previous next


--In the war in which we are engaged rank is not the synonym of honor. The most honorable position in this contest is that of the private soldier. His position is anything but a degraded one. It is, indeed, most honorable. He is no enlisted mercenary. He is a volunteer in the service of his country. He comes forward at his country's call, offering to fight her battles, with out name or the chance of fame, without rank or pay. He comes forward is the spirit of perfect self-sacrifice, giving up home, comfort, everything; proffering to run the gauntlet of disease and to brave death at the cannon's mouth for no possible reward or return, but the consciousness of having served his country in her time of need. The fable of the Roman Cartius is the best typification of the self immolation of the Southern private soldier The officer fights, in part at least, for pay; the private from pure, self-sacrificing patriotism.

How warmly does the private soldier enlist the affectionate sympathies of the Southern heart! No generous man or true woman can see an emaciated soldier, was with disease and bent with suffering, walking feebly along our streets, without the deepest emotions of respect and kindest. What a contrast between the feelings inspired by such a spectacle and those provoked by the gay trimmings and pert assurance of the throngs of officers who seem to dwell upon our streets, instead of patiently and honorably devoting themselves to their duties in camp.

These officers greatly mistake the times and the temper of the people who think that rank in any passport now to popular estimation. We know of but one advantage that rank can confer, and that is its additional pay. The people are as ready to honor a Captain who does his duty faithfully as a Major-General or a General in Chief. They will pay honor to the faithful Captain or General; but they love the private soldier. Witness the immense contributions of the people to the comforts of the troops in this war, and no one will question the fast that it is the private soldier who stands in the affectionate and tender sympathies of the people. The best support of even the General to the of the is

of our Generals the other day that he cured more for his sick than for his well. The same may be said of many of our Generals; but we venture to predict that these will be the men upon whom the people hereafter will be most ready to heap their honors. History also will delight to take care of their fame. It is the private soldier who is ‘"first in the heart of his countrymen"’ now.

In so large an army as that of the South, it is impossible but that merit will often tail to secure promotion, and that want of merit will even more often obtain it; and this from no abuse of authority by the appointing power out from accident, misinformation, error in judgment, or mere mistake. But what if case of this sort do happen; merit will be no loser by the neglect. The people are more apt to criticize and censure high rank; their sympathies are always with the brave humble in rank.

In regular, standing armies, promotion the life's object of an officer. It is for this that he lives, and of this that he dreams. To be overslaughed is to be buried alive. But our is not a standing army. It is an improvised establishment, that exists only for the emergency of the war, and after that will be utterly dissolved. In the regular army that shall succeed is rank will resume its wonted importance and become again a thing of substance to the officer and cease to be an affair of mere form. But now, all have volunteered for the war, and have enlisted to fight for the common cause leaving it to the country, or to accident, to assign them their respective positions. The bought of the country are turned upon the enemy; and the only solicitude of the soldier whether he have a commission or only has a place upon the muster roll is, to be where he can have his blow at the invader.

The true sentiment of the fighters in this contest, is that of indifference to rank and obviousness on the whole subject of promotion. The country will hold Government responsible for the capacity of its appointees; that is an affair of its own. It would prefer to look after that matter itself at the fitting time, and will honor the soldier and the officer the more meantime, according as he ignores the whole subject of relative rank and position.

The hardest fighting and most trying service in this contest is precisely in those quarters in which here are likely to be the rarest promotions. Probably the hardest fighting that has over occurred on this continent has been in Missouri, certainly the severest service that has been known since the winter of Valley Forge has been in Western Virginia. It is not in such quarters that mere military eclat or rapid military promotion is won; for these occur only where vast armies are massed and engagements on a large scale are expected. The country will not forget the fields of additions service, or the men that perform it; yet it would frown with severity upon them if they should turn their eyes a moment from the enemy to fix them upon the tawdry insignia of rank.

That the Government has made mistakes to the very difficult and delicate task of promotions is possible; but the public safety requires that these mistakes shall be overlooked by the soldier and forgiven by the people. It is impossible that all the merit now teeming in our army can be properly honored and distinguished. Some of the best talent and choices, merit in the country has been from the beginning in the ranks, and from the nature of the case must remain there to the end of the war. In this struggle, men of all ranks and grades must fight — not for self, or personal fame, or the hope of reward or promotion; but for the cause alone. Any other principle of action would at once demoralize the service, and give the cause over to destruction.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: