What is Historical Truth?

Charge of Terry's Rangers

Charge of Terry’s Rangers

I’ve been working on the timeline for my novel, Here We Stand, which concerns the Eighth Texas Cavalry, better known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, in the Civil War.

I began the timeline some years ago and obtained a good deal of information from the letters and diaries of these men on the Terry’s Texas Ranger Archives on the web, which has since been removed. After recently combining additional information from a purchased book, Terry Texas Ranger Trilogy, I noticed a difference in what these men at war wrote home and what they put in their reminiscences years later. Not surprisingly, they were much less forthcoming regarding the realities of war in letters to family and sweethearts.

In other words, first-person original accounts of history can only go so far.

Their letters, and often even diaries, were full of patriotism and enthusiasm for the war and bravery of comrades, as well as love for those left at home. Little emotion is shown concerning what is actually happening to the men who do the writing. For example, in one letter written by cavalryman M. A. Harvey: “Col Evans the best friend I had in the regiment was shot here I brought him off the field.” He immediately continues about the next move of the regiment. This is typical.

The letters and diaries are full of the wonderful local people they meet, how they are fed and taken care of by local citizenry when they are wounded or ill, even the beauty of some of the countryside (though not as wonderful as home in Texas).

It is only in the later reminiscences we hear of the frustration with poor leaders (nearly all the generals under which their regiment is brigaded), the lack of clothing, food, and almost constant combat and riding, often with little or no sleep. Yet even here, the horrors of war are written of as an everyday occurrence (which they were).

“‘Sam, you look for a place as smooth as you can find, as clear of the flint rock as possible, and let me know and we will fix for bed.’ In fifteen or twenty minutes he came to me [and] said, ‘I have found a fairly good place, but there are two dead men on it.’ I said, ‘They are as dead as they will ever be, are they not?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Then we will remove them a little space and occupy their place,’ He said, ‘All right,’ and we went to the spot selected and turned one an over one way and the other the other way “they were lying parallel with each other), made our bed between them and slept sweetly until day light next morning: and behold one of the dead was a Confederate and the other one a Federal soldier. Both had fallen on the same spot and died near each other.”

He wrote it; it obviously stayed in his mind quite clearly for all the years. Is PTSD only a modern ailment?

What do you think?

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