May 30

May Thirtieth

Those who oppose slavery in Kansas do not base their opposition upon any philanthropic principles, or any sympathy for the African race. For, in their so-called Constitution, framed at Topeka, they deem that entire race so inferior and degraded as to exclude them all forever from Kansas, whether they be bond or free.

Robert J. Walker

 

Kansas given territorial rights by Congress, 1854

 

 

May 30, 1864

Monday. I made an application for an investigation of my reasons for being absent without leave, and Colonel Parker endorsed and sent it to headquarters. The matter has blown over for the present. From all I can hear, the colonel is ashamed of the shabby trick he played me. If Colonel Bostwick had been here instead of at headquarters, I don't believe the thing would have been thought of. Colonel Parker is like some others I have seen. A little authority makes a fool of him.

A fort is being built just above here and our men are to work on it. We have a new doctor. Dr. Henry, Dr. Warren having been detached. He is doing all he can to stop the spread of smallpox, and as no new cases have developed in several days now we think the worst may be over.

Very sultry with intense heat; has not rained today as usual. We were ordered to move from Dr. Pollard's in a westerly course to the right about daylight; have been changing positions all day, and yet we have been cautiously advancing on Richmond; are now within twelve miles of the Confederate capital with the rebel army in our immediate front. In order to get here we crossed Crump's Creek towards Hanover Court House. When nearing Atler's Station about noon we were ordered back to support the Second Corps which was engaging the enemy near Totopotomy Creek. We marched in a sweltering and almost exhausted condition to the Hanover turnpike which we had left in the morning but soon again left it cutting cross-lots through a swamp and heavy oak forest where a road was being cut for artillery, and soon went into line of battle on the left of General Birney's Division about mid-afternoon. We were ordered to charge but the order was countermanded. The lines here ran about north and south. The enemy's picket line kept up a sharp fusilade all night, as a bluff to enable its force here to withdraw in order to form another line called the Totopotomy, so as to cover several roads leading to Richmond including the Shady Grove Church road at Hantley's Corners, and the Walnut Grove Church road as well as the Mechanicsville turnpike, etc. Our line was changed to meet the enemy's, but we made no assault. The enemy was evidently greatly worried as it kept up a heavy artillery fire and made one or two fruitless assaults. Did they but know our strength they would know better than to charge our works; but they are plucky fellows.

May 30, 1863

The Rebs shelled our quarters at night and we were ordered back to our old sleeping ground. Bill Snyder and I had such a good place behind a big tree that we staid there and slept sound all night, although a big chunk of bark was knocked off the tree in the night, and our gunners kept up a steady fire all night long. This shows that my reputation as a sound sleeper has not suffered. About 8 o'clock our guns dismounted the rebel gun that has been our greatest pest, and have twice since that knocked it down just as they had it almost in position. We have nothing to do but lay here and swap yarns with the battery men. From all I can learn, some one has made a big blunder, and a great many lives and a great deal of expense to Uncle Sam is directly chargeable to it. It appears a general assault all along the line was planned to come off early on the morning of the 27th. General Weitzel on the right began the charge on time, and the Rebels massed all their forces against him. When they had nicely disposed of him, the left under General Augur went in and they, too, were cut up and driven back. The center, under General Sherman, about the middle of the afternoon went in and took their medicine. This plan of attack allowed the Rebs to shift from one point to another, and whip us by detail. What would have happened if we had all charged at the same time none of us know for sure, but we all think Port Hudson would now be ours. Reports say the 128th lost two officers and twenty men killed, and the whole army about 300 killed and 1500 wounded. It doesn't seem possible that so much lead and iron could have been fired at us and so few men killed and wounded. The mules and horses killed were left where they fell. The stench is awful, and seems to be getting worse all the time. Great birds, as big as hen turkeys, are tearing them to pieces; turkey buzzards, they call them, and in fact they look just like turkeys at a little distance. They are not afraid of us, but keep coming and going, quarreling among themselves over the choice bits. General Dwight now commands Sherman's division, and Colonel Clark, of the Sixth Michigan, takes General Dow's place in our brigade. The Sixth Michigan and the 128th New York have been so much together that we have come to be like one big family and are fast friends.

