“Because YOU’RE HERE!”

By Lani Rinkel

Confederate POWs waiting to go North to prison from Chattanooga, TN. This photo was taken around the Battle of Chattanooga some point between September to November of 1863. It is housed at the National Archives.

One hundred and sixty years ago, the South voted to secede the Union of their grandfathers. Reasons for secession were varied and many, but primarily financial; and did not happen overnight. The states did not leave the Union at the same time, nor on the same day, but one by one. The Confederate States formed to preserve the same self-government we had from our successful secession from the Crown in 1776.

On Tuesday, April 15, 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to invade the seceded, Southern states in order to force us back into the Union. One by one the citizens of the South enlisted to defend their homes from illegal invasion. These citizen-soldiers were overwhelmingly farmers, but among them were shop keepers, tailors, blacksmiths, educators, clergy, college students, and some already in the Armed Forces of the United States, such as Robert E Lee. Among these citizen soldiers was every race and every nationality, as well as every age of male such as R.B. Freeman of the 6th GA Cavalry who enlisted at 10 years of age to John Roy of the 24th TN who enlisted at 76 years of age. These citizen-soldiers were husbands, fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers, grandsons, uncles, nephews and cousins. Among these citizens were the very wealthy, but the vast majority of these men, some 95-97% were not wealthy, had no hopes of being so, and therefore did not own “slaves”. It is imperative that we understand that these 95-97 percent did not own slaves, and were not fighting to keep slaves, but were simply fighting to defend their families and homes from illegal and unconstitutional invasion.

These citizen-soldiers grew up hearing stories of the fight for American independence. The flame of patriotism was passed to them from their Fathers. They’d heard of the Battle of King’s Mountain, and knew very well what happened at Lexington and Concord, so it was natural for them to enlist to defend their families and homes from invasion. Each time they were captured by Federals and asked why they were fighting, their answer every time was, “Because YOU’RE HERE!”

We don’t comprehend what it cost our Fathers to defend their “country” which is what they called their sovereign states. The Federal government had no control over states back then. They walked away from their families and home, jobs, friends, churches, schools, sweethearts, futures and everything familiar to them. Those in the service of our country can appreciate the cost, but for most of us it is difficult to grasp…their chosen life path was not military service. But they all answered the call of their states to fight invasion.

The war was not over quickly, nor was it easy. Four long years our Fathers battled hunger, cold, disease, malnutrition, and lack as they fought a larger, well-fed, better equipped, never-ending fighting force in the Federals. There are stories in the Confederate Veteran Magazine which tell of them leaving bloody tracks in the snow for lack of shoes, and going for days on a handful of cornmeal and tiny spoon of molasses. The fatigue was overwhelming and they were so emaciated they could not march, so they crawled into position to defend their homes. These men, our Fathers, are world renowned for their bravery, loyalty, and defense of their families and homes.

According to Miss Mildred Lewis Rutherford, who was Historian General of the UDC and a real daughter:

“The North had an army of nearly 2,800,000. General Buell, a general on the other side, said, “It took a naval fleet and 15,000 men to advance upon 100 Confederates at Ft Henry. It took 60,000 men to whip 40,000 at Shiloh, but it took only 60,000 Confederates to drive back with heavy loss 115,000 at Fredericksburg, VA.

Yes, there was a great disparity in number, but the make-up of our army was the very flower of Southern manhood; those men fought! Never in the annals of history has been recorded such devotion to duty and principles as was found in the Southern soldier.

We were not then a manufacturing people, we were an agricultural people. This cannot be said about us now. So the home supplies soon gave out, and our soldiers did suffer sorely. Half-clad they went through storm and sleet, through shot and shell. Half-shod, they marched through thorn and thistle, and bare-foot scaled the mountain heights to meet the advancing foe. Half-fed on half rations they went without complaint and cheerfully shared their little with others in the devastated regions. No, you will never find anything like the record of the Confederate soldiers. They surrendered when forced to surrender like heroes.”

Family after family had their males, sometimes from the father to each and every son, in the Confederate service. In some instances their daughters served as well.

After the war, the citizen-soldiers went to what was left of their homes and most of the time that was nothing. Everything was gone. No houses or farms, salted earth to affect future crops, no animals because all were stolen or dead, nothing to plow with, burned churches, ruined families and destroyed lives. Not even a pencil left in the south. Many families were completely wiped out due to exposure, disease through over-crowding, lack of sanitation, and the hard hand of famine. The South lay in ruins and then, the hell of reconstruction. But these citizen-soldiers persevered. Some of them went home maimed so badly they wore veils over their faces the rest of their lives, or lived as cripples till the day they died. They could not perform physical labor anymore due to loss of limb. For the ones who were illiterate, this mean a life of poverty not just for them, but for their families. Remember in those days there was no welfare or medicare. There are stories of men telling their wives to hitch plows to them and they plowed the field on crutches. It took all day, but they persevered. These men rebuilt our beloved South. They acquiesced to the conqueror, accepted defeat as the sovereign will of God, and went home to be the best they could be.

In closing, here is a portion of Stephen D Lee’s speech in New Orleans that you may not be aware of:

“And is there any message we would give to the States we loved and on whose behalf we drew our swords more than a generation ago? As we have sorrowed over your devotion, we now rejoice in your prosperity. We chose for you the fortune of war rather than a shameful peace.

We battled for your principles rather than yield them, not to conviction but to force. With breaking hearts we bowed beneath the stroke of fate. We chose the only course worthy of Americans. Better defeat than dishonor, better the long, bitter story of reconstruction than tame surrender of the convictions we received from our fathers, the principles which we cherished as the basis of our liberties. We leave our motives to the judgment of posterity.

In the choice we made we followed the dictates of conscience and the voice of honor. We sacrificed all that men hold dear for the land of our birth, and, while we have no fear that history will record our deeds with shame, we do not regard even the verdict of posterity as the equivalent of a clear conscience, nor ought we to have been false to our convictions even to win the eternal praises of mankind. If our children shall praise us, it is well, if our own hearts tell us we have fulfilled our duty, it is better. “

By Lani Rinkel and originally posted on FB by Dan Cooper

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