Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917
By Leigh Robinson
Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.
Governor Stuart, Secretary Ingraham, and Fellow Soldiers:
At the centennial commemoration of the birth of Robert E. Lee, held in the city of Washington, in January, 1907, among the speakers was Mr. Justice Brewer, of the United States Supreme Court, who, in opening, said: "I vividly recall the pang I felt when there was brought to my house the body of an idolized brother, slain in battle with the army of Northern Virginia. At that moment I would have executed sentence of death with my own hand on General Lee. And yet," the distinguished Justice added, "I am here tonight, and willingly here, to add my leaf to the immortal wreath which time is fashioning for the brow of Lee."
The tribute is a forceful one to the still invincibility of truth. Time, the Edax rerum of the Roman bard, whose beak devours all to which flesh is heir, in effacing what obscures, releases what is imperishable; the spirit which triumphs over time. In time is fashioned the immortal wreath, yet not by time servers, not by the policies of potentates, not by the genius of servilities; but by a spirit of power transcending man's, which man is powerless to resist, year by year, takes shape more clearly the invincible impress.
It is my cherished faith that what is true of Lee is true of the cause we served, which pierced with wounds for us is sacred; and crowned with thorns for us is holy. The glowing pieties which laid down lives, laid down fortunes, laid down all save sacred honor, will grow as time grows. The story of our arms is safe. Military schools abroad impart to their pupils for their guidance the valiant passions of our comrades and their captains. Our adversaries are willing to concede the prowess which gives point to their own. There is no need to defend the unassailed--still less the unassailable.
There is a voice which says: All this heroism was "ghastly error ;" heroism for a cause which was intrinsically false-- false to the rights of man. They who so speak think all too lightly of a cause hallowed by such sacrifice. In memorials, like the present, is felt the refutation of the charge. There are things too high, too deep, too appealing to the genuine grace of sympathy, for memory to be other than a shrine. Better proof could not be offered of the truth of a cause, than the truth to it before our eyes today. There is in constancy to conviction a dignity it is instinctive to respect. Heroic fight for this is grandeur. That goes straight to the heart which springs profoundly from it.
To mingle with triumphal marches for shares in the triumph; to shout hosannas to success, and bow down to the idols it sets up, is no novelty on earth. Evil does not cease to be evil, because we follow a multitude to do it. Prostration before power is familiar; it is ancient, it is oriental. It is prostration before the material. But when we assemble to commemorate catastrophe; to honor a valor only rewarded by its wounds, a sacrifice whose only witness is its cross, a phenomenon is witnessed, not to be explained by pride, vainglory or hypocrisy. This is homage to the Spirit. What, then, was that to which the South gave her unfeigned heart? What was and is the truth to which that heart indomitably clings? What the meaning of this constancy?
We lose sight of the deeper import of the War between the States, when we shut our eyes to the fact that it was a strife between ideals facing in opposite directions: "They chose new gods," shouted Deborah, "then was there war in the gates." The attitude of the South, in this divergence: may be stated in the terms of one who in his day was popular idol of the North. In his book, "Twenty Years in Congress," James G. Blaine wrote these words:
"The Southern leaders occupied a commanding position. Those leaders constituted a remarkable body of men. Having before them the example of Jefferson, of Madison and of George Mason in Virginia; of Nathaniel Macon in North Carolina, they gave deep study to the science of government. They were admirably trained as debaters, and they became highly skilled in the management of parliamentary bodies. As a rule, they were highly educated; some of them graduates of Northern colleges; a still larger number taking their degrees at Transylvania in Kentucky, at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, and at Mr. Jefferson's peculiar, but admirable, institution in Virginia. Their secluded modes of life on the plantation gave them leisure for reading and reflection. They took pride in their libraries, pursued the law so far as it increased their equipment for a public career, and devoted themselves to political affairs with an absorbing ambition. Their domestic relations imparted manners that were haughty and sometimes offensive; they were quick to take affront, and they not infrequently brought personal disputation into the discussion of public questions; but they were almost without exception men of high integrity, and they were especially and jealously careful of the public money. Too often ruinously lavish in their personal expenditures, they believed in an economical government, and throughout the long period of their domination, they guarded the Treasury with rigid and unceasing vigilance against every attempt at extravagance, and against every form of corruption."
Civil liberty is the fruit of moral victory over selfish appetite. The antithesis of high and low is between them who sacrifice themselves for others, and those who sacrifice others for themselves. When the spirit of unselfish duty and sacrifice therefor speaks with authority from the summit of the State, exists the Commonwealth. The prolonged "domination" unfolded by this citation is that of prolonged fidelity to trust in the main at a pecuniary sacrifice. There is unfolded a glimpse of leaders who aimed to be sponsors of principles which would deserve, and by deserving win, sympathy and conviction; who aimed to prevail by persuasion not by force; least of all by the force we name corruption. Not a few of these leaders might have said with Caius Gracchus: "We went into office with full hands, and returned with empty ones." Their poverty was noble, for it was the poverty of principle. Self-dedication to common weal--the divine economy of noblesse oblige--is that which at the inmost core holds a human world together. Throughout a long "domination," Blaine being judge, the trumpet gave no uncertain sound. Trust had not been violated. The great government is that which in the true sense of a fine word is a trust. Out of the struggle to establish justice; to thwart the innate selfishness, at cross-purposes therewith, is achieved freedom. The domination described by Blaine is one of which it were safer for communities to have too much rather than too little. The strength of mutual service is the triumph of free government.
Blaine does not stand alone. On May 5, 1868, Hon. James G. Garfield said in the House: "In April, 1861, there began in this country an industrial revolution not yet completed. The year 1860 was one of remarkable prosperity in all branches. For seventy years no federal tax gatherer had been among the laboring population of the United States. Our merchant marine, engaged in foreign trade, promised soon to rival the immense carrying trade of England." In November, 1877, the same member said: "I suppose it will be admitted on all hands that 1860 was a year of unusual business prosperity. It was a time when the bounties of Providence were scattered with a liberal hand on the face of our republic. It was a time when all classes of our community were well and profitably employed." Again, on March 6, 1878: "The fact is, Mr. Chairman, the decade from 1850 to 1860 was one of peace and general prosperity."
The word of nature is cooperation. As the royal Stoic affirmed: "We are made for cooperation." The matter for world decision is: shall it be cooperation in name merely, or in truth; honest or dishonest? Wealth of every kind, growth of every kind, is child of cooperation. Honest, noble cooperation creates the power that knows how to give stability to weakness; how to give itself for others, and by this glorious gift to build up and to bless; in this is root and essence of that we rightfully name greatness. Such cooperation reveals the supremacy of man's higher nature. In such noble presence of man's spirit, man's government puts on a likeness of the divine. Then, not without fitness, may be said: "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men." Unselfish force is freedom, is truth and the truth of freedom. Slavery to self is that which denies the truth of freedom and all other truth.
It is because this moral domination over selfish aggression is the vital air of freedom, that freedom is so rare, so difficult, so transitory; the ever disappointed dream; the Paradise Lost as often as Regained; reared out of ruin to be reared and ruined anew. Satan has been called the hero of the Miltonic Paradise Lost. Of each subsequent Lost Paradise, this brilliant angel has been popular hero. From the beginning the Snake of Self has been the garden Snake. The conflict of liberty may be spoken of as that between the false gods and the true; or between the divine dignity of justice and the self-will of self-love. The upward road is not the easy road.
The strength of corrupt empire confides in the directness of the appeal to the corrupt affections; yet this empire again and again has had cause to be abashed by reiterated proof that the worship of material things ends in being the slave of lusts from which success has torn the bridle; Finally, as in the sty of Circe, has followed reversion unto brute, fulfilling the sentence on the successful snake: "On thy belly thou shalt go." This is the pathos and parable of Babel; bound up with faith in the show of things, with material satisfactions, with selfish pride, with faith in power to climb to heaven on the top of brick and mortar--faith in a radiance cold as that of the icicle, and which like the icicle melts in the ray which causes it to glitter. The confusions of self confounded the vainglory.
The force to countervail inherent animal selfishness is that hatred of injustice, which also is inherent, when the injustice is not our own. The instinct of justice, thus so often at variance with what seems expedient, faith interprets to be one with it; a heaven-taught expedience derived from the pang of heaven-sent experience. The fight of life is to be safeguarded from the selfishness of others, and our own--the latter the more deadly of the two. The fatal idolatry, as it ever was, is still--the deification of self.
