The War Is Certainly Drawing to a Close ~ February 1865 ~ 25th to 26th

The War Is Certainly Drawing to a Close ~ Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

burning south carolina town

North and South, people such as Rhodes believe that the end of the conflict is soon at hand. A reporter describes the sorry condition of Yankee soldiers returning from rebel prison camps. A citizen writes to the governor of Georgia, calling for an immediate end to fighting. A Southern belle loves the singing of slaves but fails to see their humanity, reflecting the racist nature of the slave system.

fourteenth-massachusetts-volunteers

February 25– Saturday– Wheeling, West Virginia– “Out of all the recruits that have been enlisted at the office of the Provost Marshal of this district, under the late call, only two or three bounty jumpers have been found, and it is thought that even these may not be purposely keeping out of the way. Heretofore there have been a great many bounty jumpers, and the fact which we have just mentioned speaks louder than anything else for the character of the men lately mustered to the credit of the State.” ~ Wheeling Daily Intelligencer.

February 25– Saturday– outside Petersburg, Virginia– “Two days after the storming of Fort Fisher, I went over the scene of that desperate struggle where Southern will yielded, after a seven hours hand-to-hand conflict, to Northern valor. I thought it was one of the saddest sights of war. The storm of Porter’s shell had left scarcely a foot of good untouched. Dead bodies, as they fell, in all the horrid mockery of life, headless trunks, scattered limb, shattered guns, here a Union soldier side by side with his rebel foe in the equality of death, there an artillery officer crushed in a heap beside his gun, a relic-hunter cutting off his confederate buttons, over and about all, riot and desolation, and a sense as if nature’s economies had been insanely wronged, and her thought outraged. But that picture, framed with death and ruin, was not to me so sad or pitiful as the sights I chanced upon yesterday near Aiken’s Landing. At the rude river wharf lay two trim steamers, flying at the foretop Colonel Mulford’s white flag. Across the rebel flag-of-truce boat. A thousand rebels, just down from your sharp Northern air, marched ashore. A motley crew, but all warmly clad, and a hale, supple, robust set of men. They booted, joked and jostled about as they pushed across the fenceless fields towards Cox’s Landing. I knew we might expect every man of them on our front, musket in hand, within a fortnight. I saw but two or three with canes, not a dozen who seemed ill or weak. Why was the long train of ambulances sent down the line waiting? My query was soon answered. Our prisoners turned over, back came a thousand of our boys, among friends again after their terrible captivity. I tell the sober truth– you cannot imagine the sight. It was a better lot than previous ones, the best that had been received lately, I believe. But the appearance was pitiful. Every ambulance was needed now, and hundreds hobbled or dragged themselves along through the drizzly rain treacherous mud, of foot. A thousand hungry, ragged men or wrecks of men. Their faces had a sallow, pinched look that told of a slow starvation, and cumulation of mental and physical suffering. Their clothes were in tatters, in many cases only held together by coarse strings. The pictures you have seen of bony, half-clad, famished men are no exaggeration. There was little cheering as they came under the old flag, but to every passer or spectator the pleadings of hunger. Crackers trampled in the mud, the old shoes and the cast-off clothing of contrabands even, were scrambled for as if they were gold. The wild, passionate greed of those men for food told a fearful story. It was the same story from all of months of shelterless exposure to winter storms, and of systematic starvation. May had been stripped of their own clothing, and had received in exchange the cast off garments of their captors, or nothing. I saw their daily ration, a piece of corn bread which one had hoarded as a relic of those miserable days. It was a cake less than two and a half inches across– a child would eat it at a single lunch, were it palatable. Yet this, with a morsel of meat, not one fourth at large, was all the daily allowance, week in and oat, to grown up, hungry men. It was deliberate, needless starvation; the system, only half supplied with fuel, feeding the life-fires on itself, till so weak that, if disease set in, there was no recuperation. I say needless, for there was no excuse for this cruelty by the rebels. They have always had a plentiful supply of the staples which form the prisoner’s ration– corn meal and bacon. And so, feeble and shivering, these poor men turned their faces home ward. Home! Even that word had little power to kindle dull eyes, and strengthen nerveless limbs. The wrongs of the months past could not be made right so easily. If ever I felt to like hating, cursing a fellow-being before as the authors of such a crime, I thought, as I often had, that any loss less than life were better than to fall into a rebel prison pen.” ~ a reporter for the Cleveland Leader.

