16 Year Old David E. Johnston 1845-1917 FIST HAND ACCOUNT OF CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS.
The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War.
Portland, Or.: Glass & Prudhomme Co., c1914. DAVID E. JOHNSTON, of the 7th Virginia Infantry Regiment Author of “Middle New River Settlements”
The Confederate soldier was truly an American, for his people in the South were the truest type of Americans in the land, having very little foreign population among them. Again, this Confederate soldier was born and reared a gentleman, was so by instinct. He was not a mercenary; he was neither for conquest nor aggression, but stood purely for self-defense. He believed in his inmost soul that no people had juster cause, higher aspirations, or made braver or nobler resolves for cause, country, families, homes and firesides. I turn to ask, who were these Confederate soldiers? They were principally country folks, farmers, mechanics, school boys, as stated; native born Americans, descendants of Revolutionary patriots, by no means all slave owners; thousands never owned slaves, and many were opposed to the institution. The Confederate soldier was always impatient of military restraint, feeling himself the equal of and as good as any man, and not inferior to his superior in rank; in battle, as a rule, his own general; his individuality and self-reliance, among his noted characteristics, were the crowning glory of his actions, and this self-reliance taught him when it was wise and prudent to fight, and when it was the better part of valor to decline. On the battlefield he was at his best; “his clothes might be ragged, but his musket and saber were bright. His haversack empty, but he kept his cartridge box filled. Often his feet were bare, blistered and bleeding; occasionally he might straggle on the march, but was up when the battle was on.”
Barefoot, ragged, without food, no pay and nothing to buy if he had money, he marched further, laughed louder, making the welkin ring with his rebel yell; endured more genuine suffering, hardship and fatigue, fought more bravely, complained and fretted less, than any soldier who marched beneath the banners of Napoleon. His nerve was steady and his aim was sure, and his powers of endurance and resistance unmeasured. This same Confederate soldier fought and hoped and hoped and fought:
”Sometimes he won, then hopes were high;
Again he lost, but it would not die;
And so to the end he followed and fought,
With love and devotion, which could not be bought.”
Though his ears were often greeted with the cries of woe and distress of those at home (enough to break his heart), his ardor chilled not; he had a never faltering courage; his spirit remained unbroken, his convictions never yielded. In the darkest hour of our peril, in the midst of dark and lowering clouds, with scarcely the glimmer of a star of apparent hope, he still stood firm and grasped his musket with a tighter grip. Following is the description given of this soldier by another:
”Look at the picture of this soldier as he stood in the iron and leaden hail, with his old, worn out slouch hat, his bright eyes glistening with excitement, powder-begrimed face, rent and ragged clothing, with the prints of his bare feet in the dust of the battle, a genuine tatterdemalion, fighting bravely, with no hope of reward, promotion or pay, with little to eat and that often cornbread and sorphum molasses. If he stopped a Yankee bullet and was thereby killed, he was buried on the field and forgotten, except by comrades or a loving old mother at home.”
”In the solemn shades of the wood that swept
The field where his comrades found him,
They buried him there - and the big tears crept
Into strong men’s eyes that had seldom wept.
His mother - God pity her! - smiled and slept,
Dreaming her arms were around him.”
In modern times there has never been such valor and heroism displayed as in our Civil War, never such soldiers as the Union and Confederate, and certainly never such as the Confederate soldiers, and it would be nothing to their credit to have achieved victories over less valorous foes than the Union soldiers, and no credit to the Union soldiers that they overwhelmed men of less bravery. The individuality of the Confederate soldier was never lost, and this with his self-possession and intelligent thought made him well nigh invincible. The Army of Northern Virginia as a whole was never driven, from a battlefield, although confronted by as good soldiers as were on the continent. No danger could appall these men of Lee, no peril awe, no hardships dismay, no numbers intimidate. To them duty was an inspiration. They had devastated no fields, desecrated no temples and plundered no people, always respecting woman, and feared no man. The record of these soldiers since the war is clean, their names a stranger to criminal records; few, if any, who followed Lee have been behind the bars of a jail. He was their great exemplar. Thousands of these non-commissioned officers and private soldiers, after the first year of the war, were fitted not only to command regiments, but could well have filled much higher military positions.
Great soldiers were Lee, Johnston, Jackson, Longstreet, Hills, Pickett, Stuart and others, but who made them great? No generals ever had such soldiers. It was these Confederates in the ranks that made the names of their generals immortal.