If, then, it be said: The ideal republic would seem to exact an ideal citizenship for administration; and this is not by statutes, nor by constitutions, to be created; yet the book which closed in 1861 was open long enough to illustrate, at the parting of the ways, a decent approximation to the excellence of high aims. Our citations give to us the glimpse of a power of justice which was barrier to the injustices of power; a love of liberty without dissimulation; a dignity which had been sought and found in governing greatly a great people, and not in plundering greatly a plundered people. The compact of union had been interpreted in terms of upright force at war with selfish force. The tradition of public justice had been translated into public life. This moral vigor, this clean administration, this face of flint against corruption, this marriage of right and duty, is that on which free government depends. We are given the picture of Paladins, who fought, as under a spiritual banner, for the faith to which their federal vows were plighted, and against what was inimical to this, as against disloyalty, infidelity, essential treason. Until material force tore the ensigns of power from them, the sophistries to entice from honest government had not prevailed; moral force withstood selfish force. It is a solecism to speak of that community as free which can be correctly described as "corrupt and contented:" The true "irrepressible conflict" is between the servants and the spoilers of the State; between government as a trust, and government as a spoil. In union there is strength--strength to exalt by unselfish; strength to degrade by selfish union.
A "domination" which upheld the banner of honor in public life might file strong claims to honor. A leadership and following attested and authenticated by such admissions might be thought to have deserved Roman triumph, rather than Roman crucifixion. If the leaders and followers described by Blaine were devoid of "moral ideas," devoid of "higher law," at least they governed the country with a high honor, which their successors have not been impetuous to excel. The burden should rest on them, whose prowess it has been to lay low in the dust this "domination," to show, at proceeding from their own, something higher to replace it some truer liberty, some finer justice, some nobler honesty The "protection" demanded by these leaders and their followers was protection against maladministration." In measure had been bound the Old Serpent of Self. If leader ship fell from them, it was not because they fattened classes by spoilation of masses. They who bend their energies to repel corruption invite animosity from them who profit by it.
The illustrious Hellenist, Dr. Basil Glidersleeve, is reported to have said to his students that the War between the States was fought over a question of grammar to settle, whether "the United States is" or "the United States are." He is reported to have given the correct grammar to be "the United States are." Our revered scholar is in this, as might be expected of him in any matter of scholarship, correct.(**)
"No man can serve two masters." "We," said the South, will cleave to the States, the original creative power." "We," said the North, "will cleave to the Union, the derivative power." Which is ultimate--creature or creator?
A French epigram, with a dash of cynicism, imparts the admonition: "Truth does not so much good in the world as its appearances do evil." To every height to which man climbs, ascends from the abyss a whisper--so often the alluring whisper, "Cast thyself downward." The lure to betray the real for the apparent; the lasting for the transient, is subtler than all the beasts of the field. It is Satan's sophism. The arch enemy is never so dangerous as when transformed by his own rhetoric into an angel of light. This is the arraignment of them who lost! A recreancy to the rights of man.
The right of man, whatever be intended by the phrase, did not, like the breadfruit tree of the tropics, spring into spontaneous activity. The one inalienable right of man is the right to justice. The duty of justice is correlative. It is justice, Plutarch assures us, "which makes the life of such as practice it the life of a god, as opposed to that injustice which turns it to that of beast." Right in ourselves without duty from ourselves is the sham sceptre. The price of man's right for himself is the discharge of man's duty to others. Our duties to others, our duties to ourselves, named our self
(**) Section 3d of the Third Article of the Constitution provides: "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them or in adhering to their enemies." On December 1, 1789, a letter of Washington to the Emperor of Morocco begins:
"Great and Magnanimous Friend: Since the date of the last letter, which the late Congress, by their President, addressed to your Imperial Majesty, the United States of America have thought proper to change their government."
More lately, Mr. Olney, in a proclamation of neutrality, referred to Spain as a power "with which the United States are, and desire to remain, on terms of peace and amity." "The founder of our federate republic" is the title bestowed on Washington by Light Horse Harry in the funeral oration he was appointed by the two Houses of Congress to deliver.
respect, it is not ours to relinquish. Rights without duties reign by the sword. The duties of the social organism are debts of obligation. We must discharge them, or be defaulters. This debt of life is a debt of nature. The right does not exist to escape duty, trial, responsibility. The right to shirk is not one of the rights of man. As is the duty we have done, so is our strength, so is our day. It is duty which immortalizes itself. A few words, then, seem called for as to alleged apostasy to the rights of man by the Commonwealth, for which it is my honor to speak today.
Few things could be more sardonic than the crucifixion of Virginia by New England, with the approbation of Old England, for the sin of slavery.
Prior to the Revolution, some twenty-three ordinances, in the form of statutes, for the prohibition of the slave trade, were passed by the House of Burgesses of Virginia; each in turn negatived by Britain's monarch. On October 5, 1778, Virginia, in the exercise of her independent sovereignty, passed an act prohibiting the importation of any slave into the Commonwealth; Virginia was the one sovereignty which in the eighteenth century enacted opposition to the slave trade. Twenty-nine years before England, twenty-nine years before the United States prohibited the slave trade, Virginia placed her abhorrence of it on the statute book. This law was in effect annulled by the demand of a solid New England, in the convention of 1787, of the right to continue that trade for twenty years, as condition precedent to union. The right was demanded to import slaves to Virginia against the will of Virginia. Nor was this all. The power of amendment incorporated into the Constitution, by the vote of solid New England, was inhibited from touching this right to import slaves for twenty years. It is true for this twenty years' sleep of the law, South Carolina and Georgia united with New England, but the former States could have accomplished nothing without the latter. George Mason and James Madison entered their ineffectual protest. "Twenty years," said Madison, "will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves." It should not surprise, if thereafter the unsparing imprecation poured on the vendee in this matter should have been resented when proceeding from the vendor, so decisively particeps criminis; in fact, so preponderantly particeps as to have been conclusive cause. It was not slavery; it was the slave trade which John Wesley branded as "the sum of all villainies."
One decade after the last profits had been reaped by Old England and by New England from this compendious "villainy," on the application of Missouri for admission to the union, the conscience of the North became active for the reprobation and prohibition of slavery therein. It was natural for the South to have thought and said: You who sold us this property for love of gold, do not strike us as exactly the apostles to curtail or contract the value of it for love of God! as no sign comes of your willingness to curtail or contract for the love of God the gold you were keen to receive for the sale. Upon the ear of the world's great Democrat and earliest emancipator, the Missouri Compromise fell "like a firebell in the night. "It was," Jefferson wrote, "under the false front of lessening the evils of slavery, but with the real view of producing a geographical division of parties." With a prophet's pen he wrote: "A geographical line coinciding with a marked principle, moral or political, will never be obliterated, and every new invitation will mark it deeper and deeper." To Lafayette he wrote: "It is not a moral question, but one merely of power . . . to raise a geographical principle for the election of a president." John Quincy Adams noted in his diary: "The discussion disclosed a secret. It revealed the basis for a new organization of parties."
By the will of Mr. Custis, the slaves of his estate were to be emancipated five years after his death. The time having arrived in 1862, Lee, son-in-law and executor, caused to be spread upon the records of the Hustings Court in Richmond the necessary writing to effect the immediate emancipation of all the slaves at Arlington, Romancoke and the White House. The few slaves which had come to him in his own right he had emancipated years before. Clearly Lee had not in view the retention of slaves by himself and had no personal interest in the retention or possession of them by others. We have his own words for the grounds of his action: "We had, I was satisfied, sacred principles to maintain, and rights to defend, for which we were in duty bound to do our best, even if we perished in our endeavor." After hostilities had closed, he said: "I fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the people of the South their dearest rights."
At the time of the Revolution, the right of a people to revoke abused power was thought to have been justified and fortified in the Mother Country by the Revolution of 1688. It may be assumed that Lee had read and honored the forethought of one of his own blood in the natal day of Union. In October, 1787, Richard Henry Lee wrote to Edmund Randolph: "The representatives of the seven Northern States, as they have a majority, can by law create a most oppressive monopoly upon the five Southern States, whose circumstances and productions are essentially different; although not a single man of these voters is representative of or amenable to the people of the Southern States. Can such a set of men be, with the least semblance of truth, called representatives of them they make laws for?" The presence of the minority, under such conditions, would not give consent of the governed, but only the futile fiction of consent.