Federal troops around Petersburg

Federal troops around Petersburg

February 25– Saturday– outside Petersburg, Virginia– “The war is certainly drawing to a close and I am thankful to God for it, for although I love a soldier’s life, yet I love my home better and want peace.” ~ Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

February 25– Saturday– Macon, Georgia– “I have never been a politician. You do not know me. I have been introduced to you and we have conversed together as Baptists. I live in the country, and I think I know the minds of the country people better than you do yourself. Many of your friends who live in cities and towns and have daily intercourse with military officers still retain a considerable war spirit, but that spirit is out in the county! I live in a district where there are now about sixty voters. There were than number present at our election lasts month for justices, and there were only four war men in the crowd, all the balance were Union men, ready and anxious to throw down arms on any terms that reconstruction could be obtained. One of the justices elected said that if the country people would all turn out, they could go and drive every government officer and newspaper editor out of Macon, and he pledged himself to raise 300 men in twenty-four hours for that purpose if required. I have suffered more from the war than many others. All of my property has been destroyed. I have had one son killed, and one maimed for life in battle, and I have three more sons now in the Confederate service, and never one of them away from their post without liberty. Yet all of them and myself think if we as a state would throw down our arms now, we would make a far better arrangement with the old government than if we try to hold out longer. Leave the sinking ship! The statement of the President’s hirelings, writing for the papers, all state falsehoods when they say that the armies are anxious still to fight. It is not true. The offices with high [station] and easy situations make these opinions and get up meetings and pass resolutions to that effect, without the knowledge and consent of nine-tenths of the privates in the army. And it is not the feeling of the people generally through the country. You cannot get the people to fight any more. They are going home as fast as they can get there. The country is full of deserters and almost every man in the community will feed them and keep them from being arrested. Stop it, my friend, stop it. All the enlightened world is against us, and God himself is against us!” ~ Letter from a local man to Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown.

Joseph E. Brown, Governor of Georgia

Joseph E. Brown, Governor of Georgia

February 26– Sunday– Richmond, Virginia– “There is much alarm on the streets. Orders have been given to prepare all the tobacco and cotton, which cannot be removed immediately, for destruction by fire. And it is generally believed that General A. P.Hill’s corps has marched away to North Carolina. This would leave some 25,000 men to defend Richmond and Petersburg, against, probably, 60,000. If Richmond be evacuated, most of the population will remain, not knowing whither to go.” ~ Diary of John Jones.

February 26– Sunday– Andersonville, Georgia– At the Andersonville prison camp Commander Henry Wirz writes to a Confederate official in Richmond that many of the prisoners are performing valuable duties on the post, but have no shoes. He requests permission to purchase either shoes or the leather to make them, as some of the inmates are cobblers by trade.

hands of an elderly slave

hands of an elderly slave

February 26– Sunday– Albany, Georgia– “Flora and the captain have returned to Gopher Hill, whither Metta, Mecca, and I are invited to follow on Friday, when sister goes up to Macon. Jimmy Callaway and his father have just come from Washington with such glowing accounts of the excitement and gaiety there that I am distracted to go back home. If father don’t write for us to come soon, I think we will go to Chunnenuggee by way of Eufaula and the Chattahoochee, and if Thomas’s raiders catch us over in Alabama, father will wish he had let us come home. After dinner I took Mecca over to the Praise House to hear the Negroes sing. I wish I was an artist so that I could draw a picture of the scene. Alfred, one of the chief singers, is a gigantic creature, more like an ape than a man. I have seen pictures of African savages in books of travel that were just like him. His hands and feet are so huge that it looks as if their weight would crush the heads of the little p***********when he pats them; yet, with all this strength, they say he is a great coward, and one of the most docile Negroes on the plantation. The women, when they get excited with the singing, shut their eyes and rock themselves back and forth, clapping their hands . . . . Old Bob and Jim are the preachers, and very good old darkies they are, in spite of their religion. But the chief personages on the plantation are old Granny Mimey, old Uncle Wally, and Uncle Setley, who are all superannuated and privileged characters. I tell sister that Uncle Wally has nothing to do, and Uncle Setley to help him. The latter is very deaf, and half crazy, but harmless. I am a special favorite of Uncle Wally’s. We have a chat every morning when he passes through the back yard on his way to the cowpen. The other day he said to me: ‘You is de putties lady ever I seed; you looks jes like one er dese here alablaster dolls.’ We walked to the bluff on the river bank, after leaving the quarter, and sat there a long time talking. Spring is here in earnest. The yellow jessamine are bursting into bloom, and the air is fragrant with the wild crab apples.” ~ Journal of Eliza Frances Andrews.

interior of a slave cabin

interior of a slave cabin

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