May 30

May 30, 1865.--All snakes fascinate their prey, and pure wickedness seems to inherit the power of fascination granted to the serpent. It stupefies and bewilders the simple heart, which sees it without understanding it, which touches it without being able to believe in it, and which sinks engulfed in the problem of it, like Empedocles in Etna. Non possum capere te, cape me, says the Aristotelian motto. Every diminutive of Beelzebub is an abyss, each demoniacal act is a gulf of darkness. Natural cruelty, inborn perfidy and falseness, even in animals, cast lurid gleams, as it were, into that fathomless pit of Satanic perversity which is a moral reality.

Nevertheless behind this thought there rises another which tells me that sophistry is at the bottom of human wickedness, that the majority of monsters like to justify themselves in their own eyes, and that the first attribute of the Evil One is to be the father of lies. Before crime is committed conscience must be corrupted, and every bad man who succeeds in reaching a high point of wickedness begins with this. It is all very well to say that hatred is murder; the man who hates is determined to see nothing in it but an act of moral hygiene. It is to do himself good that he does evil, just as a mad dog bites to get rid of his thirst.

To injure others while at the same time knowingly injuring one's self is a step farther; evil then becomes a frenzy, which, in its turn, sharpens into a cold ferocity.

Whenever a man, under the influence of such a diabolical passion, surrenders himself to these instincts of the wild or venomous beast he must seem to the angels a madman--a lunatic, who kindles his own Gehenna that he may consume the world in it, or as much of it as his devilish desires can lay hold upon. Wickedness is forever beginning a new spiral which penetrates deeper still into the abysses of abomination, for the circles of hell have this property--that they have no end. It seems as though divine perfection were an infinite of the first degree, but as though diabolical perfection were an infinite of unknown power. But no; for if so, evil would be the true God, and hell would swallow up creation. According to the Persian and the Christian faiths, good is to conquer evil, and perhaps even Satan himself will be restored to grace--which is as much as to say that the divine order will be everywhere re-established. Love will be more potent than hatred; God will save his glory, and his glory is in his goodness. But it is very true that all gratuitous wickedness troubles the soul, because it seems to make the great lines of the moral order tremble within us by the sudden withdrawal of the curtain which hides from us the action of those dark corrosive forces which have ranged themselves in battle against the divine plan.

May 30, 1863

The big guns' firing began early. The detail from Company B was relieved and all evidences of honey and potatoes were soon out of sight. General Dow sent out to know who had stolen the honey, but no one knew anything about it. Philip Allen died during the night. The wounded were carted off on their way to some hospital. Sergeant Kniffin was badly wounded in the head, and it is doubtful if he lives.

About 8 a. m. an agreement was made to stop fighting until 2 p. m., so the dead can be picked up and buried.

Orderly Burdick's body was found and some others who had been reported missing. The Rebs say Captain Gifford is a prisoner in Port Hudson. We were glad to know he is alive and well, for we will get him when we get the place. Lieutenant Colonel Smith came up from the city and took command. He called the regiment together in the woods and made a little speech, some of which was good and some of which seemed uncalled for. He said he had been told that some of the men hid behind trees and stumps, and, turning to the officers said, "If you catch any of them doing that again, shoot them down." Then he added, "I have also been told that some of the officers hid themselves in that same way," and, turning to the men, said, "If you catch them doing that again, shoot them down." That evened up matters, so we gave him a good hearty "hurrah." Then he said, "Heretofore guards have been posted to keep you from running off, but that won't happen while I command. You can go where you want to, but God help you if you are not here when I want you."

The 128th was stationed in the edge of the woods facing the rebel works, to support the Indiana Battery, which had been scattered along in the bushes. There being no smoke I was able to get a better understanding of the lay of land than yesterday. The grove that stood about the Slaughter house is directly in our front, where the ground begins to slope towards the rebel breastwork, and that accounts for the shells hitting the ground where we were yesterday, and then going high over our sleeping-quarters. The breastwork looks like a big pile of dirt. In shape it is most like the letter U, with the curved end towards us and running up hill each way from us, so that the ground inside is plainly in sight for some distance. There is great activity there as well as on our side, and I suppose both are taking advantage of the lull in firing to get in the best position when it begins again.

