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.