Some months afterwards I was on my way to the Trans-Mississippi department, the Army of Northern Virginia, hitherto the invincible guardian of liberty, had fallen, the lion's heart at length pierced by the brute force of overwhelming numbers, those rifles were silent whose glorious echos will forever live to awaken a response in the breasts of brave men. Organized resistance everywhere in the East
was known to have ceased, but it was rumored that the debris of our armies would still rally round the Southern Cross
beyond the “Father
This proved to be incorrect, but at that time I had no means of being better informed, as the usual modes by which news is circulated, the mails and the telegraph, had been for a long time suspended.
I was unparoled, still having the right to bear my humble but undisgraced weapons — a wanderer, but not a fugitive from our scattered armies.
It was necessary for me to pass through Columbia
, in order to continue my journey, and I supposed it would be impracticable to do so, except secretly by night.
It was midnight, my poor jaded beast and I, both equally fatigued, hungry and forlorn, plodded on our lonely way through the deserted streets of once beautiful Columbia
There was no light, except that of the moon shining dimly overhead, which served to reveal by its cold, sombre rays the sepulchral scene.
Not a sound but the solemn echoes of my horse's hoofs broke the profound silence.
Around me was a city of the dead, a sea of ashes, out of which loomed up from ghostly ruins hundreds of blackened chimneys.
Never until then did I fully realize the extent and thoroughness of the destruction and the boundless misery which must have been the result.
God forbid that the skeleton in the national closet should be needlessly dragged to light, but, remember, the burning of Columbia
has been charged upon Hampton
's cavalry by General Sherman
Surely it is permissible for one to deny the commission of the crime who, though himself but an insignificant drop in the ocean of war, still takes a soldier's pride in the fair fame of his old command, whose honor he holds as sacred as his own. As justly might the right of denial be withheld from Mr. Conkling
if charged with Mr. Garfield
's foul murder.
History will be written, and the muse must not hold a lying pen. It should be written in the spirit of liberality and charity learned from the divine sermon once delivered from Judea's mountain height, but it should also be written with due regard to Jehovah's injunction, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Not to the privates or subaltern officers of the corps which burnt Columbia
attaches the moral responsibility.
A soldier is but a machine which is set in motion or stopped at the will of his superiors.