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Common enlisted soldiers opinions of southrons

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by dixiearistocrat, Aug 8, 2018.

  1. dixiearistocrat

    dixiearistocrat Cadet

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    hey y’all, I’m trying to find letters written by Union soldiers during the war between the states, mainly enlisted personnel not officers. I want to know what the common man thought of their cousins below the mason Dixon line.
     

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  3. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Colonel

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    Have you considered Union Civil War autobiographies? Two excellent one are "All for the Union" by Elisha Hunt Rhodes . Rhodes started the war as a private in the 4th Rhode Island and ended up as the Colonel commanding.
    Another one published shortly after the ear is "A Southern Boy in Blue the memoirs of Marcus Woodcock Sixth Kentucky Volunteers."
    Woodcock was from Central Tennessee but early in the war crossed the state line to Camp Dick Robertson to join and train with Union troops mostly from Kentucky and Tennessee.
    Approximately 42 thousand men from Tennessee joined the Union Army per " Lincoln's Loyalists Union Soldiers from the Confederacy" Richard Current Northeast University Press.
    Let me know if you want me to look for quotes from either book. Woodcock started as a private I forgot if he became an officer later in the war.
    James McPherson wrote a book which U have and if memory serves the title is "For cause and comrades" which has letters from soldiers on both sides.
    Leftyhunter
     
  4. Zack

    Zack Private

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    Life of Billy Yank by Bell Wiley devotes an entire chapter to Union soldiers' opinions of the South and its people. The chapter is called "In Dixie Land."

    Here's a smattering of quotes from that chapter:

    Northerners generally found Southerners to be ignorant:
    John P. Sheahan, First Maine Cavalry, in Maryland - Marylanders “don’t know anything atall, they don’t know a mile from two miles, ask them how far it is to such a place and they will at once say, ‘well right smart distance I reckon,’ and that is all you can get out of them for that is all they know, and you can’t get more out of anyone than what they know.”

    A Yankee in Maryland - “I dont believe the inhabitants even know the day of the week.”

    A New Englander on a raid in Virginia - “I cant form an Idea what they are in New Orleans if they continue 2 grow ignorant as they go South recollecting we onley went 26 miles from our Camp.”

    The people were frail, lazy, and indolent:
    One soldier said the men of New Bern were “all tall, lean, sallow, ugly-looking fellows."

    Middle Tennesseans were “the poorest looking specimens phisically that I have ever seen - tall, thin, sickly looking mortals with hardly life enough to move.”

    A Michigander in Little Rock - “the people look as though they had the ague all their life.”

    An Ohioan in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama - “The men are a very lazy trifling set; too lazy to work themselves but willing to sit around the store-doors whittling, smoking, and drinking. . . . The money comes from the labor of women of all ages from fifteen to fifty years and upwards, in the field, hoeing, plowing, and planting.”

    Southern women were forward, immodest, coarse, immoral, and unattractive:
    One soldier remarked - “They are void of the roseate hue of health and beauty which so much adorns our Northern belles.”

    An Ohioan - “The southern girls are quite different from the northern. They (the southern) are not as healthy and robust as the northern but are thin and pale, but are very sociable.”

    One Yank - “They look more like polls than any thing else.”

    Another Yank - “The women here are generally shaped like a lath, nasty, slab-sided, long haired specimens of humanity. I would as soon kiss a dried codfish as one of them.”

    A New Yorker on a Virginian Belle - “She might have been a smart girl, but she has never done anything but read novels and she is a novel educated thing and all she knows is what she has learnt from reading novels. This is a specimen of Virginia Ladies.”

    An Indiana near Vicksburg - “The women wear their dresses without any hoops & they only come about 3 inches below their knees & and they had peaks to their dresses about 7 inches & it is so slick with grease that it looks like an alligator’s head. . . . their shoes look like bred trays & their tracks like sowbeds.”

    A Yankee in North Mississippi on the women - “[They are] sharp-nosed, tobacco-chewing, snuff-rubbing, flax-headed, hatchet-faced, yellow-eyed, sallow-skinned, cotton-dressed, flat-breasted, bare-headed, long-waisted, hump-shouldered, stoop-necked, big-footed, straddle-toed, sharp-shinned, thin-lipped, pale-faced, lantern-jawed, silly-looking damsels.”

