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Seventy Years in Dixie: Recollections and Sayings of T. W. Caskey and Others by Fletcher Douglas Srygley

Seventy Years in Dixie: Recollections and Sayings of T. W. Caskey and Others
Fletcher Douglas Srygley


The story of the war would hardly interest the reader. It has been told so often, that nothing new remains to be said. It was a gloomy time in Dixie. Only those who lived through those troublesome times in the South can ever know fully what the war really was. I shall therefore hasten over that, to me, ever painful period in the Seventy Years in Dixie. I have no desire to linger upon the memories of the war. Many mistakes were made, vile sins were committed, and not a few deeds of love were done which show the divine nature that is in man all the brighter because of the darkness and gloom of the environments.

During the war I did what I thought to be my duty, but when I was mustered out of service I shed bitter tears of defeat and disappointment over the grave of "the lost cause," and solemnly resolved to tight no more. War is a terrible thing. The life of a soldier was not calculated to increase my piety. My environments in the army were not at all favorable to the development of the better elements of my nature. Fighting, as a regular occupation, is a bad business every way. It calls out all the latent meanness in the human species. It can never be defended or excused on any other ground than as a choice of evils, and in tin- light of my experience I am disposed to hold that it is the last choice a man should make.

1 enlisted in the army as a preacher of the gospel and was assigned the duty of a chaplain. It was the hardest place to till in the whole army. I was expected to cut my sermons to fit the pattern of our occupation as soldiers. It was a hard thing to do. It was expected that my preaching, prayers and exhortations would tend to make the soldiers hard fighters. It was difficult to find even texts from which to construct such sermons. I soon discovered that I would have to close my Bible and manufacture my ministerial supplies out of the whole cloth.

Some of my preaching brethren told the soldiers, in their sermons, that our cause was just and that God would fight our battles for us. I never did feel authorized to make any such statements. I believed our cause was just, of course, but I could see as clear as a sunbeam that the odds were against us, and, to be plain, I gravely doubted whether God was taking any hand with us in that squabble. I told some of the preachers who were making that point in their sermons that they were taking a big risk. I asked them what explanation they would give, if we should happen to get thrashed. I told them such preaching would make infidels of the whole army, and put an end to their business, if we should happen to get the worst of the fracas. I wanted to do my duty as a preacher in the army, but I didn't want to checkmate the ministry in case we should come out second best in the fight. I think a preacher should always leave a wide margin for mistakes when it comes to interpreting the purposes of God beyond what has been clearly revealed in the Scriptures. It is not good policy for a one-horse preacher to arbitrarily commit the God of the universe to either side of a personal difficulty anyhow. I told the soldiers plainly that I didn't know exactly what position God would take in that fight. So far as I could see, the issue was a personal matter between us and the Yankees, and we must settle it, as best we could, among ourselves. It is not difficult to see how this line of argument led me away from the true spirit of the ministry, and thoroughly aroused within me a desire to fight. It became clearer to me every day that one good soldier was worth a whole brigade of canting chaplains so far as insuring the success of our army was concerned. If I must preach to others so as to make them good fighters, why not give them an object lesson on the battlefield myself: My premises may have been wrong, but my conclusion was certainly not illogical.

So I asked for a gun, took a place with "the boys" and was dubbed the "fighting parson." At Bull Run I stopped the fragments of a stampeded regiment at the muzzle of a revolver, and led them back into the fight. I have no idea how I looked; I do not want anybody to know how I felt. The imagination of the artist is wholly responsible for the illustration of that scene in my eventful career. I have made no suggestions; I offer no protest; I ask no explanations; I attempt no defense.

I have no evidence that I ever killed or wounded any one during the war. I sincerely hope I never did, and deeply repent the bare possibility of such a thing. I want no fratricidal blood on my hands. As I now stand trembling upon the verge of the grave and look back over the dreary years of an unprofitable life, I weep o'er my many blunders, look trustingly to God for mercy, open wide my arms to a sin-cursed and sorrow-burdened world, and in the tenderest love for all and with malice toward none, say: "We be brethren!" The war was a mistake and a failure. All wars are mistakes and failures. They may sometimes be necessary evils, but if so it is only because man's wickedness makes evil necessary. A heart-weariness and soul-sadness no pen can describe come o'er me when I think of those dark days of bloody war with their tiresome marching, wasting disease, cold, hunger and consuming anxiety!

We went into the war with light hearts and bright hopes. "We thought we had the richest country, the bravest men, the finest homes and the prettiest women iii the world. We believed we had the wealth and the chivalry of the United States. Our whole country was in the highest possible state of cultivation, and every plantation fairly groaned under the burden of its surplus of supplies. We were on our mettle, we felt our importance, and we thought we could whip anything.

