May 18

May 18, 1863

There has been much shifting about to-day. Orderlies riding here and there, and a move of some sort is the next thing to look for. Have orders to be ready with coffee and a day's cooked rations. That doesn't mean a long journey.

Later. The quartermaster's stores have gone towards Wadensburgh.

May Eighteenth

Hushed is the roll of the rebel drum,
The sabres are sheathed and the cannon are dumb;
And Fate, with pitiless hand, has furled
The flag that once challenged the gaze of the world.
John R. Thompson
(From “Lee to the Rear”)

 

 

Tuesday, May 18th, is it? 1 a.m.in bed.—It has been about the worst night of all the worst nights. I found the wards packed with bad cases, the boy of 18 dead, and the other boy died half an hour after I came on. Two more died during the night, two lots were evacuated, and had to be dug out of their fixings-up in bed and settled on stretchers, and all night they brought fresh ones in, drenched and soaked with clayey mud in spadefuls, and clammy with cold.

We were ordered to withdraw our line this morning at 3 o'clock which we did without difficulty; found our Corps had gone to the extreme right of the line to reinforce the Second Corps, quite a little brush having occurred between it and the enemy this morning which was repulsed and driven back into the valley; occupy the same ground we did yesterday; have orders to march in the morning at daylight; another mail came this evening; all's quiet. Perly Farrer was killed to-day on the skirmish line. He was a good boy, a member of my old Company B, of which I am so proud and fond. His remains will be numbered with the unknown dead, as it will be impossible to send them north now. He was a brave man and died manfully doing his whole duty. We can't even reach his body now.

May 18, 1864

Wednesday. The rear guard was just coming in sight this morning when we heard firing at the rear. Soon aides came riding down the line, halting some and turning others out of the way. They raced across the bridge and in a little while troops were hurrying back across the bridge from the front. It beat all how soon the scene was changed. The firing in the rear kept increasing and grew plainer to hear. The 90th stood at attention on the bank, which overlooked the whole plain where the trouble seemed to be centering. Unless the bridge was attacked we had only to look on, and it was a sight worth a lifetime to see. The ground, except where worn down by the passing army, was covered with weeds and bushes, which hid the skirmish line from our view until they rose up and fired almost in each others' faces. Smoke soon hid the battleground. There was no wind and the smoke rose up like a cloud instead of spreading. The smoke came nearer and it began to look as if our turn would soon come, but by and by it stood still and then began to move back. By noon it was plain to see that the fight was ours, for the smoke cloud went faster and the firing grew less. By 4 p. m. it was over and the troops began recrossing toward the front. The surgeons had their shop under a big tree near the bridge. I heard one of them say to another that he had never seen so few slight wounds among so many. Most of those that were hit were either killed outright or mortally wounded. Only a few legs or arms were cut off. The saddest sight I saw was the killing of a boy, son of a colonel somebody, whose name or regiment I could not get. I had often seen the boy while at Alexandria and wondered why such a child should be in such a place. He rode a handsome bay pony, and wore the infantry uniform, even to a little sword. When the fight began he was somewhere in the advance, and came riding back at the head of his regiment by the side of his father. They went into the cloud of smoke and in a few minutes a man came leading the pony back with the little fellow stretched across the saddle, his hands and feet hanging down on either side. He was taken back toward the front and I suppose his body will be sent home. What must that father have felt, and what will the mother feel when she knows of his death! It was such a useless sacrifice from my point of view. Nothing bigger than bullets came our way and they either went over our heads or struck in the bank of the bayou below us.

