A FEW months ago, as I was leaving Baltimore for a summer sojourn on the coast of Maine, two old soldiers of the war between the States took their seats immediately behind me in the car, and began a lively conversation about the various battles in which they had faced each other more than a quarter of a century ago, when a trip to New England would have been no holiday jaunt for one of their fellow-travelers. The veterans went into the minute detail that always puts me to shame, when I think how poor an account I should give if pressed to describe the military movements that I have happened to witness: and I may as well acknowledge at the outset that I have as little aptitude for the soldier’s trade as I have for the romancer’s. Single incidents I remember as if they were of yesterday. Single pictures have burned themselves into my brain. But I have no vocation to tell how fields were lost and won ; and my experience of military life was too brief and fitful to be of any value to the historian of the war. For my own life that experience has been of the utmost significance, and despite the heavy price I have had to pay for my outings, despite the daily reminder of five long months of intense suffering, I have no regrets. An ablebodied young man, with a long vacation at his disposal, could not have done otherwise, and the right to teach Southern youth for nine months was earned by sharing the fortunes of their fathers and brothers at the front for three. Self-respect is everything; and it is something to have belonged in deed and in truth to an heroic generation, to have shared in a measure its perils and privations. But that heroic generation is apt to be a bore to a generation whose heroism is of a different type, and I doubt whether the young people in our car took much interest in the very audible conversation of the two veterans. Twenty-five years hence, when the survivors will be curiosities, as were Revolutionary pensioners in my childhood, there may be a renewal of interest. As it is, few of the present generation pore over The Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, and a grizzled old Confederate has been heard to declare that he intended to bequeath his copy of that valuable work to some one outside of the family, so provoked was he at the supineness of his children. And yet, for the truth’s sake, all these battles must be fought over and over again, until the account is cleared, and until justice is done to the valor and skill of both sides.
The two old soldiers were talking amicably enough, as all old soldiers do, but they “ yarned,” as all old soldiers do, and though they talked from Baltimore to Philadelphia, and from Philadelphia to New York, their conversation was lost on me, for my thoughts went back into my own past, and two pictures came up to me from the time of the war.
In the midsummer of 1863 I was serving as a private in the First Virginia Cavalry. Gettysburg was in the past, and there was not much fighting to be done, but the cavalry was not wholly idle. Raids bad to be intercepted, and the enemy was not to be allowed to vaunt himself too much; so that I gained some experience of the hardships of that arm of the service, and found out by practical participation what is meant by a cavalry charge. To a looker-on nothing can be finer. To the one who charges, or is supposed to charge, — for the horse seemed to me mainly responsible,— the details are somewhat cumbrous. Now in one of these charges some of us captured a number of the opposing force, among them a young lieutenant. Why this particular capture should have impressed me so I cannot tell, but memory is a tricky thing. A large red fox scared up from his lair by the fight at Castleman’s Ferry stood for a moment looking at me; and I shall never forget the stare of that red fox. At one of our fights near Kernstown a spent bullet struck a horse on the side of his nose, which happened to be white, and left a perfect imprint of itself ; and the jerk of the horse’s head and the outline of the bullet are present to me still. The explosion of a particular caisson, the shriek of a special shell, will ring in one’s ears for life. A captured lieutenant was no novelty, and yet this captured lieutenant caught my eye and held it. A handsomer young fellow, a more noble-looking, I never beheld among Federals or Confederates, as he stood there, bareheaded, among his captors, erect and silent. His eyes were full of fire, his lips showed a slight quiver of scorn, and his hair seemed to tighten its curls in defiance. Doubtless I had seen as fine specimens of young manhood before, but if so, I had seen without looking, and this man was evidently what we called a gentleman.
Southern men were proud of being gentlemen, although they have been told in every conceivable tone that it was a foolish pride, — foolish in itself, foolish in that it did not have the heraldic backing that was claimed for it; the utmost concession being that a number of “ deboshed ” younger sons of decayed gentry had been shipped to Virginia in the early settlement of that colony. But the very pride played its part in making us what we were proud of being, and whether descendants of the aforesaid “ deboshed,” of simple English yeomen, of plain Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, a doughty stock, of Huguenots of various ranks of life, we all held to the same standard, and showed, as was thought, undue exclusiveness on this subject. But this prisoner was the embodiment of the best type of Northern youth, with a spirit as high, as resolute, as could be found in the ranks of Southern gentlemen; and though in theory all enlightened Southerners recognized the high qualities of some of our opponents, this one noble figure in “flesh and blood ” was better calculated to inspire respect for “ those people,” as we had learned to call our adversaries, than many pages of “ gray theory.”
