After the American Civil War

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (19) start of chapter

America is a country of wonders, where things are to be seen of which the Old World mind can have no conception. But nothing that I beheld impressed me with the same admiration, and indeed with the same astonishment, as the manner in which a people, whose tremendous struggle of four long years' duration enchained the attention of every civilised nation, returned to the peaceful pursuits of civil life. To my mind, there was something great beyond description in this unrivalled spectacle. A lew months before, and the earth resounded with the clash of armed legions, mightier and more numerous than any which Europe had assembled for centuries; and where is the trace of this colossal conflict in the bearing and deportment of the people? You may behold its marks and traces in the desolated track of the conqueror; in the sedge-broom now usurping the once fruitful soil; in rifled and ruined dwellings abandoned to decay; in burned cities rising anew from their ashes: in crumbling embankments and road-side ramparts, which cost so much blood and so many gallant lives to take or to defend,—but in the calm dignified attitude of the great American people, who have sheathed the sword and laid aside the rifle, you cannot perceive them.

Where, you unconsciously ask, are the soldiers, the fighting men, the heroes, who bore a distinguished part in that protracted contest? Have the brigades, the divisions, the corps, the armies, of which we read in bulletin and report—have they sunk into the earth, or have they vanished in the air? If not, how are these men of war employed?—can they settle down to the ordinary pursuits of life; or have they been fatally intoxicated by the smoke and excitement of battle, and utterly demoralised by the license of the camp? You shall see.

Who is that remarkable-looking man, with something of the clanking sabre in his carriage, yet with nothing more warlike in his hand than a memorandum book, with a bundle of harmless papers protruding from the breastpocket of a coat that seems to cling to his broad chest as if it were a uniform? A commercial agent. Yes, now; but what was he a few months since? One at whose mere mention wives and mothers paled, and with the incantation of whose name nurses hushed their fractious charge—a daring leader of cavalry, whose swoop was as fierce and sudden as the eagle's.

Here, down in this new city, in the midst of the tall pines, you see that coach factory, full of waggons and buggies of all kinds; and what is that bearded man employed at? A sewing-machine? Impossible; it can't be —and yet it is. Yes, it is. That tall bearded man held high rank in his corps; but, the war over, and hating idleness, he established this thriving factory; and with his own hands he is now sewing and embroidering the curtains of that carriage which is to be sent for in a day or two by its purchaser.

At yon lawyer's desk, covered with open or tape-bound documents, an anxious client awaiting his opinion of that knotty case, sits one, now immersed in the intricacy of a legal problem, whose natural element seemed to be amid the thickest press of battle, where squadrons rushed on serried bayonets, or dashed at belching batteries.

Calmly giving some minute instruction to a deferential clerk, respecting a delayed train, or dictating an answer to some impatient enquiry concerning a missing parcel or a bale of dry-goods left behind, is a man whose wisdom and whose courage were the hope of a cause; prudent in council, skilful in strategy, calm and cool in conflict.

Behind that counter, in that store, or perched on that office desk, is he who has done so many brilliant feats, to the wonder of the foe, and the rapture of his friends.

Rushing headlong through the street, in his eagerness to keep some appointment, in which there is to be much talk of bales of cotton, cargoes of corn, or hogsheads of strong wine, is the soldier whose movements were of lightning celerity, who, by right of his lavished blood, had established a kind of vested interest in every desperate undertaking.

And here, at this editor's table, with ink, and paste, and scissors at his elbow, up to his eyes in 'proofs,' and young 'devils' clamorous for 'copy,' you have a dashing colonel, a fortunate general, a famous artillery officer—now as tranquilly engaged in the drudgery of his 'daily' as if he had never led his regiment at the charge, never handled a division or a corps, or never decided a victory with his guns; as if, in fact, he had only learned of war in the pages of Grecian or Roman history, or read of it in one of his European 'exchanges.'

Hush! you are in a seat of learning, in which the hopeful youth of a great country is being trained for its future citizenship. You perceive that quiet-looking elderly gentleman smiling kindly on that bright eager lad, as he speaks to him with gentle voice. That quiet-looking gentleman is the man of men, whose very name was worth an army to the side he espoused. Every home in America, every village in Europe, has heard of that quiet-looking gentleman.

And look again: here is a learned professor instructing his class—not at all a wonderful sight, you may say; but on the wide ocean, in every mart of commerce, on every exchange, in every nook and corner in which the risks of sea, enhanced by the casualties of war, are keenly calculated, there were those who thought by day and dreamed by night of that learned professor.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America