May 18, 1863

We slept in a drizzling rain, but the mosquitoes kept us so busy we took no cold. A boat came in the morning and we loaded the stores and started up the river, reaching a small lake called Lake Marapaugh (don't know how these names are spelled, so put them down according to sound), which is rather a widening of the river than a lake. The river is narrow and very crooked. The boat would run up to a bank, send a rowboat across with a line, which was made fast to a tree and the boat turned around a corner. This was done many times on the way up. Alligators lay on fallen trees and on the bank and many were swimming in the river. One came close to the bow of a barge which was lashed to the steamboat, and I hit him a whack on the snout with a piece of coal. From his actions he didn't like it. The water and the land seem to be on the same level. The tall cypress trees grow thick all the way and no opening appeared of any size. Some trees hang over the water so it was all we could do to get past and one did sweep the commissary's scales overboard. We finally came to hard ground and the live oaks and other trees took the place of the cypress, which only seems to grow in wet ground. A curious thing about the cypress is the way the roots grow up out of the ground. Cypress knees, they call them. They grow straight up, sometimes as high as ten feet and all the way down from that. No branches or shoots grow from them and they vary in size as much as in height. We finally tied up at a place called Wadensburgh, a small village which proved to be the end of our journey by water. Sergeant Drake and a couple of men went back in a boat and were fortunate enough to hook onto the scales that were lost and bring them up. In getting ashore I landed right beside a cottonmouth moccasin snake, said to be as poisonous as a rattlesnake. He lay in some weeds and raised up as if to strike at me. I still had hold of a pole I had used to jump off with, and with it I hit him and broke his back. A man standing by told me what it was. Quartermaster Mace, who came up with the regiment, soon appeared with some teams and as soon as loaded we started for Ponchatoula, where the regiment is. It was dark when we started. It was said to be three and a half miles, but they were long ones. We got stuck in the mud, the wagon broke down, and we were wet to the skin with rain before we reached our destination. We had no lights and only knew we were in the road because we were not in the bushes which grow thick along it. We reached Ponchatoula about ten o'clock, wet, tired and hungry, but not cold, for the weather is quite warm. Our coming alarmed the guards and the entire force turned out to receive the enemy. We lay down on the floor of an empty building, and wet as we were, slept sound until morning. The sun shone bright the next morning, May 15th, and as soon as our joints began to limber up, hunted for and found Company B. They are in good spirits and have enjoyed the outing from camp very much. But they were glad when the cook called them up for coffee and hard-tack. The ground is high and dry for this country. A pine forest of immense trees is close by on one side and in sight everywhere. The Jackson & Mississippi R. R. goes through here, and is the one that the troops came on. A picket line is somewhere outside and cavalry videttes outside of that. Fresh beef is plenty and there is now and then a chicken. The people are as civil and respectful as can be expected, when we remember what a lot of uninvited guests they are called upon to entertain.

183. Abigail Adams

Sunday, 18 May, 1777.

I think myself very happy that not a week passes but what I receive a letter or two, sometimes more, from you; and though they are longer in coming than formerly, owing, I suppose, to the post being obliged to travel farther round, yet I believe they all faithfully reach me; even the curious conversation between Mr. Burne and your honor arrived safe, and made me laugh very heartily.

I think before this time many of our troops must have arrived at headquarters, for though we have been dilatory in this and the neighboring towns, others, I hear, have done their duty better. Not an hour in the day but what we see soldiers marching. The sure way to prevent their distressing us here would be to have a strong army with the General. There are a number, not more than half, I believe though, of this town's proportion, enlisted. The rest were to be drawn at our May meeting, but as nothing was done in that way, they concluded to try a little longer to enlist them. The town send but one representative this year, and that is Mr. N——s, of the middle parish. Give him his pipe and let him laugh, he will not trouble anybody.

Phileleutheros I suppose will be chosen into the Council, since he finds that the plan for making them lackeys and tools to the House was not so acceptable as he expected.

"Then let me have the highest post,Suppose it but an inch at most."

I should feel more unhappy and anxious than ever if I realized our being again invaded by the wickedness and cruelty of our enemies. The recital of the inhuman and brutal treatment of those poor creatures who have fallen into their hands freezes me with horror.

'T is an observation of Bishop Butler's that they who have lost all tenderness and fellow-feeling for others have withal contracted a certain callousness of heart which renders them insensible to all other satisfactions but those of the grossest kind. Our enemies have found the truth of the observation in every instance of their conduct. Is it not astonishing what men may at last bring themselves to by suppressing passions and affections of the best kind, and suffering the worst to rule over them in their full strength?

Infidelity has been a growing part of the British character for many years. It is not so much to be wondered at that those who pay no regard to a Supreme Being should throw off all regard to their fellow-creatures and to those precepts and doctrines which require peace and good will to men, and in a particular manner distinguish the followers of Him who hath said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another."

