Monday, October 31, 2016

Diary of John Beauchamp Jones: December 7, 1862

Last night was bitter cold, and this morning there was ice on my wash-stand, within five feet of the fire. Is this the “sunny South” the North is fighting to possess? How much suffering must be in the armies now encamped in Virginia! I suppose there are not less than 250,000 men in arms on the plains of Virginia, and many of them who survive the war will have cause to remember last night. Some must have perished, and thousands, no doubt, had frozen limbs. It is terrible, and few are aware that the greatest destruction of life, in such a war as this, is not produced by wounds received in battle, but by disease, contracted from exposure, etc., in inclement seasons. But the deadly bullet claims its victims. A friend just returned from the battle-field of June, near the city, whither he repaired to recover the remains of a relative, says the scene is still one of horror. So great was the slaughter (27th June) that we were unable to bury our own dead for several days, for the battle raged a whole week, and when the work was completed, the weather having been extremely hot, it was too late to inter the enemy effectually, so the earth was merely thrown over them, forming mounds, which the rains and the wind have since leveled. And now the ground is thickly strewn with the bleaching bones of the invaders. The flesh is gone, but their garments remain. He says he passed through a wood, not a tree of which escaped the missiles of the contending hosts. Most of the trees left standing are dead, being often perforated by scores of Minie-balls, but thousands were prostrated by cannon-balls and shells. It will long remain a scene of desolation, a monument of the folly and wickedness of man.

And what are we fighting for? What does the Northern Government propose to accomplish by the invasion? Is it supposed that six or eight million of free people can be exterminated? How many butchers would be required to accomplish the beneficent feat? More, many more, than can be sent hither. The Southern people, in such a cause, would fight to the last, and when the men all fell, the women and children would snatch their arms and slay the oppressors. Without complete annihilation, it is the merest nonsense to suppose our property can be confiscated.

But if a forced reconstruction of the Union were consummated, does the North suppose any advantage would result to that section? In the Union we could not be compelled to trade with them again. Nor would intercourse of any kind be re-established. Their ships would be destroyed, and their people could never come among us but at the risk of ill treatment. They could not maintain a standing army of half a million, and they could not disarm us in such an extensive territory.

The best plan, the only plan, to redeem the past and enjoy blessings in the future, is to cease this bootless warfare and be the first to recognize our independence. We are exasperated with Europe, and like the old colonel in Bulwer's play, we can like a brave foe after fighting him. Let the North do this, and we will trade with its people, I have no doubt, and a mutual respect will grow up in time, resulting, probably, in combinations against European powers in their enterprises against governments on this continent.

SOURCE: John Beauchamp Jones, A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital, Volume 1, p. 205-7

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