June–December 1874 The Civil War

A Rebel’s Recollections

A Confederate soldier from a plantation family provides a Southern perspective.

They thought too, that, fighting on their own soil, in an essentially defensive struggle, they would have some advantage, as they certainly did … These were the grounds of their hopes; but had there been no hope for them at all, I verily believe they would have fought all the same. Certainly they had small reason to hope for success after the campaign of 1863, but they fought on nevertheless, until they could fight no more. Let the reader remember that as the Southerners understood the case, they could not, without a complete sacrifice of honor, do anything else than fight on until utterly crushed …

the conduct of the women

The women of the South could hardly have been more desperately in earnest than their husbands and brothers and sons were, in the prosecution of the war …

The fact that all the men capable of bearing arms went into the army, and staid there, gave to every woman in the South a personal interest not only in the general result of each battle, but in the list of killed and wounded as well … They believed it to be the duty of every able-bodied man to serve in the army, and they eagerly sent the men of their own homes to the field, frowning undisguisedly upon every laggard until there were no laggards left …

In Richmond, when the hospitals were filled with wounded men brought in from the seven days’ fighting with McClellan, and the surgeons found it impossible to dress half the wounds, a band was formed, consisting of nearly all the married women of the city, who took upon themselves the duty of going to the hospitals and dressing wounds from morning till night …

Every Confederate remembers gratefully the reception given him when he went into any house where these women were. Whoever he might be, and whatever his plight, if he wore the gray he was received, not as a beggar or tramp, not even as a stranger, but as a son of the house, for whom it held nothing too good, and whose comfort was the one care of all its inmates, even though their own must be sacrificed in securing it …

But if the cheerfulness of the women during the war was remarkable, what shall we say of the way in which they met its final failure and the poverty that came with it? The end of the war completed the ruin which its progress had wrought. Women who had always lived in luxury, and whose labors and sufferings during the war were lightened by the consciousness that in suffering and laboring they were doing their part toward the accomplishment of the end upon which all hearts were set, were now compelled to face not temporary but permanent poverty, and to endure, without a motive or a sustaining purpose, still sorer privations than any they had known in the past … They kept their spirits up through it all, however, and improvised a new social system in which absolute poverty, cheerfully borne, was the badge of respectability. Everybody was poor except the speculators who had fattened upon the necessities of the women and children, and so poverty was essential to anything like good repute. The return of the soldiers made some sort of social festivity necessary, and “starvation parties” were given, at which it was understood that the givers were wholly unable to set out refreshments of any kind. In the matter of dress, too, the general poverty was recognized, and every one went clad in whatever he or she happened to have. The want of means became a jest, and nobody mourned over it; while all were laboring to repair their wasted fortunes as they best could …

of the time when money was “easy”

The modest Dunker Church, seen in this September 1862 stereograph of Antietam, created a poignant backdrop for one of the war’s bloodiest battles. (Library of Congress)

The financial system adopted by the Confederate government was singularly simple and free from technicalities. It consisted chiefly in the issue of treasury notes enough to meet all the expenses of the government …

We knew only that money was astonishingly abundant. Provisions fell short sometimes, and the supply of clothing was not always as large as we should have liked, but nobody found it difficult to get money enough …

We were never able to determine what was a fair price for anything. We fell into the habit of paying whatever was asked, knowing that to-morrow we should have to pay more …

The feeling was universal that the speculators were fattening upon the necessities of the country and the sufferings of the people. Nearly all mercantile business was regarded at least with suspicion, and much of it fell into the hands of people with no reputations to lose …

The financial condition got steadily worse to the end. I believe the highest price, relatively, I ever saw paid, was for a pair of boots. A cavalry officer, entering a little country store, found there one pair of boots which fitted him. He inquired the price. “Two hundred dollars,” said the merchant. A five hundred dollar bill was offered, but the merchant, having no smaller bills, could not change it. “Never mind,” said the cavalier, “I’ll take the boots anyhow. Keep the change; I never let a little matter of three hundred dollars stand in the way of a trade.”

That was on the day before Lee’s surrender, but it would not have been an impossible occurrence at any time during the preceding year …

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