Let them reproach us ever so much for our kindness and tenderness to those who have fallen into our hands, I hope it will never provoke us to retaliate their cruelties. Let us put it as much as possible out of their power to injure us, but let us keep in mind the precepts of Him who hath commanded us to love our enemies and to exercise towards them acts of humanity, benevolence, and kindness, even when they despitefully use us.

And here suffer me to quote an authority which you greatly esteem, Dr. Tillotson:—

"It is commonly said that revenge is sweet, but to a calm and considerate mind patience and forgiveness are sweeter, and do afford a much more rational and solid and durable pleasure than revenge. The monuments of our mercy and goodness are a far more pleasing and delightful spectacle than of our rage and cruelty, and no sort of thought does usually haunt men with more terror than the reflection upon what they have done in the way of revenge."

If our cause is just, it will be best supported by justice and righteousness. Though we have many other crimes to answer for, that of cruelty to our enemies is not chargeable upon Americans, and I hope never will be. If we have erred it is upon the side of mercy; and we have exercised so much lenity to our enemies as to endanger our friends. But their malice and wicked designs against us have and will oblige every State to proceed against them with more rigor. Justice and self-preservation are duties as much incumbent upon Christians as forgiveness and love of enemies.

Adieu. I have devoted an hour this day to you. I dare say you are not in debt.

Ever remember with the tenderest affection one whose greatest felicity consists in the belief of a love unabated either by years or absence.

Portia.

230. Abigail Adams

18 May, 1778.

I have waited with great patience, restraining, as much as possible, every anxious idea for three months. But now every vessel which arrives sets my expectation upon the wing, and I pray my guardian genius to waft me the happy tidings of your safety and welfare. Hitherto my wandering ideas have roved, like the son of Ulysses, from sea to sea, and from shore to shore, not knowing where to find you; sometimes I fancied you upon the mighty waters, sometimes at your desired haven, sometimes upon the ungrateful and hostile shore of Britain, but at all times, and in all places, under the protecting care and guardianship of that Being who not only clothes the lilies of the field, and hears the young ravens when they cry, but hath said, "Of how much more worth are ye than many sparrows;" and this confidence, which the world cannot deprive me of, is my food by day and my rest by night, and was all my consolation under the horrid ideas of assassination,—the only event of which I had not thought, and in some measure prepared my mind.

When my imagination sets you down upon the Gallic shore, a land to which Americans are now bound to transfer their affections, and to eradicate all those national prejudices which the proud and haughty nation whom we once revered craftily instilled into us, whom they once styled their children, I anticipate the pleasure you must feel, and, though so many leagues distant, share in the joy of finding the great interest of our country so generously espoused and nobly aided by so powerful a monarch. Your prospects must be much brightened; for when you left your native land they were rather gloomy. If an unwearied zeal and persevering attachment to the cause of truth and justice, regardless of the allurements of ambition on the one hand or the threats of calamity on the other, can entitle any one to the reward of peace, liberty, and safety, a large portion of those blessings are reserved for my friend in his native land.

"Oh, wouldst thou keep thy country's loud applause,Loved as her father, as her God adored,Be still the bold asserter of her cause,Her voice in council; (in the fight her sword;)In peace, in war, pursue thy country's good:For her, bare thy bold breast and pour thy generous blood."

Difficult as the day is, cruel as this war has been, separated as I am, on account of it, from the dearest connection in life, I would not exchange my country for the wealth of the Indies, or be any other than an American, though I might be queen or empress of any nation upon the globe. My soul is unambitious of pomp or power. Beneath my humble roof, blessed with the society and tenderest affection of my dear partner, I have enjoyed as much felicity and as exquisite happiness as falls to the share of mortals. And, though I have been called to sacrifice to my country, I can glory in my sacrifice and derive pleasure from my intimate connection with one who is esteemed worthy of the important trust devolved upon him.

Britain, as usual, has added insult to injustice and cruelty, by what she calls a conciliatory plan. From my soul I despise her meanness; but she has long ago lost that treasure which, a great authority tells us, exalteth a nation, and is receiving the reproaches due to her crimes. I have been much gratified with the perusal of the Duke of Richmond's speech. Were there ten such men to be found, I should still have some hopes that a revolution would take place in favor of the virtuous few, "and the laws, the rights, the generous plan of power delivered down from age to age by our renowned forefathers" be again restored to that unhappy island.

