The following anecdote is my favorite from Force Without Fanfare, the thin autobiography of a man who cut a wide swath in Fort Worth history: Khleber Miller Van Zandt (1836-1930).
Van Zandt fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Years later, he wrote, he and a man named “Walter Decker” became friends in Fort Worth, although Van Zandt did not know Decker’s background. One day, Van Zandt wrote, Decker came up to him and began shaking his hand. “I just learned you and I were in the army together,” Decker said with great excitement.
“What company did you belong to?” Van Zandt asked.
Decker answered with a question: “Were you the captain of the 7th Texas Regiment?”
“Well, I was in the 7th Illinois.”
Thus, by “you and I were in the army together” Decker meant “you and I were in the same war but on different sides.”
During the week of February 11-16, 1862, the Confederacy’s 7th Texas and the Union’s 7th Illinois had fought each other at the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee. More than eight hundred soldiers were killed in the Union victory. (Kurz and Allison lithograph Battle of Fort Donelson from Wikipedia.)
These are Van Zandt’s muster roll index card and Decker’s listing on the 1890 census veterans schedule. Decker spent four years and seven months in the Union army.
Van Zandt recalled of his conversation with Decker: “There we were, two surviving members of opposing armies, the best of friends and as ready to stand up for one another as if we had fought side by side.”
In fact, Van Zandt wrote, some time later Decker was preparing to return to Illinois for a visit and asked Van Zandt to write him a letter of recommendation “saying I am a good citizen.”
Van Zandt readily consented but pointed out to Decker that no one back in Illinois would know who Van Zandt was.
Decker’s reply to his former “enemy” reminds us that, as wars go, the War Between the States was especially perverse—it was an uncivil war fought by innately civil people who otherwise respected each other:
“Write it [the letter of recommendation] to my old commander,” Decker told Van Zandt. “I will tell him you belonged to the 7th Texas Regiment, and he will know who you are. Everybody there knows about and respects the 7th Texas.”
Tomorrow: On This Date in History: Reach for the Sky