Edmund DeWitt Patterson

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Edmund DeWitt Patterson

Excerpt from Journal of Edmund DeWitt Patterson
Written in 1863; first published in 1966 in Yankee Rebel:
The Civil War Journal of Edmund DeWitt Patterson

A captured Confederate soldier records his thoughts

"Now, I am a prisoner of war on the little island of Lake Erie and with a prospect before me anything but cheering; entirely separated and cut off from the outside world, unable to take any active part in the struggle which is still going on between justice and injustice, right and wrong, freedom and oppression, unable to strike a blow in the glorious cause of Southern independence."

During the course of 1863, the fortunes of the two sides fighting in the American Civil War changed dramatically. As the year began, many Southerners expressed confidence that their struggle to gain independence from the United States would end in success. After all, the Confederate Army had won many of the major battles of the previous year, and Federal forces seemed unable to make any progress in their efforts to destroy the Confederacy and restore the Union.

In May 1863, the defiant South received another boost to its confidence when General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) and his Army of Northern Virginia smashed a much larger Union Army led by General Joseph Hooker (1814–1879) at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. Lee's victory at Chancellorsville showed the Confederate general's continued mastery over Northern armies. But the triumph came at a heavy price for the South. Lee lost nearly thirteen thousand men in the battle. The best known of these soldiers was Confederate hero Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (1824–1863), who was accidentally shot by his own men.

In the summer of 1863, Lee moved his army into the North. He hoped to seize needed supplies and scare the Union into negotiating a peace agreement that would grant the Confederacy the independence it wanted. But Lee's advance was stopped in the first days of July, when the Confederate Army suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The South suffered another major defeat around the same time when Federal troops led by General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) seized control of Vicksburg, a strategically important city located along the banks of the Mississippi River in Mississippi.

The nearly simultaneous Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg changed how both sides viewed the war. The triumphs encouraged the North to believe that it might still win the war. At the same time, the outcomes at Gettysburg and Vicksburg triggered a wave of anxiety throughout the South. The weak Confederate economy became even further crippled by inflation (rapidly rising prices) and shortages of food and other supplies, and criticism of Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808–1889) and his administration became extremely harsh in some parts of the South.

In the weeks following these two victories, the war continued to go in the North's favor. The Union armies pressed their advantages in size and firepower throughout the late summer and fall, attacking targets throughout the Confederacy. The rebel armies continued to fight very hard, and their victory at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia showed that they were still capable of defeating large Union forces. But by late 1863, the Union was putting constant pressure on the Confederate military, which experienced ever-growing problems finding soldiers and supplies for its armies. As Confederate losses mounted, Southern regrets about the war's horrible bloodshed and violence also increased.

During the last months of 1863, Union forces pushed through large sections of Confederate territory, seizing control of both small villages and big cities. This loss of territory worried and angered Southern soldiers and citizens alike. Each defeat seemed to increase the fury that Southerners felt about the "tyranny" (harsh or oppressive rule) of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) and the North. Many of them vowed that the Confederacy would never surrender to the North, no matter how bad the situation became.

But even though Southern defiance remained strong, growing numbers of people began to wonder if the Confederacy's only hope of victory lay in a change in Union leadership. They knew that Northern communities were sick of the war, too. They also knew that many Democrats in the U.S. Congress were calling for an end to the conflict, even if that meant granting the Confederacy its independence. As 1863 drew to a close, countless Southerners watched the political situation in the North with great interest. They thought that if the Democrats could gain enough power in the Federal government, they might grant the South its independence in exchange for an end to the war.