A little more than a year afterwards, in Early’s Valley campaign, — a rude school of warfare,— I was serving as a volunteer aide on General Gordon’s staff. The day before the disaster of Fisher’s Hill I was ordered, together with another staff officer, to accompany the general on a ride to the front. The general had a well-known weakness for inspecting the outposts, — a weakness that made a position in his suite somewhat precarious. The officer with whom I was riding had not been with us long, and when he joined the staff had just recovered from wounds and imprisonment. A man of winning appearance, sweet temper, and attractive manners, he soon made friends of the military family, and I never learned to love a man so much in so brief an acquaintance, though hearts knit quickly in the stress of war. He was highly educated, and foreign residence and travel had widened his vision without affecting the simple faith and thorough consecration of the Christian. Here let me say that the bearing of the Confederates is not to be understood without taking into account the deep religious feeling of the army and its great leaders. It is an historical element, like any other, and is not to be passed over in summing up the forces of the conflict. " A soldier without religion,”says a Prussian officer, who knew our army as well as the German, “ is an instrument without value ; ” and it is not unlikely that the knowledge of the part that faith played in sustaining the Southern people may have lent emphasis to the expression of his conviction.
We rode together towards the front, and as we rode our talk fell on Goethe and on Faust, and of all passages the soldiers’ song came up to my lips, — the song of soldiers of fortune, not the chant of men whose business it was to defend their country. Two lines, however, were significant : —
Herrlich der Lohn.”
We reached the front. An occasional “ zip ” gave warning that the sharpshooters were not asleep, and the quick eye of the general saw that our line needed rectification and how. Brief orders were given to the officer in command. My comrade was left to aid in carrying them out. The rest of us withdrew. Scarcely had we ridden a hundred yards towards camp when a shout was heard, and, turning round, we saw one of the men running after us. “The captain had been killed.” The peace of heaven was on his face, as I gazed on the noble features that afternoon. The bullet had passed through his official papers and found his heart. He had received his discharge, and the glorious reward had been won.
This is the other picture that the talk of the two old soldiers called up, — dead Confederate against living Federal; and these two pictures stand out before me again, as I am trying to make others understand and to understand myself what it was to be a Southern man twenty-five years ago; what it was to accept with the whole heart the creed of the Old South. The image of the living Federal bids me refrain from harsh words in the presence of those who were my captors. The dead Confederate bids me uncover the sacred memories that the dust of life’s Appian Way hides from the tenderest and truest of those whose business it is to live and work. For my dead comrade of the Valley campaign is one of many; some of them my friends, some of them my pupils as well. The 18th of July, 1861, laid low one of my Princeton College room-mates; on the 21st, the day of the great battle, the other fell, — both bearers of historic names, both upholding the cause of their State with as unclouded a conscience us any saint in the martyrology ever wore; and from that day to the end, great battle and outpost skirmish brought me, week by week, a personal loss in men of the same type.
The surrender of the Spartans on the island of Sphacteria was a surprise to friend and foe alike; and the severe historian of the Peloponnesian war pauses to record the answer of a Spartan to the jeering question of one of the allies of the Athenians,—a question which implied that the only brave Spartans were those who had been slain. The answer was tipped with Spartan wit; the only thing Spartan, as some one has said, in the whole un-Spartan affair. “ The arrow,” said he, “ would be of great price if it distinguished the brave men from the cowards.” But it did seem to us, in our passionate grief, that the remorseless bullet, the remorseless shell, had picked out the bravest and the purest. It is an old cry, —
Still, when Schiller says in the poem just quoted,
Und Thersites kommt zurück,”
his illustration is only half right. The Greek Thersites did not return to claim a pension.
