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Unofficial Truces




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