Many of the hopes and fears and regrets that Southerners felt in the final weeks of 1863 can be seen in the journal entries of a Confederate soldier named Edmund DeWitt Patterson. Patterson grew up in Ohio, but moved south in 1859 in an effort to carve out a living for himself. By the time the Civil War started in 1861, Patterson had come to view himself as a Southerner. Convinced that his adopted homeland was being mistreated by the North, he supported the push for secession from the United States. He fought under the Confederate flag until July 1863, when he was captured by Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg. He spent the remainder of the war in prison, where he continued to keep a diary of his experiences and thoughts.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Journal of Edmund DeWitt Patterson:

  • • Patterson describes the war between the American North and South as a "struggle . . . between justice and injustice, right and wrong, freedom and oppression." These words reflected the widespread Confederate belief that the Civil War had erupted because of Northern arrogance and bullying toward the South.
  • • Patterson's journal entries reflect the Confederate view of the South as a region full of men and women of great courage and character. Many of its inhabitants also harbored a great love for Southern society and for the physical beauty of the land in which they lived. Their pride in their homeland became even stronger during the Civil War, when it was threatened by invading Yankee armies.
  • • As the following excerpt shows, the Confederate Army was struggling with severe manpower shortages by the end of 1863. Historians estimate that the Northern states had more than twice as many men available for military service as the South. As the Civil War progressed, this advantage became a decisive factor. The Union Army suffered enormous losses during the war, but the size of the North's population made it possible for the military to resupply itself with thousands and thousands of new recruits. But the South had fewer men to begin with, and as the war dragged on, Confederate military leaders had great difficulty in finding new troops to replace soldiers who were killed, wounded, or captured.
  • • Patterson expresses great sadness about the death of Stonewall Jackson, who died of injuries received at the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863). His statements reflect the depth of sorrow felt all across the Confederacy upon the famous military leader's death. Jackson's valiant (courageous) performances at some of the war's major battles (First Bull Run—July 1861; Antietam—September 1862) and his spectacular Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862 had made him a beloved and respected figure throughout the South. In the days following his death, many Southern newspapers published long eulogies (speeches praising someone who has recently died) on Jackson in which they compared him to the greatest heroes and military leaders in all of history.
  • • When the Union Army seized important Confederate cities and regions in the second half of 1863, many war-weary Southerners began to feel that their independence depended on a Democratic victory in the upcoming 1864 presidential election in the North. They knew that President Abraham Lincoln, who was a Republican, was determined to continue the fight to the bitter end. But many Democrats had opposed going to war in the first place, and their party leaders had bitterly criticized Lincoln throughout the first few years of the conflict. By late 1863, Southerners like Patterson had embraced a desperate hope that Northern weariness with the war would enable the Democrats to defeat Lincoln in the upcoming election. "The enemy are exceedingly anxious to hold out until after the Presidential election," confirmed Ulysses S. Grant. "[Confederate] deserters come into our lines daily who tell us that the men are nearly universally tired of the war, and that desertions would be much more frequent, but they believe peace will be negotiated after the [1864] fall elections."

Excerpt from Journal of Edmund DeWitt Patterson

December 31, 1863

. . . Now, I am a prisoner of war on the little island of Lake Erie [Johnson's Island, near Sandusky, Ohio], and with a prospect beforeme anything but cheering; entirely separated and cut off from the outside world, unable to take any active part in the struggle which is still going on between justice and injustice, right and wrong, freedom and oppression, unable to strike a blow in the glorious cause of Southern independence.

Now, the end of the war seems more distant than ever. Time only shows on the part of the abolition government a firmer determination than ever to subjugate; while on the other hand time only shows on the part of the South a stronger determination to fight to the bitter end, trusting alone to the god of battles for success at last. And we will succeed. Who will say that a country such as ours, rich in everything that makes a nation great and prosperous, a country with broad valleys unequalled in fertility by any others upon which the sun shines, a country abounding in natural fortresses and inhabited by eight millions of brave people determined to be free and willing to sacrifice everything even life itself upon the altar of their country, united as no people ever were before, I ask, who will say, in view of all this, that the South will not be free. I engaged in this war firmly believing that the South would be successful and now after nearly three years of war, I find that time has only served to strengthen that opinion. I believe that winter will pass and spring come again with its verdure and flowers—I believe it as I believe anything that I see around me,—the fair fields of the South may be transformed into deserts, and the places where now may be seen stately edifices, tokens of wealth and refinement, may be made as howling wildernesses, Yankee hirelings may occupy every state, every County in the South, they may occupy our state capitols and our seaport towns,—but our hill tops and hollows, —never. We will carry on the war even there.