The charm of exercising dominion over what is another's did not begin, and did not end, with property in slaves. From an early day, the problem has excited the ardors of cupidity--how to capture the strength of the whore in the interest of a part. Such capture was intended, and for the time accomplished, by a bill which passed Congress in 1828, known to fame as the "Bill of Abominations." The Lee of Revolutionary fame, had he been living, would have seen therein, impending over the South, the presence of doctrines, incompatible with the principles of our government. It was an enactment to employ the taxing power, to support private persons in their occupations, by augmenting the price of what they had to sell to the consumer who had to buy: an imposition upon the self-sustaining industries of the country, to enable other industries, not self-sustaining, to prosper as otherwise they would not; a measure to foster inroads upon the harvests of agriculture to oil the wheels of manufacture upon the harvests of the South for the manufactures of the North. It was not legislation to raise revenue for federal exigence; but pro tanto to prohibit revenue by prohibition pro tanto of the imports which would yield it. Fifteen years prior to the War between the States, it was officially computed that the self-sustaining industries of the country were taxed in this indirect way in the sum of $80,000,000 annually; none of which went into the coffers of the government, but all into the pockets of the protected. That the citizen's private purse shall be taken for no other than a public purpose is the canon of free government. To the beneficiaries of exemption from the competitive strife to which the world of man (one might add, the world of animal and nature) is ordained, doubtless the same radiated as heavenly bounty. For them who were not exempted, but the more heavily subjected, pari passu, it would rise up as the licensed brigandage of power; the name of patriotism for the reality of booty.
A son of Virginia and of genius, John Randolph, of Roanoke, thus expressed for himself and his Commonwealth the enormity of the measure: "I will put it into the power of no man, or set of men, who ever lived to tax me without my consent. It is wholly immaterial whether this is done without my having any representative at all, or as was done in the case of the tariff law, by a phalanx, stern and inexorable, who having the power prescribe to me the law I shall obey.
The whole slaveholding country; the whole of it, from the Potomac to Mexico, was placed under the ban and anathema of a majority of two." Knowing, as few did, how to lay open in a sentence the leaven of the Pharisees, he branded this tariff of 1828 as the movement "to run the principle of patronage against that of patriotism." A reign of patronage for the profit of the patrons, of necessity, would shift federal union from a moral to a material basis. It erects a machine of government to be oiled and burnished by abuse of government; wherein the incentive to victory would be the spoils to the victors. It would be power cemented by bribes. The champion of civil liberty (if happily he succeed) will always have cause to say with Demosthenes, "By resisting his bribes, I conquered Philip."
In the years between 1850 and 1852, a statesman second to none of his own time, or, indeed, of any time, pointed out "how protection, the most insidious form of privilege, rendered honest government difficult, and equal government impossible; how industrial selfishness, which did not scruple to beg favors from the lawmakers, would go on to demand these favors as a right, nor hesitate to keep them alive by corruption."
The altruistic banner under which such fight is made is the homage of appearance to reality.
A space of thirty years was filled with the conflict of tendencies and countertendencies.
The principle at issue with these restrictive measures is not of political economy only. It is part of the gospel of man. Man is the creature of exchange. The principle is moral and social, no less than political. It pervades humanity. Man is the exchanging creature. In exchange, he lives, and moves and has his being; emphatically his growth; wealth of knowledge, of ideas, of affections, augments with the exchanges in which he participates. The opportunity of wealth is smitten as exchanges are intercepted. To shut in strength is to shut out strength. Social life is a bureau of exchange. The ties of kindred, the offices of friendship, are expressions of exchanges. How many times a man is able to exchange his properties, faculties, sympathies; in a word, his humanities--so many times he is a man. A complete science of commerce were a science of life. Puissance is exchange--of mind with mind, of heart with heart; of efficiencies; of spiritualities. The union of forces for the swap of resources were the true federation of the world. To seek to increase wealth by inhibition of exchange is as if one were to seek to increase the volume of a river, by drying up the spring from which it flows.
It is a satisfaction to recall, that until the strife ceased to be moral and political, the South prevailed in the combat The measure of 1828 was indeed aggravated by that of 1832 but in that decade the force of reason was of sufficient strength to repel the invasion of force; and by the historic sliding scale into the future, the evil was abated. After partial interruption in 1842, the tariff of 1846, argued so ably that in 1857, committees composed in fair part of Northern men, made reductions practically to a revenue basis. Experience had been the great expounder. The confutation of the sophisters had been complete. Fact had vindicated logic. Beginning in 1833, the refutations came, but from geographic grasp; not from economic justice. For the revocation of the result, the outcry of free soil was the sword of Brennus in the scale. This forged a rage deaf as the sea to the gathering storms.
In 1833 began the conventions which assembled to arraign the South for the sin of slavery, and to subordinate to this every tie of interest and tradition. As in the beginning, the slavery for which it was held righteous to crucify Virginia, had been forced upon her by the suffrages of New England; so now, twenty-five years after the cessation of the slave trade, her effort to terminate the evil for which she was not responsible, was arrested by the others who were. At the very moment of these inflammations, there were well started movements in the border States to perfect schemes of gradual emancipation. In the Virginia House of Delegates the measure lacked only a few votes of a majority. The genial philanthropy of freeing another man's slave was initiated at the time when Virginians were voting to free their own. At the Peace Conference, assembled at the invitation of Virginia in 1861, Mr. Ewing, of Ohio, said of the efforts of Virginia thirty years earlier: "The act for the gradual abolition of slavery was, I believe, lost by a single vote." He was not quite accurate as to this, but the vote was exceedingly close. Mr. Ewing proceeded: "The North has taken this business of emancipation into its hands, and from the day she did so we hear no more of emancipation in Virginia." The Rev. Nehemiah Adams, whose last act before leaving Boston to seek Southern skies for a sick daughter, had been to join the remonstrances of New England clergymen against the Kansas and Nebraska bill, wrote later: "The South was on the eve of abolishing slavery. The abolitionists arose and put it back within its innermost entrenchments." As late as 1845, an article appeared in the Richmond Whig, advocating the abolition of slavery, and stating that but for the intemperance of Northern fanatics it would be accomplished."
Whenever the day arrives to break the seal of facts it has been found useful to confine, a striking contrast will be read between the offices of the States, which in their own boundaries had ample jurisdiction over the status of the negro race, and the ceaseless imprecations hurled by the same States on others, in respect to whose jurisdiction in this matter their own was foreign. In 1865, Oliver P. Morton said in Indiana: "We wholly exclude them"--the negroes--" from voting; we exclude them from the public schools, and make it unlawful and criminal for them to come into the State. No negro who has come into Indiana since 1850 can make a valid contract. He cannot acquire a title to a piece of land, because the law makes the deed void, and every man who gives him employment is liable to prosecution and fine." It is for his own, not for his neighbor's sins, that the saint who wins our reverence smites his breast. When the negro came with his master's consent, no place could be found for him. He was only welcome when he came without it. Prior to the fifteenth amendment, from the Delaware to the Oregon, love "for a man and a brother" grew great by this example. Plutarch tells of one who in a fit of anger threw a stone at Lycurgus, knocking out one of his eyes. The horrified Spartans gave the culprit to Lycurgus to be his slave, that he might execute his will upon him. At a subsequent time, Lycurgus came to the Assembly with his slave and said: "I received this man from your hands a dangerous criminal; I return him to you an honest and useful citizen." After the fifteenth amendment, largely by the insistence of Morton, had been added to the record, to New England, and to Old England, the South might have said: "We received this man from you an ungoverned, if not dangerous, criminal. We return him to the American branch of you, as one in your own esteem worthy to make laws for the federal union, and the States comprising it."
Beyond doubt there were those who honestly felt it their religious duty, without thought of and regardless of existing compact with others, to do all in their power to extirpate African slavery as the shameless sin of Satan. There were others who had thought of reward, and saw the political advantage of appropriating this sincerity and identifying themselves with it.
From a New England source comes to us, what, for this occasion is offered, as a working theory of this development Mr. William Chauncey Fowler, in his book, "The Sectional Controversy" (published in 1862), narrates this incident felt at the time by himself to be significant: "Some fifteen or twenty years ago, when Northern petitions signed by men women, children and negroes (for the abolition of slavery) were flooding the floor of the lower House, as a leading member of Congress, who afterwards was a member of a Presidential Cabinet, was coming out from a heated debate, he was asked by the present writer, an old college friend: 'Will you inform me what is the real reason why Northern members encourage these petitions?' After considering a moment, he said to me: 'The real reason is that the South will not let us have a tariff, and we touch them where they will feel it.'"
