Wise's enthusiasm seemed boundless. He regained good health almost instantly. His age--he was approaching fifty-seven--mattered not. He bristled at the chance to confront his enemies and destroy them. This desire was behind his wild statements made to cheering crowds in Richmond that "it was not the improved arm, but the improved man" who would prevail. "Let brave men advance with flint locks and old-fashioned bayonets," he added, and they would see the Yankees run. "I rejoice in this war," he told another group of Richmonders who met to serenade President and Mrs. Davis early in June. "Who is there that now dares to put on sanctity to deprecate war, or the 'horrid glories of war?' None. Because it is a war of purification." 1 He returned promptly to Norfolk and assumed de facto command of the Confederate defenses.
But as always, memories and hopes shadowed him. Though its time had come, he hated the killing. Indeed, as far as I can determine, he never fired a shot. He experienced perpetual difficulty controlling his troops, brought kin together in his command to protect them, and acknowledged the collapse of slavery long before the war's end. Revolution nurtured some hopes but murdered others. Instead of preventing a fight, Virginia would now be the prize for contending armies. Thus he glanced over his shoulder even while embracing his own movement. On the evening of Virginia's secession, he told the Spontaneous People's Convention that its mode of redressing Virginia's grievances gnawed at him because he still "preferred fighting-in-the-Union." 2
With the political structures that had so long restricted his alternatives momentarily fractured, his passion and excitement seemed transcendent. But this sense of freedom soon proved illusory. He would, after all, meet an "ordeal." 3 The compromises required by secession left little room for the expansive feelings of generosity that Wise cherished. Instead, a new and freshly enameled gloss of frustration added darker luster to Wise's fury and made the spring of 1861 a catharsis of hatred. Few fought harder