Sunday, October 30, 2016

Courtesies of War

Happening to open Josef Pieper's Tradition as a Challenge the other day, I found
By chance, as I was recently paging through Goethe's autobiographical writings, I came across what is not a particularly significant but is both a characteristic and amusing example of such a change. It occurs in the Kampagne in Frankreich--in the records of that strange campaign, which foundered miserably in mud and rain, of the European monarchical forces pitted against the people's army of the French Revolution. In this war, which in many ways really belongs to our era, an arrangement was still able to be made between the warring armies: the outposts on both sides, when the weather was bad (in September! in France!) had the right, depending on the direction of the wind, wrapped in their overcoats, to turn their backs to the enemy without this temporary defenselessness being exploited.
 Grant writes in his memoirs that
The next day, the 24th, I started out to make a personal inspection, taking Thomas and Smith with me, besides most of the members of my personal staff. We crossed to the north side of the river, and, moving to the north of detached spurs of hills, reached the Tennessee at Brown's Ferry, some three miles below Lookout Mountain, unobserved by the enemy. Here we left our horses back from the river and approached the water on foot. There was a picket station of the enemy on the opposite side, of about twenty men, in full view, and we were within easy range. They did not fire upon us nor seem to be disturbed by our presence. They must have seen that we were all commissioned officers. But, I suppose, they looked upon the garrison of Chattanooga as prisoners of war, feeding or starving themselves, and thought it would be inhuman to kill any of them except in self-defence.
and again, of an inspection about a week later
[Chattanooga Creek], from its mouth up to where it bears off west, lay between the two lines of pickets, and the guards of both armies drew their water from the same stream. As I would be under short-range fire and in an open country, I took nobody with me, except, I believe, a bugler, who stayed some distance to the rear. I rode from our right around to our left. When I came to the camp of the picket guard of our side, I heard the call, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general." I replied, "Never mind the guard," and they were dismissed and went back to their tents. Just back of these, and about equally distant from the creek, were the guards of the Confederate pickets. The sentinel on their post called out in like manner, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general," and, I believe, added, "General Grant." Their line in a moment front-faced to the north, facing me, and gave a salute, which I returned
The most friendly relations seemed to exist between the pickets of the two armies. At one place there was a tree which had fallen across the stream, and which was used by the soldiers of both armies in drawing water for their camps. General Longstreet's corps was stationed there at the time, and wore blue of a little different shade from our uniform. Seeing a soldier in blue on this log, I rode up to him, commenced conversing with him, and asked whose corps he belonged to. He was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General Longstreet's corps. I asked him a few questions—but not with a view of gaining any particular information—all of which he answered, and I rode off.
In World War II there was a tacit understanding that when shells were fired to scatter propaganda leaflets the recipients had some minutes of grace to pick them up, and of course to get out of foxholes and trench, stretch their limbs, and so on. But this understanding was more between the psychological warfare arm and the artillery than it was between the warring sides.

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