How to Live and Die as a Southern Gentleman and Soldier

Instructions and orders given to Private Thomas D. Oliver, Lucas’s Battery, Missouri State Guard, before his Confederate service and up through his death at Corinth in June 1862.

The selection of your hat depends on what you wear, where you are from, and the occasion for which you are selecting it. To understand, consider the cases of women. We are all aware of the value of a costume, such as the dress of the Pompadour era: the Swiss peasant’s bodice, the Normandy cap, the faldetta of the Maltese, the Hungarian national dress, the early English, the Puritan square-cut, the Spanish mantilla, the Roman scarf and white cap—all these come before us; and as we mention each characteristic garment there steps out on the canvas of memory a neat little figure, in which every detail from shoe to head-dress is harmonious.

No one in his wildest dreams, however, could set out with the picture of a marquise, and top it off with a Normandy cap. Nor could he put powder on the dark hair of the jaunty little Hungarian. The beauty of these costumes is seen in each as a whole, and not in the parts separately. The hats of men are not so diverse in appearance, size, or shape, but attention to the hat and its appropriate fit with clothing is essential. We ought not see the man dressed for the theatre adorned with the head covering of the cowboy. Nor should one wear a top hat when the derby will do.

Wear your hat in the streets and in other outdoor places, like a steamboat deck. Raise your hat to a lady and as the hearse passes in a funeral procession.

When you make an invitation list to a large social gathering, include those in mourning. Naturally, you would not disturb a mourning home within a month of the death, but thereafter, you should invite those in mourning even knowing that they will likely not accept. This is the grease of social machinery—it must be done. When you invite people to a party, send the invitations by post. There is no advantage to sending them in the dirty fingers of your servants, and they are more likely to be read when sent by post. When you make small talk at a party, do not say anything that may cause offense; in particular, avoid politics, religion, and the stock market. You may speak of art or literature, but if you are not expert, do not assert your opinions—you become a bore. For example, if you wish to speak on music, you might ask, “What do you think of Handel?” as opposed to saying, “I prefer Handel to Beethoven for the following reasons.” Let your opinion come later.

When you become ill and your friends leave messages of sympathy and support, send a thank you or courtesy card. If you are too ill to handle much of the labor, write the cards, but have your servants seal and address them. Upon the death of a family member, it is unnecessary to send cards or announcements, as the English do. This ghoulish tradition need not be followed since the newspapers carry the announcements.

All cards should be plain. Wedding cards should be as unostentatious as possible.

The ceremony of paying visits and of leaving cards has been decided by the satirist as meaningless, stupid, and useless, but it underlies the very structure of society. Visits of form, visits of ceremony, are absolutely necessary. You can hardly invite people to your house until you have called and have left a card. And thus one has a safeguard against intrusive and undesirable acquaintances. To stop an acquaintance, one has but to stop leaving cards. It is thus done quietly but securely.

Gentlemen who have no time to call should be represented by their cards. These may well be trusted to the hands of wife, mother, daughter, sister, but should be punctiliously left.

Marry a woman who can train a household of servants. If you have the money, a well-appointed house should include a butler and two footmen. The footmen should not wear mustaches.

A widower mourns for his wife for a period of three months; for any of his children, a period of one month. When the master of the house dies, the servants are also put into mourning.

The wealthy and those aspiring to be so opt against ostentatious displays of mourning. If our richest citizen were to die tomorrow, he would probably be buried plainly. Yet it is touching to see with what fidelity the poorest creature tries to “bury her dead dacent.” The destitute Irish woman begs for a few dollars for this sacred duty, and seldom in vain. It is a duty for the rich to put down ostentation in funerals, for it is an expense which comes heavily on those who have poverty added to grief.

When you dress a man for burial, use the clothes of his “habit as he lived.” Women should dress deceased women, and the choices of a white robe and cap are always defensible. Likewise, for youth and children, white cashmere robes are excellent choices. As for flowers, overstated displays are obscene. A few flowers placed in the dead hand, perhaps a simple wreath, but not those unmeaning memorials which have become to real mourners such sad perversities of good taste, such a misuse of flowers. Let those who can afford to send such things devote the money to the use of poor mothers who cannot afford to buy a coffin for a dead child or a coat for a living one.

