We often hear why the Civil War was fought. Professors and reporters and “very important” folks tell us.
And with great conviction they tell us!
But you rarely hear from these scholars about why the man in uniform was fighting. Seems the soldier is simply forgotten.
I usually write about a person. Sometimes about an event, but I try hard to brush in one or more real people.
So let’s hear from one.
David Johnston was 16 when he went into uniform. He was a Private, a Rebel. He fought four years, but lived and went on to become a Congressman and a respected judge.
Johnston wrote a book after the war, telling of his experiences. Near the end he wrote, regarding his praise of Confederate soldiers he had known:
“I do not for one moment mean or intend to detract from the laurels won by the heroic Union soldier, who stood in the firing line, faithfully discharging his duty; for he, as well as we, was contending for principles regarded sacred and for which we had risked our lives…. All were American soldiers, and the glory and honor won by each is the common heritage of the American people, not to be obscured or clouded by the questions about which we differed. Each struggled to maintain the right as God gave him to see the right.”
“We often talked along the skirmish lines with Union soldiers…. In opposition to our claim that we were fighting for independence—separate government—they insisted that they were fighting for the Union, a common, undivided country; did not want to see the country broken up by division; and I feel fairly safe in stating that this feeling and sentiment largely dominated the great majority of the Union soldiers.”
It rings true, regardless of interests of the politicians and the vast economic interests of the day.
There were virtues on both sides, and people today should and do remember them.
Johnston also writes:
“The character of the men… and their deeds of valor and heroism, will ever live, and in the hearts of our people will be enshrined the names of the gallant dead as well as of the living, as the champions of constitutional liberty. They will be held in grateful remembrance by their own countrymen, appreciated and recognized by all people of all lands, who admire brave deeds, true courage, and devotion of American soldiers to cause and country.”