Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“I know of no other way for us to end the war than to retaliate”

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on August 24, 2010

Running through the 1865 compilation, Soldiers’ Letters from Camp, Battlefield and Prison, I was struck by this letter’s clarity and direct, matter-of-fact language.

Vidalia, La.
May 17th, 1864

There has been a party of guerrillas prowling about here, stealing horses and mules from the leased plantations. A scouting party was sent out from here, in which was a company of colored cavalry, commanded by the colonel of a colored regiment. After marching some distance, they came upon the party of whom they were in pursuit. There were seventeen prisoners captured and shot by the colored soldiers. When the guerrillas were first seen, the colonel told them in a loud tone of voice to “Remember Fort Pillow.” And they did: all honor to them for it.

If the Confederacy wish to fight us on these terms, we are glad to know it, and will try and do our part in the contest. I do not admire the mode of warfare, but know of no other way for us to end the war than to retaliate.

Lieut. Anson T. Hemingway
70th U.S. Col. Regiment

I’ve seen no better example of the way one atrocity is used to justify another in wartime, fueling an endless, violent spiral of reprisal and revenge. And yet, knowing what happened at Fort Pillow, I cannot be sure I’d have tried to stop those cavalrymen. The desire for retribution is very strong, and very human.

Anson Tyler Hemingway was born in East Plymouth, Connecticut in 1844. He moved to Chicago with his family at age ten. Hemingway enlisted in Company D of the 72nd Illinois Infantry and served with that regiment at Vicksburg. Mustered out of the service, he later joined Company H, 70th USCT as 1st Lieutenant and also served as provost martial of the Freedman’s Bureau in Natchez. Hemingway was mustered out of the service in March 1866, after which he attended Wheaton College. Two of Hemingway’s brothers had died in the war. After two years at Wheaton, Hemingway took a position as general secretary of the Chicago YMCA. He later established a real estate business in Oak Park. He died in 1926 at the age of 82.

Anson Hemingway’s grandson Ernest also enjoyed some success as a writer.


Image: Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections

6 Responses

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  1. Richard said, on August 25, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Mr. Hemingway, as an Officer in the US Military should have been brought up on charges for this incident. I wonder how many other cases like this exist.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2010 at 1:40 am

      Richard, thanks for commenting. I don’t believe Hemingway witnessed this personally, but heard about it later. The cavalrymen who did this were not part of his infantry unit.

      I suspect there were many cases of this sort, perpetrated by both sides. What struck me about this letter was how matter-of-fact it was.

      • emilylhauser said, on August 25, 2010 at 9:27 pm

        I’m reading Grant’s memoirs now (Hmmm. Wonder where I got that idea?), and I’m struck by a similar thing — the very every-day-ness of the language used to describe the horror which surrounded Grant for so many long years. I wonder if once you’ve been in battlefields where you could literally cross the entire field by stepping only on dead bodies without once touching the ground (as Grant described the post-battle situation at Shiloh), the only way to maintain sanity and humanity is to be as matter of fact as possible.

        I am also obliged to mention that I actually live in Oak Park, and my grandmother lived across the street from Anson Hemingway’s grandson Ernest for a time, developing a close friendship with Anson Hemingway’s granddaughter, Carol. Because the world is THIS tiny, Andy Hall. THIS tiny.

      • Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2010 at 10:02 pm

        ee, I was going to use this letter in my posts for the Golden Horde a couple of weeks ago, but decided on going with other material instead. It wasn’t until I dug it out again last night and started hunting around for biographical material on Anson Hemingway that I discovered he was Papa’s grandpapa. So that connection had no bearing on my choosing it; it was, as we say down here, lagniappe.

  2. Dick Stanley said, on August 25, 2010 at 3:10 am

    This stuff is old, old… Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!

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