Chapter IV

Retrospect of the Year

The close of the campaign was coincident with that of the year, and suggested sad thoughts of the past, as well as anxious inquiries concerning the future. The toils and privations of December had induced disease in many of our noble soldiers, who subsequently died. Our tents had reached us on the Tallahatchie, and full rations were issued to the troops during the latter part of the campaign. But food and shelter could not restore health to the diseased, who were conveyed to hospital, and received every attention that could be bestowed. The work of death began at Wyatt. Andrew J. Gilpin, of Co. C, died December 10th, after an illness of ten days, induced by exposure at Chulahoma. We buried him at the twilight hour, and early on the following morning his brother, belonging to the same company, arrived from Memphis to learn his sad fate. Others soon after died, and the sick list largely increased during the winter. Thus did our brave boys so soon begin to drop into (p41) the grave, the victims of disease, sacrifices to their country no less dear to memory than those slain upon the field of battle. The few months of service had borne many of our number to the rest from which no earthly summons could awaken them. Some had given up their lives at Richmond, while others had died of wounds received in that engagement. Still others were disabled by wounds, or suffering from disease, far from home and friends.

During the six weeks intervening between our departure from Memphis and our arrival at Grand Junction no intelligence had reached us form home. But facilities had been afforded us of communicating to our friends the record of our experience during the campaign. We looked back upon the scenes of the past as participants in the great struggle, while they were interested observers of our movements, whose lives were bound up in ours, and whose anxieties were constantly aroused for our security. The afflicted ones derived consolation in their sorrow from the consciousness that their friends had fallen in a noble and righteous cause.

But the retrospect is not merely individual, or social, in its character. It is not limited to the scenes in our own circumscribed sphere of action and observation. The progress of events in the great drama being enacted upon the theatre of (p42) war, as well as the incidents in our own experience, invite attention. These, too, had been for a time hidden from view, in our isolation from the external world around us. The significance of our own failure to penetrate the heart of Mississippi, and thus reach the rear of Vicksburg, involved no disaster to the army, which was in immediate readiness to renew the effort to reach the citadel in another direction. No cause for despondency existed in the Department of the Tennessee. Though baffled in one part of his plan, Grant was not beaten, and with new vigor he entered upon the work before him. The confidence of the people in the entire Army of the West remained unimpaired. In the Department of the Cumberland Rosecrans had succeeded Buell, who had turned back the confident enemy at Perryville, and followed Bragg to Murfreesboro, where he was already engaging him in one of the severest battles of the war. The glorious result of Stone River revived the hearts of the people, and promised additional triumphs to our arms. But in the East our cause had recently suffered a severe reverse at Fredericksburg, which put us again on the defensive against a renewal of the attempt to strike Washington. The hope inspired by the supersedure of McClellan by Burnside had not been realized, and a second charge of commanders was the result. Our misfortunes in the East, during (p43) the year, had tried the strength of the nation to its fullest capacity, but the tide having been turned in the West secured us from despair of success. Had the sky been as dark over all the land as in the East, we might possibly have faltered in our great work. But the vital question remained to be settled, in the pending struggle for the possession of the key of the great artery of commerce between the Northwest and the Gulf, which, decided in our favor, forever rendered the cause of the Confederacy hopeless, except by reoccupation of the Mississippi. The review of our military operations at this period, though not flattering, was not, on the whole, calculated to impair our confidence in final success.

Any review of the events of the year now closed would be imperfect, that should omit a reference to the efforts of Northern sympathizers with treason to secure the control of the several State Governments, for the purpose of bringing the war to a speedy and dishonorable termination. That such a scheme should have originated with men enjoying the protection and benefits of the Government is a painful reflection. It is humiliating to every loyal heart to know that a systematic course of vilification of those noble men, who held the reins of government in the loyal States, should have so far been approved by the people as to render it dangerous to our cause, (p44) and a prominent source of discouragement and anxiety for the national safety. That the greatest gloom should have been cast upon the public mind by sharers in our common blessings almost exceeds belief. The comparative guilt of Northern men, laboring in the interest of the rebellion, under the specious plea of adherence to the Constitution and laws of the Union, is only appreciable when carefully examined in reference to its dangerous tendency. For overt treason armed to overthrow the Government, is a palpable object, against which resistance may be brought to bear, while this covert purpose to destroy is difficult of detection and proof. The chief guilt of the rebellion itself consisted in the incipient measures, to inaugurate insurrection by those in whom where deposited the interests of the people, as their sworn representatives. The just measure of punishment for all who thus concocted treason, under the name and authority of vested power, should be death. If so, what degree of guilt must attach to those, who, while the national life is imperiled by a gigantic rebellion, seek, under the guise of law, to restrain the exercise of the nation's strength for the defense and maintenance of the vital principles of the Government. The design is identical with that of the leaders in the rebellion itself, and the only mitigation of the judgment to be awarded is the fact that the purpose was not effected. But this (p45) was owing to the lack of power, and not of disposition or intention. The guilt primarily rests upon the demagogues who misled the people. Yet it is a sad reflection that so few a number of citizens of the loyal States, could have been made subservient instruments of base and cowardly traitors, as to endanger the salvation of the country more effectually than all the hosts of armed insurgents in the revolted States. That some whose friends were in the army, doing battle for their country, should be so far led astray as to encourage desertion and promise protection to deserters, against the enforcement of military authority for their arrest and return to duty, can scarcely be credited. Yet this was the actual result of the teaching of Northern traitors, during the political canvass of 1862. The votes of the party seeking to gain control of State legislation and Executive authority strengthened the hands of armed traitors and weakened those of our brave defenders, just in proportion to the accomplishment of their ends. That the country was not then rent into fragments is only due to the defeat of those conspirators against the life of the nation, who, by a complete triumph, would have reversed the machinery of State legislation, and rendered the success of armed treason certain and speedy. The tide of battle had been stemmed by the earnest devotion (p46) of the loyal masses, and hope whispered of brighter days to come.