Of course, what was to all true Confederates beyond a question “ a holy cause,” “ the holiest of causes,” this fight in defense of “the sacred soil” of our native land, was to the other side “ a wicked rebellion ” and “ damnable treason,” and both parties to the quarrel were not sparing of epithets which, at this distance of time, may seem to our children unnecessarily undignified; and no doubt some of these epitheta ornantia continue to flourish in remote regions, just as pictorial representations of Yankees and rebels in all their respective fiendishness are still cherished here and there. At the Centennial Exposition of 1876, by way of conciliating the sections, the place of honor in the Art Annex, or by whatever un-English name they called it, was given to Rothermel’s painting of the battle of Gettysburg, in which the face of every dying Union soldier is lighted up with a celestial smile, while guilt and despair are stamped on the wan countenances of the moribund rebels. At least such is my recollection of the painting; and I hope that I may be pardoned for the malicious pleasure I felt when I was informed of the high price that the State of Pennsylvania had paid for that work of art. The dominant feeling was amusement, not indignation. But as I looked at it I recalled another picture of a battle scene, painted by a friend of mine, a French artist, who had watched our life with an artist’s eye. One of the figures in the foreground was a dead Confederate boy, lying in the angle of a worm fence. His uniform was worn and ragged, mud-stained as well as bloodstained ; the cap which had fallen from his head was a tatter, and the torn shoes were ready to drop from his stiffening feet; but in a buttonhole of his tunic was stuck the inevitable toothbrush, which continued even to the end of the war to be the distinguishing mark of gentle nurture, — the souvenir that the Confederate so often received from fair sympathizers in border towns. I am not a realist, hut I would not exchange that homely toothbrush in the Confederate’s buttonhole for the most angelic smile that Rothermel’s brush could have conjured up.
Now I make no doubt that most of the readers of The Atlantic have got beyond the Rothermel stage, and yet I am not certain that all of them appreciate the entire clearness of conscience with which we of the South went into the war. A new patriotism is one of the results of the great conflict, and the power of local patriotism is no longer felt to the same degree. In one of his recent deliverances Mr. Carnegie, a canny Scot who has constituted himself the representative of American patriotism, not without profit, says, “The citizen of the republic to-day is prouder of being an American than he is of being a native of any State in the country.” What it is to be a native of any State in the country, especially an old State with an ancient and honorable history, is something that Mr. Carnegie cannot possibly understand. But the “ to-day ” is superfluous. The Union was a word of power in 1861 as it is in 1891. Before the secession of Virginia a Virginian Breckinridge asked; “If exiled in a foreign land, would the heart turn back to Virginia, or South Carolina, or New York, or to any one State as the cherished home of its pride? No. We would remember only that we were Americans.” Surely this seems quite as patriotic as Mr. Carnegie’s utterance: and yet, to the native Virginian just quoted, so much stronger was the State than the central government that, a few weeks after this bold speech, he went into the war, and finally perished in the war. “A Union man,” says his biographer, “fighting for the rights of his old mother Virginia.” And there were many men of his mind, noted generals, valiant soldiers. The University Memorial, which records the names and lives of the alumni of the University of Virginia who fell in the Confederate war, two hundred in number, — this volume, full “ of memories and of sighs ” to every Southern man of my age, lies open before me as I write, and some of the noblest, men who figure in its pages were Union men ; and the Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute tells the same story with the same eloquence. The State was imperiled, and parties disappeared ; and of the combatants in the field, some of the bravest and the most conspicuous belonged to those whose love of the old Union was warm and strong, to whom the severance of the tie that bound the States together was a personal grief. But even those who prophesied the worst, who predicted a long and bloody struggle and a doubtful result, had no question about the duty of the citizen ; shared the common burden and submitted to the individual sacrifice as readily as the veriest fire-eater, — nay, as they claimed, more readily. The most intimate friend I ever had, who fell after heroic services, was known by all our circle to be utterly at variance with the prevalent Southern view of the quarrel, and died upholding a right which was not a right to him except so far as the mandate of his State made it a right; and while he would have preferred to see “ the old flag ” floating over a united people, he restored the new banner to its place time after time when it had been cut down by shot and shell.
