Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

The Veteran, the Historian, and the Things Not Seen

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 23, 2011

Over the Christmas holiday in 1905 Lawrence Daffan (1845-1907), a former private in the Fourth Texas Infantry, dictated to his daughter Katie a biographical sketch of his life, along with more detailed accounts of two major actions he served in. After his death, Katie published these in a memorial book, My Father as I Remember Him.

In the memoir, Daffan recalled that after the Army of Northern Virginia was turned back at Gettysburg and withdrew across the Potomac,

we then marched to Culpepper, where we camped a while, then on to Fredericksburg, thence to Port Royal, where we camped some weeks.

While at Culpepper we had something of a riot in our regiment, caused by one of the regiment being ordered to wear a ball and chain, which we thought was a disgrace to our regiment and to the State of Texas. A number of us boys, who did not know any better, attempted to take him from the guard. Charges of mutiny were made against twenty-five of us, and we were put under arrest. Our captains were responsible for our appearance at court. This relieved us from drill and every other duty for six weeks of the summer.

Our trial was ordered to take place at General Longstreet’s headquarters, at Fredericksburg, in the first days of September, 1863. We were then camped at Port Royal, twenty miles east of Fredericksburg. We were all ordered to report to General Longstreet’s headquarters, near Fredericksburg, to be tried. On the way there I stopped at my uncle’s home, Champ Jones, twelve or fifteen miles from Fredericksburg, and did not arrive at Fredericksburg until after my “crowd” had arrived there. In going, I was alone. There was no guard with any of us. In looking for the headquarters where I might be tried, I went to the camp of the battalion of artillery, and the major commanding met me. I asked him to tell me where the General’s headquarters were, and he said “At the Reynold’s place, a large, white house about a mile away.” He said, “What are you going for?” I said, “I am going to be court-martialed for mutiny.” He said, with astonishment, “What, looking for a court to be court-martialed? That beats everything I ever heard of.” I said, “yes,” and he replied to go ahead, that he didn’t think I would be shot. I was then eighteen years old. We were all cleared through the influence of General Lee.

This anecdote was first widely published forty years ago in Harold B. Simpson’s Hood’s Texas Brigade: Lee’s Grenadier Guard, and has been mentioned in other secondary accounts since. To my knowledge, it’s not corroborated by other firsthand accounts. (Giles’ Rags and Hope mostly skips over this period of relative inactivity.) Ten years ago, Texas A&M historian Charles E. Brooks included this anecdote in his journal article, “The Social and Cultural Dynamics of Soldiering in Hood’s Texas Brigade,” published in the Journal of Southern History. Brooks briefly summarizes Daffan’s account, and then assesses it in terms of its time and place — not 1863, but 1905:

Written years later after the cult of the Lost Cause had romanticized the war and magnified the heroic deeds of Confederate soldiers, Daffan’s account only noted parenthetically that neither he nor the others “knew any better” at the time. But his amplifying comment was characteristic of many wartime reminiscences, which often glossed over the continuous conflicts that had taken place between officers and men concerning matters of discipline and subordination. Young Private Daffan and the others knew exactly what they were doing when they tried to rescue their fellow soldier. Although enlisting as a soldier of the Confederate Army required soldiers to occupy a new social status somewhere between freedom and slavery, the ball-and-chain punishment had blurred the distinction beyond what they were willing to accept.

Shorter: Daffan’s account is a reminiscence that has to be understood in the context of the time it was recorded.

Comparing these two passages makes for a good illustration of what a professional historian does. Daffan’s account, like so many written about that same time, stresses the humor and devil-may-care attitude of soldiering during the war. Daffan was indeed eighteen at the of this incident, but he was also a veteran (by his own count) of at least six different engagements, including Second Manassas, Sharpsburg and Little Round Top. The soldiers understood what they were doing when they tried to overpower the prisoner’s guard. Daffan and his compatriots also understood at least the potential penalty upon conviction of mutiny by a court martial; it cannot have seemed to Daffan at the time to have been such a summertime lark as he suggests when he describes his arrest as relieving “us from drill and every other duty for six weeks of the summer.”

Brooks’ reference to the pervasiveness of the Lost Cause is not supposition; it’s true both generally, and in Lawrence Daffan’s case specifically. Daffan was an active member of UCV and the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association; his daughter Katie was secretary and sole female member of the latter organization. When the local UDC chapter bestowed the honorary title of “colonel” on Lawrence Daffan, he adopted it immediately, and used it in both his personal and professional life so much that, upon his death, newspapers around the state referred to him as “Col. Daffan,” even though he’d never risen above the rank of private during the war.

Daffan was captured late in 1863 an spent the remainder of the war in the prison camp at Rock Island. Although he spent almost as much time as prisoner as he did as a soldier in the field, in his memoir he generally declines to discuss the hardships of this period in his life, commenting instead on the sheer boredom of the experience, where one day was exactly like the one before, and exactly like the one following, so that there was little concept of the passage of time. In fact, Daffan apparently left much unsaid in his dictation, and found his recollections, as they appeared on the page, difficult emotionally. As a preface to his autobiographical sketch, Katie wrote that

he would frequently related some anecdote or little incident, which he did not deem worthy of being included in the sketch, but which was invariably interesting.

Once or twice, while reviewing the battles [i.e., Second Manassas and Sharpsburg], he gave way to weeping and expressions of the deepest feeling, very unusual for him.