    Northerners were shocked by the prevalence of tobacco chewing in the South, even among women and children:

    Illinois captain in Scottsboro, Alabama - “I went to the nearest house to camp today, to beg a little piece of tallow. . . . I sat down by a fire in company with three young women, all cleanly dressed, and powdered to death. Their ages were from 18 to 24. Each of them had a quid of tobacco in her cheek about the size of my stone inkstand, and if they didn’t make the extract fly worse than I ever saw in any country grocery, shoot me. These women here have so disgusted me with the use of tobacco that I have determined to abandon it.”

    Surgeon of an Illinois regiment in Western Tennessee - “As I walked the streets on Memphis I met a lady . . . quite finely dressed . . . [with] a little stick in her mouth. . . . As I approached her she removed it and spit upon the pavement a great stream of Tobacco Juice. She then returned the little stick which I saw had a little swab on the end of it. She was dipping.”

    Corporal Edward Edes of Massachusetts in Lookout Valley, Tennessee - “The little girls in these parts about seven or eight years old chew tobacco like veterans and babies smoke before they are weaned.”

    Private John Tallman from Vicksburg - “Thare are some nice looking girls, but they will chew tobacco, Sweet little things. Don’t you think ‘I’ for instance would . . . make a nice show rideing along in a carrage with a young lady, me spiting tobacco juce out of one side of the carrage and she out the other . . . wall aint that nice, oh, cow!”

    A Illinois officer in North Mississippi - “Snuff-dipping is an universal custom here, and there are only two women in all Iuka that do not practice it. . . . Sometimes girls ask their beaux to take a dip with them during a spark. I asked one if it didn’t interfere with the old fashioned habit of kissing. She assured me that it did not in the least, and I marvelled.”

    And so on and so on, including a prevalence of sin and opinions on slavery and slaveholding.

    Bell Wiley found dislike to be the majority opinion, but there were certainly positive opinions as well which he addresses. Some Northerners found the Southerners to be polite and friendly, the countryside pretty, and the culture refined.

    Definitely check out this book!
     
  5. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Colonel

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    I have some books on the counterinsurgency conflict in Missouri. The Union soldiers comments about the Missourians were somewhat less then complimentary.
    If you want maybe on the weekend I can post a few quotes.
    Leftyhunter
     
  6. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    Hmm...

    Despite the negativity so far, methinks it would be very difficult to pin this question down. There are a lot of varied perspectives in the historical record. Fraternization between the two groups was not uncommon, for example. Christmas, 1862, at Fredericksburg is a good example. The boys seemed to have really enjoyed one another.

    William Titus Rigby was an enlisted Iowan, promoted to line officer, who kept diaries and wrote extensively to his family during the Red River Campaign. His stuff was preserved and donated to the U. of Iowa where it survives. Rigby was pretty well fascinated and if anything was negative towards the Union Command and not 'Southrons.'
     
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  7. major bill

    major bill Colonel Forum Host

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    I would have to look up letters in newspapers, but ignorant and dirty are common views. How much of this is true is open to debate. Most soldier guarding captured enemy soldiers do not have a high opinion of the captured enemy soldiers. I have seen almost 100,000 captured soldiers and it kind of helps to look down on them a bit. One does not exactly want to mistreat captured enemy soldiers but seeing them as some what inferior kind of helps one not feel real bad about how you are treating them.
     
  8. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Colonel

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    Don't know about geting " pasted by much smaller forces". In most major battles the Union Army only outnumbered the Confederate Army 1.86 to one. There were battles where outnumbered Union forces beat the Confederate Army i.e. Prairie Grove, Pea Ridge . In Georgia their was one battle that General Hooker won and yet was outnumbered.Let me know if you want me to lok up the details.
    .We don't have opinion polls since thet were not yet invented so we can't know how most Union soldiers felt about the Southerners.
    I think it was @johan_steele or @ Cash who said that most Union .Vets did not want to associate with Confederate Vets post war. Don't quote me on that but hopefully they can supply some details
    regarding that.
    Armies that get " Pasted" don't sieze enemy territory every year and they loose not win wars.
    Leftyhunter
     
  9. John Hartwell

    John Hartwell Major Forum Host

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    It depended very largely on the location and circumstances. Civilians were generally judged more harshly than soldiers There was a lot of respect voiced for Johnnie reb: his courage and stubbornness. The terror inspired by the "rebel yell" is almost universally admitted (though I've also seen it called a "lunatic squeal"). In rural areas, farms were generally considered to be dirty, run-down, poor due to laziness and indolence of the people: almost always spoken of as ignorant and dirty. The wealthy were looked at differently, though almost always seen as arrogant exploiters of blacks and poor whites alike. There were always exceptions, of course.