Those who were bred in the opposite political faith, who read their right of withdrawal in the Constitution, had less heart-searching to begin with than the Union men of the South; but when the State called there were no parties, and the only trace of the old difference was a certain rivalry which should do the better fighting. This ready response to the call of the State showed very clearly that, despite varying theories of government, the people of the Southern States were practically of one mind as to the seat of the paramount obligation. Adherence to the Union was a matter of sentiment, a matter of interest. The arguments urged on the South against secession were addressed to the memories of the glorious struggle for independence, to the anticipation of the glorious future that awaited the united country, to the difficulties and the burdens of a separate life. Especial stress was laid on the last argument; and the expense of a separate government, of a standing army, was set forth in appalling figures. A Northern student of the war once said to me, “If the Southern people had been of a statistical turn, there would have been no secession, there would have been no war.” But there were men enough of a statistical turn in the South to warn the people against the enormous expense of independence, just as there are men enough of a statistical turn in Italy to remind the Italians of the enormous cost of national unity. “Counting the cost” is in things temporal the only wise course, as in the building of a tower; but there are times in the life of an individual, of a people, when the things that are eternal force themselves into the calculation, and the abacus is nowhere. “Neither count I my life dear unto myself ” is a sentiment that does not enter into the domain of statistics. The great Athenian statesman who saw the necessity of the Peloponnesian war was not above statistics, as he showed when he passed in review the resources of the Athenian empire, the tribute from the allies, the treasure laid up in the House of the Virgin. But when he addressed the people in justification of the war, he based his argument, not on a calculation of material resources, but on a simple principle of right. Submission to any encroachment, the least as well as the greatest, on the rights of a State means slavery. To us submission meant slavery, as it did to Pericles and the Athenians ; as it did to the great historian of Greece, who had learned this lesson from the Peloponnesian war, and who took sides with the Southern States, to the great dismay of his fellow-radicals, who could not see, as George Grote saw, the real point at issue in the controversy. Submission is slavery, and the bitterest taunt in the vocabulary of those who advocated secession was “submissionist.” But where does submission begin? Who is to mark the point of encroachment ? That is a matter which must be decided by the sovereign; and on the theory that the States are sovereign, each State must be the judge. The extreme Southern States considered their rights menaced by the issue of the presidential election. Virginia and the Border States were more deliberate ; and Virginia’s “ pausing ’’ was the theme of much mockery in the State and out of it, from friend and from foe alike. Her love of peace, her love of the Union, were set down now to cowardice, now to cunning. The Mother of States and Queller of Tyrants was caricatured as Mrs. Facing-both-ways; and the great commonwealth that even Mr. Lodge’s statistics cannot displace from her leadership in the history of the country was charged with trading on her neutrality. Her solemn protest was unheeded. The “serried phalanx of her gallant sons” that should “prevent the passage of the United States forces"was an expression that amused Northern critics of style as a bit of antiquated Southern rodomontade. But the call for troops showed that the rodomontade meant something. Virginia had made her decision ; and if the United States forces did not find a serried phalanx barring their way, — a serried phalanx is somewhat out of date, — they found something that answered the purpose as well.
The war began, the war went on. Passion was roused to fever heat. Both sides “saw red,” that physiological condition which to a Frenchman excuses everything. The proverbial good humor of the American people did not, it is true, desert the country, and the Southern men who were in the field, as they were much happier than those who stayed at home, if I may judge by my own experience, were often merry enough by the camp fire, and exchanged rough jests with the enemy’s pickets. But the invaded people were very much in earnest, however lightly some of their adversaries treated the matter, and as the pressure of the war grew tighter the more sombre did life become. A friend of mine, describing the crowd that besieged the Gare de Lyon in Paris, when the circle of fire was drawing round the city, and foreigners were hastening to escape, told me that the press was so great that he could touch in every direction those who had been crushed to death as they stood, and had not had room to fall. Not wholly unlike this was the pressure brought to bear on the Confederacy. It was only necessary to put out your hand and you touched a corpse; and that not an alien corpse, but the corpse of a brother or a friend. Every Southern man becomes grave when he thinks of that terrible stretch of time, partly, it is true, because life was nobler, but chiefly because of the memories of sorrow and suffering. A professional Southern humorist once undertook to write in dialect a Comic History of the War, but his heart failed him, as his public would have failed him, and the serial lived only for a number or two.
The war began, the war went on. War is a rough game. It is an omelet that cannot be made without breaking eggs, not only eggs in esse, but also eggs in posse. So far as I have read about war, ours was no worse than other wars. While it lasted, the conduct of the combatants on either side was represented in the blackest colors by the other. Even the ordinary and legitimate doing to death was considered criminal if the deed was done by a ruthless rebel or a ruffianly invader. Non-combatants were especially eloquent. In describing the end of a brother who had been killed while trying to get a shot at a Yankee, a Southern girl raved about the “ murdered patriot ” and the “ dastardly wretch ” who had anticipated him. But I do not criticise, for I remember an English account of the battle of New Orleans, in which General Pakenham was represented as having been picked off by a “ sneaking Yankee rifle.”Those who were engaged in the actual conflict took more reasonable views, and the annals of the war are full of stories of battlefield and hospital in which a common humanity asserted itself. But brotherhood there was none. No alienation could have been more complete. Into the fissure made by the disruption poured all the bad blood that had been breeding from colonial times, from Revolutionary times, from constitutional struggles, from congressional debates, from “bleeding Kansas ” and the engine-house at Harper’s Ferry; and a great gulf was fixed, as it seemed forever, between North and South. The hostility was a very satisfactory one — for military purposes.
