Skeleton at the Feast
Confederate Lieutenant-General Richard “Dick” Taylor was a Kentuckian and son of President Zachary Taylor, who arranged the surrender of Southern forces under his command in Alabama in 1865. At the truce convention, General Taylor received a stern lecture on the error of striking for political independence from a recently-arrived and high-ranking German mercenary.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Skeleton at the Feast
“Intelligence of the Johnston-Sherman convention [at Durham, North Carolina] reached us, and [Northern Gen. Edward] Canby and I were requested by the officers making it to conform to its terms until the civil authorities acted. A meeting was arranged to take place a few miles north of Mobile, where the appearance of the two parties contrasted the fortunes of our respective causes.
Canby, who preceded me at the appointed spot, a house near the railway, was escorted by a brigade with a military band, and accompanied by many officers in “full fig.” With one officer, Colonel William Levy, since a member of Congress from Louisiana, I made my appearance on a hand-car, the motive power of which was two Negroes. Descendants of the ancient race of Abraham, dealers in cast-off raiment, would have scorned a bargain for our rusty suits of Confederate grey. General Canby met me with much urbanity.
We retired to a room, and in a few moments agreed upon a truce, terminable after forty-eight hours’ notice by either party. Then, rejoining the throng of officers, introductions and many pleasant civilities passed. A bountiful luncheon was spread, of which we partook, with joyous popping of champagne corks for accompaniment, the first agreeable explosive sounds I had heard in years.
The air of “Hail Columbia,” which the band in attendance struck up, was instantly changed by Canby’s order to that of “Dixie”; but I insisted on the first, and expressed a hope that Columbia would be again a happy land, a sentiment honored by many libations.
There was, as ever, a skeleton at the feast, in the person of a general officer who had recently left Germany to become a citizen and soldier of the United States. This person, with the strong accent and idioms of the Fatherland, comforted me by assurances that we of the South would speedily recognize our ignorance and errors, especially about slavery and the rights of States, and rejoice in the results of the war. In vain, Canby and [Commodore James] Palmer tried to suppress him.
On a celebrated occasion an Emperor of Germany proclaimed himself above grammar, and this earnest philosopher was not to be retrained by canons of taste.
I apologized meekly for my ignorance, on the ground that my ancestors had come from England to Virginia in 1608, and, in the short intervening period of two hundred and fifty-odd years, had found no time to transmit to me correct ideas of the duties of American citizenship. Moreover, my grandfather, commanding the 9th Virginia Regiment in our Revolutionary army, had assisted in the defeat and capture of the Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, and I lamented that he had not, by association with these worthies, enlightened his understanding.
My friend smiled blandly, and assured me of his willingness to instruct me. Happily for the world, since the days of Huss and Luther, neither tyranny nor taste can repress the Teutonic intellect in search of truth or exposure of error. A kindly, worthy people, the Germans, but wearing on occasions.”
(Destruction and Reconstruction, Personal Experiences of the Late War; Richard Taylor, Appleton and Company, 1879, excerpt, pp. 224-225)