At the breaking out of the war events brought directly home to Lee the virulence with which were assailed principles, which by hereditary conviction he felt "in duty bound to maintain." In the fall of 1859 enmity to the South assumed the shape of an armed foray, which in dead of night came down upon Virginia, with intent to redden the skies with the torch of servile insurrection. The leader was tried and hung. His body was carried North for ovation and homage. In the words of Emerson, he had made "the gallows sacred as the cross." By the year 1860, the apostle of hate had displaced the Twelve Apostles. The assassin with the knife poised to be driven to the hilt in the heart of Virginia, was the Saint. In the autumn of 1910, one who had been tenant of the White House, rendered his tribute to John Brown as one "who rendered the greatest service ever rendered this country;" who "stood for heroic valor, grim energy, fierce fidelity to high ideals;" who "embodied the inspiration of the men of his generation." At Harper's Ferry, confronting this ideal of the North, stood, in immortal protest, Robert E. Lee. Then and there were brought face to face the opposite ideals. No!--the idol versus the ideal!
In the fruit of the spirit which beheld, in the sentenced at Harper's Ferry, a glory as of a new sacred writ, one who shared the blood of the Revolutionary Lees did not have to strive mightily to read signs of a tradition of free government sacrificed to a chimera; the true "irrepressible conflict" rejected for the sham. For the full fruition of a geographic triumph, economic sympathies which hitherto had prevailed, succumbed to the tempest's breath.
In 1860 it was fully realized that the way, with assurance, to make a majority permanent, was to make it geographical. When liberty says: "Death to the robbers," what more natural than for the robbers to say: "Then death to liberty." "Cruel as death, and hungry as the grave" is the fate meted out, when inequality of taxation is the prize of geographical preponderance. The apple of discord was the golden apple The idol had conquered the ideal. Hinc concussa fides et multis utile bellum.
The tragical situation was that which Jefferson foresaw--"a geographical principle for the election of president." A campaign for power on this basis is of a nature to call or force to fulfill the office of consent. From one high, and justly so, in Federal Councils; a statesman worthy of the name whose announced intention to withdraw from the Senate, will when the event takes place, create a gap not easily to be filled; from this eminent patriot have fallen words which justify attention: "The first seventy years of the Republic are gone. They were years in which there were no influences sufficiently strong to prevent the powers of government from operating in the manner in which the Fathers expected them to operate. They were years in which there were no influences sufficiently strong to turn the agencies of government into the agencies of particular interests, or to wholly private and selfish purposes. But that day is not now."
This version from one so eminent would seem to warrant the assertion: The South did not desert the Union, the Union deserted the South. For the Septuagint of Honor, so extolled, the South stood; for this fell. St. Paul tells us, that the love of money is the root of all evil. One mightier, speaking through the vicissitude of human rise and fall, inculcate the love of justice is the root of all virtue. These loves of passions wrestle together for the Soul--self and duty. Hers is the irrepressible conflict. A strange mystery--the soul of man, wherein God and beast incessantly encounter.
It was in Norfolk, in the year 1907, that the chivalrous officer and gentleman, Gen. Lindsay L. Lomax, gentle as he was brave, being in attendance on the Confederate Reunion and at the time one of the commissioners of this park, addressed efforts prompted by a soldier's chivalry, for the erection of a memorial on this spot, not to leaders only, but to Confederate followers worthy of great leaders. Resolution were passed at his suggestion, and, with the approval of the Secretary of War, to erect a memorial to Virginia's soldiers on the field of Gettysburg, and, in 1911, in the Legislature of Virginia, a bill was passed, authorizing the memorial. The gallant general to whom the initiation of this movement is due, afterwards with hope and affection watched over it to the day of his death. His physical presence is denied us. His spirit, we may be sure, hovers over us this day. At the base of the pedestal you see a group of several figures, in whose bearing and expression will be read the fixed constancy of conviction, which a glorious art has stamped with a glorious immortality. The sacred sic semper of Virginia is borne aloft by one, whose countenance emulates the emblem's purity. Before the day of this battle, Jackson, looking at his hardy files, had exclaimed: "Who could not win battles with such men as these!" And Lee said: "The sublime sight of the war was the cheerfulness and alacrity exhibited by the army, in pursuit of the enemy, under all the trials and privations to which it was exposed." An army steeled in battle shared the jeopardy of the captains, and was yokefellow in the glory. Commander and commanded were one; courage mated courage; constancy, constancy.
On the summit of this monument rides the bright effigy of one who has been called the quintessence of Virginia. In this concentrated image of one Commonwealth is the reflection of sister States, whose sons were brothers of her own. In this grace, as in a mirror, we see the cause for which the rider fought with all his mighty soul, and sacrificed as he fought. We see the Cause impersonated in the Captain. All that ancestry could do for Lee quite well had been done. Yet, in the family of fame, he was "Son of his own works." From early manhood until 1861, this son of Virginia had known every affluence of fortune, every prestige of family a new world could bestow. Yet no affluence, no promotion, no prepossession of favor could stifle the affluence of his own soul. The five talents would seem to have been his own by nature's endowment. Duteous energy made the five talents ten. The sacred opportunity of service created a sacred opportunity of rising by service. From 1865 to the day of his death, he was visited by every adversity a malign fate could hurl against him. From citizenship in the State of which he was consummate flower he was excluded. Practically outlawed, he died a paroled prisoner of war. A life wherein no responsibility was shirked; every season for it met, towered to the end; witnessing to the power of a great nature, greatly spent for others, and in sacrifice of things mortal finding immortality.
There is lustre in the moment, when putting aside the offer (known to have been made to him) to take command of the Union armies, he unreservedly gave his heart forever to his Mother State, and with both hands embraced her perils. Well he knew, none could better know, the assured future from which he withdrew. In the army from which he then resigned he had already won renown; in that service had traveled far and wide, and made himself familiar with the topography which meant so much for the invader with a fleet. For him to leave the Potomac was to leave the fair home upon its banks to be torn from him and dismantled. As few could know, he knew that the war against the cause which he espoused was the war of the many with the few; of them armed with the means and munitions of war against a South practically destitute. There could be in him no misapprehension of the odds. At the crisis of federal history, and of his own, two crowns were offered to him, the crown of gold and the crow of thorns. He lifted the latter to his brow, and never was heard from him a murmur against the destiny of duty. Every gift of fortune had been showered on him, but he was greater than the gifts. Every blow of adversity was rained upon him, but he was greater than the blows. The commission Virginia laid in his hands, he accepted with these words:
"Trusting in Almighty God, an approving conscience and the aid of my fellow citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword."
In an address which should be indelibly impressed on every Southern man and woman, both as chapter in a great life and pattern of the chaste and lucid grace, which is master's token, there is asked and answered the question what was then the state and the cause for which was plighted this supreme devotion.
"And what was that native State to whose defense he henceforth devoted his matchless sword! It was a Commonwealth older than the Union; it was the first abode of freedom in the Western world; it was the scene of the earliest organized resistance to the encroachments of the Mother country; it was the birthplace of the immortal leader of our Revolutionary armies, and of many of the architects of the Federal constitution; it was the central seat of that doctrine of State Sovereignty, sanctioned by the great names of Jefferson and Madison; it was a land rich in every gift of the earth and sky--richer still in its race of men, brave, frugal, pious, loving honor, but fearing God; it was a land hallowed by memories of an almost unbroken series of patriotic triumphs; but now after the wreck and ruin of four years unsuccessful war, consecrated anew by deeds of heroism and devotion, whose increasing lustre will borrow a brighter radiance from their sombre background of suffering and defeat."
The fellow citizens, on whose cooperation Lee trusted, did not disappoint him. When he was of military age the merchant closed his ledger, the student threw down his lexicon and shouldered a musket, the farmer rode his best horse into the field. Students seeking a higher scholarship in colleges abroad, postponed culture to report for enlistment in the ranks. The masses and the classes (if there were classes) equally reported for service. Churches melted their bells into guns; women east their jewels into the treasury. In the tender hand of woman fell the gentler ministrations of the war, as from her heart stole the subtler inspirations. With the sympathy which "never faileth"--the sympathy of woman--she was minister to the sick and angel to the dying. The beautiful forgetfulness, the sweet unconsciousness of self, which glides into the consciousness of others and imparts a helping grace, was her supremacy. Purer devotion to a cause never was beheld. As the pieties which blend in the fabric of cathedrals record the worship in the work, so these constancies discover intimate traits which went into the fibre of the State.
