A Confederate picket shouted to his
Union counterparts across the Rappahannock River, "Say, Yanks, there are some
fools shooting across the river up above, but
we won't shoot if you don't," Such unofficial
temporary truces were not uncommon during the Civil War. Despite the brutality of the
battlefield, many soldiers felt a certain brotherhood and respect for their enemies. They
endured the same long marches, foul weather, and homesickness. Thus, it was not surprising when soldiers, out on the picket line
for a week at a time and out of sight of highranking officers, sometimes established communications with opposing pickets.
Union soldiers always had an abundance
of coffee and sugar, while Confederate
soldiers lacked these supplies but had surplus tobacco. Thus, trades would be established. Newspapers were especially popular
to trade, as it was interesting to read the war
news from the enemy's standpoint.
Although the Rebs had little to trade except
tobacco, it was always in demand and could
be exchanged for nearly any Union item.
Once relations were established, it was a
point of honor that the trust not be
broken. Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon
tells the story of preparations for the surprise attack on Fort Stedman at Petersburg,
Va. During the night Confederate soldiers
had advanced into a cornfield between the
lines to clear obstructions when they heard
a Union picket call, "What are you doing
over there, Johnny? Answer quick, or I'll
shoot." A quick-thinking Rebel answered,
"Never mind, Yank! Lie down and go to
sleep. We are just gathering a little corn."
The preparations for the surprise assault
being completed, General Gordon ordered
that the signal gun be fired to start the
charge. The soldier raised his gun but hesitated to fire. His sense of honor and fair
play caused him to shout: "Hello, Yank!
Wake up. Look out, we are coming!" He
then fired the signal and the assault began.
Fascinating Fact: When stationed at Fredericks-
burg in the winter of 1862, pickets across the Rappa-
hannock River from each other made little sailboats
that they floated back and forth with items to trade.
Union pickets launch a shingle sailboat laden with coffee, while
Confederates wait to return the vessel with tobacco; courtesy
Library of Congress
Written by Stephen T. Foster Printed in USA
® MCMXCIII Atlas Editions, USA D3 602 01-11