The war began, the war went on, — this politicians’ conspiracy, this slaveholders’ rebellion, as it was variously called by those who sought its source, now in the disappointed ambition of the Southern leaders, now in the desperate determination of a slaveholding oligarchy to perpetuate their power, and to secure forever their proprietorship in their “ human chattels.” On this theory the mass of the Southern people were but puppets in the hands of political wirepullers, or blind followers of hectoring “patricians.” To those who know the Southern people nothing can be more absurd ; to those who know their personal independence, to those who know the deep interest which they have always taken in politics, the keen intelligence with which they have always followed the questions of the day. The court-house green was the political university of the Southern masses, and the hustings the professorial chair, from which the great political and economical questions of the day were presented, to say the least, as fully and intelligently as in the newspapers to which so much enlightenment is attributed. There was no such system of rotten boroughs, no such domination of a landed aristocracy, throughout the South as has been imagined, and venality, which is the disgrace of current politics, was practically unknown. The men who represented the Southern people in Washington came from the people, and not from a ring. Northern writers who have ascribed the firm control in Congress of the national government which the South held so long to the superior character, ability, and experience of its representatives do not seem to be aware that the choice of such representatives and their prolonged tenure show that in politics, at least, the education of the Southerner had not been neglected. The rank and file then were not swayed simply by blind passion or duped by the representations of political gamesters. Nor did the lump need the leavening of the large percentage of men of the upper classes who served as privates, some of them from the beginning to the end of the war. The rank and file were, to begin with, in full accord with the great principles of the war, and were sustained by the abiding conviction of the justice of the cause. Of course there were in the Southern army, as in every army, many who went with the multitude in the first enthusiastic rush, or who were brought into the ranks by the needful process of conscription ; but it is not a little remarkable that few of the poorest and the most ignorant could be induced to forswear the cause and to purchase release from the sufferings of imprisonment by the simple process of taking the oath. Those who have seen the light of battle on the faces of these humble sons of the South, or witnessed their steadfastness in camp, on the march, in the hospital, have not been ashamed of the brotherhood.
There is such a thing as fighting for a principle, an idea ; but principle and idea must be incarnate, and the principle of States’ rights was incarnate in the historical life of the Southern people. Of the thirteen original States, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were openly and officially upon the side of the South. Maryland as a State was bound hand and foot. We counted her as ours, for the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay united as well as divided. Each of these States had a history, had an individuality. Every one was something more than a certain aggregate of square miles wherein dwelt an uncertain number of uncertain inhabitants, something more than a Territory transformed into a State by the magic of political legerdemain ; a creature of the central government, and duly loyal to its creator.
In claiming this individuality, nothing more is claimed for Virginia and for South Carolina than would be conceded to Massachusetts and Connecticut; and we believed then that Massachusetts and Connecticut would not have behaved otherwise than we did, if the parts had been reversed. The brandished sword would have shown what manner of placida quies would have ensued, if demands had been made on Massachusetts at all commensurate with the Federal demands on Virginia. These older Southern States were proud of their history, and they showed their pride by girding at their neighbors. South Carolina had her fling at Georgia, her fling at North Carolina; and the wish that the little State had been scuttled at an early day was a plagiarism from classical literature that might have emanated from the South as well as from the North. Virginia assumed a superiority that was resented by her Southern sisters as well as by her Northern partners. The Old North State derided the pretensions of the commonwealths that flanked her on either side, and Georgia was not slow to give South Carolina as good as she sent. All this seemed to be harmless banter, but the rivalry was old enough and strong enough to encourage the hopes of the Union leaders that the Confederacy would split along state lines. The cohesive power of the Revolutionary war was not sufficiently strong to make the States sink their contributions to the common cause in the common glory. Washington was the one national hero, and yet the Washington Light Infantry of Charleston was named, not after the illustrious George, but after his kinsman, William. The story of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill did not thrill the South Carolinian of an earlier day, and those great achievements were actually criticised. Who were Putnam and Stark that South Carolinians should worship them, when they had a Marion and a Sumter of their own ? Vermont went wild, the other day, over Bennington as she did not over the centenary of the surrender at York town. Take away this local patriotism and you take out all the color that is left in American life. That the local patriotism may not only consist with a wider patriotism, but may serve as a most important element in wider patriotism, is true. Witness the strong local life in the old provinces of France. No student of history, no painter of manners, can neglect it. In Gerfaut, a novel written before the Franco-Prussian war, Charles de Bernard represents an Alsatian shepherd as saying, “ I am not French ; I am Alsatian,” — “ trait de patriotisme de clocher assez commun dans la belle province du Rhin,”adds the author, little dreaming of the national significance of that “ patriotisme de clocher.” The Breton’s love of his home is familiar to every one who has read his Renan, and Blanche Willis Howard, in Guenn, makes her priest exclaim, “Monsieur, I would fight with France against any other nation, but I would fight with Brittany against France. I love France. I am a Frenchman. But first of all I am a Breton,” The Provencal speaks of France as if she were a foreign country, and fights for her as if she were his alone. What is true of France is true in a measure of England. Devonshire men are notoriously Devonshire men first and last. If this is true of what have become integral parts of kingdom or republic by centuries of incorporation, what is to be said of the States that had never renounced their sovereignty, that had only suspended it in part ?
