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Abstract

Charles S Wainwright had participated in all three days of battle at Gettysburg. He witnessed his close friend and compatriot General Reynolds struck down on the first day. On July 5th, 1863, Wainwright traveled to what would later be known as Pickett’s Charge. Upon seeing the battlefield scattered with the bodies of the dead and smelling the stench of bloat, he lamented: “There was about an acre or so of ground here where you could not walk without stepping over the bodies, and I saw perhaps a dozen cases where they were heaped [sic] one on top of the other”. Two months after the Battle of Gettysburg, Wainwright reflected on those fateful days in July and the causes of this “vile” war. Sitting in his tent near the Culpeper Courthouse on the Rappahannock, Wainwright attempted to understand how abolition had come to dominate the Union war aims and why so many men had perished for the freedom of blacks. The radicals of Congress, Wainwright wrote, “did not want to see the Union restored without the abolition of slavery”. He believed that abolition was a stance taken by a select few “who had negro on the brain”. Wainwright was bitter that his men and others had died for those he believed to be inferior to the white race. He was positive that President Lincoln had been heavily influenced by the Radical abolitionists. This was, according to Wainwright, a calculated plan to win over the masses of the Union and coerce them into favoring emancipation. Tirades against African Americans and the Lincoln Administration came to dominate his thought. Believing that Lincoln was no longer waging war just for the Union, Wainwright became conflicted. His representation of racial stereotypes and changing purpose of his diary revealed a simmering anger towards the Lincoln Administration and African Americans, yet he continued to fight for the Union. Forced into continued service by the cultural paradigms of Victorianism, Wainwright put his life in peril for a cause that no longer aligned with his political values. Wainwright clung to battle because resigning was not a choice. Cowardice and desertion were unforgiveable offenses that hurt not only the man but his family as well. Apart from this, Wainwright’s attachment to his duty and role as a head of household necessitated his continued participation in the war. Yet, despite his anger with the war, Wainwright fought valiantly. [excerpt]

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