The Story of the Beginning of the War, from Stories of Dixie

"I believe the world has never produced a body of men superior, in courage, patriotism, and endurance, to the private soldiers of the Confederate armies. I have repeatedly seen those soldiers submit with cheerfulness to privations and hardships which would appear to be almost incredible; and the wild cheers of these brave men when their lines sent back the opposing host of Federal troops, staggering, reeling, and flying, have often thrilled every fiber in my heart. I have seen, with my own eyes, ragged, barefooted, and hungry Confederate soldiers perform deeds, which, if performed in days of yore, by mailed warriors in glittering armor, would have inspired the harp of the minstrel and the pen of the poet." --- Gen. Jubal Early, CSA

The Story of the Beginning of the War
The Irrepressible Conflict
From
Stories of Dixie
NY: American Book Company, 1915.
Chapter VI

by James W. Nicholson, A.M., LL.D.
Professor of Mathematics
Louisiana State University

[Publisher's Note, by Gene Kizer, Jr. : This is a GREAT story, which today would be classified as "YA" or "Young Adult." The only difference in YA fiction and regular short stories and novels, is that the YA protagonist is a teenager or young adult, as opposed to an adult. Since so many of our Confederate boys were this age during the war, this story gives us a vivid and realistic glimpse into their lives and the lives of their families before the war, how they enlisted and departed from home, and what they faced initially.

The story's pages in the book that have illustrations on them I have scanned so you can enjoy the drawings as you read the text. The author, James William Nicholson, says that northern Louisiana, where the story starts, is a microcosm of the Old South.]

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WHEN IT BECAME KNOWN that Mr. Lincoln had been elected president of the United States (November, 1860) there was great excitement all over the country. It is hard for one, at the present time, to realize how widely the North and the South had become separated in thought and feeling, especially with regard to certain leading questions and issues. It really seemed that an "irrepressible conflict" had arisen between them. So the Southern states, believing that the Union had become hurtful rather than helpful to their peace and welfare, resolved to withdraw from it, just as a partner would leave a business concern which had ceased to be pleasant and profitable to him. They seceded from the Union (annulled the compact which bound them to it), formed a government of their own, and called it the Confederate States of America.

Mr. Lincoln was an intense unionist; he believed and affirmed that the breaking up of the Union would be the greatest evil that could befall all the states. So he determined to preserve the Union at all hazards, and to this end sent an army into the South to quell the "rebellion."

How little the common people of the two sections really knew of one another---their thoughts, habits, characters, and ideals! This came from their living so far apart, and having no opportunity or means of mutual communication. Their knowledge of one another was based on hearsay, and this was distorted by partisans and fanatics. The South misjudged and undervalued the North in many ways, and evidently Mr. Lincoln himself had a poor idea of southern conditions; for, to subdue the South, he called out 75,000 troops for three months, whereas as a matter of fact it took 2,750,000 soldiers four years to accomplish it. Had the common people North and South known each other better---their patriotism, devotion to the Union, and ideals of right and wrong---probably their differences would have been healed without the cost of so much blood and treasure.

Nick Goes to War

It was on a superb spring morning that Nick, with his gun and dog, was strolling through the dark green woods near his father's country home. What lad would not have been happy under the same conditions! For him there had just been substituted outdoor freedom for indoor restraints, hunting for studying, the songs of birds and the murmur of running water for a stillness unrelieved except by the rattle of chalk or the clatter of slate pencils. No sound or sight of the landscape evaded the lad's quickened and responsive senses. A buttercup quivered and bowed under the flutter and weight of a bee extracting its honey; a "news-carrier" (syrphus fly), just arrived from fairyland, poised in mid air and cheered the boy with its fanciful message; a sapsucker flopped from a distant tree to one nearby and ran in dismal spirals about one of its big branches. All nature was "laughing in the madness of joy"; never seemed the sky so blue, the foliage so green, nor the odor of the honeysuckle so sweet.

It is dreadful how quickly a delightful situation may be changed. Over the hills came the long swelling blasts of Uncle Wash's hunting horn. Nick knew at once that it was a call to him to come home. He struck a bee line for the house, feeling that it must be something about the war, for people now thought and talked of little else. At the front gate he met his cousin Billie [who was actually W. C. Boring, Shreveport, La.] who lived in the western part of the parish. He was also a lusty lad, a little

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hall. Lying on these rough beds and lulled by the roar of wind and rain, they fell asleep. What an experience---the ride, the storm, the bed! What a fitting introduction to the career of the Dixie soldier! Was it an accident or a harbinger? God only knows.

After a sound two-hour nap they mounted their mules, continued their journey, and had the joy and honor of being enrolled as members of the "Claiborne Rangers," of which Thomas M. Scott was captain.

