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Chapter 28:

  • Table talk
  • -- curious instances of the force of imagination during the war -- Arguments in Vindication of the Southern cause.

During dinner on one occasion the subject of “imagination” came up, and I was very much amused with the views of all parties upon its “power and effects.” There were several city and army doctors present, who, considering the subject to be an entirely professional one, would have monopolized all our attention; but several broke in with their individual experience, and leaving others to decide what is, and what is not, imagination, told some very amusing and occasionally tragical stories regarding its “power and its effects.”

“ When the fight at Manassas had terminated,” said Adjutant Flint,

being then in the ranks, I was detailed as one of a “ burying party,” and was out all night and most of the following day. As our regiment had been engaged near Centreville, I was hunting along the slopes for any poor fellow who required assistance, when my attention was called to moans in the bushes near by. I called some comrades, and began to seek for the sufferer. We found him leaning against a tree, near which a shell had exploded-his countenance was ghastly pale, and he rolled his eyes apparently in great torture. “What's the matter, Lieutenant?” I asked; but he groaned and fell on his face. “What can we do for you?” inquired another. “ Oh leave me to my fate, boys,” was the sorrowful and faint reply. “ I'm dying every minute, and can't last long-I'm bleeding internally, and my blood is flowing fast! Farewell to my own sunny South; good-by, boys, and if any body shall ever visit Holly Springs, tell 'em that Shanks died like a patriot for his country, and shot four Yankees before he fell! Give my love to the Colonel and all the rest of the boys, and when you write don't fail to give my last dying regards to Miss Sally Smith, if any on ye know her, and say I was faithful to the last.” [261]

Affected beyond all words by the poor lieutenant's simplicity and sufferings, we determined to carry him to the nearest ambulance, and ask a doctor to look to his wound. We placed him in a blanket, and in solemn procession had proceeded about half a mile, when he positively refused to go farther. “Let me down gently, boys, I can't stand shaking — there isn't much blood in me now, nohow, and I feel I'm passing away from this vale of tears and wicked world every minute, and can't last long” A doctor was passing at the time, with sleeves rolled up, looking more like a gentlemanly butcher than any thing else; and in whispers we spoke of the condition of poor Shanks, who was now groaning more piteously than ever. “I think he's bleeding internally, doe,” said I, “for I don't see any blood, although his momentary contortions are awful to look at — if he wasn't suffering so much I should be tempted to laugh.” “ Where are you hit, lieutenant?” inquired the surgeon tenderly. “Oh! don't touch me, doe, pray don't-I'm mortally wounded under the left shoulder-blade, the ball has ranged downwards, and I'm bleeding internally.”

In a trice Shanks's coat was cut in all directions, but yet there was no wound visible, until, to stop his lamentable groans the surgeon asked again: “Where are you hit-don't groan everlastingly, Shanks, but place your hand upon the wound, and let's see what can be done for you.” The place indicated was as sound as any part of his body, and after searching in vain for half an hour, and cutting the clothes off his back in search of blood, the doctor gave Shanks a slap on the seat of honor, laughing as he said: “ Get up, Shanks, and don't make a fool of yourself any longer; you are as sound as a trout, man-your wound is all imaginary.” We all began to laugh heartily, and were about to take signal vengeance on him for making us carry him half a mile through the mud and bushes, when Shanks jumped up as lively as ever and threatened to whip any man who should dare laugh at hint — a threat that would have been fulfilled to the letter. I was sorry for the poor fellow, but learned that a shell had burst within a few feet of him, and feeling certain that he was wounded by a fragment, he suffered all the symptoms of a wounded and dying man; in proof of his sincerity, poor Shanks had lain out in the rain all night, and when we [262] found him, he looked the most lamentable object for a first lieutenant that can possibly be imagined. The story got wind in some mysterious manner, and Shanks always had an engagement on hand to “whip somebody,” until at Gains's Mill he fell mortally wounded; he was the last line captain left in his regiment, all his confreres having dropped in less than an hour.