    Fredericksburg, August 1862:
    "Milk and fresh meat have become only memories; but the bitter spirits of the citizens are supported by assurances of speedy rebel relief, and they remain firm in their disloyalty; only very old men, and sad scowling women dressed in black, are to be seen in the gloomy, silent city, and it is a relief to return to the life and vigor of our camp. I personally admire the obstinacy with which the old men and women are standing by sons, brothers, and husbands in the rebel army." (C.Wolcott, 21st MVI)​
     
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  10. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Colonel

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    Sam Watkins a Confederate soldiet wrote in his autobiography "CompanyAtch" that towards the end of the war Sam would be fed by friendly Union troops while still serving in the Confederate Army.
    Where ever Union troops were engaged in counterinsurgency their would a lot less wsrm and fuzzy feelings towards Southern civiluans or in border states those who supported the Confederacy.
    There is an online autobiography from a sergeant in the Seventh Kansas who was not overly friendly to Southern civilians. His name was. Fletcher Pomoroy.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  11. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Colonel

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  12. Lusty Murfax

    Lusty Murfax Sergeant

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    I am not surprised by the attitudes expressed by northerners toward southerners. It is a common tendency of occupation troops to dehumanize the citizens they are subjugating. Had the situation been reversed, we would be reading similar observations of northern civilians.
     
  13. Burning Billy

    Burning Billy Sergeant

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    While two of the accounts below are from officers, they were from captains rather than colonels or generals..

    "I went over a part of the battle-field that night, and did what I could to make the wounded comfortable; but very soon this seemed a hopeless undertaking; our wounded were removed in ambulances as fast as possible, but the rebel wounded, who were almost all of them in our hands, received extremely little attention, and lay scattered over the field in groups of twenty, fifty, or even a hundred, trying to help each other a little.

    Our men could not help it; most of them were too much worn out to raise a hand, and the regular Ambulance Corps could not begin to attend to our own wounded boys. I was glad to do a little something for them, even if it were only to turn them on their side, and give them a glass of water. Utterly as I detest a living active rebel, as soon as he becomes wounded and a prisoner I don't perceive any difference in my feelings towards him and towards one of our own wounded heroes. I suppose this is very heterodox, but I can't help it. I found a Colonel of a Mississippi Regiment shot through the breast, a man of stately bearing, and a soldier of his regiment told me that he was judge of the Supreme Court of that State. Now here was a man, evidently one of the real old original Secesh; but I forgot that, took him into a barn, made him a straw bed, fixed a pillow for him, got him a cup of coffee, and ignored the fact that he gave me no word of thanks or farewell when I left him."

    The full text here:

    Gettysburg - William Wheeler Letter


    Another Union officer at Gettysburg was sickened and moved to tears by the sight of the Confederate wounded and dead in the aftermath of Pickett's Charge. He may not have shared his thoughts on what he thought of active rebels, unlike William Wheeler, but like Wheeler he wasn't without empathy for the wounded and dead among his enemies.

    "No words can depict the ghastly picture. The track of the great charge was marked by bodies of men in all possible positions, wounded, bleeding, dying, and dead. Near the line where the final struggle occurred, the men lay in heaps, the wounded wiggling and groaning under the weight of the dead among whom they were entangled. In my weak and exhausted condition I could not long endure the gory, ghastly spectacle. I found my head reeling, the tears flowing and my stomach sick at the sight.”


    ---Captain Benjamin W. Thompson of the 111th New York. Thompson had been wounded in the second day's fighting at Gettysburg but had walked to Cemetery Ridge in the assault's aftermath.


