Hidden Histories

The 'Other' American Civil War: The Enemy, My Friend?

Thursday, 11/11/10
Next year the country will be celebrating the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. Thus, it is only appropriate that today, on Veteran's Day, I relate one of my own favorite military accounts, derived from America's most bloody and violent conflict. Yet the following was an event truly 'civil' in nature; two men, though on opposing sides, quickly but tragically became friends, if only for a short period of time, during the 'Battle of Rome, Georgia,' fought on October 12th, 1864.

A native of Clinton County, Pennsylvania, Lutheran minister, Thomas F. Dornblazer, of Lee County, Illinois, writing within his work, Sabre Strokes of the Pennsylvania Dragoons in the War of 1861-1865, published in Philadelphia in 1884, recalled a remarkable personal incident he experienced during the 'War Between the States.'  Dornblazer was serving at the time as a Sergeant, in Company 'E,' 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Minty's Brigade.

One of the opposing 'Rebel' or Confederate forces at Rome, Georgia that fateful day, was the 8th Alabama Cavalry, part of Charles G. Armistead's Brigade. Perhaps it is best to let Sgt. Dornblazer recall his own memories of what transpired (though I have italicized certain words in his reminiscence):
After firing a few shots, I saw a Rebel officer leaping the fence twenty yards to my right, and starting to run across the open field to join his comrades. In his right hand he held a navy revolver, and in his left an officer's sword. I leveled my "Spencer" and ordered him, sharply, to halt and throw down his arms, which he did. But seeing that I was altogether alone, he seized his weapons again, sprang to the stump of a broken tree...fired two shots from his revolver, and said in a defiant tone, "I'll fight you!"...
I took my horse by the rein, and made a left about wheel, two paces to the rear...My antagonist in the meantime fired two more shots, wounding my horse in the hip; and mistaking my maneuvers for a retreat, he rushed forward and preemptorily demanded my surrender. He came to the fence...{and} was in the act of stepping across when I ordered him a second time to halt. My gun was leveled; he raised his revolver with a threat: I fired! His arm dropped without discharging his revolver. His tall form sank to the ground as he exclaimed, "I'm a dead man."
At once I dropped my carbine, and offered him my hand; he gave it a friendly grasp and said, "You have killed a good man."  "I'm sorry for it," said I,  "and why did you take up your arms again?" Said he, "I made a vow that I would never surrender to one man. You were the only man I saw, and I determined to fight you, and get possession of your horse--then I could have made my escape. You did your duty, but you might have surrendered to me."
After making him as comfortable as I could with overcoat and blanket, I inquired his name and rank. He said his name was William H. Lawrence, Captain and acting Colonel of the Eighth Alabama Cavalry. He said he had a wife and two dear children living at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His wife and daughter were devoted Christians, and he lamented that he had not lived a better life in the army. He did not feel prepared to die. He knew that he must die.
The ball struck the corner of his belt-plate and passed through his body, inflicting a mortal wound. His mind was perfectly clear, anf for one-half hour we were alone, undisturbed, and we wept and prayed together, invoking the Infinite Mercy of God to forgive us both. Seeing the bugler of our regiment at a distance, I called to him to bring up a stretcher to carry back a wounded officer.
We carried him three-quarters of a mile to the field hospital, and had his wounds dressed.  Before I left him he gave me his diary, and requested me to send it to his wife, and tell her that he died happy. After his death next day, the surgeon found on his person a ten-dollar gold piece, and a signet-ring with his wife's photograph set in it, in minature.
Captain William H. Lawrence, was interred at Myrtle Hill Cemetery, in Rome, Georgia, in the Confederate Soldier's Section. After the War, Dornblazer wrote the Confederate officer's widow, informing her,
That he had in his possession a sword and revolver which belonged to her husband, who fell in battle near Rome, Georgia, and if she desired it, he would forward them to her by express. She said her husband wrote her on the morning of that fatal day, and feared the results of the approaching conflict.
She said her boy "Willie," eleven years old, would like to have his papa's sword. The sword and revolver were forwarded immediately, and a prompt answer came back, with many thanks from the mother and her son.
Such at times was the American Civil War. It is not only a subject devoted to 'blood and guts,' heroic actions in battle, atrocities, or animosities between 'Yankees' and 'Rebels.' Oftentimes, as recorded by the very men who served within America's worst national conflict, it was also a time of faith, charity, and brotherly-love, even for those participants whose politics were diametrically in opposition to one another.

American soldiers, regardless of the conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the current conflict in Afghanistan, have fought valiantly, yet simultaneously have also brought humanitarian aid and shown acts of kindness, to both civilians and enemy combatants alike, so that many of our former enemies, are now our most devoted friends.

As Alexander Pope remarked long ago, "To err is human, to forgive divine."

For further reading, one may wish to read:
Daniel N. Rolph, My Brother's Keeper: Union and Confederate Soldiers' Acts of Mercy During the Civil War (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books., 2002): 69-71. (for which I hold the copyright)

Thomas F. Dornblazer, Sabre Strokes of the Pennsylvania Dragoons in the War of 1861-65 (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1884): 193-197.  Incidentally, Sabre Strokes has been reprinted by a descendant of Dornblazer.  Feel free to write me for that author's contact information, as well for further information about my above volume, at: drolph at hsp.org

Comments

Interesting blog, thank you. There is a wonderful...

Interesting blog, thank you.

There is a wonderful book called "The OTHER South" which chronicals the abolitionist movement, before 1820, in the South.

The South had far more anti-slavery activity in 1820, than the North did. In fact, the South had something like 135 anti-slavery newspapers, and publications, according the "The Other South".

The North had about 25.

What happened to the South's anti slavery efforts?

They were criminalized -- effectively. Men like Cassius Clay and Hiton Helper were forced physcially from the South.

The punishment for books, pamphlets, even sermons (yes, sermons) against slavery was torture and bannishment. But first, torture.

These were the "anti-incendiary" laws, rigidly enforced by Southern states. Just owning the wrong book could get you arrested, tried, and whipped. It did not have to be an extreme book, just anything that might "dissatisfy" a slave.

Why did the Southern states come down so violently against free speech this way?

Were they just evil men?

Not at all. The constant danger of escaped slaves, and slave rebellion, was a moment by moment fear in the South. Southern Congressmen wanted the North to arrest and surrender those men in the North (many of them transplanted from the South, after their expulsion) who wrote anything against slavery. This was a matter to life and death to them. It was not an academic theory about free speech.

In fact, Jeff Davis himself wrote that the "intolerable grievance" by the North was NOT anything about fugative slaves or tariffs, or anything like that.

Davis said the intolerable grievance was the SPEECH by Northern candidate Lincoln against the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln spoke against this decision (a decision which said blacks are so inferior, they could not be considered as human, and that no reasonable man would believe the inferior black race was part of the Declaration of Independence "all men".)

The hatred of free speech in the South is impossible to overestimate.

In their own Declarations of Secession, South Carolina showed extreme hatred for the North, because the North "allowed the open societies" that were anti slavery. And that people in the North "claimed slavery to be a sin"

Ships were searched in the South from 1810 on, books of course banned, and any abolitionist that did appear, was hunted down.

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