During the year that is just closing, many battles have been fought and many, many thousands of the young men of the South have fallen. Their bones lie bleaching in the sun on the fields of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and in fact all over our land from the Potomac to the Rio Grande [rivers] may be seen the soldiers' graves. No sculptured slab of marble marks their last resting place, but they are not forgotten, and the memory of their deeds will ever be cherished by a grateful people, and the story of their deeds will be handed down from sire to son as long as noble deeds are admired and respected by mankind. When I think of the many thousands who have fallen in battle and the stillgreater number who have sickened and died from disease during the year my heart is filled with love and gratitude to that God who has so mercifully spared my life until this time. . . .

In a few short hours the year 1863 will be numbered with the years that are past. Its great events, its battles won and its battles lost, its fields of carnage and bloodshed, its mighty hopes and expectations, its fond anticipations, its sin and sorrow, its suffering and toiling are almost ended. They have passed before us, shifting scenes in the great drama of life, and as the year 1864 opens up before us, we will miss many actors who have figured conspicuously before the country, during the year. The one most missed will be Jackson. He is fallen. The places that once knew him will know him no more forever. Never has the army before or since been half so much affected as it was by his death. They could look defeat cheerfully in the face knowing that finally they would triumph, but when Stonewall Jackson died, a sad and solemn gloom seemed to hang over the entire army, and this feeling pervaded the hearts of all. We will always have to acknowledge the battle of Chancellorsville, though such a brilliant victory, dearly won by the death of this God-like man. Many have been swept from the stage of action and the cry goes up from many bleeding hearts, "Oh, Lord, how long?" Our brothers go halting by on crutches; our husbands, our fathers languish and die in the hundreds and thousands of hospitals scattered all over the South. And again the cry, "Oh, God, stay thy hand!" And still the war goes on.

We have met with many reverses during the year, but the spirit of our people remains unbroken, and always rises equal to the occasion. We are learning to bear misfortune, and we must expect to bear still more. I expect to see during the coming year a larger portion of our country subjected to Yankee rule than has been at any previous time. Our armies are growing smaller day by day, and we have not the men to supply the places of those who fall in battle. It seems to me that we should fight only when some decided and important result is to be obtained, and save men as much as possible. Meanwhile our people at home where the foe has possession should remain quiet, take no step toward forming a state government in accordance with Lincoln's directions [in December 1863, Lincoln outlined steps that conquered Southern states could take to return to the Union], treat all citizens of the U.S. as invaders and enemies, let them have nothing except what is taken by force, show no desireto have anything to do with the U.S. Government, and the Yankees will soon find that it will require a standing army in every Southern state to enforce their laws. A great party will be raised up in the North who will demand that the war shall cease, and it will cease. Such a party is growing now, and is becoming stronger every day. But enough, 'tis almost midnight and as soon as the New year comes, I must lay myself away on my shelf.

What happened next . . .

During much of 1864, it seemed that Patterson's wish to see Lincoln defeated in the 1864 elections might actually come true. Early in the year, strong Union armies under the command of Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman (1820–1891) marched into Southern territory in order to destroy the major rebel armies still in existence. They pursued smaller Confederate armies under the command of Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston (1807–1891) all over the South, but they could never quite catch them.

