May 31

May 31, 1864

Tuesday. Was in camp all day writing.

May Thirty-First

SONG OF THE CHATTAHOOCHEE

... All down the hills of Habersham,
All through the valleys of Hall,
The rushes cried Abide, abide,
The wilful waterweeds held me thrall,
The laving laurel turned my tide,
The ferns and the fondling grass said Stay.
The dewberry dipped for to work delay,
And the little reeds sighed Abide, abide,
Here in the hills of Habersham,
Here in the valleys of Hall.
Sidney Lanier

 

British Government declared suspended in North Carolina (Mecklenburg) 1775

As beautiful a morning as I ever saw; men are feeling better since they drew rations; had been without two days; heavy skirmishing in front. Our artillery shelled the enemy out of its first line of works about noon. We moved up and occupied them without difficulty; enemy has made several useless attempts to shell us but have done no harm. Our own batteries have been shelling the enemy over us, but have wounded more of our men than the enemy. The Tenth Vermont is on the skirmish line to-night. Today's experience when our batteries threw shells over us at the enemy and hurt so many of our men was the most exasperating of the campaign. Such stupidity ought to be punished, as the artillerymen could plainly see that their shells were exploding close over us and several hundred yards short of the enemy.

May 31

May 31, 1874.--I have been reading the philosophical poems of Madame Ackermann. She has rendered in fine verse that sense of desolation which has been so often stirred in me by the philosophy of Schopenhauer, of Hartmann, Comte, and Darwin. What tragic force and power! What thought and passion! She has courage for everything, and attacks the most tremendous subjects.

Science is implacable; will it suppress all religions? All those which start from a false conception of nature, certainly. But if the scientific conception of nature proves incapable of bringing harmony and peace to man, what will happen? Despair is not a durable situation. We shall have to build a moral city without God, without an immortality of the soul, without hope. Buddhism and stoicism present themselves as possible alternatives.

But even if we suppose that there is no finality in the cosmos, it is certain that man has ends at which he aims, and if so the notion of end or purpose is a real phenomenon, although a limited one. Physical science may very well be limited by moral science, and vice versâ. But if these two conceptions of the world are in opposition, which must give way?

I still incline to believe that nature is the virtuality of mind--that the soul is the fruit of life, and liberty the flower of necessity--that all is bound together, and that nothing can be done without. Our modern philosophy has returned to the point of view of the Ionians, the [Greek: physikoi ], or naturalist thinkers. But it will have to pass once more through Plato and through Aristotle, through the philosophy of "goodness" and "purpose," through the science of mind.

May 31

May 31, 1880.--Let us not be over-ingenious. There is no help to be got out of subtleties. Besides, one must live. It is best and simplest not to quarrel with any illusion, and to accept the inevitable good-temperedly. Plunged as we are in human existence, we must take it as it comes, not too bitterly, nor too tragically, without horror and without sarcasm, without misplaced petulance or a too exacting expectation; cheerfulness, serenity, and patience, these are best--let us aim at these. Our business is to treat life as the grandfather treats his granddaughter, or the grandmother her grandson; to enter into the pretenses of childhood and the fictions of youth, even when we ourselves have long passed beyond them. It is probable that God himself looks kindly upon the illusions of the human race, so long as they are innocent. There is nothing evil but sin--that is, egotism and revolt. And as for error, man changes his errors frequently, but error of some sort is always with him. Travel as one may, one is always somewhere, and one's mind rests on some point of truth, as one's feet rest upon some point of the globe.

Society alone represents a more or less complete unity. The individual must content himself with being a stone in the building, a wheel in the immense machine, a word in the poem. He is a part of the family, of the state, of humanity, of all the special fragments formed by human interests, beliefs, aspirations, and labors. The loftiest souls are those who are conscious of the universal symphony, and who give their full and willing collaboration to this vast and complicated concert which we call civilization.

In principle the mind is capable of suppressing all the limits which it discovers in itself, limits of language, nationality, religion, race, or epoch. But it must be admitted that the more the mind spiritualizes and generalizes itself, the less hold it has on other minds, which no longer understand it or know what to do with it. Influence belongs to men of action, and for purposes of action nothing is more useful than narrowness of thought combined with energy of will.

The forms of dreamland are gigantic, those of action are small and dwarfed. To the minds imprisoned in things, belong success, fame, profit; a great deal no doubt; but they know nothing of the pleasures of liberty or the joy of penetrating the infinite. However, I do not mean to put one class before another; for every man is happy according to his nature. History is made by combatants and specialists; only it is perhaps not a bad thing that in the midst of the devouring activities of the western world, there should be a few Brahmanizing souls.