All friends and social acquaintance of the deceased should leave a card within one month of the passing. Receivers of the cards must keep them so that they may acknowledge the senders after the mourning period.

The underpinning structure of society is upheld by all at their several stations performing their appointed functions in humility and without complaint or expectation of reward. Hence, the danger of the Yankee vandal, of the radical Abolitionist, is that he will upset the structure. He incites within the mind of the servant the thoughts that had never before been considered—that of rebellion, which naturally leads to murder, rapine, and other degradations of society. Where the unlearned black has been content to be housed, clothed, fed, and provided meaningful labor in the presence of learned and refined beings, the Abolitionist would induce ingratitude, rebellion, displacement of time-honored custom, savagery, and ultimately the destruction of society.

Hence, it is well within the expectations of society that the Southern man should stand in defense of his home and hearth. Such men, such volunteers, shall furnish their own clothes, and if mounted men, their own horses and horse equipments, and their arms shall be provided by the States from which they come or by the Confederate States of America. All volunteers, when called into actual service, and while remaining therein, shall be subject to the rules and articles of war, and instead of articles of clothing, every non-commissioned officer and private in any company, shall be entitled, when called into service, in money, to a sum equal to the cost of clothing of a non-commissioned officer or private in the army of the Confederate States of America.

Each enlisted man of the Confederate army shall receive one ration per day, and a yearly allowance of clothing.

Every officer, non-commissioned officer, musician and private shall take and subscribe to the following oath and affirmation: “I, —-, do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be), that while I continue in the service, I will bear true faith and yield obedience to the Confederate States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against their enemies, and that I will observe and obey the orders of the President of the Confederate States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me according to the rules and articles of war.”

Any officer found drunk shall be cashiered. Any non-commissioned officer or private found drunk shall suffer physical punishment as dictated by a military court martial. Any sentinel found sleeping at his post or found to have vacated his post without permission shall be executed according to military law or suffer punishment as a court martial shall see fit.

There are three kinds of command. The command of caution, which is attention. The preparatory command, which indicates the movement which is to be executed. The command of execution, such as march or halt, or, in the manual of arms, the part of command which causes an execution. Principles of the direct step are as follows:

The length of the direct step, or pace in common time, will be twenty-eight inches, reckoning from heel to heel, and, in swiftness, at the rate of ninety in a minute. At the first command, the recruit will throw the weight of the body on the right leg, without bending the left knee. At the third command, he will smartly, but without a jerk, carry straight forward the left foot twenty-eight inches from the right, the sole near the ground, the ham extended, the heel a little depressed, and, as also the knee slightly turned out—he will, at the same time, throw the weight of the body forward, and plant flat the left foot, without
shock, precisely at the distance ‘where it finds itself from the right when the weight of the body is brought forward, the whole of which will now rest on the advanced foot. The recruit will next, in like manner, advance the right foot and plant it as above; the heel twenty-eight inches from the heel of the left foot, and thus continue to march without
crossing the legs, or striking the one against the other, without turning the shoulders and preserving always the face direct to the front.

When you have properly loaded your weapon and are prepared to fire, take the following steps.

Raise the piece with both hands, and support the butt against the right shoulder; the left elbow down, the right as high as the shoulder; incline the head upon the butt, so that the right eye may perceive quickly the notch of the hausse, the front sight, and the object aimed at; the left eye closed, the right thumb extended along the stock, the fore-finger on the trigger.

When recruits are formed in two ranks to execute the firings, the front rank men will raise a little less the right elbow, in order to facilitate the aim of the rear rank men.

The rear rank men, in aiming, will each carry the right foot about ten inches to the right, and towards the left heel of the man next on the right, inclining the upper part of the body forward.


One time and one motion. Press the fore-finger against the trigger, fire, without lowering or turning the head, and remain in this position.

