Monday, May 16, 2011

A Kentucky Union Soldier in January 1863

Writing to his sister Jennie on January 15, 1863, while aboard the steamboat War Eagle, on the Mississippi River, Kentucky Union soldier John T. Harrington provided some interesting opinions on the Confederates that were his supposed enemies and his service in Mr. Lincoln's army.

Harrington opened his missive with a description of the horrors of a recent battle, where "one poor fellow received a ball full in the forehead which was right in front of me[.] he turned over, gave a rattling groan and expired." He saw this as fateful providential intervention, "for had he not been perfectly in front of me my head would have received the fatal shot." He continued, "I have seen war in all its horrors." He explained that he had been part of the victorious forces during his service and he had been routed by the enemy because of political generals that should not have been in command.

Harrington's thoughts on combat give us a small glimpse of what combat must have been like, and surely his sentiments were shared by almost all of his comrades, but his comments in the next paragraph caught me off guard and probably caught his sister off guard too. And, they make me wonder if others in the 22nd Kentucky Infantry felt likewise.

"At Arkansas Post I witnessed another kind of fight in which our side triumphed in every particular and finally planted the colors on the works of the vanquished foe, amidst the deafening shouts of a victorious army. Jennie bear in mind these men [Confederates] were overpowered but not conquered. I spent over an hour among them that night and on the word of a soldier they are men and men of the of the days of [17]76 men who have their hearts enlisted in their cause who believe God is with them and even willing to favor and defend them from the hand of oppression."

Some interesting compliments to give to the enemy who just tried to kill him, right? Well, possibly the next paragraph gives some insight into why he bestowed the favors on his foes and considered them patriots similar to those of the Revolutionary War.

"Sister you may think the above a singular expression for a Federal soldier but it is true. I enlisted to fight for the Union and the Constitution but Lincoln puts a different construction on things and and now has us Union men fighting for his Abolition Platform and thus making us a hord of Subjugators, house burners, negro thieves and devestators of private property." Harrington closed with a declaration of faith. "The Lord is with those who love him and I doubt not he will protect in the hour of danger and in time make a breech by which I will escape this thralldom [servitude]."

This letter, as previously mentioned, was written on January 15, 1863. President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1. Could Harrington's views on race and slavery have changed his opinion of his enemies. Did he now find more similarity between his own beliefs ant that of the Confederates rather than those commanding his army? Did the Emancipation Proclamation cause him to reconsider not only what he was fighting for, but what he thought his enemies were fighting for? And, in writinging "in time make a breech by which I will escape this thralldom" did he mean he wished to exit the service now that the Union aims included abolition?

1 comment:

  1. I know this is a dated blog post, but I can answer your final question. Harrington indeed try to resign his commission. However it was denied and Col. George W. Monroe tells Col. D.W. Lindsey that Harrington was taking the denial, "cooly."