Volume 3, Number 7
As I continue to mark my yearly mile stones, I've been freed from many of the follies and diversions that I once deluded myself into pursuing. Two supreme sources of satisfaction grow with the years. One is continuing to learn, which we do principally by reading, but also by listening and conversing. The other is travel.
Since boyhood, when I first learned a bit about it in Barnes History of the United States, at the Finley Creek one-room country school in Webster County, I've been fascinated by the American Civil War. It was far and away the most dramatic, most heroic, most tragic chapter in the story of our Nation. Some 616,000 men, North and South, gave their lives in that struggle. It was the most important and the costliest in human resources of our nine wars. The Union was held together, and so, a century later one Nation stands strong to confront the Communist power in its attempt to conquer the world. If we were today two Nations, or perhaps half a dozen, instead of one, we would lack the power to block the plans for a take-over laid by Lenin and Stalin. I am one of those who believe that the Civil War was in its results worth all it cost the American people.
First, we drove to Memphis and took U. S. 64 to the East. Two hours drive from the Tennessee metropolis brought us to the road leading off to the Shiloh Battlefield Park. At Shiloh a visitor receives a map to the area which he can follow as a guide to a self-directed tour of the Battlefield in his own car. You start with No. 1 and make the circuit in numerical order of the points of special interest. One of these is the reconstructed Shiloh Church, which gave the battle its name in Union Army official records. The Confederates called it Pittsburg Landing, the name of a village on the Tennessee river. You know throughout the war the Union forces usually identified the battles by some natural landmark, as Stone's River or Bull Run, and the Confederates by the nearest Post Office, as Murfreesboro or Manassas.
Another point we found by the guide map was the Bloody Pond, to which wounded soldiers dragged themselves to drink and refresh their fevered bodies. Nearby was The Hornet's Nest, center of the most bitterly contested fighting on the first day of the battle. And in that same neighborhood is marked the spot where General Albert Sidney Johnston, the Rebel Commander, was lifted from his horse by an aide, mortally wounded by a bullet in the thigh. He bled to death before a surgeon could be summoned.
U. S. Grant's army was encamped near Pittsburg Landing and his men were eating breakfast on a beautiful Sunday morning, April 6, 1862, when they were surprised by a sudden Confederate onslaught from a large force superior to them in number. The fighting, done by green volunteer farm boys on both sides, was particularly stubborn and bloody. More than one-fourth of the combat forces engaged were killed or wounded.
All day long on that tragic Sunday the Union Army was slowly pushed back until the soldiers were taking shelter along the bluffs of the Tennessee river while Union gunboats in the river shelled the on-driving Confederates. Then darkness and rain stilled the conflict for the night, while thousands of wounded men lay on the ground writhing in agony. One account relates how Grant and Sherman, his second in command, met during that rainy night, under the partial shelter of a large tree. "Well, Grant, we had a rough day," said Sherman. Grant, chewing on a cold cigar as was his want, answered: "Yes, but we'll lick them tomorrow."
During the night, several thousand infantry under General Buell arrived on river transports to reinforce the hard-pressed Federals. At daylight on Monday morning Grant took the offensive and all that day drove the Rebels back over the ground lost on Sunday. And so, with the Confederates retreating into Mississippi, Shiloh ended in a Union victory.
Two paragraphs in a short story of Chickamauga, written by the great Thomas Wolfe, describe the fury of that fighting. The narrator is a Confederate Veteran of Chickamauga, and he is describing the des-
perate but unsuccessful efforts of General Bragg's Confederates to drive Genera! George Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga," from the position to which he clung after the left wing of the Union Army had been over whelmed.
"The word had come that Thomas had lined up on the ridge, and we had to go fer him again. After that I never exactly knowed what happened. Hit was like fightin' in a bloody dream - like doin' somethin' in nightmare - only the nightmare was like death and hell. Longstreet threw us up that hill five times, I think, before darkness came. We'd charge up to the very muzzles of their guns, and they'd mow us down like grass, and we'd come stumblin' back-or what was left of us - and form again at the foot of the hill, and then come on again. We'd charge right up the ridge and drive 'em through the gap and and fight 'em with cold steel, and they'd come back again and we'd brain each other with the butt end of our guns. Then they'd throw us back and we'd re-form and come on after 'em again...
"I have been in some big battles I can tell you. I've seen strange things and been in the bloody fights. But the biggest fight that I was ever in - the bloodiest battle anyone has ever fought - was at Chickamauga in the Cedar Thicket - at Chickanauga Creek in that great war." Chickamauga is close by Chattanoaga, a few miles over in Georgia.
