Item Description: Letter, dated 23 July 1863, from Walter Waightstill Lenoir to his brother. Walter was a lawyer in Lenoir, N.C. before the war. He had enlisted in the North Carolina 58th Infantry by early 1862 but was wounded at Ox Hill, Va. 1 Sep 1862, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. After his discharge from the service, Walter began living alone in a cabin in the woods at Crab Orchard in western N.C.
[Item transcription available below images.]
Crab Orchard, July 23rd, 1863
A shower of rain has made me hobble from the cornfield; to which I sometimes venture for a while, though to but little purpose; and I have set down to scratch you a line. It continues very wet, and I like the rest of farmers have a poor chance to work. My forward corn is beginning to tassle, and I will have to lay some of it by with the third working. I have made myself a leg which I am beginning to use in walking about the farm. I hope I will be able to use it for walking without discontinuing the use of the Montgomery leg for riding and an occasional change.
After writing to you last week as to the course which I thought our army ought to pursue as to private property in Pennsylvania, I received in the papers Gen. Lee’s orders to his army on the subject. I hope you have seen them and read them. They breathe the spirit of a noble hearted christian soldier and have raised that great man still higher in my estimation than he stood before. And the good conduct of our army towards the people of Pennsylvania, (to which there were necessarily but too many exceptions,) has raised it and the South still higher in my love and admiration than they stood before; and will shine out forever in bright contrast with the infamous conduct of our enemies. Gen. Jenkins, whose command the Yankees themselves are forced to compliment for the gentlemanly behavior, has a fine dwelling house in western Va. the parlor of which the Yankees have for a long time used for a cavalry stable, and many of his troopers are his neighbors who have been used in the like manner. Retaliation in kind would have done us no good. His mode of retaliation has gained a great and substantial advantage.
The course of events and my reflections of late have led me to modify my opinions as to some of the darker and more horrid aspects of the war, growing out of the subject of slavery. You know that I have never regarded Lincoln’s Proclamation as making of itself much substantial difference in the conduct of the war. The Yankees have gone on since doing just what they were doing before, and in the same manner, so far as the slaves and slavery is concerned.
You know too that I have not dreaded their attempts to arm the slaves, believing that their presence in their armies would be a cause of weakness instead of strength, and that they would be shrewd enough to know that or soon find it out, and limit the experiment to such bounds as they thought it would be sufficient to keep the South in a state of alarm. I did think, however, that to the extent that they were introduced, it would make the war more horrid, because I supposed that our men would refuse to capture them when found fighting, as well as the white officers who commanded them. In this I find I was mistaken. Our troops capture negro soldiers and their officers and treat them as they do the others. And this I have no doubt now will continue to be the case to the end of the war. I still think, for the reasons that I have already mentioned, that there will be but little use made by the Yankees of their negro soldiers, though I see that Gen. Banks tries to make them out quite valiant. It is so natural to man to fight that it is possible that even the negro diciplined and led by white men may stand fire better than we of the South have supposed. But even if this is so, amalgamation in the ranks with them as well as every where else is so very unnatural that not even Yankees fanaticism will fail in the attempt. That, however, is not the point which I set out to state, which was merely that the addition of negro troops to the Yankee army would not as I now think prevent them from being taken prisoners by our troops when in their power, as their mean white associates now are.
My views have undergone a still greater change on another and much more important point in this connexion. I have as you know never thought that the Yankees would succeed in liberating our slaves. I believe that God over rules the affairs of nations, and that He will not suffer the Yankees to perpetrate so great a crime as that against us and their species. But while we know that His ways are not as our ways, and are past finding out, and often seem very mysterious to our imperfect perceptions. We are not certain therefore beyond a doubt but that it may be his righteous will that our enemies may succeed in this. Looking at the possibility of such a thing, and considering it in the light of human reason and experience, I took it almost for granted at first that such a forcible emancipation would lead to scenes of horrid massacre and butchery; that the negroes finding freedom in their grasp, and having their passions inflamed by the fierce teachings of abolitionist would attempt to slay their masters, and that they in turn would be compelled to destroy the negroes. This was the view commonly taken of the matter at the South, and no doubt still is; and with the history of Hayti before their eyes and the knowledge that it was such men as Lane and Lovejoy and such books as Helper’s impending crisis that has brought the Yankees to attempt such a thing, it was very natural that such should have been the feeling of the South. But I now believe that if the Yankees succeed in subjugating the white people of the South and freeing the negroes it will be without any massacres except such as are now taking place upon the battle field. There will be no rising upon the non-combatant men, women or children. Those of us who choose to see it will see their Yankee masters set the negroes free and then govern them and their fellow citizens, their late masters and mistresses, as well as the people of subjugated are governed by other enlightened nations. Bad as the Yankees are they would not wish the whites of the South to be massacred by the negroes and would not permit it. You may wonder why my views have changed in this respect. Partly by reflection, partly by the light of facts. The Yankees have for the present at least actually freed the slaves in a large part of the South, and in portions where they were in the greatest numbers, and had had the worst treatment on the sugar plantations in La. for instance. Yet it has led to no massacre and there is less probability that it would lead to it if they were entirely successful in their attempt. What that mercenary and speculating people expect to make by reducing us to the condition of Jamaica is a great mystery to me. But if they succeed I have no doubt that it will be done as peaceably, so far as collision between the two races is concerned as it was done in Jamaica. If the Yankees are strong enough to put down their fierce and strong fight for independence they will be strong enough to govern the negroes afterwards, and I have little doubt for my part that if the South is subdued by the North it will be as well governed and prosperous as Jamaica. Not a very tempting prospect truly, not one that I would expect to remain to witness if I could pay or beg my way to some other country. I have drawn this gloomy picture, not for the purpose of adding it to the many gloomy ones that already darken your mind, but in order to rid it, if I can, as I have done my own of the still gloomier one of assassination and general massacre, which being the worst possible result of the entire success of the Yankees is I fear the one which your mind is too prone at times to fasten upon in the exclusion of every other. Nor do I write such things because I have any greatly increased apprehensions that we will fail in establishing our independence. I am by no means disheartened by the loss of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. They held out so well that I began to hope they would be received by Johnson, cholera and yellow fever. But who would have anticipated after the comparative easy fall of New Orleans and Memphis that they would have resisted so long the gigantic efforts that have been made to them? Our next position will be away from the water, and if Lincoln is as long in reducing it he will have to hand over the job unfinished to his successor. We still hold Charleston, Wilmington and Mobile and Savannah it is true, all upon the water, at least we still hold them all according to my last news. But if they were reduced, and it would take time to reduce them all, if we may judge the future by the past, we would still have an army that Lincoln could not reduce before his democratic congress meets. The peace party which seems to be growing rapidly now as the North will begin to conclude that the war is ‘played out’. You know I thought last winter we would have more and harder fighting this year than any before, and that there would not be much afterwords. I still think so.
We are very anxious about Tom Norwood and many other friends who were in the battle of Gettysburg. I have not seen a word about the 37th. We saw it stated that Col. Avery was killed but see no confirmation of it since, and hope it is not so. Please write to me about the Averys and tell me what you can about the casualties in the Caldwell companies. I have written you a much longer letter than I intended, and am not through yet. I wrote to cous. Will Lenoir of Ten. and got an answer telling who of his nephews are in the service which I must write about next time. Love to all.