The American Civil War dealt tragedy like no other event in
United States history. Despite ubiquitous death and disfiguring wounds, the four years of the Late Unpleasantness cast light on
examples of the resilient human spirit. In early 1865, as Confederate General John Brown Gordon readied his men for an assault
on the Union lines at Petersburg, he encountered several now anonymous private soldiers whose enduring spirit would brand a
lasting impressions on their commander. Because the opposing lines of the time sat only a few rods apart, secrecy and quiet
were crucial elements to the southerner's success. However, while clearing some potential obstructions to their pending assault,
a vigilant union soldier shouted over a warning that, if his southern counterpart did not explain the source of this new noise,
he would fire. The General would later continue in his memoirs:
"The pickets of the two armies were so close together at this point that there was an understanding between
them, either expressed or implied, that they would not shoot each other down except when necessary. The call of this Union picket
filled me with apprehension. I expected him to fire and start the entire picket-line to firing, thus giving the alarm to the fort,
the capture of which depended largely upon the secrecy of my movement. The quick mother-wit of the private soldier at my side came
to my relief. In an instant he replied:
"Never mind, Yank. Lie down and go to sleep. We are just gathering a little corn. You know rations are mighty short over
There was a narrow strip of corn which the bullets had not shot away still standing between the lines. The Union picket
promptly answered: "All right, Johnny; go ahead and get your corn. I'll not shoot at you while you are drawing your
Such soldierly courtesy was constantly illustrated between these generous foes, who stood so close to one another in the
hostile lines. The Rev. J. William Jones, D.D., now chaplain-general of the United Confederate Veterans, when standing
near this same point had his hat carried away by a gust of wind, and it fell near the Union lines. The loss of a hat meant
the loss to the chaplain of nearly a month's pay. He turned away sorrowfully, not knowing how he could get another. A heroic
young private, George Haner of Virginia, said to him: "Chaplain, I will get your hat." Taking a pole in his hand,
he crawled along the ditch which led to our picket-line, and began to drag the hat in with his pole. At this moment a Yankee
bullet went through the sleeve of his jacket. He at once shouted to the Union picket: "Hello, Yank; quit your foolishness.
I am doing no harm. I am just trying to get the chaplain's hat." Immediately the reply came: "All right, Johnny; I'll
not shoot at you any more. But you 'd better hurry up and get it before the next relief comes."
My troops stood in close column, ready for the hazardous rush upon Fort Stedman. While the fraternal dialogue in reference to
drawing rations from the cornfield was progressing between the Union picket and the resourceful private at my side, the last of
the obstructions in my front were removed, and I ordered the private to fire the signal for the assault. He pointed his rifle
upward, with his finger on the trigger, but hesitated. His conscience seemed to get hold of him. He was going into the
fearful charge, and he evidently did not feel disposed to go into eternity with the lie on his lips, although it might be a
permissible war lie, by which he had thrown the Union picket off his guard. He evidently felt that it was hardly fair to take
advantage of the generosity and soldierly sympathy of his foe, who had so magnanimously assured him that he would not be
shot while drawing his rations from the little field of corn. His hesitation surprised me, and I again ordered: "Fire your
gun, sir." He at once called to his kindhearted foe and said: "Hello, Yank! Wake up; we are going to shell the woods.
Look out; we are coming."
And with this effort to satisfy his conscience and even up accounts with the Yankee picket, he fired the shot and rushed forward
in the darkness."