I hope by the close of this month to receive from you a large packet. I have written twice before this. Some opportunities I may miss by my distance from the capital. I have enjoyed a good share of health since you left me. I have not mentioned my dear son, though I have often thought of him since I began this letter, because I propose writing to him by this opportunity. I omit many domestic matters because I will not risk their coming to the public eye. I shall have a small bill to draw upon you in the month of June. I think to send it to Mr. McCreery, who, by a letter received since you went away, is, I find, settled in Bordeaux in the mercantile way, and I dare say will procure for me anything I may have occasion for. I wish you would be so good as to write him a line requesting the favor of him to procure me such things, and, in addition to the bills which may be drawn, let him add ten pounds sterling at a time, if I desire it. The bills will be at three different times in a year. If they should arrive safe they would render me essential service.

Our public finances are upon no better footing than they were when you left us. Five hundred dollars is now offered by this town, per man, for nine months, to recruit the army. Twelve pounds a month for farming labor is the price, and it is not to be procured under. Our friends are all well and desire to be remembered to you. So many tender sentiments rush upon my mind, when about to close this letter to you, that I can only ask you to measure them by those which you find in your own bosom for

Your affectionate     Portia.

May 18, 1915

All through the month of April I intended to write, but I had not the courage.

All our eyes were turned to the north where, from April 22 to
Thursday, May 13—five days ago—we knew the second awful battle at
Ypres was going on. It seems to be over now.

What with the new war deviltry, asphyxiating gas—with which the battle began, and which beat back the line for miles by the terror of its surprise—and the destruction of the Lusitania on the 7th, it has been a hard month. It has been a month which has seen a strange change of spirit here.

I have tried to impress on you, from the beginning, that odd sort of optimism which has ruled all the people about me, even under the most trying episodes of the war. Up to now, the hatred of the Germans has been, in a certain sense, impersonal. It has been a racial hatred of a natural foe, an accepted evil, just as the uncalled-for war was. It had wrought a strange, unexpected, altogether remarkable change in the French people. Their faces had become more serious, their bearing more heroic, their laughter less frequent, and their humor more biting. But, on the day, three weeks ago, when the news came of the first gas attack, before which the Zouaves and the Turcos fled with blackened faces and frothing lips, leaving hundreds of their companions dead and disfigured on the road to Langtmarck, there arose the first signs of awful hatred that I had seen.

I frankly acknowledge that, considering the kind of warfare the world is seeing today, I doubt very much if it is worse to be asphyxiated than to be blown to pieces by an obus. But this new and devilish arm which Germany has added to the horrors of war seemed the last straw, and within a few weeks, I have seen grow up among these simple people the conviction that the race which planned and launched this great war has lost the very right to live; and that none of the dreams of the world which looked towards happiness can ever be realized while Prussia exists, even if the war lasts twenty years, and even if, before it is over, the whole world has to take a hand in it.

Into this feeling, ten days ago, came the news of the destruction of the Lusitania.

We got the news here on the 8th. It struck me dumb.

For two or three days I kept quietly in the house. I believe the people about me expected the States to declare war in twenty-four hours. My neighbors who passed the gate looked at me curiously as they greeted me, and with less cordiality as the days went by. It was as if they pitied me, and yet did not want to be hard on me, or hold me responsible.

You know well enough how I feel about these things. I have no sentimentality about the war. A person who had that, and tried to live here so near it, would be on the straight road to madness. If the world cannot stop war, if organized governments cannot arrive at a code of morals which applies to nations the same law of right and wrong which is enforced on individuals, why, the world and humanity must take the consequences, and must reconcile themselves to the belief that such wars as this are as necessary as surgical operations. If one accepts that point of view—and I am ready to do so,—then every diabolical act of Germany will rebound to the future good of the race, as it, from every point of view, justifies the hatred which is growing up against Germany. We are taught that it is right, moral, and, from every point of view, necessary to hate evil, and, in this 20th century, Germany is the most absolute synonym of evil that history has ever seen. Having stated that fact, it does not seem to me that I need say anything further on the subject.

In the meantime, I have gone on imitating the people about me. They are industriously tilling their fields. I continue cutting my lawn, planting my dahlias, pruning my roses, tying up my flowering peas, and watching my California poppies grow like the weeds in the fields.