It was when that skillful and gifted soldier, Joseph E. Johnston (to whom justice has not yet been done), fell wounded at the close of the first day's fight at Seven Pines, that Lee was summoned to take command of the force opposing McClellan's army, then so close to Richmond, that the church bells could be heard in their camps. In assuming command of that army of Northern Virginia, which he never left, which never left him, Lee's grasp of the conditions was shown in activity which was immediate, and in effect which was electrical. First happened the daring raid of Stuart, sent out by Lee to locate the right flank of McClellan's army. Stuart did this and more. He rode clear around the rear of McClellan's army, and delivered his report of what existed to Lee in Richmond; raising himself once and forever to the eminence which abides with him today. Thenceforward the black plume of that true knight was seen waving at the front whenever daring of the man on horseback was demanded. The next step was also one of daring. With an intuitive clairvoyance Lee read, as in a book, the apprehensions in the White House. None knew better how to ring the alarm bell at one point when intending to fall upon another. Already the wizard of the valley had so alarmed, as to cause the diversion from McClellan (when on the way to him) of McDowell. To confirm fears of impending tempests from Stonewall Jackson, Lee now despatches to Staunton (having little doubt the numbers would be magnified) Whiting's division from the troops he had in hand, together with Lawton's brigade, just arrived from Georgia. In reality these brigades were destined to meet at Charlottesville with Jackson, and with him hasten to sustain the shock of arms preparing for McClellan.
Greatly planned and ordered as the Seven Days' Fight had been, it was less perfectly fulfilled, bravely as it was fought, or a triumph more complete would have ensued. That achieved drove McClellan to the shelter of his gunboats on the James. The problem then arose how to remove the invading army from the James to the Potomac. Again recourse was had to Lincoln's fears for Washington. Jackson was directed to move northward and place himself in a position, if opportunity presented, to strike in detail the forces of Pope as they moved South. As brigade after brigade, division after division, went from Lee to Jackson, larger divisions were ordered from McClellan to Pope. With an audacity of which success was vindication, Lee withdrew McClellan's force to Washington, by withdrawing his own from Richmond, until, finally, North and South once more stood face to face on the plains of Manassas. A marvelous insight had read Pope as Lincoln and McClellan had been read. Lee and Jackson had been unread. Methods and motives which none could fathom perplexed each change of front; the means to vanish into darkness when capture was anticipated; the rapid seizure of opportunity; the skill to create the impression of flight in the mind of the opponent, down to the time the bolt out of the blue descended, continuously confounded. Mystery twined around the movements and designs of these past masters of the master strokes of war. When the particular movement was detected, the design remained impenetrable, until unveiled in reverse. The Confederate files felt themselves in the hands of leaders competent to define the scene of wrath, and "tell the doubtful battle where to rage." Under these kings of strife a force of fifty thousand drove a force of eighty thousand into the fortifications of Washington and Alexandria.
This success made temptation great to transfer the scene of battle to the north of the Potomac; thus recruit resources, possibly numbers, and, by a possible victory in the neighborhood of the White House, secure foreign recognition. The Potomac was crossed, and, with the odds heavily against him, Lee awaited battle at Sharpsburg. Great as was the discrepancy of force, it cannot be known what might have been the result had not someone carelessly let fall the order issued by Lee for the concentration of his army. This important document, shortly after it was written, armed McClellan with authentic knowledge of Lee's plans and exigencies. I pause in recurring to the field of Sharpsburg for the mention of a single incident never before, I imagine, witnessed on the field of arms; the idolized commander-in-chief of the army in the thick of the battle shower, reining in his steed, for a hurried word to his youngest son, then a begrimed cannoneer of the Rockbridge Battery. Thirty-five thousand against eighty-seven thousand for two days stoutly stood against reiterated assault; for the whole of the third stood awaiting attack which was not renewed; then, without serious molestation, recrossed to the Virginia side. Not until the following October was a movement to follow seriously made.
I will not delay to dwell on that joint marvel of Lee and Jackson, known to fame as Chancellorsville, where from what was supposed to be a movement of retreat, descended the supernatural stroke. In a contribution to the London Spectator of February 24, 1912, the last words of the hero who shattered Hooker's right and rear, thus feelingly are given:
"'Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.' These were the farewell words--of whom? Of some poet, sighing for the idlesse of Arcady; of some worn out spirit drooping for the cooling stream? No, they come from the lips of one who had never known or asked for repose or shade, whose crossing of rivers had hitherto been done in the face of blasts of hostile shells; from a stern, unresting man, not old, but under forty years, not exhausted, but in the full tide of gigantic enterprise, not peaceful, but the fiercest soldier of his age one Stonewall Jackson, dying of his hurts on the field of Chancellorsville. They were his last words, closing a series of sharply uttered commands--'Order Hill to prepare for action!' 'Pass the infantry to the front!' Then very quietly the beautiful, almost metrical sentences recorded above, and straightway, says his fine historian,' the soul of the great captain passed into the peace of God.' ... Often does death listening, 'dull, cold-eared legatee', for his assured entail--often does he hear his own undoing in the very signal of his inheritance. That last faint whisper carries the Parthian shot of his escaping enemy, the Soul; he hears his very victim triumph; he hath, indeed, no victory, perishing himself like the lion on the horns of the stricken deer.'"
When victory at Chancellorsville, called by Colonel Henderson "the most brilliant feat of arms of the nineteenth century," was complete, Lee, hearing of Jackson's wounds uttered the words: "He has lost his left arm; I have lost my right." Later, when he received Jackson's congratulations on the victory, he bade Colonel Marshall tell him: "The victory was his, and the congratulations are due him." Colonel Marshall says: "I forgot the genius that won the day, in my reverence for the generosity that refused the glory." Hero spake to hero.
With greater cause for confidence that when the preceding year he faced the odds of Sharpsburg, Lee now planned the renewal of aggressive movement, north of the Potomac; by this to recall Hooker from the South side, and, if success should follow, to relieve the strain in Middle Tennessee. The first purpose was signally achieved. By the advance of the Army of Northern Virginia northward, the Union camps were swept from the Rappahannock.
At no time was the strategic prescience of Lee more brilliantly displayed than in the movement which transferred the seat of war from the Rappahannock to the Susquehanna. Ewell had thrown his corps around Milroy at Winchester and Martinsburg before Hooker realized the Confederate general had broken camp at Hamilton's Crossing. Leaving behind him a bewildered foe, Lee signalized his march to the Potomac by victorious engagements at Winchester, Berryville, and Martinsburg. Longstreet and A. P. Hill had crossed the Potomac on the 25th of June. On the 27th they were at Chambersburg. On the same day Ewell, with two divisions, was near Carlisle, and Early in the neighborhood of York. Lee's infantry troops were now in position for an advance upon Harrisburg, and equally for prompt concentration to the east or west of South Mountain, to meet the advance of Hooker's army, should it advance from Frederick.
Not quite two months after Chancellorsville, Lee with an army confident of victory stood before these heights of Gettysburg. Here for three summer days victory trembled in the balance. It was a battle which took place, not as had been intended, and when finally determined did not fulfil the orders by the Southern general. Distinguished soldiers competent to do so, of North and South, here and abroad, have with critical skill reviewed the stages and phases of this memorable field. Claiming no such competence, I will not seek to repeat the twice and thrice told tale.
At the dedication of this monument to sons of Virginia, whose devotion unto death to their Mother was and is her exceeding great reward, whose glory on this field, as on all others, is her own, I will briefly speak of them. On the fight of the third and final day, the crisis of onset was accorded to Virginia. Pickett's division was designated to lead. On this eventful afternoon, with the steadiness of conviction and of discipline, his three brigades moved out. On the heights in front awaited the numbers they knew to be greater than their own. On those heights was every breastwork finished, every reserve posted, every gun in position, in readiness for the assault. As this chosen band advanced a rage of fury from the heights swept the field they had to cross. The thinned ranks of the Virginians, each second growing thinner, did not halt under the fury, Kemper and Garnett in advance, Armistead following. Kemper rode back to Armistead, who marched on foot, and said: "Armistead, I am going to charge those heights and carry them; and I want you to support me." "I will do it," Armistead replied. "Look at my line; it never looked better on dress parade."
