LETTER FROM JAMES BOLINGER DURING THE CIVIL WAR
Most of Reverend Abraham Norfleet's personal papers were destroyed in 1864, when his house was broken into by Confederate raiders serving under General Price. This is most unfortunate, as I believe that his correspondence would have been of some historical value. To the best of my knowledge, only one letter from his personal papers has survived. It was found among the papers of his eldest son, John W. Norfleet (1833-1922), of High Point, Missouri. The letter was written during the Civil War to Reverend Norfleet by a certain James Bolinger, who was a medical doctor living in Etterville, Missouri.
Bolinger appears to be a relative, probably by marriage, to the Norfleets. He makes mention of “Uncle Ivy Norfleet,” an older brother of Abraham who had a farm in the Hickory Hill area. Also, Bolinger refers to Abraham as “Uncle Abram” and to Abraham’s wife as “Aunt Margaret.”
Dr. Bolinger’s writing style is a bit flowery, but he does express his views regarding the effect of the Civil War with both fervor and eloquence. Until the events of 11 September 2001, the last time Americans found an enemy on our very doorstep was during the Civil War of 1861-1865. Accordingly, I find Bolinger’s concerns to be somewhat relevant and applicable to our current situation here in the United States. [These words are being written in December 2001.]
A transcription of the Bolinger's letter is as follows:
Etterville, Missouri, June 18th 1863
To: Rev. A. Norfleet
My old friend,
Although it has been a great while since I have attempted an epistolary correspondence with you, it gives me no small degree of satisfaction to know that we are not yet quite deprived of this boon so long cherished by the American people. But we may not be at all surprised to find our liberties even in this respect forbidden. If we will take the trouble to cast our reflections back upon the history of ancient and modern wars, we may easily draw a picture of the ultimate result of our own country. We boast of having been rocked in the cradle of freedom. The great trouble is – we have been allowed too much freedom for our future good. The time of our boasting is over. We must expect forever after this, to find our liberties restricted, our cheerful homes turned into mourning, our ears strained by the roar of artillery and our eyes dazzled by the display of glittering steel. It does not require the genius of a Solon or a Lycurgus to foresee all this. The moral and political condition of our country having become so corrupt, it seems that it has become necessary to throw the whole thing into … , and set it up more permanently. A certain degree of freedom is all that mankind can rightly appreciate, above this they murmur, each one striving for the mastery, and at length their liberties are swept away by their own foul hands. The Israelites could not be satisfied under the wholesome administration of the great lawgiver, Samuel, and would not be satisfied until they had thrown their necks into the yoke of tyranny, and thus doomed through succeeding generations. This is our present condition. I am preparing for the change.
God in his wrath has visited us, and I wonder that he has borne with us so long. I believe it is the settled policy of the Government to wipe out slavery, but I do not think it is altogether God’s work. I believe the enslavement of any human beings, as a race, is a stench in the nostrils of the Great Creator of man. Temporary slavery for crime or indebtedness is no doubt right. But to make property of a human being and drive him at your will, and thus hold him in servitude to the same forever, … is flying into the face of reason, and fraught with the most dangerous consequences morally and politically. No wonder the just retribution of God is upon us. The Southern leaders pretend to say it was not for fear of slave interest that brought about the rebellion. But no one says so but he whose ambition leads to tyranny over all races, white as well as black. I do not believe the Administration had an eye to the abolition of slavery in the beginning of this war. But the rebellion has waxed so strong, that it is through strictly military necessity [that] the Negro has to be meddled with. I feel a deep interest in the restoration of the government; but in doing so it will doubtless shake the United States to its very center, and more or less jostle the interest of every civil government on the face of the Earth. But as I said before, I am prepared for it; and right here I will drop this part of the subject and say, that I am willing to submit to the decree of God, coming in what shape it may, believing that God, through the instrumentality of Jesus Christ, is the savior of the world.
You know, Uncle Abram, I stood out a long time, by action if not in word, proving my unbelief in the existence of Jesus Christ. But while my doubts were rife in regard to the reality of Christ’s advent into the world, I never had any doubt as to a great supreme power. And when contemplating the grandeur and magnificence of the works of God, the millions of worlds of far greater magnitude than our own Earth, launched into empty space from the arm of this great architect, wheeling with the velocity of lightning, on and on for thousands of years without the slightest variation save that designed by the creator. The revolution of our own Earth on its axis which gives us day for work and night for rest, its variation north and south which gives the four seasons of the year, so essential to our physical nature. When I contemplate the superiority of man; his wisdom and genius compared to that of all other animated nature; his ability to traverse the great ocean and descend into its briny depths, and there subsist; to ascend into ethereal space, far beyond the reach of vision and descend at pleasure. By his ingenuity construct means by which to hold conversation, as it were, thousands of miles apart. Can calculate the magnitude and distance of the heavenly bodies from our own Earth. And when I compare the wisdom and genius of the most illiterate specimen in human form with that of the lower order animals, I find the one susceptible of the highest literary attainments, while the other is doomed to that groveling instinctive habit, as found in their primeval state. Now must this great intellect lie down and die with the brute, and there remain in deadly chaos forever after?
All these [things] my mind has been ruminating upon for several months, which has fully convinced me that there is a God. And why a God without reverence to that God by the intellectual part of creation? And why reverence to the great Deity without hope of compensation in the future for our fidelity to this great power? Suffice it to say that I have the witness in me proving that I am, etc. … …
My family are in the enjoyment of reasonable health and spirit, considering the great hurly burly and bustle of the country. My practice continues to increase; I have no fear but I will command a lucrative employment as long as I am able to attend the business. Our part of the country is complacently healthy and but little to do in my line. We have a cavalry company stationed here, from the border of Iowa. I was called in to act as surgeon during their stay here. I accepted, of course, as it is profitable. But here comes a messenger. I must stop writing. I hope to hear from you soon. Give my kindest regards to Aunt Margaret, Eliza and the boys. My wife and George Jains.
With high esteem I remain your obedient servant and friend,
/Signed/ James Bolinger
P. S. Will you please see Uncle Ivy Norfleet and ask him if he has received a letter from me, enclosing a note against the estate of John Granstaffs. I sent it to him some time ago – to be forwarded to the probate court for allowance. When you write, please let me know if the letter reached him in safety.