I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil War era.
The year is 1861. The gallant Southerners, feeling their whole culture and way of life being threatened by the conniving ways of the mercenary Yankees, have left the Union in a huff. The Union inexorably refuses to recognize such rebellion. The clash! Gray against blue. The Confederacy struggles to free herself from her stern old mother; struggles for freedom and recognition, like a pent-up teenager who just wants out of the house. The boys in blue might be outnumbered, but they have a dream; they fight for the green hills of Dixie; the glorious Cause. The Yankee boys aren’t fighting for a Cause; they fight because they have to fight; because their government says so. But there are so many of them; and besides, they have the might of the mercenary North behind them! Everyone knows that all Yankees care about is making money; no wonder they’re the ones with the industry and factories; they’re the ones with all the industrial resources. What has the South to fall back on? They have King Cotton! England’s textile industry depends on King Cotton. They’ll never let the South fall! Or will they? Scratch that idea; and now, the Yankees have penned the Rebels in. The blockades won’t let anyone in or out. Without access to Europe to barter with, the Confederacy is on her own.
New Year’s Day, 1863. Abraham Lincoln delivers the Emancipation Proclamation. AHA! Now the Yankee boys really have something to fight for! Now there’s glory and romance in’t! No longer is it a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight;” no longer is it a political battle; a stupid war to try and keep a People who simply won’t be kept. Now it’s “As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on!” Here is a Cause; a Cause as great and greater than any Southern rebel has.
1864: it’s all over. The Confederate boys are crushed; but wait; are there any Southern boys left? Or are they all small boys and old men? It’s true; the South has no more boys to give. It’s all over.
And yet it’s so not.
I’ve never been able to take sides about the Civil War. Who was really right? North or South? And if they were, were they right enough to make a fruitless war that killed so many? A war that made widows from happy wives, and old maids from hopeful young women? A war that crippled and decimated an entire generation?
Sarah Ballou lost her husband. Here is the last letter her husband penned her. The first time I heard this letter read was in history class. I was fourteen. I heard the last line and scrammed out of class. I didn’t want my teacher to see me cry.