Saturday, November 6, 2010

"My feelings are too bitter."

The recent elections caused me to wonder what soldiers said about political events during the war, and I recalled some passages from letters that I edited several years ago. The quotes below are taken from Johansson, M. Jane, ed. Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Letters of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864 (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2000), 147-148.

On 12 July 1863, 1st Lieutenant Theophilus Perry of the 28th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) sat in camp in Delhi, Louisiana, exhausted from a difficult campaign as his regiment, a part of Walker’s Texas division, had marched extensively on the west side of the Mississippi during the Vicksburg campaign. Less than a week before penning a letter to his wife, Perry suddenly became commander of his company when its Captain shot himself. But his words do not refer directly to the outcome of the Vicksburg campaign, nor his new position, but instead they refer to his reaction to the attitude of the people on the home front and to politicians.

Perry felt particular outrage toward men “who once violently talked of whipping the reluctant youths of the land off to the War, and who themselves have ignobly speculated upon the necessities of the soldier and his family, accumulated fortunes out of the sacrifice of those that have bared their bosons to the bayonet, and yet sculk away from danger themselves. I deplore the necessity for a draft, but cannot help feeling some degree of satisfaction to hear that such characters have stood the draft. The universal sentiment of the army condemns them. They have subjected themselves to the scorn of all true men. They are arrent hypocrits….They have a holy horror at the soldier going home. They have objection to the soldier being elected to civil positions….They think it presumptious for the soldier to try to influence the administration of government at home. We despise such sentiment….”

As he wrote, he reflected on the upcoming elections of 1863:

“We hear that the noisey men there desire less for the war. We despise their professions. We are against Murrah for Governor. He is a cheat. We are against Bob Haysey and Isaac Johnson. We vote for Parker who is a miserable skinflint and numskull, in order to beat the others and because he is over fifty. We are against all of the white livered ____sors [ink smeared]. But I desist. My feelings are too bitter. I sometimes feel condemned. I flame up to a great heat when I talk about these base demagogues and hypocrits.”


  1. This seems to be strong support for the idea that the Confederate soldier fought for reasons other than slavery. Perhaps the wealthy slave-owning politicians seceded and conducted the war for it, but the soldiers viewed the war differently.

    I would love to see what else you might have on CSA soldiers' political views. And of course this begs the question- After the point of conscription, what, then, did such politically unnerved soldiers believe they were fighting for other than personal honor?

  2. Perry was a slaveowner but was not a strong supporter of secession. Unfortunately, he never made any statement at all explaining his reason for enlisting.

    There have been several books written that explore the reasons why men enlisted--both for northerners and southerners. It is clear from their own writings that the defense of slavery was a motivation for some southern soldiers. Of course, there were other motivations as well for Confederate soldiers.

    A book that I found interesting that explores the motivations of Union and Confederate soldiers is FOR CAUSE & COMRADES: WHY MEN FOUGHT IN THE CIVIL WAR by James M. McPherson. McPherson examined the writings of 1,076 soldiers in his study.

    One book that may be of particular interest to you is Kenneth W. Noe's, RELUCTANT REBELS: THE CONFEDERATES WHO JOINED THE ARMY AFTER 1861 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).