Not Enemies, But Friends

When writing about the Civil War I always marvel that it did not inflict mortal harm on this Republic.  That it did not do so, was because many good men and women, on both sides after the War lived up to the prophetic words of Lincoln, uttered at the end of his First Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

This was all put nicely in a conversation that Douglas Southall Freeman, the great Civil War historian, had with his father Walker Freeman, a Confederate veteran who had served in the Army of Northern Virginia, while Douglas was writing his magisterial four volume R.E. Lee.

I understand that you are writing a history of the Army of Northern Virginia.

I answered, “Not directly, sir, I’m writing a biography of General Lee in which, of course, the life of the army appears rather conspicuously.”

“Well, it is a very good approach, to study the army through its commanding General, because nothing that ever happened to us was more inspiring than the fact that we had General Lee as our commander.  But I have one admonition to give you.”

I asked,  “What is that, sir?”

He replied, “Never depreciate the adversary.  What honor was there for a Confederate, if he was supposed to be fighting a coward?  They were not cowards, those men of the North.   Indeed”-and he drew himself up with all his Confederate discipline of spirit-“Indeed, there never was a greater army in the world than the Army of the Potomac, save one, which modesty forbids me to mention.”

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Published in: on October 21, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Not Enemies, But Friends  
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