THE TYPICAL CONFEDERATE SOLDIER
The Confederate Veteran, Vol.
I, No. 12. (December, 1893).
Nearly thirty-three years
have passed since the alarm of war called from their peaceful pursuits
the citizens who were to make name and fame as Confederate soldiers. The
stirring scenes and the dreadful carnage of a memorable conflict have
been removed by the lapse of time into the hazy past, and a new
generation, however ready it may be to honor those who fought the
battles of the South, is likely to form its idea of their appearance
from the conventional military type. The Confederate soldier was not an
ordinary soldier, either in appearance or character. With your
permission I will undertake to draw a portrait of him as he really
appeared in the hard service of privation and danger.
A face browned by exposure and heavily bearded, or for some weeks
unshaven, begrimed with dust and sweat, and marked here and there by the
darker stains of powder - a face whose stolid and even melancholy
composure is easily broken into ripples of good humor or quickly flushed
in the fervor and abandon of the charge; a frame tough and sinewy, and
trained by hardship to surprising powers of endurance; a form, the
shapeliness of which is hidden by its encumberments, suggesting in its
careless and unaffected pose a languorous indisposition to exertion, yet
a latent, lion-like strength and a terrible energy of action when
aroused. Around the upper part of the face is a fringe of unkempt hair,
and above this an old wool hat, worn and weather-beaten, the flaccid
brim of which falls limp upon the shoulders behind, and is folded back
in front against the elongated and crumpled crown. Over a soiled, which
is unbuttoned and button less at the collar, is a ragged grey jacket
that does not reach to the hips, with sleeves some inches too short.
Below this, trousers of a nondescript color, without form and almost
void, are held in place by a leather belt, to which is attached the
cartridge box that rests behind the right hip, and the bayonet scabbard
which dangles on the left. Just above the ankles each trouser leg is
tied closely to the limb - a la Zouave - and beneath reaches of dirty
socks disappear in a pair of badly used and curiously contorted shoes.
Between the jacket and the waistband of the trousers, or the supporting
belt, there appears a puffy display of cotton shirt which works out
further with every hitch made by Johnny in his effort to keep his
pantaloons in place.
Across his body from his left shoulder there is a roll of threadbare
blanket, the ends tied together resting on or falling below the right
hip. This blanket is Johnny's bed. Whenever he arises he takes up his
bed and walks. Within this roll is a shirt, his only extra article of
clothing. In action the blanket roll is thrown further back, and the
cartridge is drawn forward, frequently in front of the body. From the
shoulder, across the body pass two straps, one cloth the other leather,
making a cross with blanket roll on breast and back. These straps
support respectively a greasy cloth haversack and a flannel-covered
canteen, captured from the Yankees.
Attached to the haversack strap is a tin cup, while in addition to some
odds and ends of camp trumpery, there hangs over his back a frying pan,
an invaluable utensil with which the soldier would be loth to part.
With his trusty gun in hand - an Enfield rifle, also captured from the
enemy and substituted for the old flint-lock musket or the shotgun with
which he was originally armed - Johnny reb, thus imperfectly sketched,
stands in his shreds and patches a marvelous ensemble - picturesque,
grotesque, unique - the model citizen soldier, the military hero of the
nineteenth century. There is none of the tinsel or trappings of the
professional about him. From an esthetic military point of view he must
appear a sorry looking soldier. But Johnny is not one of your dress
parade soldiers. He doesn't care a copper whether anybody likes his
looks or not. He is the most independent soldier that ever belonged to
an organized army. He has respect for authority, and he cheerfully
submits to discipline, because he sees the necessity of organization to
affect the best results, but he maintains his individual autonomy, as it
were, and never surrenders his sense of personal pride and
responsibility. He is thoroughly tractable, if properly officered, and
is always ready to obey necessary orders, but he is quick to resent any
official incivility, and is a high private who feels, and is, every inch
as good as a general. He may appear ludicrous enough on a display
occasion of the holiday pomp and splendor of war, but place him where
duty calls, in the imminent deadly breach or the perilous charge, and
none in all the armies of the earth can claim a higher rank or prouder
record. He may be outre and ill-fashioned in dress, but he has
sublimated his poverty and rags.
The worn and faded grey jacket, glorified by valor and stained with the
life blood of its wearer, becomes, in its immortality of association, a
more splendid vestment than mail of medieval knight or the rarest robe
of royalty. That old, weather-beaten slouch hat, seen as the ages will
see it, with its halo of fire, through the smoke of battle, is a
kinglier covering than a crown. Half clad, half armed, often half fed,
without money and without price, the Confederate soldier fought against
the resources of the world.
When at last his flag was furled and his arms were grounded in defeat,
the cause for which he had struggled was lost, but he had won the
faceless victory of soldiership.