PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE WAR
A native of the valley of the Shenandoah, I have passed the greater part of my life on the Northern border of Virginia—a region which, from its geographical position and mixed population, has always been debatable ground between the contending opinions of the age, and which eventually became a most important theatre of the war, resulting from these opinions. It is thus that I became, almost from necessity, an interested observer of many of the opening scenes of the contest, and subsequently an active participator in its armed solution.
During the winter of 1860—61 I was residing at my father’s house in Martinsburg, occupied with my private affairs and arranging plans for a future of peace and seclusion. These dreams were disturbed from time to time by the indications of the approaching storm, but I resolutely closed my eyes and stopped my ears, determined not to be disturbed. I had never taken any active interest in the party politics of the day, and was the less disposed to mingle in the present strife, as I sympathized with neither of extreme factions which, from opposite quarters, seemed to be mutually intent on breaking down the Government and destroying the peace and prosperity of the country. I saw nothing in the contest but the rage of adverse dogmatisms, sharpened by the baser lust for official plunder—that party spirit, which, Addison says, “robs men, not only of all honor and decency, but of every particle of common sense.”
In the rapid progress of events, however, it became manifest that the questions before the country were not to be put aside with this cynical and superficial observation. Under a monarchy a subject may be permitted to seclude himself from the political storms that shake thrones and menace dynasties. Even amidst the fury of war he can calmly pursue some favorite science with reasonable assurance that his motive and character will be respected. The citizen of a free Republic can claim no such privilege. “Tue price of his personal liberty is eternal vigilance.” Under whatever pretext he may seek to hide himself or evade the responsibilities of his condition, when the storm rises he is sure to feel his neighbor’s hand upon his shoulder, and hear the cry of warning and reproach: “What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise and call upon thy God.”
It was, indeed, high time that the Border Virginians should awake, for the gulf that was opening between the adverse sections yawned beneath their very hearths; and the sword which was drawn to divide the nation must also cut their hearts in twain. When, at length, impelled to the serious consideration of the impending crisis, I can not boast, as many do, that I clearly appreciated the merits of the quarrel or foresaw its results. Preferring to preserve a reputation for frankness to the doubtful honor of being enrolled among the ex post facto prophets, I am fain to acknowledge (in the phraseology of tobacco planters) that I had very few opinions “ready cut and dry” for the occasion. I heard nothing but a confusion of tongues such as followed the destruction of Babel. I saw nothing but political chaos which seemed about to swallow up government, law, life, and property together. There had been a prevalent and growing conviction among what were called Conservative men, especially at the South, that the experiment of popular Government was a failure. Macaulay had written a letter to some one prophesying that the American system would break down on the first serious trial. I shared this belief to some extent. The revolutionary anarchy which was spreading like a fire from State to State, the seeming helplessness of the General Government, the chaos of opinion—all combined to convince me that the predicted day of trial had arrived, and that it needed no Daniel to interpret the handwriting on the wall.
Impressed at the same time with the belief that we were entering upon an era which would figure in history, I determined to take advantage of my position to observe the progress of events and to keep a Diary.
This promise, however, was but negligently performed at first. During the winter of 1860—61 I find nothing recorded beyond an occasional comment, opinion, or anecdote suggested by the current news, and these jotted down hastily, without date or continuity. In time my journal became more methodical, and after I entered the military service was as full and accurate as possible under the circum stances. In preparing these notes for the press I have endeavored to preserve all the freshness and personality which pertain to the original manuscript. If some things have been omitted (that might be worth the telling, in place and season), and certain obscure passages made clearer by the light of after-knowledge, in the main the recorded facts and opinions of the day remain unchanged. There will appear the uncertain gropings, the vacillations, the inconsistencies of opinion, the errors of hasty and partial observation, the vain hopes, the causeless fears, the embittered prejudices, and excited passions which necessarily accompany the progress of a political revolution, so radical and comprehensive, accomplished through a social war so bloody and vindictive as that which has recently ended.
It will be also seen that in writing these individual experiences it is not proposed to emulate the dignity and comprehensiveness of history, but to give closer and more detailed views of characters and events, a series of photographic pictures hastily caught, during the action of the changing drama. Scenes where the greatness of little things, and the littleness of great things, will sometimes be strikingly illustrated by juxtaposition, where tragedy and comedy, laughter and tears, frenzy and farce walk arm in arm together. And it may be that a more thoughtful class who would look behind the creaking machinery and tinseled actors of the drama, may find in these crude and unskillful observations suggestion of queries which will be found as difficult to answer as those of the poet laureate:
Having thus indicated the geographical and political standpoint from which my opening views of the war were taken, I commence transcribing from my Diary.
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