Grant and Sherman became very frustrated, and they finally decided to turn their attention to capturing two important cities that were still in the hands of the Confederacy. They believed that the threat of losing the vital cities of Richmond, Virginia, and Atlanta, Georgia, to Federal troops would force the Confederate armies to meet them on the field of battle. As Grant's army marched on Richmond and Sherman's troops closed in on Atlanta, their strategy proved effective. Lee's Confederate Army was forced to set up defenses around Richmond and the neighboring city of Petersburg, while Johnston's troops rushed to protect Atlanta.

During the summer of 1864, the Union armies tried all sorts of different strategies to capture Richmond and Atlanta. But the Confederate forces turned back every attempt, sometimes inflicting heavy casualties on the Union armies in the process. By mid-summer, Northern communities expressed great impatience at the lack of progress and growing horror at the war's terribly high casualty figures. Lincoln's opponents in the Democratic Party took full advantage of the situation. Referring to Lincoln as "Abe the Widowmaker," they blamed him for the deaths of soldiers who had lost their lives in the war. They also claimed that Lincoln's continued efforts to restore the Union would extend the war for years to come.

As the 1864 presidential election drew near, most people believed that the Democrats' presidential nominee, General George B. McClellan (1826–1885), would defeat Lincoln. McClellan insisted that he would fight to preserve the Union, just as Lincoln was doing. But his fellow Democrats pledged that their first priority was to make peace. Most people across America viewed the upcoming election as one in which voters had two choices: vote for Lincoln and a continuation of the war to preserve the Union; or vote for McClellan and an end to the war, even if it meant losing the Confederate states forever.

Lincoln himself believed that he would lose the election, which was scheduled to be held in November. He told one army officer that "I am going to be beaten, and unless some great change takes place badly beaten." The president even sent a letter to leading officials in his administration telling them to prepare for defeat. Southern observers, meanwhile, expressed growing confidence that Northern voters would remove Lincoln from office. In early September, for example, the Charleston Mercury proclaimed that McClellan's election would "lead to our peace and our independence . . . [provided] that for the next two months we hold our own and prevent military success by our foes."

But in the final weeks before the November election, the Union Army racked up a number of important victories that dramatically increased support for Lincoln and his war policies. First, the Union Navy won a dramatic battle at Mobile Bay, Alabama. Then, the Confederate stronghold of Atlanta fell to Sherman's troops after a siege of several weeks. Finally, Union cavalry forces under the command of General Philip Sheridan (1831–1888) won a number of important battles in the Shenandoah Valley. These victories convinced Northern voters that restoration of the Union was near. They responded by reelecting Lincoln to the White House by a comfortable margin.

Lincoln's victory was viewed by most Union soldiers as very good news. Despite the many hardships and violent battles that they had endured, most Union troops interpreted Sherman's capture of Atlanta and Sheridan's triumphs in the Shenandoah Valley as convincing evidence that they were on the verge of total victory. One New York infantry soldier spoke for many Federal troops when he called Lincoln's win "a grand moral victory gained over the combined forces of slavery, disunion, treason, [and] tyranny."

Down in the South, meanwhile, Lincoln's reelection sent a wave of gloom and despair over the entire region. To many Southerners, a McClellan victory had come to seem like the Confederacy's last hope for independence. News of his defeat made war-weary civilians and battered soldiers even more depressed about their future.

Did you know . . .

