A Few Words from the Wise

Published:June 7, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

Perhaps, like me, you have only just opened your copy of The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It (Library of America), then you are behind. It’s June and we’re already halfway through the first year—which means that a speech given by Henry A. Wise in Richmond on June 1, 1861, doesn’t appear until page 401.

The former governor tells his listeners that he “was nearly worn down in the siege of the Virginia Convention” but that some rest and “a little damage from the doctors” really worked wonders. He may be “a civil soldier only,” he confesses, but that’s doesn’t mean he isn’t ready for what comes.

I rejoice in this war. Who is there that now dares to put on sanctity to depreciate war, or the “horrid glories of war.” None. Why? Because it is a war of purification. You want war, fire, blood, to purify you; and the Lord of Hosts has demanded that you should walk through fire and blood. You are called to the fiery baptism, and I call upon you to come up to the altar. Though your pathway be through fire, or through a river of blood, turn not aside. Be in no hurry—no hurry and flurry.

Funny how nobody talks like this at the ends of wars.

PS: This book has three editors—Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean—the latter of whom is a contributor to the encyclopedia and the second Eberly Family Professor of Civil War History at West Virginia University. (The first was our Civil War section editor, Pete Carmichael.) Here’s Aaron’s entry on Virginia’s Confederate soldiers.

IMAGE: Henry A. Wise, top hat in hand (Library of Congress)