Unrecognized Irony

Monday, February 19, 2018

Does irony count as irony when it isn’t intentional? What about a description of the “tyranny” imposed on the South by the North that sounds exactly like the bondage imposed by Southerners on their slaves?

I’m reading The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman by Sarah Morgan, which is research for a book about the Siege of Vicksburg. Sarah Morgan lived at Baton Rouge, not Vicksburg, but her thoughts and experiences provide insight into how a Southern female from that time viewed her society and the events happening around her.

Sarah’s diary abounds with intentional sarcasm, but she doesn’t seem to see the irony in her cry against the North. Here are some passages she wrote after Union forces occupied Baton Rouge.

June 1, 1862

A gentleman tells me that no one is permitted to leave without a pass, and of these, only such as are separated from their families who may have left before. All families are prohibited to leave, and furniture, and other valuables also. Here is an agreeable arrangement! I saw the “pass” just such as we give our negroes, signed by a Wisconsin Colonel. Think of being obliged to ask permission from some low ploughman, to go in and out of our own homes!

June 29, 1862

We all feel so helpless, so powerless under the hand of our tyrant [Lincoln], the man who swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws, who is professedly only fighting to give us all Liberty, the birthright of every American, and who, neverless has ground us down to a state where we would not reduce our negroes, who tortures and sneers at us, and rules us with iron hand! Ah Liberty! what a humbug!

I would rather belong to England or France, than to the North! Bondage, woman that I am, I can never stand! Even now, the northern papers distributed among us, taunt us with our subjection, and tell us “how coolly Butler will grind them down, paying no regard to their writhing and torture beyond tightening the bands still more!” Ah truly! this is the bitterness of slavery, to be insulted and reviled by cowards who are safe at home, and enjoy the protection of the laws, while we, captive and overpowered, dare not raise our voices to throw back the insult, and are governed by the despotism of one man, whose word is our law!

I would like to think that I would never condone slavery or see life the way Sarah did, even if I was raised in her time and place. But that’s too self-righteous. None of us really knows how we would react to a situation until we are in it.

Still, I hope I recognize the irony in my writing.


The photo at the head of this page is in the public domain because of its age.

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