Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

Southern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry online

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so, I cannot tell, but memory is a tricky thing. A large red fox
scared up from his lair by the fight at Castleman s Ferry stood
for a moment looking at me, and I shall never forget the stare
of that red fox. At one of our fights near Kernstown a spent
bullet struck a horse on the side of his nose, which happened
to be white, and left a perfect imprint of itself ; and the jerk
of the horse s head and the outline of the bullet are present to
me still. The explosion of a particular caisson, the shriek of a
special shell, will ring in one s ears for life. A captured lieu
tenant was no novelty, and yet this captured lieutenant caught
my eye and held it. A handsomer young fellow, a more noble-
looking, I never beheld among Federals or Confederates, as he
stood there, bareheaded, among his captors, erect and silent.
His eyes were full of fire, his lips showed a slight quiver of
scorn, and his hair seemed to tighten its curls in defiance.
Doubtless I had seen as fine specimens of young manhood
before, but if so, I had seen without looking, and this man
was evidently what we called a gentleman.

Southern men were proud of being gentlemen, although they
have been told in every conceivable tone that it was a foolish
pride foolish in itself, foolish in that it did not have the
heraldic backing that was claimed for it ; the utmost conces
sion being that a number of " deboshed " younger sons^ of
decayed gentry had been shipped to Virginia in the early
settlement of that colony. But the very pride played its part
in making us what we were proud of being, and whether
descendants of the aforesaid " deboshed," of simple English
yeoman, of plain Scotch-Irish Presbyterians (a doughty stock),
or of Huguenots of various ranks of life, we all held to the
same standard, and showed, as was thought, undue exclusive-
ness on this subject. But this prisoner was the embodiment


of the best type of Northern youth, with a spirit as high, as
resolute, as could be found in the ranks of Southern gentle
men ; and though in theory all enlightened Southerners recog
nized the high qualities of some of our opponents, this one
noble figure in " flesh and blood " was better calculated to
inspire respect for " those people," as we had learned to call
our adversaries, than many pages of " gray theory."

A little more than a year afterwards, in Early s Valley cam
paign, a rude school of warfare, I was serving as a vol
unteer aid on General Gordon s staff. The day before the
disaster of Fisher s Hill I was ordered, together with another
staff officer, to accompany the general on a ride to the front.
The general had a well-known weakness for inspecting the out
posts a weakness that made a position in his suite somewhat
precarious. The officer with whom I was riding had not been
with us long, and wherr he joined the staff he had just recovered
from wounds and imprisonment. A man of winning appear
ance, sweet temper, and attractive manners, he soon made
friends of the military family, and I never learned to love a
man so much in so brief an acquaintance, though hearts knit
quickly in the stress of war. He was highly educated, and
foreign residence and travel had widened his vision without
affecting the simple faith and thorough consecration of the
Christian. Here let me say that the bearing of the Confeder
ates is not to be understood without taking into account the
deep religious feeling of the army and its great leaders. It is
a historical element, like any other, and is not to be passed
over in summing up the forces of the conflict. " A soldier
without religion," says a Prussian officer, who knew our army
as well as the German, " is an instrument without value," and
it is not unlikely that the knowledge of the part that faith
played in sustaining the Southern people may have lent em
phasis to the expression of his conviction.


We rode together towards the front, and as we rode our
talk fell on Goethe and on Faust, and of all passages the
soldiers song came up to my lips the song of soldiers of
fortune, not the chant of men whose business it was to defend
their country. Two lines, however, were significant :

Kiihn ist das Miihen,
Herrlich der Lohn.

We reached the front. An occasional " zip " gave warning
that the sharpshooters were not asleep, and the quick eye of
the general saw that our line needed rectification, and how.
Brief orders were given to the officer in command. My com
rade was left to aid in carrying them out. The rest of us with
drew. Scarcely had we ridden a hundred yards towards camp
when a shout was heard, and, turning round, we saw one of
the men running after us. "The captain had been killed."
The peace of heaven was on his face as I gazed on the noble
features that afternoon. The bullet had passed through his
official papers and found his heart. He had received his dis
charge, and the glorious reward had been won.

