Today in History:

[b]The American Civil War The Last War Between Gentlemen[/b]

  • mark12345678910
  • mark12345678910's Avatar Topic Author
  • Offline
  • Private
  • Private
1 year 2 days ago #108 by mark12345678910
The American Civil War The Last War Between Gentlemen

“Strange that we are so friendly at one time, when in the next moment we may be attempting to draw each other’s life’s blood.”
-Tally Simpson 3rd South Carolina Volunteers

Something I love about the American civil war is what  Sir Winston Churchill called “the last war between gentlemen.” Even though they were at war and trying to kill each other, they still held respect, honor and chivalry, in and out of battle. They also could be civil to each other even when in separate armies, it truly was a war between brothers. Here are some examples.


“Were on the most friendly terms, amicably conversing and exchanging such composites as coffee, sugar, tobacco, cornmeal and newspapers. Bantering and joking together exchanging compliments of the day”
-Gilbert Hays of Pennsylvanian during the siege of St Petersburg

Picket lines were often posted for weeks, with both sides in close distance. This would often result in them playing cards, swimming, talking and trading coffee and tobacco. On the Rappahannock River soldiers would use toy sailboats to trade items with the other side across the river. Confederates played baseball and held boxing matches while northern solider cheered and made bets on the games. Once during the Atlanta campaign confederates were not able to dig trenches because of lack of shovels, the union men were kind enough to let them borrow theirs. There was a unwritten law, no one on either side was to be killed while going to the bathroom.

Once Confederate general Gordon suspected his men of meeting and talking with Yankees. When he went down to his men he heard a splash in the water as a Yankee went back towards his line. He yelled out and asked the Yankee if he knew there was a war going on, the Yankee replied yeah but “Not right hear not right know.”  Gordon wanted to take him as prisoner but the men protested it, because it was against the honor code as the Yankee was thier invited guest.

“Sgt. Joseph T. Gibson of the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry explained that the pickets of the two armies stood 75 to 100 feet apart, and that “they were on the best of terms and conversed frequently on various subjects.” The Confederate pickets, low on rations, “always found the pickets on the Union line ready to fling a cracker across the little stream that separated them.”

“As his men were preparing to fire on a Confederate picket line, one Union officer ordered them to stand down, on the premise that it was “nothing but murder to kill a poor picket while on duty.” On another occasion, a Yankee general stood looking through his telescope at the enemy position, whereupon a rock sailed into the soldiers’ rifle pit. Around the rock was tied a note that read, “Tell the fellow with the spy glass to clear out or we shall have to shoot him.”

The Rev. J. William Jones, D.D., now chaplain-general of the United Confederate Veterans, when standing near this same point had his hat carried away by a gust of wind, and it fell near the Union lines. The loss of a hat meant the loss to the chaplain of nearly a month's pay. He turned away sorrowfully, not knowing how he could get another. A heroic young private, George Haner of Virginia, said to him: "Chaplain, I will get your hat." Taking a pole in his hand, he crawled along the ditch which led to our picket-line, and began to drag the hat in with his pole. At this moment a Yankee bullet went through the sleeve of his jacket. He at once shouted to the Union picket: "Hello, Yank; quit your foolishness. I am doing no harm. I am just trying to get the chaplain's hat." Immediately the reply came: "All right, Johnny; I'll not shoot at you any more. But you 'd better hurry up and get it before the next relief comes."

In Vicksburg, Miss., according to a New York Times correspondent writing on April 19, 1863, though “the principal occurrence of the last week or so has been the daily exchange of courtesies, under the name of flag of truce, between the Unionists and rebels” regarding the business of exchanging prisoners, “the real object amounts to little more than an exchange of newspapers, and an endeavor on the part of thirsty rebel officers to obtain a supply of National whiskey.” Amid reports of pillage and rape, the correspondent noted: “Each [Union] boat that goes down takes a demijohn of Bourbon, which is freely dispensed to the gray-coated deputation that meets us at the Point.”Later in the same city, on May 25, when the smell of decaying bodies became too ghastly, regiments from both sides were called together to start digging, mingling freely with friends, relatives and hometown chums for two-and-a-half hours under officers’ watchful eye.

During the siege in Atlanta soldiers from both sides picked blackberries from the same bush while singing duels would brake out.

