might they have had? Share your thoughts or historical quotes.

 

 

 

Union Blue, Stars, & Home

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.

Looking Back

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.

Union Soldier burial crew at Antietam, 1862We’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.

Reality

The cannons are silhouetted on the low ridge. They’re silent now. It’s over.

Union army camp [public domain]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.

Looking Forward

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.

Soldiers_in_campBut 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.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What other thoughts and conflicts would a Union soldier have felt at this time? Share your opinions or historical resources.