May 17

May 17, 1863

No attack came. The only enemies that found us were the mosquitoes and how they did punish us! My hands, face and ankles are swollen full, and this when I was awake all night and fighting them off in every way I could think of. Seventeen prisoners have just been brought in and after a feed started on toward Pass Man Shak.

Cloudy with wind; regiment has been on the skirmish line; have advanced about a mile by swinging our left round nearly parallel with our present line of battle; met with no opposition; enemy seems to be in the valley between the two flanks of our army; no news to-day; army very quiet; can't continue long, as Grant seems to be cautiously working round both flanks of the enemy; things look suspicious to-night; mistrust something's afoot.

May Seventeenth

He came into military and political life like some blazing meteor, with exceeding brilliance and splendor speeding across the horizon of history. His activities in politics and war covered only a brief span of seventeen years, 1848 to 1865, and in so short a period but few men ever received more, maintained their parts better, were the recipients of greater honors, or bore themselves with nobler dignity, greater skill or more superb courage either in victory or defeat.

Bennett H. Young


John C. Breckinridge dies, 1875



Monday, May 17th, 10 a.m.—Another night of horrors; one more died, and two young boys came in who will die; one is a Gordon Highlander of 18, who says "that's glorious" when you put him to bed.

It was a long whirl of stretchers, and pitiful heaps on them. The sergeant stayed up helping till 3, and a boy from the kitchen stayed up all night on his own, helping.

In the middle of the worst rush the sergeant said to me, "You know they're shelling the town again?" and at that minute swoop bang came a big one; and we looked at each other over the stretcher with the same picture in our mind's eyes of shells dropping in amongst the wounded, who are all over the town. I hadn't heard them—too busy—but they didn't go on long.

The Boches have been heavily shelling our trenches all day.

One boy said suddenly, when I was attending to his leg, "Aren't you very foolish to be staying up here?" "Oh, sorry," he said; "I was dreaming you were in the front line of trenches bandaging people up!"

Our big guns have been making the building shake all night. The Germans are trying to get their trenches back by counter-attacking.

182. John Adams

Philadelphia, 17 May, 1777.

I never fail to inclose to you the newspapers, which contain the most intelligence that comes to my knowledge. I am obliged to slacken my attention to business a little, and ride and walk for the sake of my health, which is but infirm. Oh, that I could wander upon Penn's hill and in the meadows and mountains in its neighborhood, free from care! But this is a felicity too great for me.

Mr. Gorham and Mr. Russell are here with a petition from Charlestown. It grieves me that they are to return without success. I feel, most exquisitely, for the unhappy people of that town. Their agents have done everything in their power or in the power of men to do, and the Massachusetts delegates have seconded their efforts to the utmost of their power, but all in vain. The distress of the States, arising from the quantity of money abroad, and the monstrous demands that would be made from Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere, if a precedent should be once set, has determined the Congress, almost with tears in their eyes, to withstand this application at present. Every man expressed the utmost tenderness and humanity upon the occasion; but at the same time every man, except the Massachusetts delegates, expressed his full conviction of the ill policy of granting anything at present.

105. John Adams

17 May, 1776.

I have this morning heard Mr. Duffield, upon the signs of the times. He ran a parallel between the case of Israel and that of America; and between the conduct of Pharaoh and that of George. Jealousy that the Israelites would throw off the government of Egypt made him issue his edict that the midwives should cast the children into the river, and the other edict, that the men should make a large revenue of bricks without straw. He concluded, that the course of events indicated strongly the design of Providence that we should be separated from Great Britain, etc.

Is it not a saying of Moses, "Who am I, that I should go in and out before this great people"? When I consider the great events which are passed, and those greater which are rapidly advancing, and that I may have been instrumental in touching some springs and turning some small wheels, which have had and will have such effects, I feel an awe upon my mind which is not easily described. Great Britain has at last driven America to the last step, a complete separation from her; a total, absolute independence, not only of her Parliament, but of her crown, for such is the amount of the resolve of the 15th.[140] Confederation among ourselves, or alliances with foreign nations, are not necessary to a perfect separation from Britain. That is effected by extinguishing all authority under the crown, Parliament, and nation, as the resolution for instituting governments has done, to all intents and purposes. Confederation will be necessary for our internal concord, and alliances may be so for our external defense.

