Thursday, June 30, 2016

Major Charles Fessenden Morse: July 15, 1864

Near Vining's Station, Ga.,
July 15, 1864.

We are now enjoying a short respite from our exertions, which is very welcome after the campaign's hard work. By a series of movements and operations we have pushed the enemy south of the Chattahoochie, they now picketing their side of the river and we ours. It is difficult to tell anything about the result of this campaign, since, from appearances, the rebels are preparing to evacuate Atlanta with no more of a struggle than they made at Marietta, so that the fall of the former place is already calculated on as the result of the next move forward. The trouble is that we cannot get at Johnston and his army; he is too weak to meet us in a fair fight; his game, therefore, is to have a succession of lines of works prepared for him in his rear by citizens and negroes, which cannot be taken by direct assaults, but out of which, with our superior numbers, we can finally turn him. Whether we can follow an enemy of this kind farther than Atlanta, is a question in my mind, for we have already had to guard a railroad for over two hundred and fifty miles through a country swarming with guerrillas and roving cavalry. Johnston will undoubtedly retreat towards Macon, which will virtually abandon to us the whole of Alabama and Western Georgia, and cause the fall of Mobile.

There is an amount of cunning in this continual retreating of Johnston which is not generally allowed him. To be sure, he gives up a great deal of valuable territory, but he keeps his army intact and finally removes it out of our reach, leaving us an immense distance from our base, subject to raids on our line of communication and consequent stoppage of supplies; and supposing him at Macon, he is nearer to Lee, and can sooner transmit and receive reinforcements. This is the unfavorable side; but, on the other hand, the constant retreats of Johnston have, to a certain extent, demoralized the troops belonging in Kentucky, Tennessee, Northern Georgia and Alabama, so that on each occasion of their falling back, hundreds of deserters are brought into our lines; they all say that half the army would do the same if it dared, but they are told fearful stories of our treatment of prisoners and are also closely watched, and, when caught, shot without mercy. The case has occurred, repeatedly, of deserters lying all day in ditches and behind stumps, between our picket lines, afraid to stir from fear of being shot by their own men; as soon as night would come, they would come in. Without a single exception, 1 have seen these men always kindly and hospitably received by our soldiers; it is always, “How are you, Johnny? we're glad to see you; sit down and have some coffee, and tell us the news.”

The amicable feeling existing between the men of the two armies when not actually fighting is very curious, and between the best troops on each side the understanding seems the most perfect. It is a proverbial expression, now, with the rebels, that Hooker's men are the toughest to fight, but the best to picket against. We have one rule now in our division, which entirely prevents all picket firing except in case of an advance of the enemy. Last Sunday I was Field Officer of the day and had charge of the brigade picket; one portion of my line relieved a part of the Fourteenth Corps. When I first posted my men, it was necessary to crawl from one post to another and keep entirely out of sight, for before we came there had been a continual popping. In a short time it was discovered who had arrived, and all firing upon us ceased. The next morning, in broad daylight, I pushed my line down to the bank of the river without receiving a single shot, and afterwards rode along where the day before it would have been sure death or a disabling wound. We never yet have been the victims of any treachery, but, on the contrary, have received warnings in time to look out for ourselves. They will call out, “Look out, Yanks, we've been ordered to fire,” and plenty of time will be given to get behind our works. When we fight, we fight to crush the rebellion and break the power of the rebel armies, not against these men as individuals; there is no enmity felt, yet no one can complain of a want of earnestness or desire on our part for victory.

No news which has come to us for a long time has been received with such pleasure as that of the sinking of the Alabama by the Kearsarge. It is a great naval triumph for us, not over rebels merely, but over a Johnny Bull ship manned by English sailors, armed by English guns, fired by English gunners. It was an affair with England all through, and only needed, at the wind-up, to have that fair-minded, non-interfering Englishman carry off Captain Semmes, who had already surrendered, under a recognized British flag. Perhaps we cannot do anything now to help ourselves, but the time will come when we will make that mean, bullying English nation repent of her action towards us in this war; I hope I may live to see the day and help to wipe off these old scores. How long could she hold a foot square of territory on this continent against the immense armies we could raise, and what harm could she do us? We may not have as good a navy to-day, but we would have, and our coast would swarm with privateers.

War is a terrible thing, but a man should feel as jealous of the honor of his country and flag as he would of his own, and should resent an insult to the one as readily as he would to the other.

SOURCE: Charles Fessenden Morse, Letters Written During the Civil War, 1861-1865, p. 175-8

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