Thursday, November 21, 2013

October 31, 1863

October 31, 1863

—John C. West, a sergeant in the 4th Texas Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia (but currently serving near Chattanooga) writes to his sister back in Texas, and ruminates over the harshness of the common soldier’s lot:

Letter No. XXII.

Camp Near Chattanooga,
 October 31st, 1863.

    To Mrs. James D. Blair, Austin, Texas.
    My Dear Sister:
    Your surprise of August the 6th reached me ten days ago. I call it a surprise because I thought that you trans-Mississippians were so crest-fallen at the Vicksburg catastrophe as to regard yourselves as entirely cut off from friends on this side of the river, and so would cease all effort at correspondence.  . . . I trust you will all write me more frequently, for you have no idea what a comfort it is to stand in mud to the ankle, on an empty stomach, and read a line of comfort from sympathizers at home. Newspapers may exhaust their stereotyped phrases, and correspendents may discourse eloquently about the sufferings of the “poor soldier” until the phrase becomes a by-word and fails to excite an emotion of pity, much less a tear, but I will say now (for perhaps I may not live to say it face to face in the better day to come), that the sacrifice made and the toils endured by the private soldier in the service of the Confederate States cannot be appreciated or expressed in words, nor will they ever be known except to those who have shared them. Not even the officers of infantry, whose duties are almost as arduous, can tell the tale of hardships which fall to the lot of the man in the ranks. He is the lowest mud sill in this structure which is being reared, and when the edifice totters all the props and braces must be placed upon his shoulders. My thoughts are all the news I have—we seldom get a paper here. We have been in the mud for over a month in an almost continuous rain. . . .
    . . . I have been quite blessed. I was barefooted about a week ago, but then the water was too deep for shoes, so it made very little difference. It has never been necessary for me to take a dose of medicine yet, so you may know that I stand it pretty well, never having missed a roll call or a duty of any kind. I will write to Brother Charles in a day or two, and give him my thoughts on heroes and stragglers. The former race is not extinct, but dying out rapidly. The latter is increasing alarmingly. You observe that we have a good deal of time to think while in camp, and not on active service, and some time to read, too. I have read lately, “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” “Aurora Leigh,” “Davenport Dunn,” “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, and innumerable articles in magazines, which I have picked up in waste places. I now have on hand “Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered,” which belongs to our quartermaster. I have carried a Bible and Milton in my knapsack all the time, so you see we are not absolutely illiterate. Your brother, truly,

    John C. West

—Major Charles Francis Adams, Jr., in the Federal cavalry in Virginia, writes to his father, the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, revealing his thoughts about the meaning of the War, and what must accrue from it–namely, the complete emancipation of the negro--if it is to be worth all of the pain and sacrifice:

    That the crowning success was withheld from this summer’s campaign was a bitter disappointment to me, but, on second thought, seems right and good, for I see we are not ripe for it. The one good to result from this war must be the freedom and regeneration of the African race. Without that it will be barren of results. That can only be wrought out through the agency of the army — the black soldiers. They are coming but they are not here yet. Every disaster and every delay brings them on and the necessity and difficulty of raising more troops only forces their development. I want to see 200,000 black soldiers in the field, and then I shall think it time to have peace. The African question might yet take a step backward in the face of a final success won by white soldiers, but it never will after that success to which 200,000 armed blacks have contributed. . . .

---Harper’s Weekly, the most popular newspaper weekly in the North, publishes this editorial on the dismissal of Gen. Rosecrans:

     SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31, 1863.

    GENERAL ROSECRANS has been removed from the command of the Army of the Cumberland, and General Thomas, the hero of Chicamauga, appointed in his place—General Grant taking the supreme command of all the armies on the Mississippi and in East and Southern Tennessee. The announcement has taken every, one by surprise. But whereas, some months ago, the removal of a popular general from his command would have been a signal for a popular uproar, now even the Copperheads can barely get up a feeble hiss at the change; and the public at large, fully satisfied that the President knows what is required by the emergency, and is doing his duty faithfully, accept the event without murmur.
    Whatever may have been the faults of General Rosecrans, it is encouraging to see that the President, when satisfied that he ought to be removed, had the courage to remove him, without hesitation or explanation to the public. …
    There is a lesson to be learned by the people from this event, and that is, to beware of accepting the newspaper and popular estimate of generals as the true one. Up to the hour of Rosecrans’s removal he was believed to be nearly perfection. He was called prudent, daring, invincible, loyal to the back-bone, dextrous as a strategist, and always obedient to his superiors. He was contrasted with other generals, to their invariable disparagement. When he failed at Chicamauga, the Copperheads—whose implacable foe he had proved himself—threw the whole blame on Government, and entirely exonerated him. … that, so far from obeying orders promptly and cheerfully, he frequently disregarded the commands of the President; and that, so far from being the chivalric soldier we pictured him, he left the battle-field at Chicamauga in the middle of the fight, and was in bed at Chattanooga, snug and safe, when the gallant Thomas, with his handful of heroes, was stemming the furious onset of the rebel army. If all this should be presently discovered to be the truth, what shall we then say of popular estimates of generals?

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