He told me that it carried him back to the days when he was a boy, that it was all so vivid, and so much had occurred since to change him, and so many of his friends and comrades had died, that it made him very sad.

What were the “invariably interesting” anecdotes that Daffan thought too inconsequential to commit to paper? More important, what ugly and terrible experiences remained, insufficiently blurred by the passage of time and memory, that he declined to recall for Katie’s note-taking? My guess is that the latter includes Gettysburg, notably missing from Daffan’s story, where the Fourth Texas remained pinned on the slopes of Little Round Top after the failed assault on the Federal left on July 2, or the habit of the “hundred dazers” walking post on the wall at Rock Island occasionally to relieve their own boredom by squeezing off rounds into the prisoners’ barracks.

None of this diminishes the value of the memoirs of old veterans like Daffan, but it does remind us that, even as important as they are as the record of the men who were there, they nonetheless have real limitations. Their tales of battle, hardship, humor and adventure are only as complete as they themselves recalled them.

Or were willing to.

___________

Image: Fife and drums at the United Confederate Veterans’ reunion, Washington, D.C., 1917. Library of Congress.

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10 Responses

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  1. Dick Stanley said, on February 23, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Well, he doesn’t have a date there for the post-Gettysburg 4th Texas incident, but it immediately reminded me of a similar one, apparently also involving Texas troops.

    It was recorded contemporaneously by a private in Barksdale’s (now Humphreys) Mississippi brigade.

    Private Robert A. Moore, of the 17th Mississippi, whose diary was published in 1959 as “A Life For The Confederacy” (he was killed at Chickamauga) wrote in his diary on Aug. 12, 1863:

    “…camp south of Raccoon Ford on Rapidan. A detachment from our brigade has just come in with 16 deserters which they captured about 8 miles from camp in a settlement called Texas. There were more than seventy there but all escaped except 16.”

    Same incident or a different one?

    • Andy Hall said, on February 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm

      Interesting. I don’t know about the incident Moore mentions, but it sounds different to me.

      Haven’t seen you round these parts for a while, glad to see you back.

  2. Jacob Dinkelaker said, on February 24, 2011 at 8:30 am

    great post. The idea that historians have to interpret not only what is being said, what isn’t being said, but also the context when that document was produced is often lost in many circles.

  3. corkingiron said, on February 24, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Every discipline – save for History – begins with a potential thesis – and then gathers evidence to test the validity of that thesis. History begins with the evidence – and then proceeds to a thesis. Every graduate student is presented with this challenge; – I have all of this evidence – but the hell does it mean?
    Memoirs like this are, as you say, invaluable. But a great deal is left out. I have noted for example in my reading a number of soldier’s memoirs, a tendency to gloss over the horrific nature of their experiences. The temptation is to insert meaning into those spaces – to jump to conclusions about what they must have really meant – or felt. Lost Causers do this regularly – but they are not the only ones. It is difficult, but necessary – to accept the blanks for what they are; stuff we don’t yet know until and unless it can be corroborated. You are to be commended for your willingness to say “we don’t yet know”. I wish it was a more common conclusion.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 24, 2011 at 9:50 am

      Memoirs like this are, as you say, invaluable. But a great deal is left out. I have noted for example in my reading a number of soldier’s memoirs, a tendency to gloss over the horrific nature of their experiences.

      Just so. An uncle of mine was in the 101st Airborne at Bastogne, and helped liberate at least one concentration camp in the last weeks of the war. He died young, when I was a toddler, so I never knew him. But as I understand, he said almost nothing about the things he’d seen, instead preferring to tell funny stories about camp life, weekend passes into town, and so on. The ugly stuff is just a place he wouldn’t go, it was too hard to deal with. Had he lived longer, he might have gotten to a place where he could have discussed it, but we just cannot know.

      FWIW, he also said that after the war, combat veterans learned very quickly to lie to prospective civilian employers, and tell them they’d spent the entire war stateside, or in some rear echelon supply depot. Many employers simply wouldn’t hire men who had seen significant combat, because they didn’t want to have to deal with the psychological/emotional issues those men had brought home with them. I’d like to think we do a better job of that nowadays, but sometimes I don’t know.

      • freebob said, on February 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm

        My dad served in Vietnam, when he talks about the war it’s about everything except the actual fighting. He told me when he meets people who say they served, the more they’re willing to talk about “killing gooks” the less he believes they saw any action.

  4. James F. Epperson said, on February 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

    I grew up on Bruce Catton. I think his writing is some of the best out there, better than Foote’s, even. But he relied too uncritically on soldier memoirs. He did not allow for fading or embellished memories.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 25, 2011 at 7:50 am

      I would guess that, coming on the heels of Wiley’s “discovery” of the common soldier, Catton would be more inclined to scoop up such accounts uncritically, while later historians would tend to look at them with a colder eye, as one more part of the whole.

  5. corkingiron said, on February 27, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    I’ve come back to this photo a number of times, wondering what it was that was nagging at me. Now I know. As a youthful member of a Drum & Bugle Corps, I can’t imagine how hard that guy’s working to have his fife heard over three (3!!!) drums….and the snare drummer’s cigar smoke as well. He could be playing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” for all anyone might know.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      Heh.

      “I only know two tunes. One is “Yankee Doodle,” and the other isn’t.” (Attributed to U. S. Grant)


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