I have reasons to believe that no colony, which shall assume a government under the people, will give it up. There is something very unnatural and odious in a government a thousand leagues off. A whole government of our own choice, managed by persons whom we love, revere, and can confide in, has charms in it for which men will fight. Two young gentlemen from South Carolina in this city, who were in Charlestown when their new constitution was promulgated, and when their new Governor and Council and Assembly walked out in procession, attended by the guards, company of cadets, light horse, etc., told me that they were beheld by the people with transports and tears of joy. The people gazed at them with a kind of rapture. They both told me that the reflection that these were gentlemen whom they all loved, esteemed, and revered, gentlemen of their own choice, whom they could trust, and whom they could displace, if any of them should behave amiss, affected them so that they could not help crying. They say their people will never give up this government. One of these gentlemen is a relation of yours, a Mr. Smith, son of Mr. Thomas Smith. I shall give him this letter or another to you.

A privateer fitted out here by Colonel Roberdeau and Major Bayard since our resolves for privateering, I am this moment informed, has taken a valuable prize. This is encouragement at the beginning.

In one or two of your letters, you remind me to think of you as I ought. Be assured, there is not an hour of the day in which I don't think of you as I ought, that is, with every sentiment of tenderness, esteem, and admiration.


[140]Or rather of the preamble, which was adopted on that day, as an amendment to the resolution passed on the 10th. On the 6th, Mr. Adams had offered, in committee of the whole, a resolve that the colonies should form governments independent of the crown. The shape in which this proposition was adopted on the 10th was a recommendation to the respective assemblies and conventions of the united colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs had been yet established, to adopt such government as might in their opinion best conduce to the safety and happiness of their constituents in particular, and America in general. This resolution was passed on the 10th of May, accompanied by another appointing Mr. Adams, Mr. Rutledge, and Mr. R. H. Lee a committee to prepare a preamble. This committee accordingly reported the draught of a preamble, which was agreed to on the 15th, the date named in this letter.


Monday, 17.

If one would learn the views of some of our most thoughtful New-England men and women, he will find their fullest and freshest expression in the discussions of the Radical Club. Almost every extreme of Liberalism is there represented, and its manners and methods are as various as the several members who take part in the readings and conversations. It is assumed that all subjects proposed for discussion are open to the freest consideration, and that each is entitled to have thewidest scope and hospitality allowed it. Truth is spherical, and seen differently according to the culture, temperament, and disposition of those who survey it from their individual standpoint. Of two or more sides, none can be absolutely right, and conversation fails if it find not the central truth from which all radiate. Debate is angular, conversation circular and radiant of the underlying unity. Who speaks deeply excludes all possibility of controversy. His affirmation is self-sufficient: his assumption final, absolute.

Yes, yes, I see it must be so,

The Yes alone resolves the No.

Thus holding himself above the arena of dispute, he gracefully settles a question by speaking so home to the core of the matter as to undermine the premise upon which an issue had been taken. For whoso speaks to the Personality drives beneath the grounds of difference, and deals face to face with principles and ideas.4

Good discourse sinks differences and seeks agreements. It avoids argument, by finding a common basis of agreement; and thus escapes controversy, by rendering it superfluous. Pertinent to the platform, debate is out of place in the parlor. Persuasion is the better weapon in this glittering game.

Nothing rarer than great conversation, nothing more difficult to prompt and guide. Like magnetism, it obeys its own hidden laws, sympathies, antipathies, is sensitive to the least breath of criticism. It requires natural tact, a familiarity with these fine laws, long experience, a temperament predisposed to fellowship, to hold high the discourse by keeping the substance of things distinctly in view throughout the natural windings of the dialogue. Many can argue, not many converse. Real humility is rare everywhere and at all times. If women have the larger share, and venture less in general conversation, it may be from the less confidence, not in themselves, but in those who have hitherto assumed the lead, even in matters more specially concerning woman. Few men are diffident enough to speak beautifully and well on the finest themes.

