A lot of folks tell us what the Civil War was all about. Professors and reporters and “very important” people tell us.
And with what conviction they tell us!
But I rarely hear from the scholars about why the man in uniform was fighting. Seems the soldier is simply forgotten. Sure, we hear “what the war was about,” and we hear the bad intentions of some assigned to the Confederate soldier.
As a historian, I most enjoy writing about individuals – people, men who were there and experienced what we call history.
Sure, I write about events, but when I do I like to brush in real people. I like to include what they said about what happened.
Private David Johnston (left) was 16 when he put on a Rebel uniform. Through hardship and serious wounds he fought, all four years of the war. He then went on to become a Congressman and a respected judge.
David wrote a book after the war, telling of his experiences. Towards the end of it he wrote this:
“In praise of the Confederate soldier, I do not for one moment mean or intend to detract from the laurels won by the heroic Union soldier, who stood in the firing line, faithfully discharging his duty; for he, as well as we, was contending for principles regarded sacred and for which we had risked our lives….
“All were American soldiers, and the glory and honor won by each is the common heritage of the American people, not to be obscured or clouded by the questions about which we differed. Each struggled to maintain the right as God gave him to see the right.
“We often talked along the skirmish lines with Union soldiers…. In opposition to our claim that we were fighting for independence—separate government—they insisted that they were fighting for the Union, a common, undivided country; did not want to see the country broken up by division; and I feel fairly safe in stating that this feeling and sentiment largely dominated the great majority of the Union soldiers.”
David’s words ring true, whatever the interests of the politicians and economic concerns of the times. Men fought for what they believed in, and hundreds of thousands sacrificed their lives “for principles regarded sacred.”
There were virtues on both sides, and people today remember them.