- Historic Sites
Brother Against Brother
A century ago this month began the war that set These unpublished letters show how one family was bitterly split
April 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 3
Baltimore, May 3, 1861 Dear Brother: I am this morning advised that you have so far forgotten yourself, your personal honor, and your oftrepeated assurances of affection for me and my family under all circumstances, as to violate the confidences of private correspondence, and cause to be published a private letter, with no other intention than to influence and exasperate the public mind still farther than it then was, and at the same time to invite and urge me to put my family under your protection. May God forgive you for this act of dishonor and private treason. I think I have already written you under what circumstances of excitement I wrote that first letter. I had just been overwhelmed by the sad fate of my friend, Mr. Davis, who was murdered by the troops from the North. I had seen those troops fire from the cars towards a crowd at a distance, not a man being within a hundred yards of the train; I knew nothing whatever of any mob at the other end of the city attacking the troops; I had no expectation of violence being attempted or any attempt to obstruct the passage of the troops; I did, however, hear days previous of individual threats but personally I had frowned upon such threats and did not believe that they were of any consequence whatever as I had confidence that they emanated from bad men who were but a small minority in this city: I had seen the day before (on the i8th) a body of the most miserable looking recruits pass through our city on foot under the protection of the police. 7 In a word, my heart was for peace and the Union until exasperated by the exhibition at the Washington depot and the killing of Mr. Davis, a quiet citizen, and it was under the influence of that infliction that I received your dispatch, kindly meant by you, to come away from danger and thus show myself to be a coward. Your dispatch, kindly meant as it was, only served to increase my excitement, and I wrote you in that heated manner. There was also another cause for my excited letter. During the intense excitement of the igth and aoth many Northern men had been alarmed by anonymous letters from some of the mob, and I with others was named as suspicious characters. Now, cannot you see that there was enough to madden almost any man, and cause a bitter letter to be written, which prudence and brotherly affection should have covered up and protected. What could I think of myself if I had caused to be published your letters to me breathing forth the most fiendish threats worthy of the “dark ages.” But no, I did just the contrary. I had the use of the columns of our paper here but I would suffer death before I would violate the confidence of a brother’s correspondence. When the heat of excitement had passed, and I had become acquainted with the real facts of the outbreak and violence, I admit that I was wrong and had acted and written in an improper and unchristian manner. It was some days before the people understood that the outbreak was that of a mob. Their sympathies and interests are with the South, yet they prefer the whole Union if it can be preserved peacefully. We deplore the present thirst for blood and would if possible arbitrate for peace. This, however, is impossible so long as men and Christian men of the North breathe forth the spirit of fiendish cruelty. All, or nearly all, in this city admit that the violence of the igth ult. was wrong, and some days ago I suggested a paper which is now being signed, representing that in our opinion troops or whatever else the Government desire ought to pass through Baltimore without hindrance. The frenzy was soon over in this city and quiet restored, and yet Christian men and women in Boston, and from your letters I suppose you with rest, instead of praying for peace, pray for blood, flames, murder, and the violation of women and children. (Great God, what hast thou Ui store for this wretched country that thou shouldst permit thy professed friends to so dishonor thy cause and word!) Did you stop to think over what the effect of this temper among Christians would be in other lands? No, I fear not. Will they see the same spirit manifested by the South as in the North? They do not and will not. They have plead for peace: they (the border states and Virginia particularly) have exhausted all resources in their efforts to bring about a peaceable adjustment and save the whole Union , but they have been met by the most cruel and inhuman thirst for vengeance and blood from the North, until they were driven to desperation themselves. For myself, I have my interests here and with the South, and also property in Virginia. I wish peace. I desire the Union, but Union in harmony, and no other is to be desired. Oceans of blood could not harmonize or settle this question. Now, my Brother, I close. If I have offended you it was not in my heart to do so, and I ask your forgiveness, and hard as it is to forgive your cruel offence to me and my family by the publishing and violation of private correspondence in the publishing of my letters, that particular vengeance might be brought down upon my head, I will say that I forgive you and will pray for you, but I fear you have broken the chain which should unite brothers forever and that we must part. This is a bitter cup. It cuts me to the quick and I can hardly see through my tears which flow as I write these lines. May God forgive you. Your brother J. D. P.
7 The day before the 6th Massachusetts was mobbed, a poorly trained regiment of Pennsylvania militia passed through Baltimore without difficulty. Its general appearance caused Lincoln’s youthful secretary, John Hay, to make caustic remarks about the poor quality of the first Unionist detachments.