Courage in the Field.
from a series of sketches by J. W. De Forest: "Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons."
The pugnacious customs of Southern society explain in part the extraordinary courage which the Confederate troops displayed during the rebellion. A man might as well be shot doing soldierly service at Bull Run or The Wilderness as go back to Abbeville and be shot there in the duel or street rencoutre which awaited him. The bullet-hole was a mere question of time, and why not open one’s arms to it on the field of glory?
Fighting qualities result in a great measure from habit; and when the war commenced the Southerners were, in a sense, already veterans; they had been under fire at home, or had lived in expectation of it. They went into battle with the same moral superiority over their Northern antagonists which a border militia has over an urban militia; which, for instance, the Highlanders of Prince Charles Edward, habituated to the dirk and claymore, had over the burghers of Edinburgh; a superiority resulting from familiarity with the use and the effect of weapons.
But this was not all: there was also the power of patrician leadership; there was also the sense of honor. The Southern troops were officered in the main by the domineering, high-spirited gentlemen who governed them in time of peace; and they were fired by the belief that the greatest glory of humanity is, not learning, not art, not industry, but successful combat.
Even this was not all: they were defending their own native soil; they were stimulated by a long-cherished hate and encouraged by a carefully inculcated contempt for their antagonists; finally, they were guided in their operations by a superior knowledge of the country. Is it wonderful that a race educated under the circumstances which spring from that state of suspended war, slavery, should for a time foil and often defeat superior armies of men who had been gathered from a purely peaceful democracy? The result was as certain as that there is logic in history, although we had too much confidence in ourselves to expect it. Time alone enabled the higher civilization, the greater mass of population, the larger wealth, the more widely diffused intelligence, the superior capacity for organization, to overcome the military aptitude and feudal passion of a rebellion of aristocrats and low-downers.
But the courage and tenacity which these men displayed were wonderful and admirable. Such figures as 400 soldiers’ widows in Greenville District, 600 in Pickens District, 13,000 men killed or dead of wounds in South Carolina, 19,000 in North Carolina, prove a struggle unparalleled since that of the Romans in the second Punic war. There never was such another insurrection, and I doubt whether any other nation would have put it down, although several would not have suffered it to occur. But let us not write of the war; it is said to be an unpopular subject.
Unquestionably a strong military tone is perceptible in the character of the “chivalrous Southron.” Notably brave, punctilious as to honor, pugnacious to quarrelsomeness, authoritative to imperiousness, generous to extravagance, somewhat formal in his courtesy, somewhat grandiose in his self-respect, there is hardly an agreeable or disagreeable trait in him which you can not find in the officers of most armies. This is doubtless one reason why, at the opening of the war, many of our old regulars leaned to the rebel side; there was a relationship of sentiment between the professional militaire and the feudal head of a plantation; moreover, the latter had always treated the former with distinguished hospitality.
Before the war this soldierly spirit flowered out in military schools, in a prodigious crop of governor’s aids, and in enthusiastic militia musters. Since the war it is quiescent—it has had its fill, of arms and glory.
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