The example of state pride set by the older States was not lost on the younger Southern States, and the Alabamian and the Mississippian lived in the same faith as did the stock from which they sprang; and the community of views, of interest, of social order, soon made a larger unit and prepared the way for a true nationality, and with the nationality a great conflict. The heterogeneousness of the elements that made up the Confederacy did not prove the great source of weakness that was expected. The Border States looked on the world with different eyes from the Gulf States. The Virginia farmer and the Creole planter of Louisiana were of different strains; and yet there was a solidarity that has never failed to surprise the few Northerners who penetrated the South for study and pleasure. There was an extraordinary ramification of family and social ties throughout the Southern States, and a few minutes’ conversation sufficed to place any member of the social organism from Virginia to Texas. Great schools, like the University of Virginia, within the Southern border did much to foster the community of feeling, and while there were not a few Southerners at Harvard and Yale, and while Princeton was almost a Southern college, an education in the North did not seem to nationalize the Southerner. On the contrary, as In the universities of the Middle Ages, groups were formed in accordance with nativity ; and sectional lines, though effaced at certain points, were strengthened at others. There may have been a certain broadening of view ; there was no weakening of the home ties. West Point made fewer converts to this side and to that than did the Northern wives of Southern husbands, the Southern wives of Northern husbands.
All this is doubtless controvertible, and what has been written may serve only to amuse or to disgust those who are better versed in the facts of our history and keener analysts of its laws. All that I vouch for is the feeling; the only point that I have tried to make is the simple fact that, right or wrong, we were fully persuaded in our own minds, and that there was no lurking suspicion of any moral weakness in our cause. Nothing could be holier than the cause, nothing more imperative than the duty of upholding it. There were those in the South who, when they saw the issue of the war, gave up their faith in God, but not their faith in the cause.
It is perfectly possible to be fully persuaded in one’s own mind without the passionate desire to make converts that animates the born preacher, and any one may be excused from preaching when he recognizes the existence of a mental or moral color-blindness with which it is not worth while to argue. There is no umpire to decide which of the disputants is color-blind, and the discussion is apt to degenerate into a wearisome reiteration of points which neither party will concede. Now this matter of allegiance is just such a question. Open the October number of The Atlantic and read the sketch of General Thomas, whom many military men on the Southern side consider to have been the ablest of all the Federal generals. He was, as every one knows, a Virginian, and it seemed to us that his being a Virginian was remembered against him in the Federal councils. “ His severance,” says the writer in The Atlantic, “ from family and State was a keen trial, but ‘ his duty was clear from the beginning.’ To his vision there was but one country, — the United States of America. He had few or no friends at the North. Its political policy had not seemed to him to be wise. But he could serve under no flag except that which he had pledged his honor to uphold.” Passing over the quiet assumption that the North was the United States of America, which sufficiently characterizes the view of the writer, let us turn to the contrast which would at once have suggested itself even if it had not been brought forward by the eulogist of Thomas. A greater than Thomas decided the question at the same time, and decided it the other way. To Lee’s vision there was but one course open to a Virginian, and the pledge that he had given when Virginia was one of the United States of America had ceased to bind him when Virginia withdrew from the compact. His duty was clear from the hour when to remain in the army would have been to draw his sword against a people to whom he was “ indissolubly bound.”