After following the route of Sherman's Army from Chattanooga to Atlanta in the Campaign of 1864, we drove on to Columbus, Georgia. From there we journeyed some 75 miles to the celebrated Andersonville Prison, near Ellaville and Americus. The road is poorly marked, which suggests that Georgians would prefer to relegate to oblivion that sad site. But Americans North and South should never forget it, because there in that stinking 26-acre compound as many as 33,000 Union prisoners of war were confined at one time. No less than 14,000 died there of disease, neglect, and brutality within nine months. That is far more than were killed on both sides in any battle of the war, or American losses in any other War's battles in which our country has engaged.
First, we strolled through the National Cemetery, the City of the Dead, where the bones of all those boys of '61 rest. On each small headstone is carved only a number and the state from which the soldier came. The individual names, or at least most of them, are in large card-index files in the park office, (Clara Barton).
As I was taking a snapshot of one of the Missouri headstones, a young man who had just parked a car with a Georgia license said to me: "There's a powerful lot of dead Yankees here."
"Yes," I replied, "I just snapped one from my state of Missouri."
"This didn't need to have been," he added. "Lincoln and Grant refused to exchange prisoners of war."
"True," I answered. "But there was a good reason for refusing. When there was an exchange the Union gave up able-bodied men ready to go back into the Rebel armies. They got in exchange sick, half-starved and disabled prisoners unfit for further military service."
"We didn't have food. Our men were starving too."
"But the prison was located in the center of a forest, the keepers could at least have provided their prisoners with shelter. But they didn't."
Six larger headstones grouped together are of special interest. They bear the names and states of the "Raider Leaders," an organized group of outlaws among the prisoners who preyed upon, beat up, and sometimes murdered their fellows inside the compound. The gangs were finally overcome in a pitched battle between the Raiders and a vigilante prisoner organization who called themselves the "Regulators". A trial was held and six of the ringleaders among the criminal element - all from big cities in the North east - were convicted by a prisoner jury and condemned to be hanged.
Commandant Wirz and his guards had never made the slightest effort to preserve order inside the stockade, but at the request of the Regulator leaders were glad to supply rope for the nooses and lumber to build a scaffold from which to hang Yankees. The six were duly dispatched in a display of justice that offered a wholesome example to today's law enforcers.
Only half a mile South of the Cemetery Reservation is the 26-acre park where the prison compound was enclosed. There those miserable men existed in makeshift tents and caves dug into the side of the hill. Running through it from North to South was a dirty little creek, and it was from this polluted stream that the prisoners had to obtain their water for drinking and cooking. We found "Providence Spring" preserved and covered by a little rock house. It was there one torrid day in August 1864 that a fresh spring broke
out to supply the first clean water they had sipped in months.
I recalled in my boyhood having heard old Jim Wendt sitting on the front porch of my parent's farm home near Seymour, Missouri and relating how the Providence Spring started. Jim was a grizzled Union veteran from one of Sherman's Missouri Regiments and he had languished for months inside Andersonville, 40 years before. Like many others, he believed the spring to have been an act of God, and anybody who disputed that explanation would have had to fight old Jim.
Elsewhere inside the compound we saw high trees grown up inside deep pits that marked some of the tunnels started by prisoners in their desperate attempts to escape. Only a very few made it. If they got beyond the stockade walls and into the woods, they were hunted down ruthlessly by guards and bloodhounds.
Back some 12 feet inside the stockade was the deadline. Any prisoner straying over the line was shot like a mad dog by armed guards in sentry posts above the walls.
Every day a Rebel officer on a white horse rode through the compound to announce over a megaphone that any prisoner who would join the Confederate Army to be uniformed and sent to the Virginia war front would be enrolled if he would come to the North gate and knock after dark. One authority says that only five men accepted this offer, although they knew it could well mean the difference between living and dying. How different were those men from our many defectors in the Korean and Vietnam Wars!
Kindly Georgia people in the neighborhood learned of the horrors in Andersonville and made up several wagon loads of food, medical supplies, and clothing which they took to the prison. The commandant would not accept it and the good samaritans had to take their offering back.
It is good to recall that at the end of the war Commandant Wirz was tried and hanged for his inhumanity. General Winder, the Director of all Confederate Military Prisons, would have met the same justice, but he beat the gallows by dying a natural death before the avengers got to him. Incidentally, it was Winder's father, a general in the U. S. Army in the War of 1812, who shamefully ordered his troops to run before the British at the Battle of Bladensburg, MD. In 1814, thus leading to the Redcoats' capture and burning of our National Capital. Like father, like son.