But a few years of hard fighting took the conceit out of us. There was clearly an error in the calculation somewhere. The lack of manufactories was the missing link in our premises, which soon showed the fallacy in our conclusion. The South was well prepared to feed an army, but it could not equip one. The whole Southern Confederacy combined could not manufacture even a horse-shoe nail or a belt-buckle when the war began. We never did have a decent supply of even shoes, hats or clothing. Not a single regiment in the whole Confederate army was ever thoroughly equipped for the war. We had nothing to light with and there was no way to get it. As a nation, we had neither capital, currency, credit not collaterals. We couldn't manufacture arms and ammunition enough in the whole Confederate government to thoroughly equip one company for the battlefield. Factories were started as soon as possible, with the resources we could command, to manufacture such military supplies as were most urgently in demand. But it takes time to build factories, even under the most favorable circumstances, and we were as scarce of time as factories. The war was upon us. Whatever we did had to be done, to use a strong figure, without fortifications and under strong fire from the enemy. We were still further embarrassed from lack of the necessary machinery to start factories with. Manufacturing is a complicated business. To start a factory for any particular line of goods or implements, it is necessary to draw upon several other factories for the needful machinery. One factory is needed, to manufacture the machinery, to start another. You cannot start a factory to make cloth, for instance, without engines, boilers, cards, spindles, looms, etc. All those things must be made by other factories. In our efforts to start factories we were puzzled to find any place to begin the business.

We were still further embarrassed from lack of skilled labor to establish and operate factories. Nobody in the Southern Confederacy knew anything about such business. We had always been an agricultural people. Negroes did most of the labor in the South before the war, and they were of no more value, except on farms, than an engine without a boiler. There were not even men enough in the South before the war who had any knowledge at all of factories or machinery of any kind, to have superintended and successfully managed manufacturing establishments enough to supply the demands of the country with the simplest articles needed at home and in the army, even if the government had been amply provided with manufacturing plants.

But why dwell upon such bitter memories? My soul finds no pleasure in them. The whole world knows the story. The end came at last, as we all knew long before, it must sometime come. Those of us who understood the real condition of the country and the utter hopelessness of our cause, knew we were continuing the struggle against irrevokable doom long before the end came, and yet no one was in favor of surrendering even to fate. We held out long after it ceased to be a war or a fight. It was nothing less than standing defenseless, unarmed, naked and without food, to be butchered rather than acknowledge defeat. Ah, the cruelties of war ! God pity the stubbornness of a heart in rebellion against fate!

I am glad now that i n those dark days of strife and bloodshed, I often ministered to the comfort of those who wore the blue as well as those who wore the gray when they fell into my hands, mangled by shot and shell or racked with pain and emaciated by disease. While I was general hospital agent of the State of Mississippi with a hundred thousand dollars of public money and two hundred thousand dollars of individual donations subject to my order, I labored night and day to see that all who fell into my hands received every attention, convenience, comfort and delicacy that could be provided in a war-swept and famine-blighted land. I saved the lives of many, and tried earnestly to guide the souls of many others, whose bodies were mangled beyond human skill to save, to the rest that remaineth for the people of God. I often stood by the side of the dying, both on the battle-fields and in the hospitals, and many a time I became the bearer of the last tender messages of love, which dying soldiers begged me to deliver to loved ones at home. The hearty "God-bless-you," so familiar to my ears in those dark days of blood-shed and suffering, often conies to me now, after the lapse of more than a quarter of a century, in vivid dreams at night and lingers in my failing memory during the day. I remember well the fervency with which a poor wounded Irishman uttered the familiar "God-bless-you" on the train en route to Richmond after the first battle at Manassas. I was in charge of the wounded, taking them to hospitals in Richmond. We had a number of wounded prisoners in a freight car, lying- on their blankets spread upon straw on the floor of the car. My attention was arrested by the groans of a man who seemed to be suffering intensely. I asked if I could in any way assist him. A ball bad passed through his thigh, shattering the bone, and the wound bad been hastily and poorly dressed on the battle-field four days before. The dressing had not been changed or the wound examined since. He looked up
into my face with an expression of suffering on his countenance I can never forget, and said: "Captain, this is worse than death. There are hundreds of creepers in my wound." Poor fellow! He could not assist himself, and no one among his wounded comrades was able to help him! I kneeled by his side, removed the bandage from his thigh and picked the creepers out of his wound with a straw. When I arose to leave him, I can never forget the look of gratitude in the blue depths of his tear-dimmed eyes as lie grasped both my hands and said: "May God bless you, sir, forever and ever." I gently placed him in a comfortable position on his hard bed of dirty straw, and in a few moments lie fell into a deep sleep. He was a prisoner, and I never saw him afterwards, but the fact that he wore the blue in no wise diminishes the pleasure of the memory of the brotherly assistance it was my good fortune to be able to render him.

F. D. Srygley, Seventy Years in Dixie: Recollections and Sayings of T. W. Caskey and Others (Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company, 1914), 350-357.


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