A family testimony

“He was at Vicksburg, according to what he told her, and fell asleep on nightime sentry duty. He got woken up by someone poking him in the ribs with a bayonet. He looked up and it was a Rebel soldier who simply said, " Better stay awake Yank!" and walked away. She also said he turned, came back briefly, and asked her brother, now WIDE awake, if he had any coffee. He said no and the Reb walked away”

Honor in battle

“For gods sake, stop firing! You are killing your own men”
-Confederate solider to union infantry at Bull Run

In the documentation's secrets of the civil war by the history channel and the famous documentary the Civil War By Ken Burns PBS. Two accounts really stood out to me. The first was of a union flag bearer at Vicksburg who told his commander he would plant a flag on the rebel held hill, or die trying. When the assault came his regiment was hit hard with many causalities and they fell back. Yet the flag bearer kept going forward. The Texans on the other side kept up the fire, but after a few more volleys they saw just the single man still coming with his flag. The officer told the Texans to hold their fire. the union solider marched right up to the pit and stuck the American flag into the ground on the hill, the Texas cheered and than took him in as a honored prisoner.

The second was when a union solider holding the regimental flag advanced across a field with his regiment marching to the beat of the drums. After some fighting he just kept marching to the position to be taken. After awhile he noticed the confederates stopped shooting, he looked around and saw none of his regiment was with him ,they had fallen back. So he turned looked to the confederates who had stopped firing, saluted them, and did a 180 marching while holding the flag back towards his position. The Confederates let out a load roar of applause.

At Fredircksburg the famed Irish brigade led a valiant charge against the entrenched confederate line. The men fought so brave and so hard that the entire miles long confederate line let out a loud cheer for the efforts of the Irish brigade. General Robert E Lee who commanded the premier army of the south ,said he had never seen men fight so brave.

John B. Gordon tells the story of preparations for the surprise attack on Fort Stedman at Petersburg, VA. During the night Confederate soldiers had advanced into a cornfield between the lines to clear obstructions when they heard a Union picket call, "What are you doing over there, Johnny? Answer quick, or I'll shoot." A quick-thinking Rebel answered, "Never mind, Yank! Lie down and go to sleep. We are just gathering a little corn."All right, Johnny; go ahead and get your corn. I'll not shoot at you while you are drawing your rations." The preparations for the surprise assault being completed, General Gordon ordered that the signal gun be fired to start the charge. The soldier raised his gun but hesitated to fire. His sense of honor and fair play caused him to shout:"Hello, Yank! Wake up. Look out, we are coming!" He then fired the signal and the assault began.

A Union officer was using a spy glass to view the confederate position. Soon a rock with a message around it fell in the rifle pit of the officer. The paper read “Tell the fellow with the spy glass to clear out or we shall have to shoot him”.

During trench fighting around Atlanta union soldiers held there fire while brave confederates jumped over there works to save their wounded comrades, and let out a loud cheer.

After intense fighting and the union command repulsed, Federals crossed lines and received  autographs during a cease fire of general Cheatham for his defensive action at the “dead angel.”

War between brothers

“They forget that they are enemies and a kind of chivalric honor and courtesy are strictly observed,” meeting “in so friendly a way that one would have thought they were the best and most loving neighbors in the world,” according to The Soldiers’ Journal of Oct. 5, 1864.”
- military historian Ed Bearss. 

Because of the close kinship of west point graduates, when confederate general Pickett's wife had a baby. The confederate line lit barn fires in celebration. when word spread to the union lines they as well lit fires and multiple officers sent over letters of congratulations to general Pickett.

After the war At the funeral of confederate general Wilcox, four union and four confederate held his casket.

On 19 February, a funeral service was held at his home, followed by a military procession. General Joseph E. Johnston, the Confederate officer who had commanded the resistance to Sherman's troops in Georgia and the Carolinas, served as a pallbearer in New York City. It was a bitterly cold day and a friend of Johnston, fearing that the general might become ill, asked him to put on his hat. Johnston famously replied: "If I were in [Sherman's] place, and he were standing in mine, he would not put on his hat." Johnston did catch a serious cold and died one month later of pneumonia.


In the book rifled musket reality and myth Earl Hess tells of a account of a union solider who was shot at by a long range confederate sniper trying his luck, the bullet flew 20 yards above the union solider into the trees above. The union solider pointed up to the top of the trees to let the sniper know were the bullet went, than tipped his hat “So he would know I did not take it personally” and rode away.