By asking questions, and by keeping my eyes open I have learned that for miles in front of the fortifications the Rebels were scattered before we came. They had rifle pits, which are nothing but ditches, deep enough so that the ditch and the dirt thrown from it will hide a man when standing up. They also had mud forts, which are like the rifle pits, only wider, and had big guns in them, intending to whip us before we got near the main works. Our advance had some sharp fighting to drive them out of these and into the main fortification, where they were before I saw the place. That accounts for the wounded men that were sent back before we left Springfield Landing.

Plutarch's Letter to His Wife

Sunday, 30.

I sometimes think the funeral rites and cemeteries of a people best characterize its piety. Contrast the modern with the primitive grave-yards,—their funeral services so dismal, doleful, despairing: as if their faith in immortality were fittest clad in sables, and death were a descent of souls, instead of an ascension. What fairer views of life and of immortality our fresher faith exhibits. Verdure, cheerful marbles, tasteful avenues, flowers, simple epitaphs, inscriptions celebrating the virtues properly humane. What in the range of English lyric verse is comparable to Wordsworth's ode, entitled Intimations of Immortality in Childhood, or his prose Essay on Epitaphs. Nor is the contrast so disparaging between these and Pagan moralities. Christianity can hardly add to the sweetness and light, the tenderness, trust in man's future well-being, shown in Plutarch's consolatory Letter to his Wife on the death of his little daughter. One becomes more Christian, even, in copying it.

Plutarch to His Wife—All Health

"As for the messenger you dispatched to tell me of the death of my little daughter, it seems he missed his way as he was going to Athens. But when I came to Tanagra I heard of it by my niece. I suppose by this time the funeral is over. I wish that whatever happens, as well now as hereafter, may create you no dissatisfaction. But if you have designedly let anything alone, depending upon my judgment, thinking better to determine the point if I were with you, I pray let it be without ceremony or timorous superstition, which I know are far from you. Only, dear wife, let you and me bear our affliction with patience. I know very well, and do comprehend what loss we have had; but if I should find you grieve beyond measure, this would trouble me more than the thing itself; for I had my birth neither from a stock nor stone, and you know it full well; I having been assistant to you in the education of so many children, which we brought up at home under our own care.

"This much-lamented daughter was born after four sons, which made me call her by your own name; therefore, I know she was dear to you, and grief must have a peculiar pungency in a mind tenderly affectionate to children, when you call to mind how naturally witty and innocent she was, void of anger, and not querulous. She was naturally mild and compassionate, to a miracle. And she showed delight in, and gave a specimen of, her humanity and gratitude towards anything that had obliged her, for she would pray her nurse to give suck, not only to other children, but to her very playthings, as it were courteously inviting them to her table, and making the best cheer for them she could. Now, my dear wife, I see no reason why these and the like things which delighted us so much when she was alive, should, upon remembrance of them, afflict us when she is dead. But I also fear, lest while we cease from sorrowing, we should forget her, as Clymene said:—

