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  • Jake Wynn

"One common calamity" - A November 1864 lament over the Civil War's devastating costs

As cold weather set in in the autumn of 1864, the editorial staff at the Miners' Journal of Pottsville reflected back over a year of dramatic events. In military campaigns and in politics, 1864 had been a momentous year - massive battles, gains for the US Army, and the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln.

Soldiers from Schuylkill County participated in the bloody fighting in Virginia in 1864. (LOC)

Yet, another bloody year of civil war left Schuylkill County and much of the North in a state of perpetual grief. And ultimate victory still seemed a distant hope.

A burial party at work near Fredericksburg, Virginia in May 1864. They are interring the remains of US Army soldiers. (LOC)

These depressing sentiments were understandable in a newsroom that had spent the past three years reporting on the death and maiming of local soldiers, many of whom were close family and friends. This melancholy slipped into an editorial published on November 26, 1864, two days after Thanksgiving.

Pottsville, Pennsylvania during the Civil War era. (Getty Museum)

The brief essay, titled "Autumn," muses on the sadness that often comes with the fall months as the warmth and hope of summer recedes towards the cold chill of winter. In the essay, the writer quickly transitions to his main point - that the autumn of 1864 was particularly depressing because of the dark cloud of grief hanging above Northern households. The concluding paragraphs are among the most moving I've read about the costs of the Civil War on the Northern home front and what the sacrifices ultimately meant to the nation and to the world.

Autumn -

There is a solemnity, a sadness peculiar to this season of the year, and all are more or less affected by its influence. The spring time which a few months ago we greeted so joyously, with its buds and blossoms, has passed away. Summer with its richer hued flowers, its beautiful foliage, its golden grain and fruitage, has come and gone.

The little birds, making the air vocal and our hearts glad with their melody, in the year's springtime, are bidding their northern nests farewell for a home in a warmer clime, 'neath a sunnier sky. All this has a tendency to sadness. The falling leaves, the autumn winds, sighing their requiem for the dead summer; the drooping flowers, nipped by frost's chilly fingers; the deep blue sky donning its grey-tinted attire, all breathe upon the spirit not a repulsive by a chastening, admonitory,solemnity.

Life has its seasons, Spring Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Happy if in the Autumn of life we may have gathered from such passing seasons, its appropriate blessings and benefits. If we may have garnered into the storehouse of the heart and soul, the riches of a well improved summer and spring time, that when the winter of life may come; when its streams have become chilled and frozen; when the foliage has been stripped from the branches, and earth's beautiful blossoms faded, there may be flowers perennial, blooming in the soul, shedding sweet fragrance into the dark chilly places of earth, making many of life's rough and rugged paths smooth.

Is there not in the autumn of this year abundant cause for sadness? To how many it brings an experience of sadness unknown before. On the hearthstone of many hearts nought is left but ashes, and Hope with folded wings sits brooding without a departed guest.

In every city, town, and village, the destroying angel has left his footprints. No "lintel" has been sprinkled that the destroyer might pass by, but every house has in it its dead. In the hitherto peaceful hamlet, "Rachel is weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are not."

Death has cast its shadow over every household in the land. The rich and poor mingle their tears over one common calamity. Brave hearts, noble souls, have been laid upon the altar of sacrifice; and shall it have been in vain? Shall this baptism of blood avail naught? God forbid; but before the dying leaves of autumn shall be hidden beneath the snows of winter, may Peace, the white winged angel, visit our land once more, and liberty and universal freedom be the heritage, the blood-bought heritage of every man and child. [1]


[1] "Autumn." Miners' Journal, November 26, 1864.



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