The first day of July, 1861, was fixed as the time for the company to assemble in Homer and start to the war. These were now busy and exciting times. Every soldier was to have a uniform---a round-about coat with large horn buttons---and all the ladies joined in to help make them. The ladies met, in groups at different places and there was a great deal of planing, measuring, sewing, and chattering. The young people lived in a fever of excitement. Uncle Wash made Nick a great bowie knife that was nearly a foot long. On the night before the day of departure, Nick was so wrought up in mind that he could scarcely go to sleep. He rose early the next morning, put on his uniform and also his belt, to which was attached a scabbard carrying his big knife. "Ah," thought he, "Mr. Yank had better keep out of my way." His little sister dashed into

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was simply a part of the natural optimism of the people. Nick almost prayed that the war would not close before he got into one battle; but after he got into one he then prayed that it would close before he got into another.

It was sixty miles to the nearest railroad. This distance was to be traveled by the Claiborne Rangers in wagons or on foot. They knew nothing of drilling; this was the first time many of them had ever seen one another. But few had even heard of "fall in." So there was no attempt to form or march them in military order. When they started every fellow went as he pleased.

When the order was given to march there was much cheering and shaking of hands, and good wishes were showered upon the departing soldiers. Oat said it was really a relief when they had gone so far that friends and relatives could no longer say to them "good-by" and "God bless you." The poor fellow did not dream that many a long day was to pass before they again saw faces so beaming with looks of love and good will. With Aunt Martha's last embrace of Nick there came a far-away, dreamy look into her eyes. She was staring at him, but he felt himself almost outside the range of her vision. Nick never forgot that look, piercing as it were the realms of the future, and in after years wondered if she then had a premonition of her own passing away before his return from the war. While her beautiful eyes bespoke fear, anxiety, and sorrow, there was no dimming of the indomitable light that lived in their clear depths.

There were enough wagons and hacks to haul the entire party, their baskets of food, and their luggage. Some of the men rode and others walked, and when tired of the one they did the other. All along the road, people cheered them with their smiles, kind words, and good wishes, the men waving their hats and the women their handkerchiefs.

Late in the afternoon they reached the Gee Place, and there they pitched camp for the night. Most of the men had been on camp hunts and camp fishings, and were more or less familiar with camp life. They knew what to do and how to do it to make themselves quite comfortable. There was a great stir and bustle in feeding and watering the stock, preparing and eating supper, and making pallets of blankets and comforts. After that the men became more quiet; they sat in groups on logs or pallets and told stories, cracked jokes, and sang familiar songs. As the night wore away they went by ones or twos "to bed," until none were left. On their rude couches they slept as soundly and as sweetly as if they had been in their soft beds at home. While they slumbered, the stars shone brightly in the skies as if keeping watch over them, and the stillness of the night was broken only by the whippoorwill as in the deep shadows of the forest, it poured forth its plaintive call, "chuck, will-widow."

The men rose early the next morning, fed the stock, prepared and ate breakfast, and continued the march. The scenes and events along the road did not differ much from those of the day before. One mile west of Vienna they passed the old Wafer Place, the home of Nick's maternal great-grandfather. The second night they camped at the "Gum Spring," and the third night, in the courthouse yard of the beautiful city of Monroe.

A new railroad ran from Monroe to Vicksburg, and this was the first one many of the Rangers had ever seen. Some platform cars were provided with seats made of rough planks, and on these the soldiers were transported from Monroe to Vicksburg. The terminal of the road at that time was DeSoto, a small village just across the river from Vicksburg. It has long since been destroyed by the changes in the channel of the great river. From DeSoto they were ferried across the river to Vicksburg. Here they stopped a few hours, during which time Nick went to an art gallery and had his "ambrotype" taken, a copy of which faces page 18.

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From Vicksburg the company went by rail to Jackson, Mississippi, and thence journeyed to Camp Moore, Louisiana.

Camp Moore

In the piny woods of Tangipahoa Parish there is a certain old field neglected and overgrown with pine bushes. Thousands have seen it from the passing trains of the Illinois Central without suspecting that it was the site of a great military encampment in the stormy days of  '61. Here Camp Moore, named after the governor of Louisiana, was located. Hardly could a more appropriate place for the purpose have been found---seventy-five miles from New Orleans, sufficiently rolling for easy drainage, and level enough for military evolutions. Situated as it was in the ozone belt, the air was pure and sweet, and redolent with the odor of fresh pine straw. On one side was Beaver Creek and on the other the Tangipahoa River, both running streams of clear sparkling water.

Here the sons of Louisiana went to enlist in the army and to be trained in the duties of soldiers. When the war began these sons knew nothing of drilling, guard mounting, and many other duties which alone make men efficient in the camp and on the march and the battle field. Camp Moore was

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arms!" "Forward, guide right, march!" "Company, left  half wheel, march!" The welkin rang with these and other commands, each having something of the clear crack of a rifle.

When the Rangers received their tents they at once put them up in two rows, facing one another, and Captain Scott said, "They look as well as any on the ground." The next day officers were elected, and the company mustered into service for one year. Then they drew guns---all kinds, scarcely any dozen of them being of the same pattern. Thus equipped, they entered upon all the duties of soldiers; namely, drilling, guard mounting every morning, dress parade every afternoon, policing, inspections, cleaning quarters, washing clothes, drawing rations, cooking and eating the frugal meals.

