I have been a member of Ricochet for years now, but always as a lurker; I wasn’t sure if I had anything meaningful to add to the conversation. The Member Feed has always been my favorite part of the site, reading about he experiences and expertise of so many Ricochet members has truly been a joy. Lately, though, I have felt the urge to add my voice to the conversation, and perhaps I can contribute in a meaningful way. I am a professional historian, and my personal area of interest is 19th Century American history, in particular, the Civil War era. I have been writing on the subject of the Civil War for many years now, concentrating on how the conflict affected my home state of Mississippi. The following is a short piece I wrote for my blog; I chose it as it has a New Year’s theme. I hope you like it, and I wish everyone here a very happy 2019!
The coming of a new year is a good time to reflect on the changes that the old year has brought. For Mississippians, no year ushered in more change than 1865, as the Confederacy crumbled to ash and Southerners lost not only a war but a way of life. On January 1, 1866, The Natchez Democrat ran the following article that very eloquently explained the altered world that Mississippians had to learn to live with. The original article was very long, and I have edited it down to a more manageable size:
The past is an instructive study. We love to dwell upon its joys, because their pleasure is renewed when we recall them to mind; and we love to brood over its sorrows, because there is something irresistibly attractive in the recollection of our troubles. In reflecting upon the past we often become lost in our reveries; and we seem, at times, to transport ourselves to other and far distant days. The world as it was looks better; for we view it in a mellowed light…
The year 1865 draws rapidly to its close. In its brief space what changes have been wrought? Many have grown suddenly rich, and many have seen the accumulated wealth of years vanish forever from their sight. No pestilence has swept over us with its dark and noisome wing; but the fearful scourge of war has made our country one vast charnel house for the uncoffined dead.
The opening spring saw the marshalling of defiant armies; the closing autumn saw those armies broken and dispersed. The opening year beheld a people strong and confident in the justness of their cause; the closing year discovers them powerless and disheartened, and their cherished cause mocked and condemned as unrighteous. To many it has been a year of exultant triumph; to many, a year of sadness and dejection. The year closes, and one people boasts a nation saved; while another mourns a country lost.
It seems but a little while since the sons of the South went out to battle. They endured hardships, suffering and death. Their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters braved all trials and shunned no dangers; but amid all the havoc and ruin of a widespread desolation stood unchanged and unchangeable in their devotion to the cause of their espousal. And today, standing as we do on the grave of the year, overcome and humiliated though we are, it is a matter of boastful pride and sorrowful satisfaction to reflect that we were not reduced to submission and subjection until the flower of our youth had been cut down in the rich harvest of death.
They went out from among us with banners full high advanced, drums beating, and all the
pomp and circumstance of a holiday parade. With joyful hearts, with head erect, with elastic step, and consciences clear, they buckled on the panoply of war, and went forth to meet those whom they deemed the invaders of their country. The war had closed; but they have not returned. From the Potomac to the Rio Grande the little hillocks tell where sleep the brave
“- who sank to rest, by all their country’s wishes blest.”
They are dead; but they are not forgotten. Their memory is enshrined in the temple of our hearts. They no longer appear to our mortal vision. The melody of their voices no longer greets our mortal ear. Their hands are no longer extended for a friendly clasp. But when we turn in imagination to gaze upon the past, and the curtain is lifted from the late fearful and bloody struggle, which seems to move before us “like some high and mighty drama intermingling with its solemn scenes and acts a sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies” we hear the glad shouts of our sons and brothers as they rushed on to victory, we see their proud forms as they stood erect in the fire and smoke of battle – and though we should live a thousand years, as often as memory shall waft us back over the lapse of time, and we shall recur to the days of our pride and the days of our glory, we shall see them still.
“On fame’s eternal camping ground, their silent tents are spread; and glory guards with solemn round the bivouac of the dead.”
The old year passes away. May the new year open with fairer hopes and brighter prospects!
The Natchez Democrat in which this article appeared was a good symbol of the changes that Mississippi was undergoing in 1865. The paper was founded that year by two former soldiers: Paul A. Botto, who served in the 12th Mississippi Infantry, and the curiously named Fabius Junius Mead, who was a member of the 4th Illinois Cavalry. (The Natchez Bulletin, May 21, 1869)
Two former enemies were able to put aside their differences and create a newspaper that would stand the test of time- The Natchez Democrat is still being published, and still looking back at the past to help prepare for the future – writer Ben Hillyer wrote such an article on January 1, 2017, and it can be found here.