Ft Sumter

At Fort Sumter the union soldiers in the fort knew they could not hit the rebel guns on land as they knew the guns were made for incoming ships in the bay. But after coming under fire they felt they needed to do something so they fired back anyways, this lead to cheers from the confederates for their efforts. Confederate artillery started a fire in ft Sumter, confederates than offered a cease fire to help the federals put out the fire. Than In celebration of the confederate capture of ft Sumter. Confederate Roger Pryor would have been the first causality of the war from drinking what he thought was alcohol, that turned out to be poison. Yet his life was saved by the union medic within fort Sumter. After the surrender of fort Sumter the union soldiers were allowed a small ceremony and to salute the American flag as it came down. They were allowed to march out on their own to a flotilla they took them back up north. The confederates stood on the shore with caps in hand out of respect.


Early in the war prisoners were released on word alone, and they trusted that. Because at that time your word was highly valued, it was seen as dishonorable to go back on your word, people got in duels to retain their honor. So when soldiers were released by opposing armies on word alone, it was trusted and believed they would not return to fight. Around the battle of Antietam a union solider was released and when coming back into union lines as the union was preparing for an attack he would not give his men information on enemy numbers simply told them to watch out.

On one occasion Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest Forrest had captured many union soldiers, multiple times there was just to many to guard so he had to release them. Once he was almost killed, what saved him was a former released union solider who yelled to warn him of a set ambush by the union ahead of him. The former Forrest prisoner said “I don't want to see anything happen to you sir”. Forrest tipped his hat and rode off to safety.

Other times friendly interaction occurred with prisoners. “I say yank, what kind of soap do you fellows use, it has washed the color out of your face [ referring to the pale northerners] Yankee prisoners replies “You don't look like you ever used soap of any sort” Winning hearty laughs from all round

Two confederate gunboats were captured by federals, one of which was named after Stonewall Jackson. The federals renamed one of the boats, but out of respect for Stonewall, kept the name on the other.


During the war bands would play songs on both sides usually at night or in times of peace. This would result in contest between the two bands and also requests would be yelled across lines when only one band was playing.

"Musical duels between the two sides were common, as they heard each other as the music traveled across the countryside. The night before the battle of Stones River bands from both sides dueled with separate songs, until both sides started playing Home Swtt Home  at which time soldiers on both sides started singing together as one.[A similar situation occurred in Fredricksburg in the winter of 1862–3. On a cold afternoon a Union band started playing Northern patriotic tunes; a Southern band responded by playing Southern patriotic tunes. This back and forth continued into the night, until at the end both sides played Home! Sweet Home!simultaneously, to the cheers of both sides' forces. In a third instance, in the spring of 1863, the opposing armies were on the opposite sides of the Rappahannock in Virginia, when the different sides played their patriotic tunes, and at taps one side played Home! Sweet Home!, and the other joined in, creating "cheers" from both sides that echoed throughout the hilly countryside"

“The Confederate bands were not idle, for as soon as a Federal band would cease playing, some of the Southern bands would take up the refrain, and as the notes, especially Dixie, would be wafted over the water and hills, the "blue coats" would shout, sing, and dance-hats and caps went up, flags waved in the breeze-so delighted were they at the sight and sound of Dixie. The whole presented more the spectacle of a holiday procession, or a gala day, rather than the prelude to the most sanguinary battle of modern times. 

"Two or three evenings previous to the Federal attempt to cross, I was with General Barksdale, and we were attracted by one or more of the enemy's bands playing at their end of the railroad bridge. A number of their officers and a crowd of their men were about the band cheering their national airs, the "Star Spangled Banner," "Hail Columbia," and others, once so dear to us all. It seemed as if they expected some response from us, but none was given until, finally, they struck up "Dixie," and then both sides cheered, with much laughter."

A similar incident occurred after the Battle of Fredericksburg but of a much different tone. A Northern band on the east side of the river played a series of patriotic Union songs. After a while, Confederates on the other side shouted over requests for Southern songs. The band obliged, finally ending with "Home Sweet Home". The seasoned soldiers of both sides tried to sing along. But perhaps choked by the emotion of missing home, or by the thought of those who would never again see home, neither side could finish and the band ended in somber silence.

Rather die than be called a coward

Soldiers letters home often speak of how they hope to be home soon, but would rather die than disgrace themselves and come home a coward. Many solider would rather have died than retreat. Men fought when they knew death was coming rather than disobey orders. Union soldiers at spotvania pinned there names to their uniforms so their bodies could be recognized after they were killed. Confederates after being flanked at Antietam knowing to hold would be certain death, chose to stay and die like men rather then give up the position and suffered over 90% causalities. Thousands of examples of individuals or units could be given.