The close of the year suggested an earnest forecast of the future. In the light of past events, without reference to the principles involved in our great conflict, the prospect was not flattering. A few of the most encouraging features of our condition will be noticed here. First in importance is the fact, evident to all impartial observers, that the weight of moral and religious influence in the North was unmistakably in favor of the policy of the Administration. Too much significance can scarcely be attached to this truth, that in a great national struggle for life, the party which evokes the deepest and purest emotions and desires of the people, by which they are stimulated to corresponding effort, is certain of success in the end. Our national character involves more of moral principle than that of any other nation whose history is recorded in the annals of the world, and if the representative of those higher elements of our life are found arrayed in its defense, it will survive the contest. The moral and religious teachings of the North were far purer and more elevating in their tendency than those of the South, where proscription of opinions prevailed to such a degree that it was unsafe to transcend the fixed limits which pro-slavery politicians had set for the restraint of all teachers of morality and religion. (p47) Hence, in a contest for principle, we had the advantage of freedom from constraint, and when we spoke in the full determination of purpose to vindicate the honor of the Government, when assailed, the ready response of the moral and religious sentiments of the people--free and untrammeled as the sun-light of heaven, because derived from the great Source of all truth--gave character and power to the nation, in the execution of its declared purpose. This was exemplified in the course of the Chief Executive of the nation, and of the several State Executives, who repeatedly acknowledged the intimacy of relation between the divine agency and the salvation of the nation. They did this, not as religious men, for they were not all even moral men in the strictest sense, but they spoke the convictions of the public mind and the deep feelings of the public heart, with whose every pulsation they were familiar from long and careful observation.

In close connection with the moral encouragement thus given to our cause is the fact that science and literature, philosophy and art have also given their sanction to the great principles of our Government in the progress of the struggle. True progress is in exact proportion to the morals and intelligence of the people. Hence all the professions, in which men may reasonably hope to achieve honor and distinction, are dignified by the (p48) elevation of the masses in the scale of moral being. Those desiring success in life will, from a sense of interest as well as consistency and duty, range themselves on the side of right, in every issue between truth and error, so far as they can be controlled by a sincere regard for their pursuits. Those who prefer present advantages to lasting honors may set aside principle, and sell integrity for pleasure. But the great men, in all ranks of life, are those who prefer principles to expedients, and enduring character to ephemeral reputation. Such have been found with us in the defense of our national integrity. And those who have flitted before the public eye, in all the brilliancy of wit and talent, as the enemies of the Government, under the assumed name of Democracy, have now gone down to the obscurity from which they came. In the time of our deepest gloom it was evident that the self-styled leaders of the opposition were either men of mediocrity, or without principle, who hoped to ride into power over the ruins of their county, knowing that our triumph would consign them to oblivion.

These considerations, with others of minor importance, prevailed over the fears induced by the disasters of the year recently closed. The great decision had been rendered by the Chief Executive of the nation that the curse of oppression should be removed from the land. The declared purpose (p49) was fully completed, so far as Executive authority could secure completion in law, on the advent of the New Year, and from that hour the star of hope rose, and led us to the day of peace. The struggle was thence forward reduced to the simple issue of freedom for all, with the Union of the States, or perpetual tyranny, with States discordant and dissevered. The occasional reverses to our arms that succeeded, failed to produce that deep gloom that had prevailed during the year just closed. The strong man was fully roused and ready to go forth to accomplish terrible things in the overthrow of usurpation and wrong. (p50)

 Back to YesterYear in Print

 Table of Contents

Next:  Chapter V