  • • Both Union and Confederate soldiers often compared themselves to the patriots who fought for independence from England in the American Revolution in 1776. Northern and Southern schoolchildren alike were raised in households that honored America's "Founding Fathers" (the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and led the country during the Revolution) as men of high ideals and great bravery. When the war broke out, both sides insisted that they were fighting for the same causes as had those revolutionary leaders. Confederates claimed that they were fighting to achieve independence from a tyrannical government, just as America had done back in the Revolutionary War. Pro-Union people, however, claimed that they were honoring America's Founding Fathers because they were fighting to preserve the nation that had been established by them.
  • • Lincoln received 78 percent of the Union soldiers' vote in the 1864 election, even though McClellan remained very popular with Federal troops who had served under him earlier in the war. But many of these soldiers indicated that McClellan's connection with antiwar Democrats made it impossible for them to vote for him. In addition, the long Civil War struggle had created a strong bond between Lincoln and many of his soldiers, who were determined to keep fighting until the Union was restored. "I had rather stay out here a lifetime (much as I dislike it) than consent to a division of our country," wrote one Union soldier who voted for Lincoln. "We all want peace, but none any but an honorable one."
  • • Most Union soldiers were permitted to vote at the camp at which they were stationed rather than travel hundreds of miles back to their home states. Three states controlled by Democratic legislatures, however, refused to allow soldiers to vote with absentee ballots (ballots that are submitted by voters located far away from the place where they are registered). The lawmakers in these states—Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey—feared that most soldiers would vote for Lincoln, so they wanted to make it very hard for them to vote. Some Union generals responded to this political maneuvering by arranging long furloughs (excused absences) from the army for their soldiers so they could go home and vote.

For Further Reading

Hattaway, Herman. Shades of Blue and Gray: An Introductory Military History of the Civil War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.

Henderson, G. F. R. Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. London, New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1898. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1988.

Hendrickson, Robert. The Road to Appomattox. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

McPherson, James M. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in theCivil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Mitchell, Reid. Civil War Soldiers: Their Expectations and Their Experiences. New York: Viking, 1988.

Patterson, Edmund DeWitt. Yankee Rebel: The Civil War Journal of EdmundDeWitt Patterson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

Royster, Charles. The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman,Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans. New York: Knopf, 1991.

Thomas, Emory M. The Confederate Nation. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.


Edmund DeWitt Patterson

Edmund DeWitt Patterson was born in Lorain County, Ohio, on March 20, 1842. At the age of seventeen, he left school and traveled down into the American South, where he tried to make a living as a salesman. After a few months of selling books and magazines, he secured a job as a schoolteacher in Alabama.

Patterson enjoyed living in the South very much, and he became a strong believer in the region's right to secede from the Union if it wished. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, he decided to enlist in the Confederate Army, even though his family back in Ohio strongly supported the Union. He became a part of the Ninth Alabama Regiment and spent the next two and a half years fighting for the South. Patterson participated in several major battles and campaigns during this period, including the Battle of Williamsburg (April-May 1862), the Seven Days' Battle (June 1862), and the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863). He also fought at Gettysburg (July 1863), but was captured during the battle's second day of fighting. His captors sent him to Johnson's Island, an island in Lake Erie located near Sandusky, Ohio, that housed many Confederate prisoners of war.

Members of Patterson's family lived only a few miles away from the prison, and they occasionally came to visit him. But Patterson did not always enjoy the visits. "[My father] urges me to give up the cause of the South which he pronounces a doomed one," Patterson wrote in his diary. "I can scarcely consider myself a member of the family—we have nothing in common." Patterson's differences with his family over the war caused a rift (break or division) that divided them for many years after the conflict ended.

Patterson spent nearly two years in prison before being released on March 14, 1865. He and three hundred other rebel soldiers were released in exchange for a large number of Union soldiers who had been captured by the South. Patterson prepared to rejoin his old army unit, but before he could do so, General Robert E. Lee and the rebel Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant and his Union forces at Appomattox, Virginia. Lee's surrender ended the Civil War for all practical purposes.

In the years following the war, Patterson became a successful attorney and businessman in Tennessee. He also served as a state senator and a circuit court judge. In the early 1890s, he finally patched up his relationship with his family in Ohio. By that time, he had adopted a much different view of the Civil War than he had taken as a young man. "He considered [the war] a tragic mistake, and for the rest of his life did not care to discuss it or his experiences in it," stated his grandson, Edmund Brooks Patterson. "He would have no part in any effort to glorify or commemorate the 'lost cause' or in the reunions of old soldiers which were frequent and popular during his later years."


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