Sunday, July 25, 2010

Random Thoughts of Soldiers, Then and Now

Yesterday while I was online I saw that five U.S. soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan and two others captured. I couldn't help but think about the anguish their families must be going through right now. I also thought about the loss that their comrades must feel. Are they thinking, "their suffering is over, but ours must continue?" Or, are they thinking, "they died or were captured doing their duty-the highest honor a soldier can receive?"

I suppose I came upon these thoughts because I am about to finish reading Kenneth W. Noe's latest book, Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861. In the book Noe reprints a poem that was written by Private Hiram Smith Williams. Williams was born in New Jersey but had moved to Alabama and had held a diverse lot of occupations. He had delayed enlisting until the spring of 1862 and received an assignment to the defense of Mobile, Alabama. He hoped to get a transfer to the Confederate Navy, but in the spring of 1864 he found himself in the Army of Tennessee just south of Chattanooga. The poem in part reads:

Weary indeed of a poor soldier's life
Weary of all this mad turmoil and strife
Wear of roll-call, weary of drilling
Weary of marching and weary of killing
Weary of labor in sunshine and rain
On breastworks and baricades oft done in vain
Weary of battle, though glory be there
Of winning green laurels for others to wear
Oh, where are our statesmen and have we got one?
To end what our demagogues madly begun
Not one in our land to start into life
With brain and with nerve to stop this sad strife
Alas for our country! Alas for our day!
If we wait for battle to stop this mad fray
Too much blood has already flowed like a river
Too many fond hearts have been parted forever
Too many farewells with tears have been spoken
Too many fond circles already been broken
Footsore and weary over paths steep and rough
We have fought, we have bled, we have suffered enough
Williams added as a postscript: "I honestly believe that the above lines contain the real and true sentiments of ninety-nine hundredths of the soldiers composing our armies and at least four-fifths of those out of the army. Yet what newspaper would dare publish them at the present time? What a sad commentary on Liberty, on freedom."
Another interesting soldier's story that I found fascinating was that of William Pinkney Cline of North Carolina. Before the war Cline was a blacksmith. He enlisted in early 1862 and saw fighting at Antietam and Fredericksburg. Trouble at home caused Cline to think about his commitment to the Confederacy and wrote that, "the men is all out of heart the most of them thinks that we are whipt." Later he wrote "i don't think that it is worth our while to be fiten hire eny longer for we cant never whip the yankes i have a noshen to quit and come home." And, so he deserted. For whatever reason - duty, honor, comrades, religion, pay, hatred of the enemy, (all identified by Noe as soldier motivators) Cline returned shortly after he left. He was imprisoned by the Confederate authorities at Castle Thunder in Richmond until February 1864. Three months later was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness.
Cline's story is similar to that of one of my ancestors. Although Joel Harmon Tedder was not a late enlistee - he joined the 26th North Carolina in August of 1861 - he too must have become war weary, because, like Cline, is listed a deserter in his service records. But, Tedder, also like Cline, for whatever reason, returned to the ranks and was sentenced to hard labor, although his record does not indicate where. Tedder was finally released in time to be captured by Union troops at the Battle of Bristoe Station, Virginia and was sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington D.C. He was later transferred to Fort Delaware, where he remained until he was released in July of 1865.
What made these soldiers continue to fight even if they did have temporary lapses in their commitment? What keeps our current soldiers in the field? Are the motivations of today's soldiers and those of the past similar? Certainly, all are questions to think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment