Wednesday, July 03, 2013
"Arise, go up to the battle!"
Your people---the Friends---have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn and some the other.
- Abraham Lincoln to Eliza Gurney (September 4, 1864)
Quakers, of course, were early abolitionists, and committed to peaceful ways to bring about the end to slavery. With the onset of war, however, many decided slavery was a greater evil than violence and signed on to the Union cause (hardly suprising since you can find Fighting Quakers in every epoch).
A maternal grandmother, of whom my father used to say: “No teakettle could pour fast enough to suit her without she tipped it over,” was supposed to have supplied my brother and myself with ambition enough to overcome the inertia on the other side of the house, and after the War had been a hideous reality for two years and more, it seemed to me that the teakettle of life was pouring out very slowly indeed its scalding stream of anxiety, woe, and endless waiting. After my only brother and every male relative and friend that we possessed had gone to the War, I deliberately came to the conclusion that I, too, would go and serve my country.
She arrived to the horror of Gettysburg a few days later:
I AM very tired tonight; have been on the ﬁeld all day-went to the 3rd Division and Army Corps. I suppose there are about ﬁve hundred wounded belonging to it. They have one patch of woods devoted to each army corps for a hospital. I being interested in the 2nd, because Will [her brother] had been in it, got into one of its ambulances, and went out at eight this morning and came back at six this evening.
There are no words in the English language to express the sufferings I witnessed today. The men lie on the ground; their clothes have been cut off them to dress their wounds; they are half naked, have nothing but hard-tack to eat only as Sanitary Commissions, Christian Associations, and so forth give them. I was the ﬁrst woman who reached the and Corps after the three days ﬁght at Gettysburg.
You can tell Aunt that there is every opportunity for “secesh” sympathizers to do a good work among the butternuts; we have lots of them here suﬁering fearfully.
To give you some idea of the extent and numbers of the wounds, four surgeons, none of whom were idle ﬁfteen minutes at a time, were busy all day amputating legs and arms. I gave to every man that had a leg or arm off a gill of wine, to every wounded in Third Division, one glass of lemonade, some bread and preserves and tobacco—as much as I am opposed to the latter, for they need it very much, they are so exhausted.
I feel very thankful that this was a successful battle; the spirit of the men is so high that many of the poor fellows said today, “VVhat is an arm or leg to whipping Lee out of Penn.” I would get on ﬁrst rate if they would not ask me to write to their wives; that I cannot do without crying, which is not pleasant to either party. I do not mind the sight of blood, have seen limbs taken off and was not sick at all.
Most Quakers held true to nonviolence, and resisted conscription:
[N]ot long after the battle of Gettysburg President Lincoln received us kind but said he did not see how he could grant our friends exemption from military service, without so far "letting down the bars" as to render nugatory all his efforts to crush the rebellion...
The President said it would not do to make a special exception in the case of Friends ; that there were others who professed to be conscientiously opposed to war. We acknowledged this, and expressed a hope that if any favors were granted, it would be done impartially. I remarked, however, that I nevertheless thought the claims of the Society of Friends stronger than those of any other class, from the fact that they had long since abolished slavery within their own borders; and that if every other of the religious denominations had done the same, we should not have had this war ; to which he replied, "You never said a truer thing than that."
When, in the course of the conversation, I remarked that I did not know that any Friends had been forced into the rebel army by Jeff. Davis, he replied, "Yes there have, for we liberated five a few days since, who were taken prisoners at the battle of Gettysburg, and were then confined in Fort Delaware."
But Friends have never been monolithic:
[T]o the homestead which had descend-ed to them, from maternal ancestors, through a hundred years ; to the widow, who wept over her husband's recent grave ; and to the orphans who cherished her reverent years ; thus, to these "plain people," and to the simple scenes around them, our War came, with its lessons of mortal and immortal significance. The same overruling Providence, that was to summon generals and admirals to their proud responsibilities, spoke low into the ears and hearts of two young men, "of the people called Quakers," and impelled them away from home and kindred, to render up their lives in the battles of Liberty.
These "people called Quakers," have done loyal service heretofore in battles that forever consecrated the soil of our land to freedom.
So there were rifts:
["Fighting Quakers"] is a phrase, which has gained place with some—perhaps many—but it is in fact an absurdity—a wild contradiction of terms. As well might we talk of blunt sharpness, a jet black whiteness, or a sinful godliness. If a man is fighting one, he has not the remotest claim to be a Quaker in principle.
I judge no man—I would have none withhold their care of suffering humanity wherever found; but I would have us all be especially careful to ascertain clearly where our duty to God ceases, and our interest in bloodshed begins—or rather, which is the moving spring of our action, duty to God and man, or our interest in the war.
Yet young men like Daniel Wooton of Indiana felt the war was part of his duty to God and man:
We all know the Bible says thou shalt not kill: but what are we to do with those persons that rebell [sic] against the law of our country are we to just lay down and let them have the rains of this republican government. No! never! so long as God gives us the power to quell them by any means. Did God set dow[n] and let the Devil take the uppermost seat in heaven when he caused the rebellion there? no Sir! he cast him out of Heaven and sent him to an endless torment. and that is the way he intends for us to do, (is my belief) he intends for us to extinguish them in the quickest way we can.
He was in good company:
Jacqueline Nelson discovered in her study of Indiana Quakers, at least 25 percent of eligible Quaker men in Indiana fought for the Union, and because of difficulties ascertaining the faith of any person in nineteenth-century Indiana, Nelson believes that 25 percent represents a signiﬁcant understatement of service. It is possible that Quaker participation in the military was not much less than the 62 percent of all eligible lndianans who fought in the Civil War.
Rebellion within a community dedicated to the outcome that the South's failed rebellion would ultimately bring about. God moves in mysterious ways...
July 3, 2013 | Permalink
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