“ This war has caused many of us to rise,” said Captain Todd, reflectingly;

but how long any of us will remain in the land of the living it is difficult to say. At Bull Run I was orderly of my company, and felt greater pleasure in carrying a musket than wielding a sword as at present. The enemy were swarming across Blackburn's Ford in great force, and we, as skirmishers, received them with a brisk and deadly fire until ordered to fall back. Our captain had fallen within a few feet of me, with his face to the enemy, and for a long time we fought around him like tigers, and finally carried off the body. I felt sensible that a shot had grazed my side, and was very faint. To fall then was to be thrown into the enemy's hands so mustering all possible strength, I managed to get back to the regiment, which was re-forming some little distance in the rear, preparatory to attacking the enemy in line. The excitement and bustle of the moment drove all other thoughts from my mind-we fell in, advanced, delivered our fire, and repelled the enemy very handsomely; but while reloading, I thought of my wound, and felt a sharp pang in my side, which, together with drops trickling down, made me certain I was seriously hurt; the musket fell from my hands,, and I fainted.

I had not lain many moments when the noise awoke me to consciousness, and I tore open my jacket, pulled off my shirt and reduced it to rags. I applied the bandages to my side, and felt relieved, although I was so sickened with the sights around me that I forebore to look at my own hurt. Removing one bandage and replacing another I saw no blood, and to my astonishment discovered I was uninjured. Had any one discovered me at the moment I should have died from mere shame, for I could have sworn my hurt was a serious one. The truth is, a shot must have passed very close, for my jacket was cut. but the drops I felt trickling down were nothing but perspiration, and the sudden pang naught but a sudden rush of cold [263] air upon my exposed person. I could never have imagined the possibility of my being so deceived by imagination, but yet such is the candid fact. During the day I heard several complaining of dislocated shoulder-blades, broken ribs, etc.; but these generally were imaginary hurts arising from the concussion of shot or shell. At Drainsville I saw one young man lying under a tree, and his left arm seemed lifeless; he said it was hanging by a few shreds to the shoulder, but he had not looked at it. Upon examination I saw that a shell must have passed very close, for the flesh was puffed up considerably; yet beyond this the doctors said there was no injury. The concussion had caused the swelling. I have frequently seen men fall from this cause, and remain senseless for a long time; and several in our regiment have become hopelessly deaf in the same way. My hat has been blown off twice by the rush of air, and I have more than once felt my cheeks tingle, and grow hot from the closeness of shots.

“But this is all one-sided,” said Lieutenant Small.

I have known imagination to work as powerfully with members of the profession as upon their patients. When the wounded were being brought into the churches of Leesburgh, friend and foe were accommodated alike with whatever we had, and the ladies were working like angels in various offices of mercy and kindness. Outside one of the churches a tent was raised for the reception of the dead. I sought for a poor friend of mine among the many bodies, and found two Yankees, thrown in among the others. They were sighing, and I immediately pulled them out, placed a body under their heads for a pillow, and examined their hurts. One had received a shot in the left eye; being a common round musket-ball, it had passed round the skull, and come out at the left ear. In the second case, the ball had passed in a direction exactly the opposite of this. They were not dead, and I felt annoyed that they were thrown aside to die, while many of their comrades were comfortably provided for in churches and schools.

The doctors were busy and treated me like a Union sympathizer, and to my appeals on behalf of suffering humanity, swore roundly that they had something more important to attend to, particularly as the two Yankees were pronounced by [264] all the faculty as “hopeless cases.” My appeals to the ladies were answered by instant kindness. They proceeded to the “dead tent,” and told me these sufferers had been there all day, and were considered dead. I procured some excellent whiskey for them, their faces were washed, more spirit was administered at proper intervals, food was given, and to the astonishment of all the doctors these two fellows were walking about the streets of Leesburgh in less than three days, comfortably smoking their pipes, or fighting their battles over again round the fire of the mess-rooms. I know, too, an instance of a young man who came off the field of Manassas, with a cloth tied over the top of his head, and was begging all to pour cold water on it, for a shell had passed so close as to scalp him. Upon examination he proved to be unhurt, but the concussion was so great as to cause all the feeling of being scalped, nor could he be convinced of the contrary until after looking in the glass, when he exclaimed, with great naivete: “Well, I'm mighty glad the bar is thar, but if I didn't think I war scalped by that ar shell, you can just shoot me, that's all; for them whizzing, screechy things make my head ache and knees to tremble just to think on 'em! So I an't scalped, doc, eh? Well, if I didn't think I was, I be darned I! particular as my head feels half off even now, and I can't hold my neck straight to save my life.”

