When the battle wasn’t raging, Yankee and Rebel soldiers were known to get along with each other.
Confederate Private Sam Watkins tells a story about a Sunday after the Battle of Chickamauga. He came and his buddies came to relieve some sentries on the Tennessee River. There was a Union outpost on the opposite riverbank.
“When we were approaching we heard the old guard and the Yankee picket talking back and forth across the river. The new guard immediately resumed the conversation. A Yankee hallooed out, “O, Johnny, Johnny, meet me half way in the river on the island.”
Sergeant John Tucker swam out to meet the Yankee, taking some Southern newspapers with him. Sam explains, “They got very friendly, and John invited him to come clear across to our side, which invitation he accepted…. Well, they came across and we swapped a few lies, canteens and tobacco, and then the Yankee went back.”
Sergeant Gibson of the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry described similar things, saying the picket lines often stood less than 100 feet apart and “were on the best of terms and conversed frequently on various subjects.”
Union and Confederate troops would regularly trade what they had, like Southern tobacco for Federal coffee. This was frowned on by the brass, but even they were known to raise a flag of truce for something really important, like negotiating for whiskey.
For a while in Vicksburg, Mississippi, there was a daily exchange under a flag of truce. A Union boat would go into Vicksburg to discuss the “exchange of prisoners,” but the real business at hand was the exchange of newspapers and other items. The Federals always brought some bourbon to be “freely dispensed to the gray-coated deputation that meets us.”
Soldiers were pretty honorable about these things. Sam Watkins tells another story about standing picket on a small stream:
“We heard a Yankee call, ‘O, Johnny, Johnny Reb!’
“I started out to meet him when he hallooed out, “Go back, Johnny, go back; we are ordered to fire on you.”
“What is the matter? Is your army going to advance on us?”
“I don’t know; we are ordered to fire.”
I jumped back into the picket post, and a minnie ball ruined the only hat I had.”
But fair warning had been given, and Sam lived to tell the tale!
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