Friday, June 6, 2008

You Are No Brother Of Mine...

One aspect of the Civil War that is ingrained in our popular imagination is the tragic brother against brother aspect of the war, that men could be friends on the picket line and the next day they would try to kill each other. However, how true was this mindset? For some soldiers in the Army of Tennessee the notion of a brother's war was laughable. Captain Thomas J. Key of the Helena (AR) Artillery would note in his diary on August 5th, 1864;

"From Camp Sumter I received a letter from one of the Yankee prisoners whose name is Leroy L. Key, Sergeant in Company M, 16th Illinois Infantry, addressing me as his brother, He evidently has a brother with the same initials as mine, and his relatives are in the South, though he has betrayed all these and enlisted under the black banner of Abolitionism. He speaks of his mother and sister, and one, Lucy, of near Cahaba, Alabama. Leroy L. Key, you are no brother of mine, and if you were I would disown you; therefore I cannot correspond with you."

Leroy Key might have considered himself lucky to have been captured and not killed, On May 30th, 1864, the Macon Telegraph published a report from the Army of Tennessee, dated May 27th,

"Few prisoners were taken. Indeed, it is a subject of remark that the entire number taken since the first gun was fired in front of Dalton is surprisingly small. Truth is, the men are tired of taking them. They know the time of enlistment will soon expire, and the Yankee authorities would be slow to exchange for them veterans who are enlisted for the war, and are now smarting
under the indignities and cruelties which have been heaped upon them in prison, and chafing with impatience to be once again in the field. The intense hatred which we sometimes see expressed in the newspapers for Yankees is beginning to be felt by the entire army, rank and file, and they begin to feel that it is idle to take them prisoners and to divide rations with them."
Even though there were moments of charity, such as the truce that occured at Kennesaw Mountain, following the assault of June 27th, to remove the wounded and bury the dead, there were ugly moments. Captain B.J. Semmes noted, "Our men of Maney's Brigade, hearing their piteous cries for water, filled their canteens and advanced to give them water, and some were wounded by the enemy. One of my old brigade, Vaughns, was killed by a wounded Yankee officer whilst he was giving water to a wounded Yankee colonel, whereupon our men commenced firing upon their wounded and killed all in reach except those who crawled to our lines." Examples like this should make us reconsider exactly how civil combatants were to one another.

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