Category Archives: Firebrand Letter

1861: Joseph Hiden to Angus Rucker Blakey

This December 1861 letter was written by 58 year-old Joseph Hiden (1803-1869)—a wealthy Orange County, Virginia, businessman, landowner, slave owner, and public official who was well connected politically as this letter demonstrates. Though prominent and influential, Hiden’s cantankerous nature was observed by others such as Philip B. Jones, Jr., aide-de-camp to General D. R. Jones who used Hiden’s house for his headquarters in 1862. In a letter dating from that time period, Philip wrote, “During our stay at Mr. Hiden’s, he treated General Jones with neither consideration or respect…As a citizen of Orange [county] I deem it my duty to say that Mr. Hiden has always been regarded as a very eccentric person.” How eccentric? Enough to write his friend in this letter, “I desire a good, long, bloody cruel war. Why? Because I know of nothing less that will make a gulf [sufficiently] wide, deep, and dark to save us from Yankee invasion and pollution.”

Hiden mentions in the opening paragraph of his letter a favor he has asked in regard to his son Philip Barbour Hiden (1842-1915), a 19 year-old private in the 13th Virginia Cavalry. The favor was probably a request to have his son dismissed from the service so that he could enter the Virginia Military Academy—a rather disingenuous request given his firebrand tirade in the balance of the latter. Philip was discharged from the service just two weeks after this letter was penned.

Joseph addressed his letter to Angus Rucker Blakey (1816-1896) of Madison county, Virginia. From Blakey’s “Confederate Application for Presidential Pardon” submitted after the war we learn that he was a representative from that county to the February 1861 convention that assembled in Richmond and voted for the Ordinance of Secession. He claimed that ill health kept him from military service during the war until 1864 when he was compelled to serve in the Reserves of Rockbridge county where he had relocated during the war. From Hiden’s letter we can also infer that Blakey represented Madison county in the Virginia legislature during the war and that Hiden felt no inhibition in sharing with Blakey his ideas for laws that would limit the future rights of any “Yankee” found living within the state’s borders and which he believed, if enacted would lead to the Southern Confederacy becoming “the greatest, freest, happiest, safest, most long-lived nation on the whole earth.”

The Cover of The Civil War Monitor, Spring 2016

Hiden’s letter is a classic illustration of the importance placed on shared enmities by the leaders of the Confederacy. In his book, “Damn Yankees: Demonization & Defiance in the Confederate South,” George Rable reveals the ways in which Confederates demonized their opponents. He shares his belief that this hatred of the Yankee was an important part of Confederate nationalism. In fact, the Confederate national vision was construed as “a quest for republican purity that sought to ‘quarantine the southern world from the plague of northern radicalism, infidelity, and abolitionism’. Similarly, Rable’s research on the religious history of the Civil War notes how southerners drew on civil religion to reaffirm their belief that they were fighting a just and righteous war…Hatred of the Yankee came to serve as an emotional and psychological crutch for some southerners. ‘To imagine that the dastardly enemy might ultimately triumph just did not fit in with pervasive ideas about virtuous Confederates who would eventually prevail over evil Yankees. Clear-eyed assessments of the Confederate military and political situation became difficult if not impossible when looking through the clouded lenses of sectional chauvinism and righteous anger.’” 

Click here to see an article on Joseph Hiden’s war-time home in Orange County, Virginia. Click here to see an article about a home Joseph Hiden built after the war.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Addressed to A. R. Blakey, Esqr., Virginia Convention, Richmond

Orange Court House
December 5, 1861

My Dear Sir,

Your very kind and most excellent letter reached me today for which please accept my sincere thanks. Anything you and our mutual friend Barbour may do in behalf of my soldier boy will be properly appreciated, whether we succeed in our application to the President or not.

But my dear sir, your letter in relation to the Yankee invasion which will certainly overrun and demoralize and ruin our good old commonwealth after this war shall terminate, has been read and reread with the greatest interest and satisfaction. No matter what may be the length of this invasion—what force the enemy may bring—what may be his hellish designs of murder, arson, theft, and every villainy and wickedness, from this invasion, we have but little to fear, compared with that invasion, which is certain to occur, as soon as peace is restored, unless we guard against it by every species of legislation that may be calculated to save our state from Yankee pollution. 50 or 75 years—the period you name when we might expect another secession movement from the Cotton states is, it seems to me, too remote. In every word of your most excellent letter I most cordially concur with this exception.

I have no shadow of doubt but that the hand of a just but angry God is upon our enemy & that our resistance will be crowned with full success [and] that we will, in God’s own good time, drive him from our borders and beat him into good behavior—so far as his corrupt nature is capable of good behavior; but I tremble for what I awfully fear will follow after peace shall come. Such is my dread of the consequences that are to be apprehended after the war that I instinctively dislike to think about peace, and wicked, silly, or whatever else it might be, I desire a good, long, bloody cruel war. Why? Because I know of nothing less that will make a gulf wide, deep, and dark to save us from Yankee invasion and pollution. I know of many good men, even now, that could not be trusted to make a treaty. Let salt and taxes get higher and peace will be in their eyes still more desirable. I hope you will do all you can—in season and out of season—to raise the purpose of our good citizens to proper legislation.

How much can Virginia do by state legislation? We have more to apprehend that any other state in the Confederacy. Our contiguity, water power, minerals, timber, &c., and above all the unsuspecting, forgiving temper of our people. I sometimes hear unguarded remarks from good people that are indeed truly alarming. One of high intelligence with an officer’s uniform on his precious person and a commission in his possession, said to me, “O, Mr Hiden, we shall never have such another government!” meaning such an one as the old United States. I have a settled purpose never to vote for any man for any office whom I suspect of any partiality for any of the whole Yankee tribe.

I would, if consistent with the Confederate Constitution, provide in our [State] Constitution and in our laws, that no Yankee should hold land within our borders, sit on a jury, give testimony in court as a matter of right, vote in an election, nor sue in our courts. This last—and no suffrage—I would most earnestly insist on. I have thought and prayed on this subject, tried to examine my poor, feeble, wicked heart—tried to understand my duty to my country’s enemy, and above you have the result.

Unless I am vastly deceived, a terrible future awaits the whole Yankee nation, and woe, woe to the bastard Southerner that now sides with the Yankee. It were better that Heaven’s lighting should blast him forever.

But my dear friend, let us turn from these sad thoughts and raise our souls in praise to a gracious Providence that we are cut loose from these people, that our good old Commonwealth is now in the Southern Confederacy, and if our people will be wise & humble themselves before God and seek light from the Father of Lights, all will be well. We shall be the greatest, freest, happiest, safest, most long-lived nation on the whole earth. And here, religion and piety and virtue, and the arts and sciences, and everything that makes a people truly great, will flourish and endure beyond anything that our earth has yet seen.

Please take a night with me on your return from Richmond. Truly yours, — Jos. Hiden