Onward swept the thin, gray line to the muzzles of the guns, and ever above the fury of the fray rose the "yell," which on so many fields had floated as a trumpet to inspire. Few were the colonels of regiments who survived that hail of death. Hunton, of the 8th, was carried in a bloody blanket from the field. His commission to be brigadier dates from this rush "to glory or the grave." The three brigadiers fell "with their backs to the field," two--Garnett and Armistead--not again, in this life, to rise in the body. Putting his black hat on the point of a sword, in front of his line of battle, Armistead led what was left of the advance. With hat still waving from sword as plume of onset, at forty yards of the stone wall he gave the order to charge. Leading his men afoot, he sprang upon the enemy's works. One hundred and fifty men, still living, followed him beyond the stone wall, passed the earthworks, seized the guns whose canister had torn their ranks. For a few "immense instants" they stood there conquerors; unsupported, they in turn went down before the reserves, which now poured under Hancock. Sword in hand, Armistead fell in the act of grasping a captured cannon to turn it on the foe.
Lee was intense witness to this failure. No other could more perfectly take in that it meant failure of the hope which inspired the second crossing of the Potomac; the hope of a speedy termination of the war by Confederate success. In the presence of the greatest disappointment he had known, or thereafter knew in battle, the world might excuse him if in that moment his wonderful poise for once forsook him; might excuse and forgive, if in that moment the fortitude of his patience had expired, and, as other generals here and abroad have done, he had shielded himself from criticism for the outcome by placing the blame for it on others. But what he said was: "All this has been my fault." When his greatest victory was won, Lee gave the praise to Jackson. When his chief, if not his only repulse, had been sustained, he took the blame upon himself. Whatever he felt, with a majestic silence then and ever afterwards was mastered his emotion. He gave to another the praise of victory, but took upon himself the blame of failure. His words at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg of themselves are victories. Defeat, like victory, hath opportunities. The unapproached glory of Lee in the bible of heroism will be read in the words: "It was all my fault." It is this immortal moment which the glorious art to be unveiled today will perennially rehearse in a monument worthy of the grandeur. This grandeur it is the glowing purpose of our artist to perpetuate.
When duty called Lee to the side of Virginia and the South, he espoused as he well knew the side of an agricultural people, with no arms, no factories, no munitions. Until near the close of the war, only from the Tredegar works in Richmond and afterwards from the works in Rome, Georgia, could guns be turned out. Over these constructions presided the constructive skill of that great ordnance officer, who also assumed responsibility for needed munitions. When in the first days of the war rumors went forth of the approach of the Pawnee upon Richmond, citizens rushed out with shot guns--some, it is said, with pick axes--to defend against her. But in the volleys which poured from flank to flank, on the 3d day of July Parrott gun replied to Parrott gun; the Napoleon in the valley to the Napoleon on the hill. There was no munition plant. The creative genius of Josiah Gorgas, the ordnance officer of the Confederacy, supplied the deficiency; supplied the army with ammunition so long as an army was left to be supplied, a creation as it seems out of formless mass. The rending thunders which roared from right to left of our lines at Gettysburg were the magic of his mind's proficiency. Worthy to be enrolled by the side of Lee and Jackson is the genius of Gorgas, who, as with the mystery of original creation, made everything out of nothing. All the accessible smokehouses south of the Potomac were scraped by this wary, solicitous, indefatigable man, for saltpetre drippings of the hams which, from the time of which memory ran not to the contrary, had been cured therein. The marvel is akin to that of the Confederate officers who created a navy out of nothing; who, as has been said: "Without navy yards, or naval artillery, had to build ironclads in cornfields."
The results attained in the three days of July did not excite excessive avidity to close again with Lee's army. The first battle of consequence which followed, I will take leave to bring before you, as evidence of the very narrow extent to which the spirit of the troops was affected by the result at Gettysburg.
At eight o'clock on the morning of May 4, 1864, Grant (now commander-in-chief) was satisfied the orders he had given would carry his army across the wilderness by the evening of the 5th. Without waiting for Longstreet (lately returned from East Tennessee) to come up; with little more than two-thirds of a force (so far inadequate when complete), Lee, with a startling swiftness, sprang on Grant, who perforce halted his march across the wilderness to concentrate for battle in it. By an onset, as impetuous as it was unexpected, the Union lines were forced back on their right. On their left five divisions under Hancock were held at bay by Heth and Wilcox. But here, after stubborn fight with stubborn foe, the two Confederate divisions, with ammunition exhausted, strength exhausted, and lines in places bent back and broken, were in no plight to resume action in the morning. This was known to Lee, and the divisions were instructed that Longstreet would relieve them. It was well nigh certain that they would give way if attacked. It was certain they would be attacked. One moment before the blow descended Longstreet galloped on the field. "My troops are not yet up," he said. "I have ridden ahead to find out the situation." As he spoke, his voice was drowned in the roar of musketry. As the head of Longstreet's column came upon the scene, the two divisions were seen to be giving way. At this critical moment two batteries, under Poague, opened on the left of the road, and by their fire gave Longstreet time to form. As the Texas brigade under Gregg (Hood's old brigade) moved through the guns, General Lee rode on their flank, saluting them as old friends from whom he had too long been parted, and, pointing to the menace before their eyes, said he himself would lead them to victory over it. The fine eye of Lee must have glistened with something better than a conqueror's pride whenever he recalled the cry with which that veteran rank and file sent him to the rear and themselves to the front. The name of the warlike man who stepped forth to seize the bridle of Traveler and force him and his rider back, I cannot give you. A tall, gaunt figure clad in rags and heroic brilliance rises before us for an instant, and then perishes out of sight. Lee was checked, his steed reined in, as the brigade flung their caps in the air, and, with a shout which was their stern farewell, swept onward. It was the leap of Curtius into the gulf. Sunrise was shining in their faces as their own sun sank. The rising sun was their winding sheet. They closed up the ranks over their comrades as they fell, till there was no longer a rank to close. They made their bosoms a sheath for the thunderbolt. They buried defeat on the field under a mound of their own corpses. They stepped to the graves of martyrs with the grace of courtiers. They had but an instant to think and to act, and they made it one of imperishable beauty. The long track of light which followed in the wake of their valor, they did not see. Their wilderness was then; their promised land--eternity. The love Lee riveted then, and rivets now, is in this scene made monumental. As the clear water of the lake mirrors the mountain on the marge, so the spirit of an army caught the human height which towered on the edge of every conflict. There, there, there is the flame image of Robert Lee; of the men who trusted him, and whom he trusted to the hilt.
The rest of Field's division arriving, after throwing Gregg's Texans on the left of the road, as has been stated, and Benning behind Gregg, and Law behind Benning, and Jenkins behind Law, Field slipped the leash. The Texas brigade had dashed forward as soon as it was formed, without waiting for the brigades in the rear, and overcame the first shock at this point, but with a loss of two-thirds of their own number killed and wounded in ten minutes. The gallant Benning, with his Georgians, followed with "signally cheering results" (Field mentioned in his report), in achieving which Benning was wounded and the brigade much cut up. Law's brigade followed, but the enemy was so far checked that the losses in this brigade were not so heavy.
A movement was now directed by Lee which came near to complete success. The brigades of Mahone, Anderson and Wofford, of which Mahone as senior brigadier was in command, were moved beyond the enemy's left, with orders to attack on his left and rear. The enemy was at the same moment to be attacked in front. In front the enemy was started back, at first slowly, until the effect of the flank movement was felt. As to the effect of this, Mr. Swinton writes: "It seemed, indeed, that irretrievable disaster was upon us; but in the very torrent and tempest of the attack it suddenly ceased, and all was still." The confusion wrought by this movement has been stated by a Union officer, Col. Morris Schaff, in the Atlantic Monthly of February, 1910: "Everything on the right of the 19th Maine, 56th and 37th Massachusetts is gone, and they with fragments of other gallant regiments that have stood by them, will soon have to go .....Webb, seeing the day is lost, tells the bitterly-tried regiments to scatter, and the wreckage begins....The full stream of wreckage begins to float by Hancock at this juncture, and he realizes that disaster has come to his entire front....But how strange! Why do his (Lee's) fresh troops not come on and burst through, while Hancock, Carroll, Lyman and Rice and scores of officers are trying to rally the men....Why do they lose the one chance to complete victory? Yes something had happened, not mysterious, but calamitous or the road to complete victory. Longstreet had fallen, shot through the right shoulder and throat." "Such were the circumstances," writes this Union officer, "into which Lee was suddenly thrown at that hour of momentous importance. I was an unusual and chafing trial....At about 6 o'clock Sheridan, impressed by the state of affairs, told Humphrey that unless the trains were ordered to cross the river, the road would be blocked, and it would be impossible for troops to get to the ford. What would have happened that afternoon among the trains had Longstreet not been wounded and had his troops broken through?"