“ I had a patient at Warrenton,” said another,

who caused me much annoyance and vexation. The wound was in his thigh, but he persisted in saying that the ball had not been extracted, though any one could see from the character of the wound that the shot had passed out. For several days I tried to convince him that he was progressing favorably, but as soon as my back was turned he represented my cruelty to him in such fearful colors that the brigade surgeon came and had angry words with me. I explained matters, and upon examination he apologized, laughingly, and said he would perform the operation himself. My former patient, on learning that the brigade surgeon was about to work upon him, seemed in ecstasies, and would not allow me to go near him again, saying to himself: “ I have found one among the crowd who understands my case, and that darned ball will come out at last.” At dressing-time, the brigade surgeon appeared before my thick-headed [265] patient, made a terrible display of his instruments, and asked Number Five “if he was ready?” The parade of knives and lancets did not move a muscle of Number Five; rather he seemed pleased, and the mock operation proceeded. His thigh was properly dressed, and after several flourishes of the probe, a ball was shown to the patient, who seemed much rejoiced, and smoked his pipe with greater pleasure than ever. His health began to improve daily and he was soon convalescent, but all the kindness in the world could not make him like me as at first, and although it was explained to him subsequently that the operation was only a “sham,” he persisted in thinking the brigade surgeon a fine fellow and myself a fool.

The conversation soon changed to other matters.

“I beg leave to differ with you, Captain, upon that point,” said one.

I cannot believe that the universal sentiment of the Charleston Convention was in favor of Stephen A. Douglas: there were many there who even knew more of the true character of the man than I did, and were fully aware that a person of his unsatisfactory standing could never be the standard-bearer of the South, and bring about that reconciliation which was long necessary between the North and ourselves. The idea of secession was not a new or strange one. All who have studied the current of adverse views for the past few years are as fully aware as myself of the fact that the leading men of all sections saw the inevitable result which the fanaticism and power of the North would bring about; and it was the object of the South to prove how much the North loved us by seconding our. proper candidate, John C. Breckinridge. It was the proof that we needed, and finding the North resolved to crush out all our hope of justice or a fair hearing in the councils of the nation, it was determined to make a bold push for freedom, and forever separate from those who, from the mere accident of possessing power and numerical strength, were determined to out-vote all our propositions, right or wrong; to carry the high hand of power over us, and force us into a state of uncomplaining acquiescence; and to quietly become, once and forever, the humble producers of those staples, the handling and exportation of which were annually enriching them and impoverishing ourselves. The natural excellences of our coast for harbors and [266] arsenals were never looked into; lighthouses, breakwaters, and repairs were never considered; we had no right to suppose that dockyards and the like should be placed South, for these things might eventually increase our prosperity, and that must not be!

Then, again, territories were crowded by Northern immigration, so that the political balance should always remain with them; railroads could not be constructed South to the Pacific-better routes were always found North, and when private enterprise was excited to compete, Government appropriations were always made to Northern speculators. Even the routes of our commonest products were always directed Northward for exportation and trade, and for many years there seemed to be a settled plan with Northerners to favor all that pertained to themselves, and ignore our commonest rights and interests. The results are, that the tide of emigration has always been guided North. The army and navy establishments were always located there; Government works and improvements were to be found there only; private enterprises of a national character were always well patronized and protected there; and, although not a manufacturing people, whatever spirit of emulation or competition was exhibited among us, it never met with favor. In all things their maxims were apparent: “We are more numerous, and will rule as it suits ourselves--our interests must be always attended to — we know nothing of the rights, privileges, or customs of those who did most to gain our independence; all we know and remember is--ourselves

These are not my ideas alone, but the sentiments of the whole South. Were not Douglas, Buchanan, Pierce, Dickinson, and infamous Butler, supposed friends of the South, fully aware of all these grievances, and did they attempt to ameliorate our condition, or seek to obtain for us common justice, or even an impartial hearing? Ambitious as they were for favor, the North was always courted, as being the most populous, and whatever praise they seemed to bestow upon us was qualified in such a manner as to be construed in any way. Douglas, of whom much has been said, was not a truthful or reliable man, for it is on record that in his campaign against Lincoln for the Senatorship in Illinois, his speeches were [267] adapted to suit communities; so that what pleased those of Chicago — namely, a mild sort of abolitionism — was changed into ultra-Southernism in the lower counties of the same State. Much of the same hypocritical style was adopted by his opponent Lincoln, who, had he expressed the sentiments in Massachusetts, openly/ avowed in Southern Illinois, would have been mobbed and hooted through the public streets. This is not hearsay, but positive knowledge orally obtained during their canvass of the State.