Conversation presupposes a common sympathy in the subject, a great equality in the speakers; absence of egotism, a tender criticism of what is spoken. 'Tis this great equality and ingenuousness that renders this game of questions so charming and entertaining, and the more that it invites the indefinable complement of sex. Only where the sexes are brought into sympathy, is conversation possible. Where women are, men speak best; for the most part, below themselves, where women are not. And the like holds presumably of companies composed solely of women.

Good discourse wins from the bashful and discreet what they have to speak, but would not, without this provocation. The forbidding faces are Fates to overbear and blemish true fellowship. We give what we are, not necessarily what we know; nothing more, nothing less, and only to our kind, those playing best their parts who have the nimblest wits, taking out the egotism, the nonsense; putting wisdom, information, in their place. Humor to dissolve, and wit to fledge your theme, if you will rise out of commonplace; any amount of erudition, eloquence of phrase, scope of comprehension; figure and symbol sparingly but fitly. Who speaks to the eye, speaks to the whole mind.

Most people are too exclusively individual for conversing. It costs too great expenditure of magnetism to dissolve them; who cannot leave himself out of his discourse, but embarrasses all who take part in it. Egotists cannot converse, they talk to themselves only.

Conversation with plain people proves more agreeable and profitable, usually, than with companies more pretentious and critical. It is wont to run the deeper and stronger without impertinent interruptions, inevitable where cultivated egotism and self-assurance are present with such. There remains this resource, of ignoring civilly the interruption, and proceeding as if the intrusion had not been interposed.

"Oft when the wise

Appears not wise, he works the greater good."

"Never allow yourself," said Goethe, "to be betrayed into a dispute. Wise men fall into ignorance if they dispute with ignorant men." Persuasion is the finest artillery. It is the unseen guns that do execution without smoke or tumult. If one cannot win by force of wit, without cannonade of abuse, flourish of trumpet, he is out of place in parlors, ventures where he can neither forward nor grace fellowship. The great themes are feminine, and to be dealt with delicately. Debate is masculine; conversation is feminine.

Here is a piece of excellent counsel from Plotinus:—

"And this may everywhere be considered, that he who pursues our form of philosophy, will, besides all other graces, genuinely exhibit simple and venerable manners, in conjunction with the possession of wisdom, and will endeavor not to become insolent or proud, but will possess confidence, accompanied with reason, with sincerity and candor, and great circumspection."

4. "Dialectics treat of pure thought and of the method of arriving at it. A current misapprehension on the subject of dialectics here presents itself. Most people understand it to mean argument, and they believe that truths may be arrived at and held by such argument placed in due logical form. They demand the proof of an assertion, and imply something of weakness in the reasoning power in those who fail to give this. It is well to understand what proof means. Kant has shown us in his Critique of Pure Reason, that the course of all such ratiocination is a movement in a circle. One assumes in his premises what he wishes to prove, and then unfolds it as the result. The assumptions are in all cases mere sides of antinomies or opposite theses, each of which has validity and may be demonstrated against the other. Thus the debater moves round and round and presupposes one-sided premises which must be annulled before he can be in a state to perceive the truth. Argument of this kind the accomplished dialectician never engages in; it is simply egotism when reduced to its lowest terms. The question assumed premises that were utterly inadmissible.

"The process of true proof does not proceed in the manner of argumentation; it does not assume its whole result in its premises, which are propositions of reflection, and then draw them out syllogistically. Speculative truth is never contained analytically in any one or in all of such propositions of reflection. It is rather the negative of them, and hence is transcendent in its entire procedure. It rises step by step, synthetically, through the negation of the principle assumed at the beginning, until, finally, the presupposition of all is reached. It is essentially a going from the part to the whole. Whatever is seized by the dialectic is turned on its varied sides, and careful note is made of its defects, i. e. what it lacks within itself to make it possible. That which it implies is added to it, as belonging to its totality, and thus onward progress is made until the entire comprehension of its various phases is attained. The ordinary analytic proof is seen to be shallow after more or less experience in it. The man of insight sees that it is a 'child's play,—a mere placing of the inevitable dogmatism a step or two back—that is all. Real speculation proceeds synthetically beyond what it finds inadequate, until it reaches the adequate.'"

Wm. T. Harris.