Southern commanders like James Longstreet expected their Northern counterparts to embrace the conviction that enemies no less than comrades merited honorable treatment, from officers down to enlisted men. To encourage a Southern soldier to desert was unthinkable; A letter from a Southern woman in 1862 stated that “the black title of tory and deserter will cling to them, disgracing their children’s children.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Longstreet Finds Adversaries Lacking Honor
Letter from General Longstreet to General [J.G.] Foster:
“Headquarters, Confederate Forces, East Tennessee, Jan. 3, 1864:
To the Commanding General, United States Forces, East Tennessee –
Sir – I find the proclamation of President Lincoln, of the 8th of December last, in circulation in handbills among our soldiers. The immediate object of this proclamation seems to be to induce our soldiers to quit our ranks and take the oath of allegiance to the United States government.
I presume, however, that the great object and end in view is to hasten the day of peace. I respectfully suggest, for your consideration, the propriety of communicating any views that your government may have upon this subject through me, rather than by handbills circulated amongst our soldiers.
The few men who may desert under the promise held out in the proclamation, cannot be men of character or standing. If they desert their cause, they disgrace themselves in the eyes of God and man. They can do your cause no good, nor can they injure ours.
As a great nation, you can accept none but an honorable peace. As a noble people, you could have us accept nothing less.
I submit, therefore, whether the mode that I suggest would not be more likely to lead to an honorable end than such a circulation of a partial promise of pardon.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
J. Longstreet, Lieutenant-General, Commanding
Headquarters, Confederate Forces, East Tennessee, Jan. 11, 1864:
“Sir – I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 7th of January, with its inclosures, etc.
The disingenuous manner in which you have misconstrued my letter of the 3d, has disappointed me. Let me remind you, too, that the spirit and tone of my letter were to meet honorable sentiments.
I have read your order announcing the favorable terms on which deserters will be received. Step by step you have gone on in violation of the laws of honorable warfare. Our farms have been destroyed, our women and children have been robbed, and our houses have been pillaged and burnt. You have laid your plans and worked diligently to produce wholesale murder by servile insurrection. And now, the most ignoble of all, you propose to degrade the human race by inducing soldiers to dishonor and forswear themselves.
Soldiers who have met your own on so many honorable fields, who have breasted the storm of battle in defence of their honor, their families, and their homes, for three long years, have a right to expect more of honor, even in their adversaries. I beg leave to return the copies of the proclamation, and your order.
I have the honor to renew to you the assurance of great respect, your obedient servant,
J. Longstreet, Lieutenant-General, Commanding.”
(Lee and His Generals, Profiles of Robert E. Lee and Seventeen other Generals of the Confederacy, Captain William P. Snow, Gramercy Books, 1867/1996, pp. 333-334)