“It seems providential,” remarked another,

that the disruption of the Union has taken place, and especially at this time, for the North was gaining ground too rapidly, and insensibly reducing us to servitude. A longer delay would only have added greater odds against us, as the election of Lincoln fully proved that no respect was paid to the feelings or interests of the South. We had forewarned the North, moreover, of the consequences — we had solemnly done soit remained with them, therefore, to prove their disinterested love of the Union by electing one that should have satisfied both parties. When a contract is made by several for their individual and united good, it betrays bad faith in any to attempt imperialism or despotism, because time and fortuitous circumstances may have enriched them, individually, at a greater rate than others. The old compact was made for the good of the several States making it, nor were local institutions objected to, in the days when Southern troops marched through Massachusetts, and New-Englanders remained at home.

“There is a decided difference in blood, climate, and predilections,” said a third. “It is said we are come from a common stock; but certainly the hot blood and high-toned spirit of the South cannot be one with the icy, fanatical, psalm-singing Puritanism of Massachusetts. Is it not rather traceable to the courtly, plumed, and belted cavaliers of Maryland and Virginia-men whose lineage is traceable through heraldic honors, who carried swords by right of birth-and not those whose history, either in their old or their new home, could not be brought to light without causing them to blush? The North, in short, has supplied a [268] field of enterprise in which but little capital was necessary, and hence it has become the common receptacle of all races and classes of men, while few have journeyed South, where comparatively large means were necessary to start them in competition with the residents. Some, like birds of passage, have come to enrich themselves, but not to settle as permanent residents in a country whose productions, climate, manners, and resources were totally unlike all to which they had been formerly accustomed. It cannot be denied by any who have lived in the South, and studied its character, that we have intermixed less with in-comers than those of the North.”

“I agree with those views in the main,” said one, “yet I cannot but think that much blame is due to us for our habitual carelessness and apathy in things pertaining to our rights and necessities. We have looked upon human nature incorrectly, and attributed to it more honesty and honor than it possesses, and now we feel surprised to find the world other than we expected. We might have seen long ago, that, with a great influx of abolition feeling and atheism into the country, it was time to prepare for the ‘irrepressible conflict;’ instead of which, by remaining inactive, we allowed the deluge to burst upon us before the ark was ready. From the year 1832, when South-Carolina first seceded, and Jackson forced her back into the Union, until the present hour, it was clear to all that a disruption was inevitable, and it behooved us to prepare for it as quietly as South-Carolina did, and not waste our energies in useless congressional debates, which could never wring one particle of justice from the absolutism of the jaundiced-eyed majority.”

“'Tis true that our leaders did not exert themselves discreetly,” said another, “or the same results could have been obtained with less cost. Except among a few, there was no system of united action; and those few, from paucity of means and insufficient influence, maintained profound secrecy and gave no inkling of ulterior objects. Calhoun and others spoke sententiously, and their hints contained volumes of meaning to the student; but the majority had such implicit confidence in the honesty and integrity of the North that any thing to the [269] contrary would have been construed into downright treason, because too apathetic in watching the current of events and the ‘manifest destiny’ of our cause.”

“That is correct,” said another, “ but it must be confessed that our statesmen have been more energetic and watchful since the time of Calhoun than before, and it is mainly owing to President Davis that our country has risen at all. Since his debut in public life, Jeff has applied himself to the study of past history, and of men and measures. No one understands the wants and aspirations of the South better than himself, and from early manhood he has kept his own counsel and been patiently planning affairs as we see him now. In Congress he was ever willing to undertake any office or responsibility that might enlighten him regarding our peculiarities and resources; and his West-Point education gave him an assurance of his powers, which displayed themselves brilliantly and conspicuously in the campaign of Mexico. Indeed, our highest officers were jealous of his talent, and, viewing him as a dashing and ambitious Southerner, threw every conceivable obstacle in his way to prevent him from superseding them.

When Jefferson Davis undertook the office of Secretary of War under Pierce, he was in a position for which he was preeminently qualified, and made himself perfect master of all that pertained to that office. There was not a fort or barracks throughout the length and breadth of the country which was not familiar to him, and at the same time he fixed his eye attentively on all the rising talent of the army, and made a note of those students at the various military and naval colleges who had distinguished themselves, and might leave the seclusion of private life under the pressure of times to come. There was scarcely one officer that came within his knowledge, whose qualifications, antecedents, sentiments, and ambition were not duly chronicled and remembered, so that when hostilities did eventually break out between us, Davis had but little difficulty in making judicious selections from whatever talent patriotically joined our ranks and cause.

