“I have shouldered my musket and it is not to be laid down unless wrested from me by the hand that is stronger than all, until the nations of the earth, including the proud boasting North should confess that we are not rebels but a nation of freemen that know our rights, and knowing, dare maintain them.” – Elisha Wood
A dear friend of mine shared this beautiful entry from a Leaves of Friendship album that is up for sale. This particular entry was written in camp during the War Between the States by Elisha Wood of the 12th Alabama. He was a mere 23 at the time, but writes eloquently of the reasons he is fighting.
You may find that it is very easy to relate his words to today’s chaotic political climate.
I compose this encamped near Richmond. Here I am, far away from home and loving friends and long cherished associations, from all that makes life dear to me. And why am I here? Was it merely that I might be an actor in things novel and exciting that I turned my back on the delights of home and subjected myself to the untold trials and privations of camp life and to the fearful dangers of the battlefield?
Let me consider if I can satisfy myself if I am right in thinking that conscious rectitude will reconcile me to my present privations and nerve my arm for the deadly conflict whenever I am called to meet it. I am here because a numerous and powerful enemy has invaded my country and threatened our subjugation.
Long had the two sections of this great country lived together in harmony under a Constitution formed by men whose wisdom and integrity have seldom been equaled. The manufacture and commercial pursuits of the North seemed to create mutual dependence which to many was supposed to create a bond of union too strong to be broken.
For many years this bond was held so sacred and all over the land a spirit reigned, ready to respond to the sentiments, palsied be the tongue, that would utter the word disunion, while this harmony, so delightful to remember continued, the country prospered to a degree which astounded all Europe.
But evil councils at length obtained in the hearts of the great North and by steady encroachments forged for years, the sacred safeguards provided by the Constitution were one after the other overthrown and one section of the country was found using the power which numerical strength supplied to oppress the other.
This brought me here. I am here because those who once called us friends now call us rebels, and openly proclaim their purpose to subjugate us simply because we claim the right to interpret the Constitution for ourselves, though they openly claim the same privileges for themselves. When we found the difference between us and our Northern brothers rendered it impossible that we could any longer live peaceably under the same government, we sought by all honorable means to secure such a compromise as would make us separate nations, each interested to maintain with regard to the other, the kind feelings of good neighborship.
But our proposition for a compromise was treated with scorn and contempt and we were made to understand by many indirect, but at the same time, practical demonstrations, that we must submit to the will of the majority whether that majority should conform to the Constitution, or govern its course by its own sectional interests and selfish ambitions.
I am here because I believe that defensive war is justifiable. True, nothing can be plainer that war in itself is unnatural and would never come to pass if all men should observe the law that bids them love others as they love themselves. But when my fellow man so far forgets this law as to assail my personal rights, my property, or my friends, the same law that binds me to love him requires me to compel him, if in power, to respect all my rights.
The present war, is on our part, emphatically, a war of defense and would not lose its defensive character even if in prosecuting it we should find it necessary to advance into the very midst of the enemy’s territory. Camp life has no charm for me, nor would I seek the battlefield for its own sake. To dwell in the midst of my loved ones at home, would be far more agreeable to every feeling of my heart than to encounter either my present or prospective experiences.
But more than all other earthly good, I covet for my friends as well as for myself, the privilege of choosing the civil institutions under which we live. To secure this privilege I am here and would regard myself as unfaithful to my country and my country’s God if I should for a moment shrink from the just responsibilities of a soldier’s position. I am here under a stern sense of duty. I am impressed to some degree with the obligations that rest upon me as a soldier. My health must be cared for, my morals must be guarded against the seductive power of evil examples. In all the duties of the soldier I must faithfully discharge. I owe all this to my friends, my country, and to my God.
Determined then to occupy my place here, with honor to myself, with comfort to friends at home, and with some advantage to my country’s cause, I cheerfully consent to be a Soldier, to lead a Soldier’s life, to bear a Soldier’s burden, to die if need be, a Soldier’s death. God grant that I may never fail of the true Soldier’s spirit. I am here, not knowing what destiny awaits me.
Many, through the exposures of camp life, contract diseases which they probably would have escaped had they remained at home, and dying far away from home and friends, now lie buried in a stranger’s grave, while others fall in the midst of the dreadful clash of arms, and scarcely find a decent burial. And who am I that I should escape from both these contingencies? The thought may well awaken emotions in my bosom which some would consider unmanly. To me they seem rational and worthy of one who believes himself, as I do, immortal, and will therefore strive to cherish them.
With such feelings and sentiments I am here and committing myself for time and for eternity to Him who stands pledge to men and angels, that those who trust in Him shall be sustained in their cause. I desire quietly to await whatever His wisdom and goodness may appoint. I am for the war! I have shouldered my musket and it is not to be laid down unless wrested from me by the hand that is stronger than all, until the nations of the earth, including the proud boasting North should confess that we are not rebels but a nation of freemen that know our rights, and knowing, dare maintain them. These are the causes why I am here.
E. B. S. for Album