All this was an evil, if we choose tothink it so. It was undemocratic certainly,but it worked wonderfully well, and thesystem was good in this at least, that itlaid the foundations of politics among thewisest and best men the State had; for asa rule the planters were the educated menof the community, the reading men, thescholars, the thinkers, and well-nigh everyone of them was familiar with the wholehistory of parties and of statesmanship.Politics was deemed a necessary part of[xxx]every gentleman's education, and theyouth of eighteen who could not recapitulatethe doctrines set forth in the resolutionsof 1798, or tell you the history ofthe Missouri Compromise or the WilmotProviso, was thought lamentably deficientin the very rudiments of culture. Theyhad little to do, and they thought it thebounden duty of every free Americancitizen to prepare himself for the intelligentperformance of his functions in thebody politic. As a result, if Virginia didnot always send wise men to the councilsof the State and nation, she sent no politicallyignorant ones at any rate.
Not in every house were the servantsso well trained as Henry, but what theylacked in skill they fully made up in numbers,and in hardly anything else was theextravagance of the Virginians so manifestas in their wastefulness of labor. Onnearly every plantation there were ten ortwelve able-bodied men and women employedabout the house, doing the workwhich two or three ought to have done,and might have done; and in addition tothis there were usually a dozen or a scoreof others with merely nominal duties orno duties at all. But it was useless tourge their master to send any of them tothe field, and idle to show him that theaddition which might thus be made to theforce of productive laborers would so increasehis revenue as to acquit him of debtwithin a few years. He did not muchcare to be free of debt for one thing, and[lxvii]he liked to have plenty of servants alwayswithin call. As his dinner table boreevery day food enough for a battalion,so his nature demanded the presence ofhalf a dozen servitors whenever one waswanted. Indeed, these people usuallysummoned servants in squads, callingthree or four to take one guest's horse tothe stable or to bring one pitcher of ice-water.
The train came, after a while, and theunappreciative railroad men obstinately insistedthat the State paid for the passageof certain designated companies only, andthat these distinguished field-officers, if theytraveled by that train at all, must pay theirway at regular passenger rates. The coloneland his lieutenant pocketed the insultand paid their fare; but when, upon thearrival of the troops at Richmond, nobodyseemed to know anything about these field-officers,and the companies were sent, withoutthem, into camps of instruction, the gallantleaders returned by passenger train totheir homes. The colonel came back, hesaid in a speech at the station, still furtherto stir the patriotism of the people. Hehad been in consultation with the authoritiesin Richmond; and while it would notbe proper for him to reveal even to these,his patriotic countrymen, the full plan ofcampaign confided to him as a field-officer,he might at least say to them that the government,within ten days, would have fifteenthousand men in line on the Potomac,and then, with perchance a bloody but verybrief struggle, this overwhelming forcewould dictate terms to the tyrants atWashington.
It was in this undisciplined state that themen who afterwards made up the armyunder Lee were sent to the field to meetthe enemy at Bull Run and elsewhere, andthe only wonder is that they were ever ableto fight at all. They were certainly notsoldiers. They were as ignorant of thealphabet of obedience as their officers wereof the art of commanding. And yet theyacquitted themselves reasonably well, a factwhich can be explained only by referenceto the causes of their insubordination incamp. These men were the people of theSouth, and the war was their own; whereforethey fought to win it of their ownaccord, and not at all because their officerscommanded them to do so. Their personalspirit and their intelligence were their soleelements of strength. Death has few terrorsfor such men, as compared with dishonor,and so they needed no officers at all,and no discipline, to insure their personalgood conduct on the field of battle. Thesame elements of character, too, made themaccept hardship with the utmost cheerfulness,as soon as hardship became a necessarycondition to the successful prosecutionof a war that every man of themregarded as his own. In camp, at Richmondor Ashland, they had shunned allunnecessary privation and all distastefulduty, because they then saw no occasion toendure avoidable discomfort. But in thefield they showed themselves great, stalwartmen in spirit as well as in bodily frame,and endured cheerfully the hardships ofcampaigning precisely as they would haveborne the fatigues of a hunt, as incidentsencountered in the prosecution of their purposes.
The unanimity of the people was simplymarvelous. So long as the question ofsecession was under discussion, opinionswere both various and violent. The momentsecession was finally determined upon,a revolution was wrought. There was nolonger anything to discuss, and so discussionceased. Men got ready for war, anddelicate women with equal spirit sent themoff with smiling faces. The man who tarriedat home for never so brief a time,after the call to arms had been given, foundit necessary to explain himself to everywoman of his acquaintance, and no explanationwas sufficient to shield him from thesocial ostracism consequent upon any long-tarrying.Throughout the war it was thesame, and when the war ended the menwho lived to return were greeted with sadfaces by those who had cheerfully and evenjoyously sent them forth to the battle.