    Another Union private was a bit more callous when reflecting on the carnage of the assault's aftermath: "It many places it was inconvenient to walk without stepping in clots of human blood. It was rebel blood so it did not seem so bad."

    link
     
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  14. Coonewah Creek

    Coonewah Creek Sergeant

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    I'm sure at least some of those quoted statements were made for the benefit of the girlfriends, wives and mothers back home. I mean, heaven forbid there might be any thought of their menfolk "consorting" with Rebel females!
     
  15. Joshism

    Joshism Sergeant Major

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    I'm not sure the explanation is that simple. The quotes given from "Life of Billy Yank" are in many ways similar to comments by Reconstruction Era visitors to the South, and probably even later.

    There's surely some Yankee regional bias in there beyond simply "citizens they are subjugating" in wartime. But it's also probable that many Southern whites lived in poverty with illiteracy, dirt floors, widespread tobacco use, etc widespread enough to shock Northern visitors who were unfamiliar with such things from their city lives or more comfortable farm communities.
     
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  16. Lusty Murfax

    Lusty Murfax Sergeant

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    I've read similar quotes of Union soldiers from other States whose regiments were assigned occupation duties in Missouri. Expressions of their view of Missouri citizens was invariably negative and descriptions often demeaning and derogatory. In general these troops would have had little knowledge of the situation in these occupied States before Union forces had driven out the government and military protectors of the people, laid waste to the economic systems and appropriated everything of value for their own personal use. Again, think of this from the viewpoint of the common soldier, had the situation been reversed. 'Ignorant, dirty, teeming poverty stricken masses rioting over scraps of garbage in a burnt out urban landscape.'
     
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  17. major bill

    major bill Colonel Forum Host

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    One must take into account that any Union soldier who wrote his opinion of Confederate soldiers could read and write. The views of Union soldiers who could not write were not written down. So yes a reasonably well educated Union soldier probably looked down on Southern soldiers who could not read and write. However, many Southern soldiers could read and write and I suspect some Union soldiers often concentrated on Southern soldiers who could not read and write.
     
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  18. dixiearistocrat

    dixiearistocrat Cadet

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    I would like to thank y’all for all y’alls replies, they were all really good especially the ones from the captain that were quoted and the book “billy yank”
     
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  19. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    I can't find the source--I think it was Matthew Bumgarner's Kirk's Raiders--that included observations from Northern soldiers about Western North Carolina civilians during the war. One of them actually thought the Confederate-sympathizing ladies were more well-bred, well-to-do, and attractive than the local Union sympathizers, but he was also irritated because he thought they were really haughty and made a point of snubbing the Yankee soldiers all! :wink:

    On the flip side, I've also come across other Northern soldiers who commented on how gritty they thought the local Unionist ladies were and who seemed to have a real sense of admiration for them. That wasn't in Kirk's Raiders. That was in something else. Would have to dig around for it.

    Just like with any witness, I suppose--different people bring their own backgrounds, experiences, and expectations to a situation and have different observations as a result.
     
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  20. Zack

    Zack Private

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    Bell Wiley actually writes, in discussing instances of Union soldiers praising the beauty of Southern women, "The charm of Southern girls for Federal soldiers became so noticeable in some cases as to excite jealousy among the women of the North. In most instances the fears of lasting attachments being formed in Dixie did not materialize, but in a considerable number of cases, wartime acquaintances ripened into romances leading to marriage. And hundreds of Billy Yanks, some with Northern wives, settled permanently in Dixie after the war."

    I think this is a good point - any answers here are going to be by definition generalizations. Every Union soldier that marched South was an individual and viewed the South and its people through their own lens. That said, some of the negativity Union soldiers showed towards Southerners is not necessarily mutually exclusive with respect for the fighting prowess or tenacity of the Southern soldier. A Union soldier could simultaneously think a Southerner was uneducated, backwards, and coarse and admire the steadfastness and bravery they showed on the battlefield. Furthermore, Wiley notes that, "It is worthy of note that tolerance increased with continuing service in the occupied country, and soldiers who remained in Dixie for two years or more often were able to achieve a fair degree of objectivity and accuracy in their observations."

