As a boy, in a small eastern North Carolina town, my favorite reading focused on war, land and sea. My first love was British naval history, followed closely by narratives on the Civil War, World War I and World War II. When not sailing the high seas with Lord Nelson, I was riding with Stonewall in the Valley or with Stuart circling Yankees. All three stories lifted my spirits but as I grew older the familiar tales about the Civil War grew dark with the unmissable and bottomless suffering absorbed by the South.
In my home town, I heard other people’s stories about their families like the ones from an old carpenter on my paper route who, with his feet in wood shavings and a significant absence of teeth, exclaimed once: “Why hell boy, my daddy ate rotted horse meat in Pennsylvania!” Often the best teachers hold forth outside of school!
Since my own family harbored a few secrets from Civil War, conversation on the topic was scarce, a rare thing in a bunch of talkers like us, and it was not until my 20s that I began to hunt for my Civil War ancestors. For us, most of the nineteenth century was spent wandering between Wayne, Wilson (after its creation in 1855), Nash and Edgecombe Counties. The war found us holding ground in Nash and Wilson counties.
As an eastern North Carolinian, when I say grandfather, a listener might need to ask, which generation? I fly over them rarely specifying great or great, great; they are my grandfathers! In my case, born in the late 1930s, in terms of the Civil War, I am referring exclusively to my great and gg grandfathers as well as great and gg uncles, plus a few distant cousins.
In terms of wealth, my grandfathers were rich and poor. Two of them owned a substantial number of slaves. Even their wealth was peanuts when compared with that held by a man like Archibald Hunter Arrington, Nash County’s representative at 1861 North Carolina Secession Convention. One of them died in 1845 and distributed his slaves among his large family. The other held his wealth tightly, did not fight, survived the war and, due to his wealth, after the war, had to apply directly to President Andrew Johnson for an individual pardon. My guess is that both would have viewed the Confederacy’s increasingly predictable collapse as an unproductive bet on a bad horse. Both families held shrewd businessmen and, after the war, they quickly manuevered their way back to the top, economically and politically. Even today (2010), old men tell me about how hard-nosed and clever their progeny are in business dealings.
On the other hand, a few of my grandfathers and members of their families were poor and had to fight. One moderate income great grandfather survived primarily because he was buying horses and caring for them in the service of a Confederate cavalry regiment. His brother, my great uncle, died in a Union prison with “chronic diaorrhea”, the inglorious number one killer of this too often ornately appreciated war. He missed stacking his rifle by a few months, a fact that does little to sweeten the human spirit or spread good will, in our family, for established or want-to-be governments. Another gg grandfather died in a Confederate medical facility, masquerading as a hospital, in Lynchburg, VA from wounds received in The Wilderness.
My purposes here are simple. Beyond all the rhetoric and justifications, decisions were made here and they had consequences, long and short term. I am a true believer in the teachings received from my church (Southern Baptist), my school and my family; namely, that all human beings are responsible for their actions. No one is excluded! No one! It is equally important to tell the unvarnished truth, if for no other reason than, it is so! This website is a place where the men who made the decision for war and the men who usually responded favorably to their entreaties for war are united in a way that aims to make them eternally inseparable. It is intended as a purifying kind of truth and justice.
The ambition of the leaders; namely, to establish an independent country by fighting a civil war, turnout to be as spuriously conceived as the ambition of a single man to lift the Rock of Gibraltar. In the years prior to our most devastating armed conflict, the war fever that politicians as well as newspaper publishers and editors stoked in ordinary people helped create the notion that war was a viable option if a section could not achieve the optimal protection of their interests by dialogue and compromise. Perhaps studying what an actual civil war visits upon a people who are not sufficiently innoculated against resorting to the most violent of human passion and action will help us to see the wisdom in avoiding such anniliation.
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