At Charleston, South Carolina, we went to the Chamber of Commerce where they were not able to answer my question concerning a famous son of Charleston, James Louis Petigru. At the Charleston Branch of the South Carolina Historical Society, a friendly woman librarian pointed to a large photo of Petigru on the wall just above where I stood. Then she looked in a book and told me that Petigru's burial place is in St. Michael's Churchyard down Broad Street as Meeting Street just one block from the Historical Society's rooms.
But for those of you who are not Civil War Buffs, I should pause in my little travelogue and explain who Petigru was. He is often called the only Union Man in South Carolina during the Civil War. South Carolina was the parent of secession. Petigru opposed secession and spoke his mind freely right up to his death in 1863. He possessed one of the rarest traits among men, which is moral courage. We Americans have never lacked for men who would face bullets and bayonets, but we have needed more who were not afraid to stand up and defy the adverse popular opinions of their neighbors and associates.
James Louis Petigru was generally recognized as the ablest lawyer in his state. He had served as State Attorney General, Federal District Attorney, and in other official capacities. During the war President Lincoln seriously considered him for a vacancy on the U. S. Supreme Court, but had to dismiss the suggestion because of Petigru's advanced age.
When secession was in the talking stage, he was asked to drink a toast to the health of South Carolina. "With all my heart," was his answer, "And to her return to her senses."
On a day in December 1860, he was walking along a street in Charleston when all the bells in the city began pealing.
Petigru stopped a man who was passing and asked, "Where's the fire?"
"There is no fire," he was told; "those are joy bells because the Convention has just passed an ordinance of secession."
"I tell you there is a fire!" Petigru insisted. "They have this day set a blazing torch to the Temple of Constitutional Liberty, and we shall have no more peace.
The popular opinion in the South in 1860-61 was that the slave states could withdraw from the Union without war following. Again and again Petigru warned his fellow citizens that this was a delusion - that the North would fight to hold the Union of Washington and Hamilton and Madison
together. Secession, he said, would spill blood and spread fire and death over the Southland. But his wise words were not heeded.
Now to return to my pilgrimage to Charlestion, I entered at Broad and Meeting Streets, the famous old 18th century St. Michael's Episcopal Chruch. Its cornerstone was laid in 1751 and its bell tower, with some reconstruction, has survived bombardment by British cannon in the Revolution and by the Federal Fleet in Charleston Horbor during the War of the Rebellion. Its bell has rung for fire alarms, for slave curfews and to toll the funerals of many famous Carolinians. General Washington, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster all worshipped in the church. On the wall is a tablet to Charles Pinckney, who as the American Plenipotentiary in Paris answered the Revolutionary French Directory's demand for bribe money to keep the peace by his declaration, "Millions for Defense but not one cent for Tribute!" South Carolinians had great reason to cherish the Federal Union, but they had been corrupted by the reasoning of their false prophet, John C. Calhoun.
Outside in the small graveyard is the monument to Robert Y. Hayne whose principal claim to fame is that his disunion speech in the United States Senate during the prologue to the Civil War inspired the immortal reply by Daniel Webster in defense of the Union.
A few steps from Hayne's grave is that of Petigru. It bears in still readable letters one of the most celebrated epitaphs in American history. It reads in part: "James Louis Petigru, born at Abbeville, May 10, 1789, died at Charleston, March 9, 1863. Unawed by opinion, unseduced by flattery, undismayed by disaster, he confronted life with antique courage, and death with Christian hope.
"In the great Civil War he withstood his people for his country. But his people did homage to the man who held his conscience higher than their praiise. And his country heaped her honors on the grave of the partiot to whom living his own righteous self-respect, sufficed alike for motive and reward."
"Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail or knock the breast: no weakness. No contempt, dispraise or blame: nothing but well and fair, and what may quiet us in a life so noble."
"This stone is erected by his daughter, Caroline Carson."
All his family except his daughter, Caroline, were Confederate sympathizers. He had sent her North to be educated. I was told that Caroline herself was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, Italy in 1892. I had visited that City of the Dead in 1954 but did not at that time know about Caroline Petigru Carson. I went there to stand at the graves of the poets Keats and Shelley, who lie side by side on alien soil.
While in Charleston we of course visited the battery on the harbor shoreline. It was from nearby Morris Island that Fort Sumter was shelled by the South Carolinians to begin the great Civil War on the early morning of April 15, 1861. Sumter is on another island and is visible from the battery as a dark grey pile of masonry.
While in Charleston I was of course reminded of another gentleman of the old South, and one of the near-great of that moving period. I refer to Edmund Ruffin, who is generally reputed to have pulled the lanyard that fired the first cannon shot at Sumter on that remembered day in history. Ruffin spent much time in Charleston just before the war, but his home was in Virginia, and so I had to wait till we reached the old dominion state before pursuing my parallallel study of the other character with whom I am concerned. They form one of the sharpest imaginable contrasts in character study. Both were Southerners: Petigru a stout Unionist and Ruffin one of the most passionate of Confederates.