    This is an excellent point. Wiley somewhat loosely addresses this issue to an extent in his book. He writes:

    It is an interesting commentary on human nature that some of the most earnest critics of Southern culture were men who themselves committed travesties that must have exceeded those of the ignoramuses whom they scorned. A striking example is afforded in the case of Private William B. Stanard of Michigan who wrote his sister from Bell’s Tavern, Kentucky, in February 1862:

    The ****ry hear is the hardest plase that I ever Sea Wea Do Not Sea a Scool house near in one hundred Mills and you ask a man if they Go to Meaten they Say they Dont No What it is there aint one in 20 that can tell one Leter from a Nother and every thing els in CordenCee with thear Lurnen.


    In addition, he writes that:

    When letters written by Southerners fell into Northern hands, great amusement was had in passing them about and making fun of their shortcomings in grammar and spelling. After such diversion a young Connecticut officer wrote his mother: “The ladies are so modest that they write of themselves with a little i. . . . Southern babies send their papas ‘Howdy,’ . . . a certain perfidious [stay-at-home] . . . is ‘cortin the gall’ of one of the brave palmetto soldiers.” He concluded with the comment: “Above all penmanship, spelling and composition showed that the greatest need of the South is an army of Northern Schoolmasters.”

    Now to continue harping on with quotes from Bell Wiley's work, but he argues that, "In considering Billy Yank’s opinion of Southerners, however, it should be kept in mind that common soldiers had relatively little contact with the upper classes. The privileged groups constituted only a small part of the population; a goodly portion of them lived in isolated dwellings; and because of their way of life they were not generally as accessible to the man in the ranks as were people of lesser means and lower social standing. It was the common folk whom Billy Yank most frequently observed and hence who provided the basis of his estimate of the Southern people. But this is an advantage to one seeking information about the South’s past, as the plain folk comprised the overwhelming majority of the population and less is known of them than of the upper classes."

    Furthermore, Union soldiers definitely singled out certain groups for hatred over others, such as South Carolinians, seen to be the instigators of the war. Some Union soldiers praised the refinement of the wealthy planter class, others despised its hypocrisy, violence, and role in contributing to the war.

    Fraternization definitely happened and is always a curious and attractive moment that reflects the so-called better angels of our nature. They certainly happened, from the large scale example you shared at Fredericksburg to smaller scale trading and verbal jousting along the picket lines. Lance Herdegen, who has spent his life studying the Iron Brigade, made a comment during an interview that I thought was quite illuminating. When asked about fraternizations, he responded:

    In many ways, the soldiers of both sides had more in common than what separated them. I think that examples of kindness between foes occurred with some regularity, but that did not mean both sides didn’t try their best to kill each other. The stories of a Confederate soldier helping a Yank or a Yank helping a Johnny were seized upon by the veterans after the war as examples to be used in bringing the country back together. The stories of compassion were accepted and highlighted and the cruelty of combat put aside. It was all part of the great healing process. I think that is why we see so many of these romanced incidents in 19th century accounts.

    To conclude this overlong post, I think it is worth remembering the context in which the soldiers made their comments. Soldiers aging between 18 and 25 had grown up during the most contentious sectional conflict the country had ever faced, one so bad that it actually led to open warfare. In their youth, they heard story after story filled with vile rhetoric about one side or the other. They either read the papers themselves or heard it from those in their hometown that could read. Soldiers on the whole had never traveled widely, and marching into the South was to them the same as visiting an entirely different country. It was a charged environment they grew up in and a brutal war that they took part in. Both of these factors shaped the opinions of the soldiers. Furthermore, like any humans, soldiers of the 19th Century could be filled with contradictions, liking some aspects of Southern culture and life and hating other parts of it. Their opinions could shift and slide depending on what was happening to them. The death of a friend I would assume would sour and harden the opinions of a Union soldier toward their foe. Visiting plantations and witnessing the brutality of slavery firsthand, something most Union soldiers had never before seen with their own eyes even if they had heard about it, also altered their opinions.
    And, though I know this is not the purpose of this thread, we cannot forget that Southerners had the same sort of varied, hostile, and friendly opinions of their Northern foes (they are all immigrant hordes bent on crushing our way of life, etc.).
     
  21. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    Hey, @Zack , thanks for doing your homework. Great posts!
     

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