On the other end of the line Gordon discovered that his left overlapped the enemy's right, and, having cause to believe the fact unsuspected, submitted a plan of attack on that portion of the Union army, which was by his immediate superiors overruled. In the closing hours of the day Lee found opportunity to visit his extreme left. He then approved the plan. About sundown Gordon moved out, and, as he expected, found the enemy unprepared, their first troops caught with their guns stacked. Brigade after brigade was broken to pieces before any formation could be had. A number of prisoners were captured; among these Generals Seymour and Shaler. The Sixth Army Corps was smitten with panic. The opportunity and effect was not unlike that one year earlier, when the stroke of Jackson fell. Gordon's confidence in the victory which would have followed had the attack been earlier has received corroboration free from bias.(*)
The fall of Longstreet and Jenkins on Lee's right, the fall of night upon his left, detained Grant's forces south of the Rappahannock. Twice that sixth of May a second Chancellorsville was in Lee's grasp, but twice that day a sardonic fate snatched it from him. Unequal fate for a moment trembled in the balance. Grant now turned to make for Spotsylvania Court House. There he found Lee awaiting him. The skill with which in this campaign Lee continuously shifted his smaller force, so as to repulse parts of a larger, in succession, launched against him, is a page of marvel. On June 3d, just about one month after the movement across the Rapidan began, Grant for the last time advanced the full
(*) Gen. James H. Wilson in his Memoirs mentions: "It will be remembered that those officers (Rawlins and Bowers) had been with Grant from the first of the war....Rawlins explained that the first news which reached headquarters from the right gave the impression that an overwhelming disaster had befallen our line, and that although Grant received it with his usual self-possession, the coming in of officer after officer with additional details soon made it apparent that the General was confronting the greatest crisis in his life....Both Rawlins and Bowers concurred in the statement that Grant went into his tent, and throwing himself face downward on his cot gave way to the greatest emotion....Not till it became apparent that the enemy was not pressing his advantage did he entirely recover his composure." Under the Old Flag, Vol. I, p. 390.
strength of his army against the lines of Lee. Then, in the words of Charles Francis Adams, "did the slaughter of Cold Harbor begin." When later in the day orders were issued to renew the assault, Swinton writes: "The immobile lines pronounced a verdict, silent yet emphatic, against further slaughter."
Grant's orders for general engagement along the lines ended at this point. A stronger weapon than military assault was in his hands. The words of a Union officer and gentleman, Mr. Charles Francis Adams, are apposite: "Narrowly escaping destruction at Gettysburg, my next contention is, that Lee and the army of Northern Virginia never sustained defeat. Finally, it is true, succumbing to exhaustion, to the end they were not overthrown in fight." How, then, was Lee overcome, and, with Lee, the South? By the plan of wearing out by attrition. To wear out an adversary 's numbers which could not be replaced by the free sacrifice of his own, which could be, was the device. Having in hand at home numbers, limited only by the call for them; and Europe to draw on for recruits, the gaps in the Union ranks could easily be filled. In the army of Lee, each loss was irreparable. For Grant, all that was necessary to win out was to keep on losing. So Xerxes wore out by attrition the Spartans at Thermopylae. "Already," cried Grant, "they have robbed the cradle and the grave." The conclusion was, when this final reinforcement has been spent, the prize will have been won--"Government by consent of the governed."
The attenuated Confederate force stood in the last ditch to hold up the sinking banner, or fall with it. Our cause, their actions said, shall not fail, if the sacrifice of all we are and all we have can save it. While the meagre ration left them strength to stand, they stood. We celebrate the magnanimous soul which poured a river of renown around our capital, making a revered history more reverend, which lit up the glories of yonder valley with a greater glory; and in the battle roar on this memorable field, changed the rag of gray for an immortal robe. In the last hour at Appomattox, the servants of duty rallied around the Chief of duty, and laid down their arms only when that Chieftain deemed it the part of duty so to do. Each man was as the sailor at his post when he feels the ship is sinking. It is not success which consecrates the strain of life's battle. The nobleness with which the battle is fought erects the altar. These sons died that we might not live in vain. It has been for us so to live that they shall not have died in vain. Let us cherish the faith that they who go forth to battle and sacrifice in fulfillment of high calling, in sacrifice, win achievement. The bronze figures at the base of the monument to be unveiled today will present a physical record of that which is more lasting than bronze. "There is," said Canon Farrar, "but one real failure in life possible, and that is, not to be true to the best one knows."
Not by fighting, but by famine, was resistance to be subdued; by war to fireside and field; until, by want of food, strength to resist should be quite vanquished--subjugation by strangulation.
Another arrow still remained, wherewith the remaining and returning remnant was decreed to be pierced. From no eagerness to call back the sharpness of evil days, is reference here made to the "rank breath" of Reconstruction. For this the alleged justification was the ill treatment of the Southern slaves by the Southern masters to whom by Old and New England the slave ancestry had been so industriously sold. A word as to the wickedness which was visited with the retribution. Not forgetting anathema, which is hurled upon those days, with some diffidence I will say: If the service of the slave had been compulsory, it was a compulsion which had liberated from degradation. The white man by his works had said to the black man at his back: "Brought to me by others as you have been, it is my part to afford the discipline, which, of yourselves, you are unable to acquire. The universe abandons you. I will protect and direct." Enmity assumed that this slave only lacked opportunity to rise against the master. A day came when from the Potomac to the Guff everything was opportune, yet from the slave everything was safe. The noble way for one race to conquer another is by the development of higher modes of existence in that other. So the South conquered the Africans, shipped by Old England and by New England. Southern slavery will hold up the noblest melioration of an inferior race, of which history can take note--the government of a race incapable of self-government, for a greater benefit to the governed than to the governors. Southern master gave to Southern slave more than slave gave to master; and the slave realized it. Better basis for the uplift of inadequacy can no man lay than is laid in this. This slavery was the school to redeem from the sloth of centuries. A continent of mortal idleness had been exchanged for a continent of vital work. The constraint of discipline was a first step from the degeneration of indiscipline. From "the hell of the unfit" the negro had been lifted and put in the way of fitness. Freedom, which merely means freedom from work, is freedom to rot--not a thing for which to shed blood or tears. It is the way to parity with the beast. The graduation of lower into higher order is not the work of a day.
The quality of stoutly resisting evil goes to vindicate them who confront and resist it. What follows from D. H. Chamberlayne, Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina, is information at first hand:
"Under all the avowed motives for this policy (that of negro ascendency) lay a deeper cause than all the others; the will and determination to secure party ascendency and control at the South and in the nation by the negro vote. ...Eyes were never blinder to facts, and minds never more ruthlessly set upon a policy, than were Stevens and Morton, on putting the white South under the heel of the black South....To this tide of folly and worse President Grant persistently yielded....Those who sat in the seats, nominally of justice, made traffic of their judicial powers. No branch of the public service escaped the pollution."
When in accepting the nomination for the presidency Grant wrote: "Let us have peace," what was intended was the peace of "Reconstruction," to which through two administrations "Grant persistently yielded." The polluting tide was not stayed on the north shore of what had been secession. It was not practicable to make banditti honorable south of the Ohio and Susquehanna and send them all to Coventry in the North.
What had escaped the spoliations of war now awaited the delirium of peace. That which the palmer worm had left, the locust had eaten, and that which the locust left, the canker worm consumed. The cynicism of events declared, The wages of heroism is death. It seemed as if Omnipotence had said to the victors, as at an earlier day was said to Satan, "Behold, all that they have is in thy power." To the devastation of field and fireside, it seemed necessary to add a parallel moral devastation. A government of corruption, by corruption, and for corruption, seemed heralded as the new birth. In her West African Studies, Miss Kingsley writes: "There are many who hold murder to be the most awful crime man can commit, saying thereby he destroys the image of his Maker. I hold that one of the most awful crimes one nation can commit upon another is destroying the image of justice." To defile the judiciary was to lay the axe to the root. To unfasten the pent up forces, whose eruption would pour in power the elements finding profit in disorder, looked like design. The words of the Reconstruction Governor unveil the unjust magistrate, diligently deserving by his rulings the sentence pronounced by the Apostle to the Gentiles: "Sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" Was this slavery unchanged, or criminal activities released? There was "truth upon the scaffold;" there was the "league with death and agreement with hell." Alexander Pope declared (as clause in the moral law, the aphorism had been accepted): "An honest man is the noblest work of God." Reconstruction reversed this and wrote: "An honest man is the most offensive work of the Creator." A reptile regime was ordained for the last garden as for the first. Reconstruction vindicates secession.
