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George Cary  Eggleston
A Rebel's Recollections


"A Rebel's Recollections" was published in 1874. It has ever since enjoyed a degree of public favor that is perhaps beyond its merits.

However that may be, my friends among the historians and the critical students of history have persuaded me that, for the sake of historical completeness, I should include in this new edition of the book the prefatory essay on "The Old Régime in the Old Dominion," which first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly for November, 1875.

I am doing so with the generous permission of Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., publishers of the Atlantic Monthly.

The scholars have said to me and to my publishers that during its thirty years of life the book has become a part of that body of literature to which historians must look as the sources of history. They have urged that the introductory chapter, now for the first time included in the volume, is an essential part of that material of history.

The story of the book and of this introductory chapter may, perhaps, have some interest for the reader. In that belief I tell it here.

In the year, 1873, I was editing the weekly periodical, Hearth and Home. I went to Boston to secure certain contributions of literary matter. There, for the first time, I met Mr. William Dean Howells, then editor of the Atlantic Monthly, – now recognized as the foremost creative and critical writer of America.

In the course of our conversation, Mr. Howells asked me why I should not write my reminiscences of life as a Southern soldier. At that time war passions had only just begun to cool, and so I answered that it would be hardly fair to the publishers of Hearth and Home for me in that way to thrust upon the readers of that periodical the fact that its editor had been a Rebel soldier.

"Oh, I didn't mean," answered Mr. Howells, "that you should write your reminiscences for Hearth and Home. I want you to write them for the Atlantic."

I put the matter aside for a time. I wanted to think of it, and I wanted to consult my friends concerning the propriety of doing what Mr. Howells had suggested. Then it was that I talked with Oliver Johnson, and received from him the advice reported in the preface to the first edition of this book, which is printed on another page.

An arrangement was at once made with Mr. Howells that I should write seven of the nine papers composing the book, for publication in the Atlantic, the two other papers being reserved in order to "give freshness" to the volume when it should appear.

After the first paper was published, Mr. Howells wrote me that it had brought a hornets' nest about his ears, but that he was determined to go on with the series.

After the second paper appeared, he wrote me a delightful letter, saying that the hornets had "begun to sing psalms in his ears," in view of the spirit and temper of my work.

After all the papers were published, and on the day on which the book, with its two additional chapters, appeared, there was held at the Parker House in Boston a banquet in celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the Atlantic. At that dinner, and without warning, I was toasted as the author of the latest book of Civil War reminiscences. I made a feeble little speech in reply, but I found that the spirit in which I had written "A Rebel's Recollections" had met with cordial response from the New England audience. A company of "original abolitionists" had even planned to give me a dinner, all my own, with nobody present but original abolitionists and my Rebel self.

In the same way the book was received by the press, especially in New England, until I was satisfied that my work had really ministered somewhat to that reconciliation between North and South which I had hoped to help forward.

Some months later, in 1875, I wrote the article on the old Virginian life, and sent it to Mr. Howells. Mindful of his editorial injunction to confine articles to six magazine pages in length, I condensed what I had to say into that space. Then for the first time in my life I had an experience which has never since been repeated. Mr. Howells sent the article back to me with a request that I should double its length.

Some years later, the Authors Club gave a reception to Mr. Howells as our foremost living novelist, and it fell to me, as the presiding officer of the club's Executive Council, to escort the guest of the evening to the club. The war papers of the Century Magazine were at that time attracting a country-wide attention. As we drove to the club, Mr. Howells said to me:

"It was you and I who first conceived the idea of 'War Papers' as a magazine's chief feature. We were a trifle ahead of our time, I suppose, but our thought was the same as that which has since achieved so great a success."

In view of all these things, I inscribe this new and expanded edition of "A Rebel's Recollections" to the true godfather of the book, – to


with admiration for his genius, with a grateful recollection of his helpfulness, and with personal affection.

George Cary Eggleston.
The Authors Club,
January, 1905.

Lunching one day with Oliver Johnson the best "original abolitionist" I ever knew, I submitted to him the question I was debating with myself, namely, whether I might write this little volume of reminiscences without fear of offending excellent people, or, still worse, reanimating prejudices that happily were dying. His reply was, "Write, by all means. Prejudice is the first-born of ignorance, and it never outlives its father. The only thing necessary now to the final burial of the animosity existing between the sections is that the North and the South shall learn to know and understand each other. Anything which contributes to this hastens the day of peace and harmony and brotherly love which every good man longs for."

Upon this hint I have written, and if the reading of these pages shall serve, in never so small a degree, to strengthen the kindly feelings which have grown up of late between the foemen of ten years ago, I shall think my labor well expended.

I have written chiefly of the things I saw for myself, and yet this is in no sense the story of my personal adventures. I never wore a star on my collar, and every reader of military novels knows that adventures worth writing about never befall a soldier below the rank of major.

G. C. E.

October, 1874.


It was a very beautiful and enjoyable life that the Virginians led in that ancient time, for it certainly seems ages ago, before the war came to turn ideas upside down and convert the picturesque commonwealth into a commonplace, modern state. It was a soft, dreamy, deliciously quiet life, a life of repose, an old life, with all its sharp corners and rough surfaces long ago worn round and smooth. Everything fitted everything else, and every point in it was so well settled as to leave no work of improvement for anybody to do. The Virginians were satisfied with things as they were, and if there were reformers born among them, they went elsewhere to work changes. Society in the Old Dominion was like a well rolled and closely packed gravel walk, in which each pebble has found precisely the place it fits best. There was no giving way under one's feet, no uncomfortable grinding of loose materials as one walked about over the firm and long-used ways of the Virginian social life.

Let me hasten to say that I do not altogether approve of that life by any means. That would be flat blasphemy against the god Progress, and I have no stomach for martyrdom, even of our modern, fireless sort. I frankly admit in the outset, therefore, that the Virginians of that old time, between which and the present there is so great a gulf fixed, were idle people. I am aware that they were, when I lived among them, extravagant for the most part, and in debt altogether. It were useless to deny that they habitually violated all the wise precepts laid down in the published writings of Poor Richard, and set at naught the whole gospel of thrift. But their way of living was nevertheless a very agreeable one to share or to contemplate, the more because there was nothing else like it anywhere in the land.

A whole community, with as nearly as possible nothing to do, is apt to develop a considerable genius for enjoyment, and the Virginians, during somewhat more than two centuries of earnest and united effort in that direction, had partly discovered and partly created both a science and an art of pleasant living. Add to idleness and freedom from business cares a climate so perfect that existence itself is a luxury within their borders, and we shall find no room for wonder that these people learned how to enjoy themselves. What they learned, in this regard, they remembered too. Habits and customs once found good were retained, I will not say carefully, – for that would imply effort, and the Virginians avoided effort always, – but tenaciously. The Virginians were born conservatives, constitutionally opposed to change. They loved the old because it was old, and disliked the new, if for no better reason, because it was new; for newness and rawness were well-nigh the same in their eyes.

This constitutional conservatism, without which their mode of life could never have been what it was, was nourished by both habit and circumstance. The Virginians were not much given to travelling beyond their own borders, and when they did go into the outer world it was only to find a manifestation of barbarism in every departure from their own prescriptive standards and models. Not that they were more bigoted than other people, for in truth I think they were not, but their bigotry took a different direction. They thought well of the old and the moss-grown, just as some people admire all that is new and garish and fashionable.


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A Rebel's Recollections

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