Just a brief revista here before getting back to the note-making. This morning I plowed through While Father is Away: The Civil War Letters of William H. Bradbury (Ed. Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt; Comp. Kassandra R. Chaney). Bradbury was an Englishman who had moved to America and served in the Union army during the Civil War. He served through nearly the entire war, and his time overlapped with the end of the conflict. Prior to the Presidential election of 1864, he had this to say:
The presidential campaign will show which way the winds blows as regards peace. (pg. 172)
It’s another one of those things that seem equally apt today. It would also appear that Bradbury experienced firsthand the “liberalizing” effect that accompanies time spent with people of different backgrounds and ethnic groups. Earlier in his service, letters home which mentioned the “Negroes” he encountered reflected more than a fair amount of ignorance. Genuine ignorance, indicated by the crass and shallow nature of his assessment. However, later, he writes the following:
In conclusion, I may safely say that there is quite as much difference in every respect – physical, moral, and mental – between any one Negro and another, as there is between any white man and another. By “Negro,” I mean a person of African descent. (pg. 215)
Though these are conclusions that we are inclined to regard as absolute and obvious, for the time in which that was written, and given the background of the man who wrote it, it demonstrates something valuable about the importance of eliminating imagined barriers between social groups.
The last thing I wanted share from this is an account (possibly somewhat embellished, but it would be difficult to determine) that Bradbury sent to the Manchester Guardian (in England; he was paid a small fee for letters offering insight into the course of the Civil War) which was published in early May 1865:
The war is so nearly over that I imagine nothing but the exciting news of the concluding scenes will be interesting. (written the day of the assassination in a letter to his wife)
In the midst of all this grief, the malignant animus of secession could not conceal its gratification. A man on Church street was so indiscreet as to think aloud in reference to the shocking event, and say he was ‘glad the d-d abolition son of a b-h was dead; he ought to have died long ago.’ Before the words had fairly left his lips a soldier shot him through the heart, and, plunging his bayonet into the falling body, pinned him to the ground. So far from his being arrested, a by-stander immediately offered to give him $100 towards a testimonial to the avenger of a national insult. In another part of the city, a man of Copperhead or Democratic proclivities expressed his satisfaction at the calamity, and said that ‘Lincoln was the cause of the war.’ He was instantly felled to the ground and, after a severe mauling, left for dead on the side walk….A reign of terror now prevails. (pg. 257-258)
What has to be wrong with the moral make-up of people, of our society, that such things come about? The anti-Lincoln remarks represent one kind of darkness, but the violent response – which may or may not have happened but is entirely believable – is surely another. The apparently enthusiastic support of this violence suggests the most sable spirit of all. Yet here we are, in the midst of another election cycle, engaged in ongoing wars, fighting about whether it’s appropriate to apologize for the burning of a Quran. Yes, of course it is.