To many, the shame of losing was equal to the ignominy of cowardice. When Union General Philip Sheridan trapped Jeb Stuart’s cavalry at Yellow Tavern in May 1864, Stuart—mortally wounded and seeing his men breaking before the Union onslaught—shouted as he was driven from the field, “Go back! Do your duty as I have done mine! I would rather die than be whipped!” It was a sentiment shared by the men of both armies.

This attitude came in part because of the deeply held christian belief of the soldiers. A private in the 33rd Mississippi wrote to his wife that “Christians make the best soldiers, as they would not fear the consequences after death as others would.” A Massachusetts soldier told his wife that “If I shall fall in this contest it is but going home to my savior whom I love . . . if we meet not again on earth prepare to meet me in Heaven.” 

Caring for the enemy

During the battle for Keenesaw mountain after a repulsed attack by the union forces, many union soldiers lay wounded in between their lines and the confederate trenches. During the fight some artillery fire had caught the cotton field on fire and some of the federal wounded were burning to death. The firing was to intense for union soldiers to offer help and retrieve their wounded. So colonial William Mortin of the combined 1st and 15th Arkansas held out a white flag and yelled at his men to cease fire. Mortin than yelled to the federals to gate their wounded. The federals were having trouble getting their men out in time so confederates ran out and helped bring the union wounded back to the federal lines. After the federal major gave Martin 2 colt revolvers as a gift. Once this was done the men returned to their lines and than started the fight right back up.

General J.B. Kershaw wrote a letter to the Charleston News and Courier recalling details of a remarkable event. At Fredericksburg in December 1862, after wave upon wave of charging Union troops were cut down by the fire of entrenched Rebels, thousands of wounded Yankees lay stretched and moaning on the frozen ground. No truce was agreed upon for the aid of the wounded or the retrieval of the dead, and the field, blanketed with Federals, was a pitiful sight. Unable to move, men cried out constantly from pain and thirst.

In the sunken road behind the Rebel wall at Marye’s Heights, Richard Kirkland, a 19-year-old sergeant of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry, requested leave of Kershaw to take water to the fallen foe. According to Kershaw’s account, he admonished the youth, “Kirkland, don’t you know you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?” Kirkland responded, “Yes, sir, I know that. But if you let me, I’m willing to try.” He filled as many canteens as he could carry, and—forbidden to carry a white flag—stepped over the wall, in plain sight of the Union ranks. Kirkland went from soldier to soldier, administering water, and if asked, a prayer. He refilled the canteens a number of times, and each time he returned to the field, he was met with respectful silence. After an hour and a half, he returned to his own ranks for the last time.

Both sides risked their own safety, to help wounded of the other sides. Both sides help bury each others dead. One confederate major said “Brave men who fight one another must come to love one another”.

In the spring of 63 a ceasefire was agreed upon in LA so the union could bring to land their dead commander LT Cmdr John Hart for burial. After the war his wife went to retrieve his body to bring home to new York. But when she saw the care the locals took of the grave, she decided to leave his grave in LA.


At the surrender of Lee's army union soldiers shared there own rations with the hungry confederates. Men on both sides saluted each other out of respect. One confederate said “We suffered no insult in any way from any of our enemies.” Near the end of the confederate army's surrender some random federal soldiers called out for 3 cheers for the confederates. One confederate wrote “For us this soldiery generosity was more than we could bear. Many grizzled veterans wept like woman, and my own eyes were as blind as my voice was dumb.”

The untold civil War Exploring The Human Side Of War James Robertson National geographic
The Civil war A film by Ken Burns PBS
Chivalry, fraternizing, categorized civil war Professor T Harry Williams by David Marcus   The Michigan daily July 12 1961
Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East Ronald H Bailey Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia 1985
Battle tactics of the civil war Paddy Griffith Yale University press
Rebel Resurgent Fredricksburg to Chancellorsville William K Goolrick Time Life Books Alexandria, Virginia 1985
Secrets of the civil war The stories of lost battles and covert missions finally reveled The History Channel 2008
Receding tide Vicksburg and Gettysburg the campaigns that changed the civil war Edwin C Bearss with J Parker hills National geographic
The Campaigns of Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest cavalry General Thomas Jordan and J.P pryor Da Capo Press
Americas The Civil War Magazine The Fury begins Fort sumter
The Civil War Diary of Jacob Hass
The common solider of the civil war Eastern Acorn Press
The rifle musket reality and myth earl Hess University of Kansas press
Warriors of honor The faith and legacies of RobertE Lee and stonewall Jackson 2004 new Liberty Videos
-The Appomattox Campaign Chris M Calkins Da Capo Press 1997

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

Moderators: kevin
Time to create page: 0.152 seconds


Major Battles of the Civil War