Actually, they were alike in two respects. Both wore their hair long, way down on their shoulders. Petigru's was coal black, even in his seventies, while Ruffin's long locks were hoary white, although he was five years younger than Petigru. If they could be reincarnated today they would feel completely at home on most college and university campuses. In their characters there was a certain resemblance. Ruffin was a thorough aristocrat who had no use for democracy and universal suffrage. Petigru as a Hamiltonian Republican, distrusted the emotionalism that so often rules popular government. He would have agree with Hamilton that "the people, sir, is a great beast!"
I had to wait till we reached Richmond to learn the location of Ruffin's home. In the State Library I found that his plantation and his burial place were near Mechanicsville, Virginia, and called Marlbourne.
There at Richmond in my library research, I found that Edmund Ruffin was so attached to the institution of slavery and so
embittered against the North and its anti slavery movement
that he came to believe all the troubles of the South were chargeable to the
commercialized Yankees North of the Mason and Dixon Line. Although in the 1850's
disunion sentiments were highly unpopular in Virginia, he found ready listeners
in South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama to arguments for splitting off the slave
states into a new nation. With that hot-headed Alabamian, William L. Yaney,
he organized as early as 1858 a League of United Southerners whose declared
purpose was to break up the Union.
In 1859 occurred a significant incident in Ruffin's career. He journeyed to Charleston, then in old Virginia, now in West Virginia, to witness the hanging of old John Brown of Ossawatomie for his attempt with a handful of men to seize the arsenal at Harper's Ferry and start a rebellion to free the slaves. Among those besides Ruffin present at the execution were Professor Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson of the Virginia Military Institute, and John Wilkes Booth, the actor and six years later the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. On his return home from the hanging, Ruffin confided to his diary, a document now in manuscript in the Library of Congress at Washington: "He (Brown) is as thorough a fanatic as ever suffered martyrdom, but a very brave man. It is impossible not to respect his thorough devotion to a bad cause and the undaunted courage with which he has sustained it through all losses and hazards". Thus did one Resolute fanatic pay his tribute to another on the opposite side.
And yet Ruffin still did not beleive the North would fight if the South tried to rend the Union of States apart. Even if they did fight, he thought the Northern shopkeepers and farmers would be no match for the hard-riding, martial-spirited South.
From Richmond we drove out the Old Pike Road to Mechanicsville where we had breakfast and got directions to Marlbourne. Across that then peaceful countryside 105 years before had resounded the rolling thunder of cannon in the seven days battle between the Armies of McClellan and Lee.
We found the sign marking the entrance to Marlbourne and drove in between two high cornfields to the old mansion house built in 1842. A negro servant who answered the doorbell called her mistress, and so we met Mrs. Broaddus, present owner of the great plantation and widow of Edmund Ruffin's great grandson. I told her I was a student of history and hoped to write something about Edmund Ruffin. Could I visit his grave?
Mrs. Broaddus, speaking in the rich but cultivated accent of the old Dominion, was very gracious. (You know you can always tell a Virginian the moment you hear him or her speak.) She guided me down through part of the cornfield and into a little weed-and- sprout-grown spot enclosed by a rusty iron fence. And there I took a fair picture on my rollfiflex of the Ruffin Headstone. When we got back to our car it was raining and too dark to snap the Marlbourne house, but Mrs. Broaddus kindly lent me a professional photograph from which I had a good copy made on our return home.
You will want to know what became of Edmund Ruffin, the militant Rebel. Old as he was, he went through the Battle of Bull Run, riding with the Palmetto Guards, a South Carolina Artillery Unit. He fully believed that battle had ended the struggle. But as the war wore on for four long years, one disaster and defeat were piled upon another. Union Cavalry took over Marlbourne and carried off part of his library. His slaves left him, and he faced financial ruin. His eldest son was killed in battle at Drewry's Bluff, and his beloved daughter died in far-away Kentucky. Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Sherman's March to the sea slowly extinguished his hope for the Confederacy. The slaves had been freed and finally Jefferson Davis even agreed to an order to enroll Negro tropps in the Rebel Army.
The end came in June 1865 at the plantation of a son at Amelia, Virginia, Southwest of Richmond. Old, enfeebled, his hopes crushed to earth, he saw no reason why he should delay joining the legions of young men in gray who had marched to Valhalla under the stars and bars. He sat down at his desk and penned the last page in his long diary, an embittered lament for the lost cause that meant more to him than the breath of life itself. A pistol shot was heard by the family and the old man was found dead by his own hand.
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