The knowledge that he acquired as Minister of War has proved of incalculable advantage to us, for he knows exactly what the North can and cannot accomplish, and fully [270] understands all its resources beforehand. Whatever information he lacks is periodically transmitted through proper channels, so that he seems gifted with double sight, and astonishes the Cabinet at Washington by his accurate information of their designs and plans. Coming, as he did, in daily contact with such men as Scott, Lee, McClellan, Beauregard, Heintzelman, and a host of other talented officers, he could not be far from understanding the aspirations and particular qualifications of each: in fact, President Davis was the first to exclaim, from his thorough knowledge of the man, McClellan is the best officer they could select; but they will not keep him long a remark which seemed prophetic. Nor can we forget the part which Davis and his friends instigated Floyd, Cobb, and others to play when Cabinet Ministers to Buchanan — it may seem disreputable, but I don't think so, for self-preservation is the first law of nature. When it became evident that North and South could no longer live amicably together, and that dissolution was inevitable, Floyd, as Minister of War, prepared for the crisis by quietly sending the South her fair proportion of arms. The transaction was a secret one, but yet was commented upon by watchful men at the North. It was said, however, that we might soon be engaged with Spain or some other power, and that the South was the best location for them. Cobb, in the Treasury, did many things to embarrass the North, and facilitated all movements as best he could for our welfare and uprising. His financial abilities, or talents of any sort, were not much; but silence and discretion were all that was required of him.

Another remarked: “ I cannot but admire the patriotism and alacrity with which army and navy officers joined the for. tunes of their respective States; though they knew well that the declaration of independence was merely an ‘experiment,’ and that every chance was against us, for we had neither army, navy, nor resources of any kind. Many of these men were fast rising to eminence in the old service, and would have been comfortably provided for upon retirement. Much of their property was situated North, and all the expectations of years were at stake; but, old or young, they immediately surrendered every thing and offered their services to us, although for a long time [271] our cause seemed one of Herculean labor, and devoid of prospective success.

“Lee, for instance, was considered one of the finest engineers in the service, and was second only to Scott in the estimation and love of the people. Albert Sydney Johnston stood perhaps higher as an active commander, but few, if any, surpassed him in a thorough knowledge of his profession, or greater ability in council. His property and effects were in Northern hands; he was offered chief command in the field; but he abandoned all, and, bereft of every thing, offered himself to his native State. Johnston, Beauregard, Van Dorn, Evans, Longstreet, Ewell, and a host of others, made similar sacrifices, and for a long time were without any settled rank or command. They had to fight their way up, and have successfully done so. The same may be said of the navy. Lynch, Tatnall, Ingraham, Hollins, and others, followed their illustrious example. Maury — the world-renowed Maury-had all to lose and nothing to gain by joining our cause; but he did so, and refusing the offers and hospitalities of kings and princes, busied himself, industriously, in any department where his services might be of value. Hollins, indeed, brought his ship with him, and was cursed for it from east to west by the North. We cannot expect to do much with our navy at present, but we have talent enough in the forthcoming times of peace to found a navy which shall eclipse the achievements of our army, if cruel necessity occasion its services to be called for. There are many still in the army and navy of the North who rightfully belong to us — some refused to believe in our ultimate success, and thought a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush; others resigned, but could not get South; some were accused of sympathy and imprisoned; while others quietly settled down into business, and now await the adjustment of affairs, to come and live among us.

“Yes, Yes,” said one, emphatically; “I expect there will not be scores only, but thousands expressing excellent Southern sentiments when the war is over, and asserting their sympathies were always with us. There will then be thousands of Jews and Dutch willing to swear the same until black in the face; but if I am not mistaken, our people understand that question as well as Government, and will take more than usual care to protect themselves against the hordes which have been the [272] chief movers and instigators of all theisms, usurpation, and despotism of the North. There are hundreds of democrats in New-York and other States, particularly in the West, who now sincerely regret that avarice and love of power prompted them to ‘use’ the fanatical masses to lift them into power, and habitually support measures which they knew were tyrannical and unjust. The people have already considered every phase of that subject, and will act discreetly in the future.”

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