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1863 February 15: Ed Levings Confesses “to having had my eyes opened to the Slavery question as I never had them opened before”

February 15, 2013

Ed expounds on the slavery issue in this letter.  The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Camp of the 12th Regt.
Tenn.  Sunday, Feb 15th, 1863.

Dear Parents;

                            We received your letter of the 31st Jan. night before last, and I now try to answer.  You will be glad to learn we have not moved any further since my last writing.  Our duties are guarding the R.R., the company being detailed every third day.  All is quiet and the camp has a settled aspect, no prospect of moving.  it is true the 12th has done a great deal of hard service, such as it was, and marched a great deal to little purpose, — we are properly named the “Marching 12th,” — but other Regts have done the same, since we came here, so there is not much else that any of the Regiments can claim for themselves as particularly or preeminently meritorious.  One has done as much as the other.  It requires the best of troops to guard R. Roads — the whole 4th Div is doing this kind of business.

I was deeply interested in your account of your conversation with J. Foster, touching the dealings of Providence with the nation.  I think as you do, and confess to having had my eyes opened to the Slavery question as I never had them opened before.  Truly “When God’s judgments are abroad in the land, men learn wisdom,”¹ Yes.  I believe this whole nation, North and South, are to learn this lesson.  God is forcing the nation to learn the lesson.  I believe He deals with nations as with individuals.  When a people become corrupt and sacrifice the principles of Justice and Right for base ends and refuse to listen to His councils, I believe He permits them to follow their own ways for a season, that they may see their folly from bitter experience, when they will be in a moral condition to receive His teachings.  They will then percieve [sic] the fitness of those teachings, as well as the wickedness of their ways, and they will then gladly learn the lesson of Wisdom, and when once learned, they will see that “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.”²  [paragraph break added]

I know you are deeply interested in the issues of this terrible war with Slavery, and I have long wished to send you something befitting that interest and valuable.  The opportunity has arrived.  I sent to Memphis by Dale [Wilber P. Dale], for a book called The Slave Power,³ which I shall send you as a present in a few weeks.  It is a very late publication.  The Author is an Englishman but there is nothing objectionable in that, for he is an impartial and sound writer.  He treats of the “character, career & probably designs of the Slave power” & explains the real issues involved in the war.  If it is not just the thing you want, I mistake.  If the reading of it gives you any pleasure and satisfaction I shall consider the expense investment a good one.  I would rather pay out money for a good book than for a pit pipe or some other nuisance.  I know some in the Co. who have paid from $1.50 to $15.00 for pipes.  Our sutler is about played out, — charges too much & the boys won’t buy.  Dale has over $100. worth of stuff which he is selling to the Regt with bi profits.  Soldiers will lug most any thing, will have things to make them comfortable & extravagances are not unusual.  [paragraph break added]

We go on guard to-morrow.  I must stop.  Kelsy [sic: Wallace Kelsey] sends you his respects.  Write us soon & let us [know] if you have got that money yet.

Yours affectionatly [sic]
Edwin

1.  The actual quotation is “When God’s judgments are in the earth, men learn wisdom.” It is from a sermon entitled “The Fear of the World Exemplified in Pontius Pilate: Before Her Majesty’s Judges of the Salop Summer Assize, 1849,” by Benjamin Hall Kennedy.
2.  From the Bible, the book of Proverbs, chapter 3, verse 17.
3.  The Slave Power: Its Character, Career, and Probable Designs; Being an Attempt to Explain the Real Issues Involved in the American Contest, by John Elliott Cairnes.  Cairnes (1823-1875) was an Irish economist. The first American edition was published in 1862 and is available on the University of Michigan’s Making of America website. The 2nd edition (1863) is available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
The University of Wisconsin-River Falls Chalmer Davee Library has two paper copies: a 1968 edition published by A.M. Kelley (E 458.2 .C334) and a 1969 edition published by Negro Universities Press (E 458.2 .C333).

Edwin Levings letter of February 15, 1863, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Edwin Levings letter of February 15, 1863, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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