She always insisted, too, that the Northerntroops came South and made war forthe sole purpose of taking possession of ourlands and negroes, and she was astonishedalmost out of her wits when she learnedthat the negroes were free. She had supposedthat they were simply to changemasters, and even then she lived for monthsin daily anticipation of the coming of "thenew land owners," who were waiting, shesupposed, for assignments of plantations tobe made to them by military authority.
In Richmond, when the hospitals werefilled with wounded men brought in fromthe seven days' fighting with McClellan,and the surgeons found it impossible todress half the wounds, a band was formed,consisting of nearly all the married womenof the city, who took upon themselves theduty of going to the hospitals and dressingwounds from morning till night; and theypersisted in their painful duty until everyman was cared for, saving hundreds of lives,as the surgeons unanimously testified.When nitre was found to be growing scarce,and the supply of gunpowder was consequentlyabout to give out, women all overthe land dug up the earth in their smoke-housesand tobacco barns, and with theirown hands faithfully extracted the desiredsalt, for use in the government laboratories.
But if the cheerfulness of the women duringthe war was remarkable, what shall wesay of the way in which they met its finalfailure and the poverty that came with it?The end of the war completed the ruinwhich its progress had wrought. Womenwho had always lived in luxury, and whoselabors and sufferings during the war werelightened by the consciousness that in sufferingand laboring they were doing theirpart toward the accomplishment of the endupon which all hearts were set, were nowcompelled to face not temporary but permanentpoverty, and to endure, without amotive or a sustaining purpose, still sorerprivations than any they had known in thepast. The country was exhausted, and nobodycould foresee any future but one ofabject wretchedness. It was seed-time, butthe suddenly freed negroes had not yetlearned that freedom meant aught else thanidleness, and the spring was gone beforeanything like a reorganization of the laborsystem could be effected. The men mightemigrate when they should get home, butthe case of the women was a very sorryone indeed. They kept their spirits upthrough it all, however, and improvised anew social system in which absolute poverty,cheerfully borne, was the badge of respectability.Everybody was poor exceptthe speculators who had fattened upon thenecessities of the women and children, andso poverty was essential to anything likegood repute. The return of the soldiersmade some sort of social festivity necessary,and "starvation parties" were given,at which it was understood that the giverswere wholly unable to set out refreshmentsof any kind. In the matter of dress, too,the general poverty was recognized, andevery one went clad in whatever he or shehappened to have. The want of meansbecame a jest, and nobody mourned overit; while all were laboring to repair theirwasted fortunes as they best could. Andall this was due solely to the unconquerablecheerfulness of the Southern women.The men came home moody, worn out,discouraged, and but for the influence ofwoman's cheerfulness, the Southern Statesmight have fallen into a lethargy fromwhich they could not have recovered forgenerations.
The history of the Confederacy, when itshall be fully and fairly written, will appearthe story of a dream to those who shallread it, and there are parts of it at leastwhich already seem a nightmare to thoseof us who helped make it. Founded upona constitution which jealously withheldfrom it nearly all the powers of government,without even the poor privilege ofexisting beyond the moment when someone of the States composing it should seefit to put it to death, the Richmond governmentnevertheless grew speedily into a despotism,and for four years wielded absolutepower over an obedient and uncomplainingpeople. It tolerated no questioning, brookedno resistance, listened to no remonstrance.It levied taxes of an extraordinary kindupon a people already impoverished almostto the point of starvation. It made of everyman a soldier, and extended indefinitelyevery man's term of enlistment. Underpretense of enforcing the conscription lawit established an oppressive system of domiciliaryvisits. To preserve order and preventdesertion it instituted and maintaineda system of guards and passports, not lessobnoxious, certainly, than the worst thingof the sort ever devised by the most paternalof despotisms. In short, a governmentconstitutionally weak beyond all precedentwas able for four years to exercise in aparticularly offensive way all the powersof absolutism, and that, too, over a peoplewho had been living under republican rulefor generations. That such a thing waspossible seems at the first glance a marvel,but the reasons for it are not far to seek.Despotisms usually ground themselves uponthe theories of extreme democracy, for onething, and in this case the consciousness ofthe power to dissolve and destroy the governmentat will made the people tolerant ofits encroachments upon personal and Staterights; the more especially, as the presidinggenius of the despotism was the manwho had refused a promotion to the rankof brigadier-general of volunteers duringthe Mexican war, on the ground that thegeneral government could not grant such acommission without violating the rights ofa State. The despotism of a governmentpresided over by a man so devoted as heto State rights seemed less dangerous thanit might otherwise have appeared. Histheory was so excellent that people pardonedhis practice. It is of some parts ofthat practice that we shall speak in thepresent chapter. 2b1af7f3a8