Originally aired August 25, 1995: In Part 52 of our Civil War series, Virginia Tech History Professor James Robertson introduces us to a forever unknown Confederate soldier.
#52 – an unknown confederate soldier
People who say that nothing more needs to be published about the civil war are woefully misinformed. more than 31 million Americans were involved in that conflict. each had a story to tell. what most of them saw and experienced changed their lives as permanently and as dramatically as it transformed the nation into a united and indivisible state. and knowing what each person endured is valuable because individual stories illustrate how dear our heritage should be to all of us.
one of those participants in the civil war will be unknown forever. he was a confederate soldier. In all likelihood, he hailed from Virginia. if the man fit the usual pattern, he was a farmer, in his early twenties, single, and devoutly Protestant. he had gone to war because his state (which was then his country) had been invaded by a northern army that seemed intent on illegally overturning a southern way of life that had existed since colonial times.
the soldier had probably fought in several battles. his simple life had been shattered by the brutality of the man, the sight of combat, the screams of the wounded, and the stench of death. he lived in filth, he suffered from hunger, he wore the rags and shoes of a dead soldier. he feared the disease more than the enemy, since diarrhea, typhoid fever, measles and pneumonia were the main causes of death.
for three years this johnny reb survived everything that man and nature threw at him. When asked how he had managed to survive adversity, the man would likely have replied that God’s protective hand had kept him safe. religion was more of a personal matter than a denominational issue for most civil war soldiers; And the higher the cost of the war, the more these men fell back on the only thing left to them: faith.
Obviously, this man had hopes for the future. he too was confident that after the cruel war was over, and with the blessings of the almighty, he would know success and happiness. but he must first affirm his loyalty to the one who had given the young soldier life and opportunity.
In the spring of 1864, battle broke out once again outside Richmond. after the fighting was over and the armies marched off to fight elsewhere, small groups of soldiers moved onto the battlefield to bury the dead. one group encountered the confederate soldier. he lay among the dead at the front of the battle line.
just before burying him in the field, the gravediggers carried out the usual search for the body. Inside the shirt pocket was a sheet of paper. on it, a day before, a common soldier had scribbled some thoughts. they were a statement of what life meant to him. As such, the words are an eternal testimony of a simple human being.
the soldier wrote:
I asked God for the strength to be able to do it.
I was weakened so that I would humbly learn to obey.
I asked for health, to be able to do greater things.
Illness was given to me to do better things.
I asked for riches to be happy.
I was given poverty so that I might be wise.
I asked for power to have the praise of men.
weakness was given to me, that I might feel the need of god.
I asked for all things so I could enjoy life.
I was given life so that I can enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for, but everything I expected.
Almost reluctantly, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, the most richly blessed.