This is the other picture that the talk of the two old soldiers
called up dead Confederate against living Federal ; and these
two pictures stand out before me again, as I am trying to make
others understand and to understand myself what it was to be a
Southern man twenty-five years ago ; what it was to accept with
the whole heart the creed of the Old South. The image of the
living Federal bids me refrain from harsh words in the presence
of those who were my captors. The dead Confederate bids me
uncover the sacred memories that the dust of life s Appian Way
hides from the tenderest and truest of those whose business it
is to live and work. For my dead comrade of the Valley cam
paign is one of many some of them my friends, some of them
my pupils as well. The eighteenth of July, 1861, laid low one


of my Princeton College roommates ; on the twenty-first, the
day of the great battle, the other fell both bearers of historic
names, both upholding the cause of their state with as unclouded
a conscience as any saint in the martyrology ever wore ; and from
that day to the end, great battle and outpost skirmish brought
me, week by week, a personal loss in men of the same type. . . .
The war began, the war went on. Passion was roused to
fever heat. Both sides " saw red," that physiological condition
which to a Frenchman excuses everything. The proverbial good
humor of the American people did not, it is true, desert the
country, and the Southern men who were in the field, as they
were much happier than those who stayed at home, if I may
judge by my own experience, were often merry enough by the
camp fire and exchanged rough jests with the enemy s pickets.
But the invaded people were very much in earnest, however
lightly some of their adversaries treated the matter, and as the
pressure of the war grew tighter, the more somber did life
become. A friend of mine, describing the crowd that besieged
the Gare de Lyon in Paris, when the circle of fire was drawing
round the city and foreigners were hastening to escape, told
me that the press was so great that he could touch in every
direction those who had been crushed to death as they stood and
had not had room to fall. Not wholly unlike this was the pres
sure brought to bear on the Confederacy. It was only neces
sary to put out your hand and you touched a corpse ; and that
not an alien corpse, but the corpse of a brother or a friend.
Every Southern man becomes grave when he thinks of that
terrible stretch of time, partly, it is true, because life was nobler,
but chiefly because of the memories of sorrow and suffering.
A professional Southern humorist once undertook to write in
dialect a " Comic History of the War," but his heart failed him,
as his public would have failed him, and the serial lived only for
a number or two.


The war began, the war went on. War is a rough game.
It is an omelet that cannot be made without breaking eggs, not
only eggs in esse, but also eggs in posse. So far as I have
read about war, ours was no worse than other wars. While it
lasted, the conduct of the combatants on either side was rep
resented in the blackest colors by the other. Even the ordinary
and legitimate doing to death was considered criminal if the
deed was done by a ruthless rebel or ruffianly invader. Non-
combatants were especially eloquent. In describing the end of
a brother who had been killed while trying to get a shot at a
Yankee, a Southern girl raved about the "murdered patriot"
and the " dastardly wretch " who had anticipated him. But
I do not criticize, for I remember an English account of the
battle of New Orleans, in which General Pakenham was repre
sented as having been picked off by a "sneaking Yankee rifle."
Those who were engaged in the actual conflict took more rea
sonable views, and the annals of the war are full of stories of
battlefield and hospital in which a common humanity asserted
itself. But brotherhood there was none. No alienation could
have been more complete. Into the fissure made by the dis
ruption poured all the bad blood that had been breeding from
Colonial times, from Revolutionary times, from "bleeding Kan
sas" and the engine-house at Harper s Ferry; and a great gulf
was fixed, as it seemed forever, between North and South. The
hostility was a very satisfactory one for military purposes.