If the man beside you is hit, do not stop firing to tend to him. Wounded men are responsible for getting themselves to the rear and should not take more guns out of commission while doing so. The wounded who cannot remove themselves will be tended to by stretcher bearers.

If you die on the field and the Union carries the day, they will bury you in a mass grave. It is advised that you make your peace with God ahead of any fighting. If you die on the field and God has blessed our army with victory, you will be buried by a Southern man. All efforts will be made to identify you and mark your grave so that family members may retrieve your body, if they so desire. Be advised that wooden headboards deteriorate quickly in heat and humidity, and within a few months, your grave may be as though it were never marked. This is regrettable but cannot entirely be prevented.

If you are wounded, go to the aid station—it is usually one hundred to three hundred yards behind the firing line and wherever shelter from fire can be obtained. A nurse or doctor will determine whether you should return to the line or continue to the field hospital.

Superficial wounds will be bandaged and you will return to the line. It need not be emphasized further that our adversary fights for our subjugation while we fight for our liberty, our homes and hearths, and the very basis of our society. The true Southern man and warrior will seek always to return to the line until the objectives are won.

If you are not in offensive or defensive formation during an artillery attack, do not linger close to other men—an exploding shell can wipe out more than one man.

If you have suffered a broken limb, you will most likely require amputation. You will be directed to the field hospital, about a mile to the rear, where your case will be tended to in order of severity. If you have been shot in the torso, especially among the vital organs, you will not receive care beyond whiskey or laudanum to keep you comfortable until your death.

In the event that you are behind our lines, socializing with other men, and hit with several others during an artillery attack during a siege bombardment, report to the nearest hospital. Before the surgery to remove your foot, breathe deeply from the mask placed over you—it is full of chloroform to make you senseless.

The removal of your foot will put you on crutches. Move to the open air as much as you can—this facilitates healing and lowers the chance of disease. Eat the broth, coffee, and bread that the nurses bring you daily. It will not do to forego meals—you require sustenance to give your body a chance.

All soldiers should keep on their persons such letters and mementos as are deemed necessary to supply your family in the event of your death for the cause. Your commanding officer is responsible for collecting your personal belongings and forwarding those to the War Department so that your keepsakes may be returned to your family or designees. Should you have had your foot amputated and you suffer a fatal infection after your surgery, your effects will need to be handled by hospital staff or nurses inasmuch as your commanding officer has returned to the field.

If you die in hospital, you will be buried in a soldiers’ cemetery and your grave will be marked with a headboard in the event that your family is able to come for your body. Cautions about the durability of headboards noted earlier apply in this case as well.

Prior to your death, a nurse may carry your last letters and will to the post to send to your family. If you do not know how to write, a nurse may take a dictation. Your family will find great peace in knowing that you suffered a good death. That is, it is incumbent upon you to endure your sufferings well, to ascribe honor to God for your blessings and to accept His will concerning your fate, to make peace with Him for any lingering sins or hatred in your heart, and to convey to your family any final thoughts that may be of use. Inasmuch as you cannot know the hour of your death nor predict whether your amputation will lead to it, it is best that you practice these disciplines during the entirety of your recovery. In doing so, you will do a great service to your family in ameliorating the sadness of your death—they may acknowledge the will of God, your bravery in the face of the enemy, your acceptance of God’s will in the face of your wounding, and the glory of dying for a just cause.


Sections of this are drawn from Manners and Social Usages, by Mrs. John Sherwood, Harper and Brothers (1887); Acts and Resolutions of the First Provisional Congress of the Confederate States; and Hardee, Brig. Gen. WJ, Rifle and Infantry Tactics, 1862. Private Thomas D. Oliver was part of the Missouri Guard, which had been integrated into the Confederate army. In late May 1862, the Union besieged Corinth. Oliver was lounging with a friend when a Union shell exploded nearby. The resulting wound led to the amputation of his foot, while his friend suffered a debilitating puncture wound in his foot. When Confederate nurse Kate Cumming left the hospital in Corinth, Oliver was recovering from his amputation and improving. She later learned that he had taken ill and died. Oliver’s family were friends of Sterling Price, the former governor of Missouri.

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