Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“I made some wicked and foolish remarks”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 25, 2011

Charles C. Cone was the son of a wealthy attorney in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. He was sixteen years old when the war began in 1861, reading law with another attorney in town. He enlisted in the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, eventually rising to the rank of sergeant. In late 1863, he was appointed first lieutenant, Company I, in the 8th U.S. Colored Troops. He was wounded in action with the 8th USCT at the Battle of Olustee in Florida, in February 1864. After a long convalescence, he rejoined his regiment, now with Ben Butler’s Army of the James, advancing on Richmond.

In the Field, September 20, 1864

I am happy to know that the wicked prosper not, and that the traitorous schemes of our political antagonists, the enemies of our country and our cause, are in a fair way to come to naught.

How sublimely ridiculous has been the performance of the whole farce — the terrific splutter and fizzle at Chicago — the high horse which they rode after “little Mac” was announced as the nominee of the party, and their subsequent great trepidation and disgust upon the receipt of the letter of acceptance of the little saint! I have always thought that the true and loyal men of the North would prove sufficient in the contests between parties, where the questions at issue are of so great and vital importance, involving, as they do, the principles upon which our government is based, and we exist as a free people, independent and united; besides the consideration of the great problem of humanity and morality which is now being solved, and which is to affect the whole human race, and influence the destiny of coming generations.

When I read the proceedings of the Chicago Convention, during its organization and continuance, crouching as I was behind a friendly heap of dirt, which only protected me from the balls of the sharp-shooters — amid the roar of cannon, the bursting of bombs, the screeching of shell, and hurtling balls and hissing of bullets — tons of iron and lead being pitched about in a most promiscuous and careless manner — my heart almost failed me. I was fain to give up in despair and disgust. Then, in a day or two we got more particular accounts — the speeches, platform, and nominations —  and my blood boiled in my fierce wrath and impotent rage!

I have no doubt but I made some wicked and foolish remarks and resolves, but I finally cooled off a little, and took a more extensive and reasonable view of the matter. I thought of the character of the men engaged, compared them with many others enlisted in the good cause and true party; compared platforms & c., and came to the conclusion that the thing wouldn’t work. The people wouldn’t swallow it, and although the party might cause us much trouble and sorrow, yet the mass of the people would, all in good time, show the true mettle and come to time.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” We must use every means of an honorable character to controvert and overthrow the designs of our enemies. Grant and Sherman are great generals; Farragut is king of his craft or art — yet, would they make good presidents? It demands different qualities to constitute a soldier and a statesman and ruler of a nation; much besides scientific knowledge, or the great qualities even of patriotism, determination, and strong will.

Please excuse this hastily written letter; it is after tattoo, and I am sleepy.

I remain your affectionate cousin,

C. C. Cone

Lieutenant Cone would not live to see the election in November. Nine days after writing this letter, he was hit and severely wounded at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, where his regiment, along with other USCT units, successfully stormed and held Confederate lines on the approach to Richmond. Evacuated to the military hospital at Fortress Monroe, Lieutenant Cone died on October 23, 1864 of “exhaustion from Amputation of left Thigh.” Among Cone’s personal effects inventoried after his death were one box of buttons, two novels, two tooth brushes, three New Testaments, five photographs, twenty-two 3-cent stamps, a broken watch and $20.90 in cash.

___________
Letter from Soldier’s Letters from Camp, Battlefield and Prison, ed. by Lydia Minturn Post (New York: Bunce & Huntington, 1865). This post originally appeared at The Atlantic on August 11, 2010.

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8 Responses

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  1. Vince said, on August 25, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Just out of curiosity, what attracted you to this letter? I’ve seen the sentiments expressed in the letter echoed many times in other Pennsylvania soldiers’ letters (public and private), especially leading up to the PA gubernatorial contest of 1863 and the election of 1864. I think Mark Neely* has written about the political awakening–really, the Republicanization–of Union soldiers in early 1863, and it’s a pretty striking transformation to watch in the primary sources. For example, I was just reading newspaper accounts of one Pennsylvania corporal who while on leave from the Army of the Cumberland in May 1863 returned to his hometown to give a widely-promoted Union League (i.e., harshly anti-Democrat) lecture.

    *Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2002), 42-45.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      I came upon it by accident, but it struck me as interesting for Cone’s engagement with the politics of the day, and how they filtered all the way down to him, personally, in the trenches. He’s a fantastic writer, switching from the grand and inspirational to the grounded and practical with ease.

      Some of the best, first-hand writing I’ve read recently comes from USCTs, both white officers (in this case) or African American enlisted soldiers. In the case of officers, there was a somewhat rigorous vetting process that resulted in those officers, as a whole, being a bit more driven, and bit more educated and experienced than in other, state regiments. (USCT company grade officers like Cone were usually combat veteran non-coms from white units; field officers were usually veteran company-grade officers from white regiments.) That didn’t always result in better unit performance on the field, but it speaks well of both their attributes as a group, and the War Department’s commitment to make the USCT experiment work.

      And frankly, the circumstances of his death, with are in his CSR, added a real poignancy to the whole thing.

  2. Will Hickox said, on August 26, 2011 at 11:36 am

    “When I read the proceedings of the Chicago Convention, during its organization and continuance, crouching as I was behind a friendly heap of dirt, which only protected me from the balls of the sharp-shooters — amid the roar of cannon, the bursting of bombs, the screeching of shell, and hurtling balls and hissing of bullets — tons of iron and lead being pitched about in a most promiscuous and careless manner — my heart almost failed me. I was fain to give up in despair and disgust. Then, in a day or two we got more particular accounts — the speeches, platform, and nominations – and my blood boiled in my fierce wrath and impotent rage!”

    Flash forward to November 2004. American Soldiers and Marines are embroiled in fierce fighting in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq. Meanwhile, self-important celebrities such as Madonna take the opportunity to give speeches demanding our retreat from the combat zone. You don’t have to be a “hawk” to notice the betrayal.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      That analogy doesn’t work for me. By the fall of 1864 the Union had a clear idea of how the war would be won (Atlanta was on the verge of capitulating at the time of the Chicago convention), and there was little real doubt that the Federals would ultimately prevail. Military victory for the Union — a clear, unambiguous victory in traditional terms — was on the horizon. That cannot be said for Iraq in 2004, or even for Afghanistan today, seven years further on.

      I take your point about self-important celebrities, and how they would be viewed by those out at the tip of the spear, but there was very little ambiguity in the U.S. military situation, or likely course of the war, by the latter part of 1864. A better analogy to the 1864 election might be the 1944 election — the war is certainly not won yet, and there’s much fighting and sacrifice yet to be paid, but there is a resolution in sight.

  3. Will Hickox said, on August 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I should have been more explicit. I wasn’t trying to draw a direct political parallel between the 1864 election season and 2004, but to point out the similarity between Cone’s experiences and attitudes and that of many of our troops fighting in the Iraq War.


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