The war began, the war went on this politicians conspiracy,
this slaveholders rebellion, as it was variously called by those
who sought its source, now in the disappointed ambition of the
Southern leaders, now in the desperate determination of a slave-
holding oligarchy to perpetuate their power and to secure for
ever their proprietorship in their " human chattels." On this
theory the mass of the Southern people were but puppets in
the hands of political wirepullers or blind followers of hectoring


"patricians." To those who know the Southern peoj^ nothing-
can be more absurd to those who know their personal in-
dependence, to those who know the deep interest which
have" always taken in politics, the keen intelligence with
they have always followed the questions oi the day.. The court-
house~gieeil wa~s ihe political university of the Southern masses,
and the hustings the professorial chair, from which the great
political and economical questions of the day were presented, to
say the least, as fully and intelligently as in the newspapers to
which so much enlightenment is attributed. There was no such
system of rotten boroughs, no such domination of a landed
aristocracy, throughout the South as has been imagined, and
venality, which is the disgrace of current politics, was practically
unknown. The men who represented the Southern people in
Washington came from, the people, and not from a ring. North
ern writers who have ascribed the firm control in Congress of
the national government which the South held so long to the
superior character, ability, and experience of its representatives
do not seem to be aware that the choice of such representatives
and their prolonged tenure show that in politics, at least, the
education of the Southerner had not been neglected. The rank
and file then were not swayed simply by blind passion or duped
by the representatives of political gamesters. Nor did the lump
need the leavening of the large percentage of men of the upper
classes who served as privates, some of them from the begin
ning to the end of the war. The rank and file were, to begin
with, in full accord with the great principles of the war, and
were sustained by the abiding conviction of the justice of the
cause. Of course there were in the Southern army, as in every
army, many who went with the multitude in the first enthusiastic
rush, or who were brought into the ranks by the needful process
of conscription ; but it is not a little remarkable that few of the
poorest and the most ignorant could be induced to forswear the


cause and to purchase release from the sufferings of imprison
ment by the simple process of taking the oath. Those who
have seen the light of battle on the faces of these humble
sons of the South or witnessed their steadfastness in camp,
on the march, in the hospital, have not been ashamed of their

There is such a thing as fighting for a principle, an idea;
but principle and idea must be incarnate, and the principle of
state rights was incarnate in the historical life of the Southern
people. Of the thirteen original states, Virginia, North Carolina,
South Carolina, and Georgia were openly and officially upon
the side of the South. Maryland as a state \vas bound hand
and foot. We counted her as_ours, for the Potomac and Ches
apeake Bay united as well as divided. Everyone was some
thing more than a certain aggregate of square miles wherein
dwelt an uncertain number of uncertain inhabitants, something
more than a territory transformed into a state by the magic of
political legerdemain a creature of the central government,
and duly loyal to its creator.

In claiming this individuality, nothing more is claimed for
Virginia and for South Carolina than would be conceded to
Massachusetts and Connecticut; and we believed then that
Massachusetts and Connecticut would not have behaved other
wise than we did, if the parts had been reversed. The
brandished sword would have shown what manner of placida
quies would have- ensued, if demands had been made on Massa
chusetts at all commensurate with the federal demands on
Virginia. These older Southern states were proud of their his
tory, and they showed their pride by girding at their neighbors.
South Carolina had her fling at Georgia, her fling at North
Carolina ; and the wish that the little State had been scuttled
at an early day was a plagiarism from classical literature that
might have emanated from the South as well as from the North.


