I sincerely hope that nobody reads the title of this post and comes to it thinking they’re going to find a full-blown discussion on the wide range of difficult decisions faced by Southerners in the Civil War era.
Since I’ve been talking a little about Galvanized Yankees, I figured I’d offer something regarding “decisions” in relation to those folks specifically. So, yes… this is an example of those many “inner battles” confronting Southerners.
After being captured and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp, what are your options?
1) Keep looking for ways in which to make your escape?
2) Stick it out the best you can with miserable living conditions and poor provisions, hoping you will live to see the day you will be exchanged… or just get out?
3) Take door number 3, so to speak… and go ahead and take the Oath of Allegiance?
4) But wait… there’s more… what about door #4… take the Oath AND join the U.S. military?
Of course, is the decision to take either door number 3 or 4 a decision one that requires additional thought?
Even if one was a Southern Unionist at heart (and to be clear, not all… maybe not most… Galvanized Yankees were Southern Unionists to begin with), or even a fence-sitter by preference… the decision to take up arms for the Union might be a challenging one. After all, will your decision trickle down and impact your family at home? How does it impact your/your family’s current situation… and how will it impact your future?
When looking through the Web lately, I encountered a site (Men of the 34th Mississippi who became Galvanized Yankees) that provided some fantastic content regarding some of the challenges faced when deciding whether or not to join the “frontier service.”
What follows below are various entries from the diary of of Lafayette Rogan, of the 34th Mississippi Infantry. Like many in his regiment, he was captured at Lookout Mountain, in November, 1863. Rogan details terrible conditions at Rock Island, but he isn’t among those who made the decision to join the “frontier service”. Rather, he makes critical reflections on those who do decide to join. By the time these entries are made, the men have been in captivity for nearly a year.
September 12, 1864: “The heart grown sick & the soul sinks within me when I see so many deserting our cause. From 1,500 to 2,000 of the prisoners here will enlist for frontier service.”
September 13, 1864: “My estimate of those who desert us and join the US is probably too great.
September 16, 1864: “The traitors continue to give their names to federal officers as being desirous of enlisting in the U.S. Service. Oh when will men be true to justice.”
September 18, 1864: “The frontier fever still rages among the vile traitors to our cause and country.”
September 29, 1864: “Frontier men are soon to be taken from amongst us.”
September 30, 1864: “This is the sadest day of all the days of my prison life. 15 men deserted us and take up arms against our cause. Oh how depraved the men of the present generation are become. Self, home, parents, dear wife and children are abandoned for the sake of a few oz of meat and bread – God forgive.”
October 13, 1864: “Desertions continue to occur to the enemy. 5 left our bks & probably as many as 200 have gone to day.”
What’s particularly interesting to see, on that same website, is that there is also a letter from a wife of one of the soldiers… dated four months before he actually decides to make the decision to take the Oath, and join the U.S.V. On June 17, 1864, Elizabeth Orman wrote her husband, Calvin…
Dear Husband i seat myself to write you a few lines to let you no how i am a geting a long me and jimmey is both well at this time and i hope these few lines may finde you well the rest of fathers familey is well all so tell Wiliam that Catherine and her childe is well and me and Catherine both lives in the house with fathers familey we all get a long very well to gether i want you to take the oath and com home for i think that it is best to live in the union and if evrey prisner wold take the oath and cum home the war wold soon end and we cold all live in the union as we did before the war comensed your fathers familey is well at this time Clint and Marion is both at home and ses that they will not fight eney mor a gain the union write to me and back your leters to James in lagrange.
Even with the wife’s nod to throw in the towel, and an opportunity to do so earlier, Orman doesn’t join the U.S.V. until October 31. Is this an indication that his wife’s reassurance isn’t enough? Of course, we have to consider the fact that Elizabeth says nothing about taking the Oath… AND THEN enlisting in the U.S.V. In June, that wasn’t an option. If so, might she have approved? My guess is that she just wanted Calvin to take the Oath and come home, but… this is the stuff that is food for thought.
So, what are your thoughts?
In my next post, I’ll look more (analytically speaking) at those men of the 34th Mississippi, identified in that website.