These contrasted cases are indeed convenient tests for color-blindness. There may “arise a generation in Virginia,” or even a generation of Virginians, “ who will learn and confess ” that “ Thomas loved Virginia as well as ” the sons “ she has preferred to honor, and served her better.” But no representative Virginian shares that prophetic vision; the color-blindness, on whichever side it is, has not yielded to treatment during the twenty-five years that have elapsed since the close of the war, and may as well be accepted for an indefinite period. When social relations were resumed between the North and the South, — they followed slowly the resumption of business relations, — what we should call the color-blindness of the other side often manifested itself in a delicate reticence on the part of our Northern friends; and as the war had by no means constituted their lives as it had constituted ours for four long years, the success in avoiding the disagreeable topic would have been considerable, if it had not been for awkward allusions on the part of the Southerners, who, having been shut out for all that time from the study of literature and art and other elegant and uncompromising subjects, could hardly keep from speaking of this and that incident of the war. Whereupon a discreet, or rather an embarrassed silence, as if a pardoned convict had playfully referred to the arson or burglary, not to say worse, that had been the cause of his seclusion.
Some fifteen years ago Mr. Lowell was lecturing in Baltimore, and during the month of his stay I learned to know the charm of his manner and the delight of his conversation. If I had been even more prejudiced than I was, I could not have withstood that easy grace, that winning cordiality. Every one knew where he had stood during the war, and how he had wielded the flail of his “lashing hail” against, the South and the Southern cause and “ Southern sympathizers.” But that warfare was over for him, and out of kindly regard for my feelings he made no allusion to the great quarrel, with two exceptions. Once, just, before he left Baltimore, he was talking as no other man could talk about the Yankee dialect, and turning to me he said with a half smile and a deep twinkle in his eye, “ I should like to have you read what I have written about the Yankee dialect, but I am afraid you might not like the context.” A few days afterwards I received from him the wellknown preface to the Second Series of The Biglow Papers, cut out from the volume. It was a graceful concession to Southern weakness, and after all I may have been mistaken in thinking that I could read the Second Series as literature, just as I should read the AntiJacobin or the Twopenny Post Bag. In fact, on looking into the Second Series again, I must confess that I cannot even now discover the same merits that I could not help acknowledging in the First Series, which I read for the first time in 1850, when I was a student in Berlin. By that time I had recovered from my boyish enthusiasm over the Mexican war, and as my party had been successful I could afford to enjoy the wit and humor of the book, from the inimitable Notices of an Independent Press to the last utterance of Birdofredum Sawin ; and I have always remembered enough of the contents to make a psychological study of the Second Series a matter of interest, if it were not for other things.
On the second occasion we were passing together under the shadow of the Washington Monument, and the name of Lee came by some chance into the current of talk. Here Mr. Lowell could not refrain from expressing his view of Lee’s course in turning against the government to which he had sworn allegiance. Doubtless he felt it to be his duty to emphasize his conviction as to a vital clause of his creed, but it instantly became evident that this was a theme that could not be profitably pursued, and we walked in silence the rest of the way, — the author of the line
and the follower of that other imperial man Virginia gave the world : both honest, each believing the other hopelessly wrong, but absolutely sincere.
Scant allusion has been made in this paper to the subject of slavery, which bulks so large in almost every study of the war. A similar scantiness of allusion to slavery is noticeable in the Memorial volume, to which I have already referred ; a volume which was prepared, not to produce an impression on the Northern mind, but to indulge a natural desire to honor the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy ; a book written by friends for friends. The rights of the State and the defense of the country are mentioned at every turn ; “ the peculiar institution ” is merely touched on here and there, except in one passage in which a Virginian speaker maintains that as a matter of dollars and cents it would be better for Virginia to give up her slaves than to set up a separate government, with all the cost of a standing army which the conservation of slavery would make necessary. This silence, which might be misunderstood, is plain enough to a Southern man. Slavery was simply a test case, and except as a test case it is too complicated a question to be dealt with at the close of a paper which is already too long. Except as a test case it is impossible to speak of the Southern view of the institution, for we were not all of the same mind.
There were theorists who maintained that a society based on the rock of slavery was the best possible in a world where there must be a lowest order; and the doctrine of the “ mudsill ” as propounded by a leading thinker of this school evoked mud volcanoes all over the North. Scriptural arguments in defense of slavery formed a large part of the literature of the subject, and the hands of Southern clergymen were upheld by their conservative brothers beyond the border.
Some who had read the signs of the times otherwise knew that slavery was doomed by the voice of the world, and that no theory of society could withstand the advance of the new spirit; and if the secrets of all hearts could have been revealed, our enemies would have been astounded to see how many thousands and tens of thousands in the Southern States felt the crushing burden and the awful responsibility of the institution which we were supposed to be defending with the melodramatic fury of pirate kings. We were born to this social order, we had to do our duty in it according to our lights, and this duty was made indefinitely more difficult by the interference of those who, as we thought, could not understand the conditions of the problem, and who did not have to bear the expense of the experiments they proposed.