I hate the handy horned bow,

And banish youthful pastimes now,

because she would not be put in mind of her son, by the exercises he had been used to. For nature always shuns such things as are troublesome. But since our little daughter afforded all our senses the sweetest and most charming pleasure, so ought we to cherish her memory, which will in many ways conduce more to our joy than grief. And it is but just that the same arguments which we have ofttimes used to others should prevail upon ourselves at this so seasonable a time, and that we should not supinely sit down and overwhelm the joys which we have tasted with a multiplicity of new griefs. Moreover, they who were present at the funeral, report this with admiration, that you neither put on mourning, nor disguised yourself, or any of your maids; neither were there any costly preparations, nor magnificent pomp, but that all things were managed with prudence and moderation. And it seemed not strange to me, that you, who never used richly to dress yourself, for the theatre or other public solemnities, esteeming such magnificence vain and useless, even in matters of delight, have now practised frugality on this finest occasion.… There is no philosopher of your acquaintance who is not in love with your frugality, both in apparel and diet; nor a citizen, to whom the simplicity and plainness of your dress is not conspicuous, both at religious sacrifices and public shows in the theatre. Formerly, also, you discovered on a like occasion, a great constancy of mind when you lost your eldest son. And again, when the lovely Charon left us. For I remember when the news was brought me of my son's death, as I was returning home with some friends and guests who accompanied me to my house, that when they beheld all things in order, and observed a profound silence everywhere (as they afterwards declared to others), they thought no such calamity had happened, but that the report was false. So discreetly had you settled the affairs of the house at that time, when no small confusion and disorder might have been expected. And yet you gave this son suck yourself, and endured the lancing of your breast to prevent the ill effects of a contusion. These are things worthy of a generous woman, and one that loves her children.…

"Moreover, I would have you endeavor to call often to mind that time when our daughter was not as yet born to us, then we had no cause to complain of fortune. Then, joining that time with this, argue thus with yourself, that we are in the same condition as then. Otherwise, dear wife, we shall seem discontented at the birth of our little daughter if we own that our circumstances were better before her birth. But the two years of her life are by no means to be forgotten by us, but to be numbered amongst our blessings, in that they afforded us an agreeable pleasure. Nor must we esteem a small good for a great evil, nor ungratefully complain of fortune for what she has actually given us, because she has not added what we wished for. Certainly, to speak reverently of the gods, and to bear our lot with an even mind, without accusing fortune, always brings with it a fair reward.…

"But if you lament the poor girl because she died unmarried and without offspring, you have wherewithal to comfort yourself, in that you are defective in none of these things, having had your share. And those are not small benefits where they are enjoyed. But so long as she is gone to a place where she feels no pain, she has no need of our grief. For what harm can befall us from her when she is free from all hurt? And surely, the loss of great things abates its grief when it is come to this, that there is no more ground of grief, or care for them. But thy Timoxena was deprived but of small matters, for she had no knowledge but of such, neither took she delight but in such small things. But for that which she never was sensible of, nor so much as once did enter her thoughts, how can you say it is taken from you?

"As for what you hear others say, who persuade the vulgar that the soul when once freed from the body, suffers no inconvenience or evil, nor is sensible at all, I know that you are better grounded in the doctrines delivered down to us from our ancestors, as also in the sacred mysteries of Bacchus, than to believe such stories, for the religious symbols are well known to us who are of the fraternity. Therefore, be assured that the soul, being incapable of death, suffers in the same manner as birds that are kept in a cage. For if she has been a long time educated and cherished in the body, and by long custom has been made familiar with most things of this life, she will (though separable) return to it again, and at length enters the body; nor ceases it by new birth now and then to be entangled in the chances and events of this life. For do not think that old age is therefore evil spoken of and blamed, because it is accompanied with wrinkles, gray hairs, and weakness of body; but this is the most troublesome thing in old age, that it stains and corrupts the soul with the remembrances of things relating to the body, to which she was too much addicted; thus it bends and loves, retaining that form which it took of the body. But that which is taken away in youth, being more soft and tractable, soon returns to its native vigor and beauty, just like fire that is quenched, which, if it be forthwith kindled again, sparkles and burns out immediately.

As soon as e'er we take one breath

'T were good to pass the gates of death,

before too great love of bodily and earthly things be engendered in the soul, and it become soft and tender by being used to the body, and, as it were, by charms and portions incorporated with it. But the truth of this will appear in the laws and traditions, received from our ancestors; for when children die, no libations nor sacrifices are made for them, nor any other of those ceremonies which are wont to be performed for the dead. For infants have no part of earth or earthly affections, nor do they hover or tarry about their sepulchres or monuments, where their dead bodies are exposed. The religion of our country teaches us otherwise, and it is an impious thing not to believe what our laws and traditions assert, that the souls of infants pass immediately into a better and more divine state; therefore, since it is safer to give credit to our traditions than to call them in question, let us comply with the custom in outward and public behavior, and let our interior be more unpolluted, pure and holy."