When I am not doing that, with a pot in one hand, and the tongs in the other, I am picking slugs out of the flower-beds and giving them a dose of boiling water, or lugging about a watering-pot. I do it energetically, but my heart is not in it, though the garden is grateful all the same, and is as nice a symbol of the French people as I can imagine.

We have the dragoons still with us. They don't interest me hugely—not as the English did when they retreated here last September, nor as the French infantry did on their way to the battlefield. These men have never been in action yet. Still they lend a picturesqueness to the countryside, though to me it is, as so much of the war has been, too much like the decor of a drama. Every morning they ride by the gate, two abreast, to exercise their lovely horses, and just before noon they come back. All the afternoon they are passing in groups, smoking, chatting, and laughing, and, except for their uniforms, they do not suggest war, of which they actually know as little as I do.

After dinner, in the twilight, for the days are getting long, and the moon is full, I sit on the lawn and listen to them singing in the street at Voisins, and they sing wonderfully well, and they sing good music. The other evening they sang choruses from "Louise" and "Faust," and a wonderful baritone sang "Vision Fugitive." The air was so still and clear that I hardly missed a note.

A week ago tonight we were aroused late in the evening, it must have been nearly midnight, by an alerte announcing the passing of a Zeppelin. I got up and went out-of-doors, but neither heard nor saw anything, except a bicycle going over the hill, and a voice calling "Lights out." Evidently it did not get to Paris, as the papers have been absolutely dumb.

One thing I have done this week. When the war began I bought, as did nearly everyone else, a big map of Germany and the battle-fronts surrounding it, and little envelopes of tiny British, Belgian, French, Montenegrin, Servian, Russian, German, and Austrian flags, mounted on pins. Every day, until the end of last week, I used to put the flags in place as well as I could after studying the day's communiqué.

I began to get discouraged in the hard days of last month, when day after day I was obliged to retreat the Allied flags on the frontier, and when the Russian offensive fell down, I simply tore the map off the wall, and burned it, flags and all.

Of course I said to myself, in the spirit I have caught from the army, "All these things are but incidents, and will have no effect on the final result. A nation is not defeated while its army is still standing up in its boots, so it is folly to bother over details."

Do you ever wonder what the poets of the future will do with this war? Is it too stupendous for them, or, when they get it in perspective, can they find the inspiration for words where now we have only tightened throats and a great pride that, in an age set down as commercial, such deeds of heroism could be?

Who will sing the dirge of General Hamilton in the little cemetery of Lacouture last October, when the farewell salute over his grave was turned to repel a German attack, while the voice of the priest kept on, calm and clear, to the end of the service? Who will sing the destruction of the Royal Scots, two weeks later, in the battle of Ypres? Who will sing the arrival of General Moussy, and of the French corps on the last day of that first battle of Ypres, when a motley gathering of cooks and laborers with staff officers and dismounted cavalry, in shining helmets, flung themselves pellmell into a bayonet charge with no bayonets, to relieve the hard-pressed English division under General Bulfin? And did it. Who will sing the great chant in honor of the 100,000 who held Ypres against half a million, and locked the door to the Channel? Who will sing the bulldog fighting qualities of Rawlinson's 7th division, which held the line in those October days until reinforcements came, and which, at the end of the fight, mustered 44 officers out of 400, and only 2336 men out of 23,000? Who will sing the stirring scene of the French Chasseurs, advancing with bugles and shouting the "Marseillaise," to storm and take the col de Bonhomme in a style of warfare as old as French history? And these are but single exploits in a war now settled down to sullen, dull trench work, a war only in the early months of what looks like years of duration.

Doesn't it all make your blood flow fast? You see it tempts me to make an oration. You must overlook my eloquence! One does—over here, in the midst of it—feel such a reverence for human nature today. The spirit of heroism and self-sacrifice lives still amongst us. A world of machinery has not yet made a race incapable of greatness. I have a feeling that from the soil to which so many thousands of men have voluntarily returned to save their country's honor must spring up a France greater than ever. It is the old story of Atlas. Besides, "What more can a man do"—you know the rest. It is one of the things that make me sorry to feel that our own country is evidently going to avoid a movement which might have been at once healthy and uplifting. I know that you don't like me to say that, but I'll let it go.