The Civil War brought about disruption and dislocation among family and friends in many ways. The outbreak of the conflict in 1861 forced people to declare allegiance to one side or the other. This often led to surprising and, at times, combative relationships.
The two most prominent men in the North, President Abraham Lincoln and Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, were both married to women, Mary Todd and Julia Dent, respectively, from Southern slave-owning families whose members for the most part sided with the South. Conversely, Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ wife, Varina Howell, had family roots in Delaware and New Jersey.
Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, married to Flora Cooke, severed relations permanently with his father-in-law, Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke, a fellow Virginian who chose to remain in the Union army and fight for the North. Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, the victor over Gen. Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, had a sister, Elizabeth Mary, who had moved to Mississippi and whose two sons and a son-in-law died in service to the Confederate cause.
Delaware’s most prominent Civil War diarist, Anna M. Ferris, a perceptive chronicler, recorded an incident that illustrates the friction that existed among otherwise compatible individuals. Anna, a Wilmington Quaker, was an avowed abolitionist who abhorred the institution of slavery.
Ferris noted in her diary that on Tuesday evening, March 29, 1864, her cousin Ferris Bringhurst alerted her that an acquaintance named George Moody had arrived in town. Moody was a captured Confederate soldier released from prison at Fort Delaware under military escort, and on his way to Fort Monroe, Va., to be exchanged for a Union prisoner.
Cousin Ferris explained that Moody only had a few hours to stay in town and wished to see as many of his old friends and relatives as possible. “Our meeting was stormy,” Anna recorded.
Upon seeing her, Moody unceremoniously stirred the embers of previous fiery differences of political opinion with his greeting, “[W]ell, Anna are you as much of an Abolitionist as you were?” Anna pointedly responded, “[Y}es, ten times blacker than ever” — a reference to the term “black Republican” that slavery adherents applied to abolitionists. Somewhat apologetically, she told her diary, “I should not have opened [this personal] war, but as he was determined to be aggressive, I had to keep the flag flying.”
Anna seemed enamored of her old friend George. She equivocated at first by allowing, “As far as appearance goes, he looks as if he had ‘stolen the livery of Heaven to serve the devil in.’” She continued more candidly, “His military life has developed his remarkable personal advantages, he wears the real old-fashioned cocked hat & is a beau ideal of a soldier of the Revolutionary type — as magnificent as Mr. Washington himself — I have never seen anything like him & our soldiers look quite insignificant beside him.”
Ferris recovered from her reverie with the comment that Moody had a “full share of Southern arrogance, which is really imperial in its way and is still ‘full of fire & fury,’ but not I think of real hope & confidence in their bad cause.” She wrote that she was glad to have seen him but preferred they would not meet again until we have “Union & Liberty one & inseparable [re]established all over our country.”
This comment left the door open to future reconciliation with George. It is not known whether they ever met again, but it is known that Anna Ferris would never marry.
The sectional and personal animosities that built up over four years of desperate struggle would continue for decades. But, statesmen including Abraham Lincoln before his assassination in 1865 and Robert E. Lee prior to his untimely death in 1870 set the country on the road to reunion and reconstruction by their vision and leadership.
Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” a History Book Club selection available at Bethany Beach Books. Contact him at email@example.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.