Virginia assumed a superiority that was resented by her South
ern sisters as well as by her Northern partners. The Old North
State derided the pretensions of the commonwealths that flanked
her on either side, and Georgia was not slow to give South
Carolina as good as she sent. All this seemed to be harmless
banter, but the rivalry was old enough and strong enough to
encourage the hopes of the Union leaders that the Confederacy
would split along state lines. The cohesive power of the Revo
lutionary War was not sufficiently strong to make the states
sink their contributions to the common cause in the common
glory. Washington was the one national hero, and yet the
Washington Light Infantry of Charleston was named, not after
the illustrious George, but after his kinsman, William. The
story of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill did not thrill
the South Carolinian of an earlier day, and those great achieve
ments were actually criticized. Who were Putnam and Stark
that South Carolinians should worship them, when they had a
Marion and a Sumter of their own ? Vermont went wild, the
other day, over Bennington as she did not over the centenary
of the surrender at Yorktown. (Take away this local patriotism
and you take out all the color that is left in American life.)
That the local patriotism may not only consist with a wider
patriotism, but may serve as a most important element in a
wider patriotism, is true. Witness the strong local life in the
old provinces of France. No student of history, no painter of
manners can neglect it. In " Gerfaut," a novel written before
the Franco-Prussian War, Charles de Bernard represents an
Alsatian shepherd as saying, " I am not French ; I am Alsa
tian." " Trait de patriotisme de docker assez commun dans la
belle province du Rhin" adds the author, little dreaming of the
national significance of that " patriotisme de clocher." The
Breton s love of his home is familiar to everyone who has read
his " Renan," and Blanche Willis Howard, in " Guenn," makes


her priest exclaim: " Monsieur, I would fight with France against
any other nation, but I would fight with Brittany against France.
I love France. I am a Frenchman. But first of all I am a
Breton." The Provencal speaks of France as if she were a
foreign country, and fights for her as if she were his alone.
What is true of France is true in a measure of England. Dev
onshire men are notoriously Devonshire men first and last. If
this is true of what have become integral parts of a kingdom
or republic by centuries of incorporation, what is to be said of
the states that had never renounced their sovereignty, that had
only suspended it in part ?

The example of state pride set by the older states was not
lost on the younger Southern states, and the Alabamian and
the Mississippian lived in the same faith as did the stock from
which they sprang ; and the community of views, of interest,
of social order, soon made a larger unit and prepared the way
for a true nationality, and with the nationality a great conflict.
The heterogeneousness of the elements that made up the Con
federacy did not prove the great source of weakness that was
expected. The Border states looked on the world with different
eyes from the Gulf states. The Virginia farmer and the Creole
planter of Louisiana were of different strains ; and yet there
was a solidarity that has never failed to surprise the few
Northerners who penetrated the South for study and pleasure.
There was an extraordinary ramification of family and social ties
throughout the Southern states, and a few minutes conversa
tion sufficed to place any member of the social organism from
Virginia to Texas. Great schools, like the University of Virginia,
within the Southern border did much to foster the community
of feeling, and while there were not a few Southerners at Har
vard and Yale, and while Princeton was almost a Southern col
lege, an education in the North did not seem to nationalize
the Southerner. On the contrary, as in the universities of the


Middle Ages, groups were formed in accordance with nativity ;
and sectional lines, though effaced at certain points, were
strengthened at others. There may have been a certain broad
ening of view ; there was no weakening of home ties. West
Point made fewer converts to this side and to that than did the
Northern wives of Southern husbands, the Southern wives of
Northern husbands.

All this is doubtless controvertible, and what has been written
may serve only to amuse or to disgust those who are better
versed in the facts of our history and keener analysts of its
laws. All I vouch for is the feeling ; the only point that I have
tried to make is the simple fact that, right or wrong, we were
fully persuaded in our own minds, and that there was no lurk
ing suspicion of any moral weakness in our cause. Nothing
could be holier than the cause, nothing more imperative than
the duty of upholding it. There were those in the South who,
when they saw the issue of the war, gave up their faith in God,
but not their faith in the cause.


[William Peterfield Trent was born at Richmond, Virginia, in
1862. After graduating from the University of Virginia and pur
suing postgraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University, he became
professor of English in the University of the South, Sewanee,
Tennessee. This position he held from 1888 to 1900, when he
accepted a professorship in English literature in Columbia Univer
sity, New York City, which he now holds. His many books on
historical and literary subjects (especially notable being " Life of
William Gilmore Simms," "Authority of Criticism," and "A History
of American Literature ") have made him known of the foremost
critics of literature in the United States. While at the University
of the South he was the first editor of the Sewanee Review a
magazine important to literary and historical research in the South.]