When a regiment was formed and sent to the "front" its place was soon filled by new companies coming in from all parts of the state. A few of these were Irish, more French, and still more English. Ten of the English companies from North-Central Louisiana, including the Claiborne Rangers, were formed into a regiment, known as the 12th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry. Of this regiment Captain Scott, of the Rangers, was elected Colonel.

The 12th was formed of a thousand young men---stalwart, muscular, dauntless hobbledehoys. They were the sons of lawyers, doctors, business men, and farmers, and having been reared largely in Christian homes they had that pride and morale which make men towers of strength in peace and in war. Of course their military potency could not be estimated before training and trial, but there was the assurance in advance that "blood will tell" for there flowed in their veins the blood of the heroes of Hastings and Marston Moor, Valley Forge and Yorktown, Horse Shoe Bend and New Orleans, Buena Vista and Chapultepec.

It was a short walk from camp to the Tangipahoa River, and early in the morning and late in the afternoon the soldiers were permitted to go there to bathe and swim. This was much enjoyed by all, and every day the river was lined with the jolly and noisy swimmers. Indeed, throughout the war, the range of their pleasures being so narrow, the men went in the creeks, mill ponds, and rivers whenever they had a chance, even in pretty cold weather, that being about their only pastime. They often took their soiled clothes, washed them, and spread them on the bushes to dry, while they bathed and played in the water.

It was at Camp Moore that Nick learned to swim. That was queer, for, as a rule, Louisiana boys take to water almost as soon as they can walk. But after that, Nick made up for lost time by swimming in, if

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punished for drunkenness by being put under guard with a chain and ball attached to his ankle. Kelly had been a steamboat roustabout, and was a giant in size and strength. Nick happened to be on guard that day and had to guard Kelly. Now the big Irishman, moved by a spirit of humor or desperation, seemed to be watching for a chance to spring on Nick and beat the life out of him. So every time he moved down would come Nick's gun. It was loaded with an ounce ball and Kelly knew it. When the corporal of the guard came, Kelly said to him in a whisper: "Would ye be after putting a man in the place of that spalpeen of a lad? The little cuss has got so he won't let me turn over."

Nick was as glad to go as Kelly was to have him go.

Exposure and other causes produced much sickness among the troops. At the beginning of the year each camp was supplied with a hospital in which the sick were cared for. In it were clean beds, medicines, and nurses, and many ladies came with flowers and delicacies for the patients. But year by year, as the war went on, camp hospitals became poorer and the medicines scarcer, until they really disappeared altogether. At first the chief kind of sickness was measles, which is usually a harmless disease, but a very fatal one when the subject is exposed. More men died of it during the war than of all other dis-

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now hears the "mournful song" of the pine straw as it is swept by the passing breeze.

Many years after the war the Daughters of the Confederacy induced the legislature to appropriate enough money to buy the old graveyard, clean it off, build a strong iron fence around it, and erect a monument in memory of the men, living and dead, who served there. When the monument was unveiled (1907) Nick, then a professor in the state university, made the dedication speech.

Two large beech trees were left standing in the inclosure on account of the many names of the soldiers cut into their bark. Among these old carvings Nick's attention was called to his own initials, "J. W. N.," which were probably cut by him just forty-six years before.

In the latter part of August, the 12th was ordered to "the front." With what a thrill of excitement was the order received by the men! At last their hopes of getting into a battle were to be realized! Up to his time they had had no news to write home except the details of camp life. Now they were to go far away into Kentucky, where the storm of war would soon be raging.

There was a great hurry and bustle in preparing to move---taking down tents, packing luggage, and cooking three days' rations. When they boarded the train each man carried a knapsack, a haversack, a canteen, two blankets, and a gun and cartridge box. It was a long freight train that was to carry them, and some took passage in and some on top of the box cars. When it "pulled out" a long and loud hurrah was shouted by a thousand jolly fellows. Poor boys! They little dreamed of the hardships and privations in store for them.

NOTE: [from the story's author]
It is not the intention of this book to give any account of the battles and conflicts of the War between the States. As to how the Dixie boys acquitted themselves as soldiers is briefly told in the following tribute to them by General Early:

"I believe the world has never produced a body of men superior, in courage, patriotism, and endurance, to the private soldiers of the Confederate armies. I have repeatedly seen those soldiers submit with cheerfulness to privations and hardships which would appear to be almost incredible; and the wild cheers of these brave men when their lines sent back the opposing host of Federal troops, staggering, reeling, and flying, have often thrilled every fiber in my heart. I have seen, with my own eyes, ragged, barefooted, and hungry Confederate soldiers perform deeds, which, if performed in days of yore, by mailed warriors in glittering armor, would have inspired the harp of the minstrel and the pen of the poet."

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Gene, for a wonderfully realistic look into the mind of a private soldier. Loved every sentence.
    garry bowers

    • Garry,

      I’ll be publishing another article from Stories of Dixie soon: the long walk home at the end of the war. It is fascinating. God bless those boys and all they went through. Real heroes, all.

      Gene

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