There were the practical men who saw in the negro slave an efficient laborer in a certain line of work, and there were the practical men who doubted the economic value of our system as compared with that of the free States, and whom the other practical men laughed to scorn.
There was the small and eminently respectable body of benevolent men who promoted the scheme of African colonization, of which great things were expected in my boyhood. The manifest destiny of slavery in America was the regeneration of Africa.
The people at large had no theory, and the practice varied as much in the relation of master and servant as it varied in other family relations. Too much tragedy and too much idyl have been imported into the home life of the Southern people ; but this is not the place to reduce poetry to prose.
On one point, however, all parties in the South were agreed, and the vast majority of the people of the North — before the war. The abolitionist proper was considered not so much the friend of the negro as the enemy of society. As the war went on, and the abolitionist saw the “ glory of the Lord ” revealed in a way he had never hoped for, he saw at the same time, or rather ought to have seen, that the order he had lived to destroy could not have been a system of hellish wrong and fiendish cruelty ; else the prophetic vision of the liberators would have been fulfilled, and the horrors of San Domingo would have polluted this fair land. For the negro race does not deserve undivided praise for its conduct during the war. Let some small part of the credit be given to the masters, not all to the finer qualities of their “brothers in black.” The school in which the training was given is closed, and who wishes to open it ? Its methods were old-fashioned and were sadly behind the times, but the old schoolmasters turned out scholars who, in certain branches of moral philosophy, were not inferior to the graduates of the new university.
I have tried in this paper to reproduce the past and its perspective, to show how the men of my time and of my environment looked at the problems that confronted us. It has been a painful and I fear a futile task. So far as I have reproduced the perspective for myself it has been a revival of sorrows Such as this generation cannot understand ; it has recalled the hours when it gave one a passion for death, a shame of life, to read our bulletins. And how could I Lope to reproduce that perspective for others, for men who belong to another generation and another region, when so many men who lived the same life and fought on the same side have themselves lost the point of view not only of the beginning of the war, but also of the end of the war, not only of the inexpressible exaltation, but of the unutterable degradation ? They have forgotten what a strange world the survivors of the conflict had to face. If the State had been ours still, the foundations of the earth would not have been out of course; but the State was a military district, and the Confederacy had ceased to exist. The generous policy which would have restored the State and made a new union possible, which would have disentwined much of the passionate clinging to the past, was crossed by the death of the only man who could have carried it through, if even he could have carried it through; and years of trouble had to pass before the current of national life ran freely through the Southern States. It was before this circuit was complete that the principal of one of the chief schools of Virginia set up a tablet to the memory of the “ old boys ” who had perished in the war, — it was a list the length of which few Northern colleges could equal,—and I was asked to furnish a motto. Those who know classic literature at all know that for patriotism and friendship mottoes are not far to seek, but during the war I felt as I had never felt before the meaning of many a classic sentence. The motto came from Ovid, whom many call a frivolous poet; but the frivolous Roman was after all a Roman, and he was young when he wrote the line, too young not to feel the generous swell of true feeling. It was written of the dead Trojans: —
The sentiment found an echo at the time, deserved an echo at the time. Now it is a sentiment without an echo, and last year a valued personal friend of mine, in an eloquent oration, a noble tribute to the memory of our great captain, a discourse full of the glory of the past, the wisdom of the present, the hope of the future, rebuked the sentiment as idle in its despair. As well rebuke a cry of anguish, a cry of desolation out of the past. For those whose names are recorded on that tablet the line is but too true. For those of us who survive it has ceased to have the import that it once had, for we have learned to work resolutely for the furtherance of all that is good in the wider life that has been opened to us by the issue of the war, without complaining, without repining. That the cause we fought for and our brothers died for was the cause of civil liberty, and not the cause of human slavery, is a thesis which we feel ourselves bound to maintain whenever our motives are challenged or misunderstood, if only for our children’s sake. But even that will not long be necessary, for the vindication of our principles will be made manifest in the working out of the problems with which the republic has to grapple. If, however, the effacement of state lines and the complete centralization of the government shall prove to be the wisdom of the future, the poetry of life will still find its home in the old order, and those who loved their State best will live longest in song and legend, — song yet unsung, legend not yet crystallized.
Basil L. Gildersleeve.