... This soliloquy means--what? That reverie turns upon itself as dreams do; that impressions added together do not always produce a fair judgment; that a private journal is like a good king, and permits repetitions, outpourings, complaint.... These unseen effusions are the conversation of thought with itself the arpeggios involuntary but not unconscious, of that aeolian harp we bear within us. Its vibrations compose no piece, exhaust no theme, achieve no melody, carry out no programme, but they express the innermost life of man.

May 31, 1863

Sunday, p. m. This morning a foraging party, made up of a squad from each company, went outside, on Port Hudson Plains, a beautiful country, to try for some fresh meat. I managed to get on the detail from Company B. We had the quartermaster's wagon to bring in what we might find. We soon got separated, and each detail going its own way, that from Company B were lucky enough to come upon and shoot down a two-year-old heifer. We dressed the animal and strung the hindquarters on a pole and started back, leaving a man to watch the rest until the wagon came around. We lugged the beef home and it was soon being cooked, some of it in the kettles and some on the ends of ramrods stuck in the fire. After we were full we began to feel generous, and invited in our friends until only the bones were left. We sent some in to General Dow, and asked Colonel Smith and the other officers to have some. Nobody refused, not even General Dow, who is so dead set against foraging. About noon the wagon came in and the whole regiment had a feast. I never tasted anything so good as that chunk of beef roasted in the fire. This does not reflect on your cooking, mother. You never let me get so hungry as Uncle Sam has. No doubt you would make it taste even better than it did. I did not know I was so hungry until I began to eat. It tasted so good I was actually sorry when I could eat no more. There are lots of things I have not written about, and now that my crop is full, and there is nothing else to do, I will try and catch up. In the first place, I must say that this region is headquarters for snakes. I don't suppose there is a spot on earth where there are so many snakes to the acre as right here. We have cleared them off from our near neighborhood, but go in any direction on ground that is not occupied and there they are. The most common is the moccasin; two kinds, one with a white mouth, called cottonmouth moccasins and said to be poisonous. The other looks just like our water snakes at home. Black snakes and king snakes come next, the latter the nearest to handsome of any snake I ever saw. They are of a pepper-and-salt color, and grow large, those I have seen being between five and six feet long and large in proportion. They are said to be deadly enemies to all other snakes and that they kill and eat any of the other kinds.

Several rattlesnakes have been killed, but I have only seen one. That was lying across a path we had made through the weeds, and I came near stepping on it. Just as one foot was coming down I saw him, and managed someway to jump clear over him from the one foot that was on the ground. I have tried to make such a jump since, but cannot go half so high or so far as I did then. I hunted up a club and hit him across the back, when I first found out that some rascal had killed him, cut off his tail and then placed him across the path to scare some other fellow. I left him there to scare someone else. Then all over and everywhere are a sort of lizard that they call chameleons. They change color, taking on the shade of anything they are on. They are as spry as squirrels, and seem to enjoy running over us when we lie down and then darting up a tree, or off through the bushes. There are some mosquitoes, but they are not nearly so plenty or so bloodthirsty as in other places we have been. The meanest thing is a small black bug, just like what we call at home snapping bugs. Their delight is to crawl in someone's ear when asleep. We sleep with cotton in our ears every night. They make a man raving crazy. The doctors pour oil in first, and then syringe them out. Nearly every night there is a bug case. The woods are full of squirrels. I have seen black squirrels, gray squirrels and a fox squirrel, all in sight at one time. The blacks and grays are very common. The one fox squirrel I saw was about as big as a half-grown cat. The blacks are between our red squirrels and grays for size. Blackberries, the high bush kind, are ripe here now and are plenty, but we have to go farther and farther to get them, on account of there being so many pickers. There are plenty of magnolia trees right here in the woods about us. They are in bloom now, though the blossoms are so high up we can get none. After a shower the scent is so strong as to be sickening. The trees are like our large forest trees. The leaves are long but not very wide, are a sort of brown on the under side, but the deepest dark green on top. We have some hard thunderstorms. The loudest thunder crashes and the sharpest lightning flashes I ever saw. Lying in the woods as we do, it is strange none of the trees are struck or that nobody is killed. We are soaked to the skin on an average once every day. Sometimes several times in one day and night. We have only the clothes on our backs, so we make no changes. If the sun shines we sometimes wring out and hang on a bush for a while. But it is so warm we don't mind it. Some have blankets. Everyone is supposed to have one, but many got lost, mine among the number. I don't much care, for now I don't have to lug it about. Wet or dry we take no cold. We are tough as grain-fed horses and in fact we sometimes have to endure what a horse could not. God is good to us, otherwise we could not live and thrive as we do.

Night. A new style of a fighting machine has just gone from here, on its way to the right wing. There were two light carriages, upon each of which were mounted twenty-four rifle barrels, all made to be loaded and fired by one operation of a lever. Good-bye Johnnies when they get at you. It is too dark to write more.