Stripped to the bone, the South was contending, like a disembodied spirit, for the truth which was her faith; contending against them who had found in the prostitution of politics the politics of prostitution; against the incensed appeal to all that was low to put an end to all that was high. The man of the South, feeling the basis of life and faith giving way beneath his feet; beholding the prodigal soul of valor and the beautiful soul of sacrifice, laughed to scorn as of no more worth than to be ground up as offal for the barnyard pile, or flung as carrion to the vultures; when from an earth which was as the mire of melted wax under his feet, he looked up to a heaven of brass over his head, in despair, might have exclaimed: "My God, didst Thou, too, fall in the fray!" Smarting under the sharpness of the shears, the worthiest were made to feel themselves a kind of sport of the gods; played with as so many pawns on the chessboard of fate. Over courses checkmated in all directions is the unattainable attained. The winning of character is in not giving up; and the power to hope beyond defeat which seems hopeless is the great world power.
In the grim silence, with none to cheer, with Providence a mystery, with a whole civilized world looking coldly on, as is the wont when no material profit is perceived in looking otherwise, the battle was to reveal a character whose inherent force attritions could not waste.
This battle of character is one which admits not of rest nor of retreat, but goes from conflict to conflict. On this battle, from the hills of Rockbridge broke forth, as from a new morn, the light of Lee. As there was a darkness of Egypt which could be felt, so this was a light which sank like speech into the last hope which turned to it and leaned on it. In that light was felt a supremacy, not at the mercy of events; which for them who turned to it was as the grasp of a hand out of the cloud.
The power of heroic patience said, or seemed to say: "Would you have a sea without a storm; a storm without a strain? It is not the blow which fells you, but weakness under it, which is humiliation. Accredited to meet the moral battle now hurled upon you, have faith in power to be given you to emerge with a nobler sway; your measure shall now be taken by those pitiless fates, or furies, whose tuition is your test. Once more battle like soldiers, despising the pain for the sake of the duty. On you descends the highest opportunity Heaven bestows; that of snatching moral victory from the jaws of ruthless overthrow. It is reserved for you, under the hammer of events, to grow stronger than the hammer. In winning the fight with defeat which seems irrevocable, the soul rises master and the things of time crouch as slaves before it."
It were presumptuous in me, with any pretext of finality, to seek to penetrate the secret of a potency flowing, as to the world might seem, like the rhythm of the Nile, from impenetrable sources. To some undoubted elements of this dominion, of this attractive power of heroism for such as have a spark of it within them, it may not be unseasonable to advert. Lee wielded the power of a life held in trust for others. Public life is a trust; yes, and private life is a trust. As Lee received the successes, so he received the adversities of life, as divine events appointed for discipline and duty. The fame of victory, the fate of subjugation, were received with the same unswerving breast. His own preeminence he held as tenant in trust. In trust he towered to the last as a lamp upon the height. At the foundation of this pervading sense of trust might be named a high born reverence for the intrinsically high, intensified by high born sympathy with the wrestle of the weak. The contagion of this knightly grace fills the shadows of the Wilderness, where the shouts of warriors proclaimed his strength of soul was as their own; their own as his; a picture history will not willingly let die. Reverence and sympathy, male and female, created He them, to be bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh.
Faithfulness to trust, sincerity of sympathy, the religion of reverence, blended together in fearless fealty to truth. Doubtless in some such sense a Greek adage speaks of Truth as fellow-citizen of the gods. The truth of things as it came into his ken, with the vigorous commonsense of a great mind which sees things as they are, Lee translated into practical performance. The potency of an unfailing commonsense is glorified in his renown. High aims joined to the faculty to realize them, heroic force joined to heroic scorn for consequence to self, wherever fighting, under whatever name, I call the life of truth. Lee belongs to the mightiest of the mighty who have loved truth more than themselves, Before the inquisitors of Reconstruction he stood as might have stood the just and tenacious man of Horace. He abides as symbol of the deep mystery, that passion for truth must needs pass through passion. The assailants of the South made war in the name of "moral ideas." In the outlaw was the reality. For them who have not yet lost faith in a universe presided over by moral law, the image graven by these last years is one to thrill. One old man, aged less by strain of time than strain of deeds, yet bearing the weight of three score venerable years; invested with no diadem of state; no divinity of purple; no sceptre, were it the slightest, of temporal authority; without a voice in government; without a representative he could call his own, nor power to vote for one; without a soldier he could summon; without a weapon he could draw; from the Southern border of Pennsylvania to the Western border of Mexico, drew to him the honor of true hearts, with a spiritual sway akin to that of pontiffs. A silent magnanimity sat like a crown upon his brow. He for whom the unseen ideal is the one reality does not fear the power of any adversary. The severe majestic heights to which he attained were beyond the reach of temporal attributions. The raging force around him, powerful to outlaw, was powerless to profane. The poignant satire of events made him outlaw, when loyalty was rapine. He who has been rightly called "Undefeated by defeat," gazing from his outlaw throne upon the orgies of "Reconstruction," mournfully might have cried, "Unvictorious by victory." What he reveals is the essence, not the semblance, of great life.
The gaze of the world was turned to see how one who thus far had fought the good fight would finish the course. In so looking the world saw none of the mean tragedy of the despair which is selfish. The world saw the modesty of true greatness, and none of the importunate craving for the limelight which is hall mark of the sham. No press agency was pressed into service for him. The sweet uses of advertisement were unknown to him. The world saw one who with quietness of spirit gave the challenge to catastrophe. The world saw one, who in superlative disaster, towered above "envy, hatred and all uncharitableness." The world saw unpretentious eminence, unaffected piety, and in the simplicity of Sparta the majesty of Rome. The world saw struggle with superlative adversity by a soul still greater. The world saw a soul of battle, higher than battle won, victorious over battle lost. The dignity of that soul made the din of triumph over it seem paltry. The cross was laid on one who had the courage of the cross.
To Lee might be applied the words spoken of another, whose moral reign has not yet ceased:
"Exalted Socrates, divinely brave,
Injured he felt, and dying he forgave,
Too noble for revenge."
As the Sabbath of his years drew to a close, reverently we watched, as with an even temper and a gentle grace, he stepped into the falling night. Strong men revered him for his greater strength. Little children loved him for his greater love. Man destroys death when, like Lee, he builds up a life outside of death, and leaves to death a man of straw. Before our eyes he passed from strength to strength, from height to height. The hidden load of sorrow which consumed him, in a manner was made known by the knowledge that five years had sufficed to wear away the fine masonry of physical perfection, which was the speaking casement of the finer spirit. When the end of earth came, he died as he had lived, looking humbly to his Maker. For them who watched it was as if they saw one descending to the grave, like a conqueror in the games, bending to receive the conqueror 's reward. The heart which had vanquished fate had ceased to beat. No splendor of woe, no peal of mighty music, accompanied his bier; but, from end to end of the smitten South, the muffled drum of hearts bowed down for him was beating a funeral march, more eloquent than all the pageantries of royal woe, to which all the nations flock royally appareled. Each added year the eye of faith has seen the finger of time fashioning the immortal wreath, and the ear of faith has almost heard the chisel of time, stroke by stroke, touch by touch, shaping the "eloquent proportions" of the spirit. A grace of beauty which is the blessedness of duty is his dominion.
We have not in this new world the marvelous songs, which from Homer to Dante and Milton have been Bibles in verse; we have not the marvelous structures, which from Parthenon and Pantheon to York and St. Peter's, have been Bibles in Stone; we have no Lion of Lucerne to tell in immortal stone the immortal story of devotion unto death. Yet is there one, the peer of the proudest of them all, whose strong wall shall last while time endures, whose pure page all time is powerless to deface. That masterpiece is the life of Lee. The hero of our Troy immortally shall live, whatever befall Ilium. There is your ideal; you will rise as you honor this, and refuse to honor the antithesis of this. As you welcome the antagonist ideal you crucify your own. If, indeed, they for whom this masterpiece is Epos, repudiate their own, and in the modern House of Rimmon they, too, bend low before the machineries and prosperities of graft, then from the stately height of Arlington his shade, as the shadow of a glorious past, reproachfully will tower to smite with silent scorn the impotent succession.
Today at Lexington we view him, the campaign cloak martially flung over him, as if he did but snatch the moments, to repair the strain of yesterday and prepare for the morrow's. In that grand repose, he still is warrior of the cause of which he is the likeness. In his marble sleep he bears its image and superscription. He and the cause for which he fought shall rise before the bar of history firm as marble and as pure.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers. Richmond, Va., Sept., 1917. New Series, Vol. 4, Old Series, Vol. XLII.
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