A " Solid South " would seem to presuppose a homogeneous
Southern people coextensive with the geographical, or rather
political, area thus designated ; but to draw this inference would
be to make a mistake almost equal to that made by the Euro
pean who thinks Chicago a three or four hours ride from
New York, and confounds our Eastern and Western populations.
If political opinions and prejudices be not taken into account,
the typical Charlestonian will be found to differ as much from
the average inhabitant of Nashville as the typical New Y r orker
does from his rival of Chicago. The Virginian and the Georgian
have points of contact, to be sure, but they differ radically in
many important respects just as radically as a citizen of
New Jersey does from a citizen of Wisconsin. They may, per
haps, differ more radically, on account of the fact that state
lines are more strictly drawn in the South than in any other
portion of the Union. It is, of course, measurably true to affirm
that the Southern people are descendants in the main of that
portion of the English people " who had been least modernized,
who still retained a large element of the feudal notion." The
usual assumption that the civilization of the North is Puritan,
while that of the South is Cavalier, rests on a substantial though
small basis of fact. It is further true that the institution of
slavery gave a more or less uniform patriarchal tone to society
in every Southern state. But when all the points of resem
blance are numbered and estimated, it will still be found that
the tidewater South differs from the Southwest as much as
New England does from the Northwest, that each state of a
subsection differs from its neighbors, and that there are im
portant lines of cleavage within some of the states themselves.

1 Reprinted from the article " Dominant Tendencies of the South," Atlantic
Monthly, Vol. LXXIX, page 42.


Such a general proposition, however, is of little value unless it
is accompanied by particular illustrations.

The two leading types of Southern population are plainly the
Virginian and the South Carolinian of the tidewater. For this
fact there are both historical and physiographical reasons.
Virginia was the first and South Carolina the second Southern
colony to be settled by well-to-do Englishmen who desired to
found permanent homes. The introduction of slavery and its
application to staple crops speedily gave an aristocratic tone to
society in both provinces ; but between them, in North Caro
lina, and to the south of them, in Georgia, there were fewer
wealthy settlers and no staple crops to speak of, so that from
the first, society in these provinces was more or less democratic
in spite of slavery. Before, however, the gentry of the coast
could expand and occupy the country lying between the Blue
Ridge and the Alleghenies, and beyond the latter range of
mountains, a very different sort of people had moved in and
taken possession. Hardy Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, thrifty
German Lutherans, sober and industrious Quakers, had occu
pied the "up country," and in North Carolina had spread
toward the coast. Among these people, owing to their habits
and the nature of their soil, slavery could take no strong hold ;
hence they remained democratic and distinct from their tide
water neighbors, as indeed they are to this day. So it came to
pass that when, after the Revolution, tidewater Virginians, in
consequence of debt and the impoverishment of the land, deter
mined to emigrate, they passed over the two mountain ranges
and settled in Kentucky, or went as far to the southwest as
Alabama, later on, while the hardy mountain people, hungry
for land and eager for adventure, moved along the valleys and
over convenient passes and founded settlements, the more
important of which were destined to coalesce into the distinc
tively democratic commonwealth of Tennessee. Meanwhile, the


invention of the cotton gin made it worth the South Carolinian s
while to bide at home, and opened up to immigration and set
tlement the states bordering on the Gulf. As in the case of all
new countries, the inflowing population was extremely mixed,
but the man who had most slaves could clear his land and start
his cotton soonest ; and so throughout the lower tier of south
western states aristocracy triumphed, on the whole, over
democracy, being somewhat aided by the presence of French
and Spanish populations at Mobile and New Orleans. But in
the midst of all this movement and confusion the tidewater

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonSouthern life in southern literature; selections of representative prose and poetry → online text (page 26 of 35)