Lights and Shadows in Confederate Prisons.


Shopping in a used book shop in Wales, I just found a book written by a Yankee Brevet Colonel of the 13th Connecticut (Homer B. Sprague), called Lights and Shadows in Confederate Prisons. Col. Sprague was captured at the Third Battle of Winchester (odd, since, by all accounts, 3rd Winchester was a Yankee victory and Jubal Early’s men left Winchester with undue haste; apparently, however, Early’s men were deliberate enough in that withdrawal to take Col. Sprague with them, haste and all.)

Anyway, on page 47, Sprague mentions having a conversation with "a very young and handsome rebel, one of the guard. He was evidently ingenuous and sincere, pious and lovable. After a few pleasant remarks, he suddenly asked:

"What are you Northerners fighting for?"

"In defense of he Constitution and the Union. What are you fighting for?"

"Every right that is sacred and dear to man."

"What right that is sacred and dear to man had the United States ever violated before you fired on Fort Sumter?"

Of course, he fell back on the Declaration of Independence, that "Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed"; also on the doctrine so emphatically expressed by Abraham Lincoln in his speech in Congress in 1846; viz.:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the teritory as they inhabit."

This was not a post-war conversation. Col. Sprague kept a journal during the war and recorded these details. So, here you have a Union officer admitting that he was not fighting to end slavery. Also, you have a young Confederate soldier stating the right of self-government, and even quoting Abraham Lincoln as justification! The young unnamed Confederate did not say he was fighting to defend slavery, although he could have said that, had that been his motivation. And if he had, I’m sure Col. Sprague would have quoted him as stating such.

I thought your readers might find this anecdote interesting.


D. Jonathan White
Oxfordshire, England