Once again, while reading today’s post by Kevin, I’m compelled to write something longer than a comment to the post. Specifically, there was a comment at Richard Williams’ blog that was reflective of one contemporary person’s opinion of what April 9, 1865 meant to “all of us who love the South.” Well, to be frank, I know a LOT of people who love the South (myself included), but don’t reflect sadly on the day, fully able to appreciate what the close of the war meant in the long run.
What’s more important is knowing what Southerners thought back then.
I have no doubt that many were brought to tears, yet, I’m sure there were just as many Southerners who rejoiced, and even those who saw Appomattox as just another day, having already gone home a year or more before the war, frustrated at the very government that some of these same folks had embraced (or had been forced to embrace) in 1861. I know of the stories of some free blacks who rejoiced that their spouses in bondage were finally free and white Unionists who finally regained a voice that had been suppressed since 1861. I’m sure that despite their differences in sentiment with fellow Southerners, most of those who did not embrace the Confederacy still loved the South.
Still, while some really did sink into depression and dealt with the surrender in increased doses of laudanum, others appear to have bounced back quickly. Lt. George D. Buswell, of Co. H, 33rd Virginia Infantry (one of the regiments of the old Stonewall Brigade) was one of those people. He had been home healing from his wounds since May 1864, and recorded the days surrounding the fall of Petersburg and surrender at Appomattox as follows:
Sun. 2nd. Went to Luray for the Dr. & Capt. Booton; Mrs. B. being very sick. Went to evening meeting at Leaksville.
Mon. 3rd. Mrs. Booton died this morning. Helped awhile at the grave, plowed awhile, went to the wake.
Tues. 4th. Attended the burying. Cousin B. Hite & M. gander spent the night with us. The following men, Misters Phlip Long, Daniel Brubaker, Samuel Miller & Reuben Dadisman, commenced appraising the personal property belonging to GrandPapa’s estate. Mr. Wm. C. Lauck, clerk; Papa and Uncle Mann, Admsts.
Wed. 5th. The appraisement continued. A rumor that the Yankees were advancing on Luray reached us. I went to the intersection near Luray & found the rumor false.
Thurs. 6th. Sale commenced, tolerably well attended. Property sold very well. Hearing the yankees were in New Market, I, in company with several ithers, started to that place, but hearing they had done back we returned from Salem. I spent the night at Uncle Booton’s.
Fri. 7th. Sale concluded. Z.E.M.D. spent the night with me. Benj. Coffman passed on his way home, Richmond having been taken by Grant. Lt. Chadduck & the boys with him returned from Liberty Mills to make another start next week.
Sat. 8th. Persons are moving their property.
Sun, 9th. Went with Sis to Mill Creek and back. Went to Cousin Joe’s in the evening &, as it rained, I stayed all night.
Mon. 10th. Rainy. Lieut. Chadduck came up & told me that he & Lieut. Kite expected to start to the army next Wednesday on foot, so I could not go with them. I went out to see Lieut. Kite. Stopped awhile at Mr. B’s.
Tues. 11th. Came home and made a washstand.
Thurs. 13th. Went to B.A.’s & back.
Fri. 14th. Went to Honeyville & attended the funeral of R. Conner at Mt. Zion. Went to Leaksville, heard of the surrender of Gen. Lee’s army.
Sat. 15th. Rained. Went to Luray and back to Mr. R’s, stayed all night with F.W.Y.
Sun. 16th. (Easter) Went to preaching at Leaksville. To Mr. R’s where I spent the evening very pleasantly. Went home with Joe Huffman.
Mon. 17th. Went to Mr. Jno. Groves’, to Mr. R’s & home.
Tues. 18th. Layed off corn ground & took a ride. Commenced planting corn in the meadow.
Wed. 19th. Helped plant corn. Went to R.A.’s with Mary & to Mr. Chadduck’s with Lieut. Kite.
Thurs. 20th. Took dinner at Mr. Stover’s & went to Summer’s.
Fri. 21st. Dined at Mr. N. Kite’s Lt. Kite went home & I to Luray and home.
Sat. 22nd. Went with Mary to see Miss S.D. & back with Wesley to Cousin Z.R.’s
Sun. 23rd. Went to N.S.’s school house, to R.L.’s, Z.H.’s, & M.B.’s.
Mon. 24th. Plowed in the evening.
Tues. 25th. helped to shear sheep & layed off corn ground.
Wed. 26th. Layed off corn ground until dinner, then to Luray.
You get the general picture. In one breath, he mentions some Confederates’ plans to head back to the army in the last days, but in the next breath, he makes little “to do” with Lee’s surrender. No melodrama, no “boohoo’ery” over the fall of the Confederacy, but almost as if matter of fact. In addition to this, for all the devastation suffered at the hands of Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley in the Fall of 1864, he speaks of planting corn (which, according to some, was exhausted in the Valley during the burning of all the mills) and shearing sheep (which, according to some, were all driven off with the Union army the previous October). Later in the same month, he harvested hay, traveled to and from Staunton, and even cut wheat. To Lt. George D. Buswell, a man who had been present in the Stonewall Brigade since March 1862, and who was present to watch his company commander, messmate, and childhood friend, Michael Shuler… my third great granduncle… fall at the Wilderness*… life went on…
* Buswell wrote on May 5, 1864, “The noble Shuler was killed instantly”.