The Private Infantryman.
The Typical Hero of the South.
[From The Times-Democrat's Christmas Edition, 1892.]
The Old South has grand memories and the New South has splendid anticipations. The spirit which moved the Old leads the New South.
It is that spirit which seeks truth through roughest paths and heeds no danger in its pursuit. It is that spirit which warmed the hearts and steeled the nerves to bear the burdens of both the Old and the New South. My ideal hero embraced it with superb unselfishness.
Some would say he should be Robert E. Lee, whose great heart and lofty leadership enchained the everlasting affection of the South.
Some would say he should be Stonewall Jackson, whose magic power so often awakened the wonder of the world.
Some would say he should be Jefferson Davis, whose polished manhood held with unyielding nerve the pearl of Southern pride.
Some would say he was among the hosts of cavalrymen and artillerymen, who flashed their swords and pulled their lanyards in battles often won.
Yes! These are the jewels of the South, and there are honors and memories for them; but I would take away the stars and trimmings and titles, for there was charm and inspiration in them.
I would eliminate, too, the higher grades of service.
The purest spirit, the deepest love, the greatest hero, the noblest manhood, was in the infantry private of the South.
He was reared when the "irrepressible conflict" quickened the pulse of the people. He was inspired by the intellectual gladiators of the South.
He gloried in the heroism of his ancestors, which had won the republic from England.
He shouldered the burden of his convictions, he grasped his musket for his cause, he inhaled the smoke of battle, he felt the sting of bullet, he bled from shot and shell.
He dared to die when he could foresee his unurned ashes scattered on the soil of his enemies.
Where is loftier heroism?
Where is nobler patriotism?
Where is truer manhood?
Where is grander chivalry?
Where a more ideal hero?
For principles, he carried the heaviest cross.
For principles, he courted an unknown grave.
He touched elbows in the unwavering line of charge.
He gained victory with the point of the bayonet.
He dauntlessly rushed over earthworks.
He stood like a "stone wall" on the field.
He was strongest in battle.
He was gentlest in victory.
He was most powerful in the face of menace.
He was tenderest to the captured.
His pride was grand, his bravery exalted, his heroism majestic!
His marvelous simplicity of conduct was consonant with his beauty of heart?
His life in camp was characterized by praiseworthy endurance.
He met his privations with the calmness of a philosopher.
He enjoyed the pastimes of his tent with the guilelessness of a child.
He doted on his faded uniform and jeered at the "slick" silk hat, even on the head of a Confederate congressman.
When the first year of his service had passed he was bright with hope.
Fort Sumter had fallen and Manassas had emblazoned his bayonet with glory!
The second year passed with five hundred and sixty-four battles and engagements, including Shiloh, the seven days' battle, which made the dark waters of the Chickahominy run red, Second Manassas and Fredericksburg, and his prowess was proved to the civilized world.
The third year passed with six hundred and twenty-seven battles and engagements.
It saw his pride at the highest and his hope brightest when, fresh from the victories of Chancellorsville, he invaded the soil of Pennsylvania.
Alas! for human hopes!
Gettysburg turned backward his footsteps and started anxiety in his breast.
How long could these bloody years last?
Surely, not longer than seven, as his ancestors' revolution had cost!
Then the fourth year passed, with seven hundred and seventy-nine battles and engagements.
His anxiety was over.
He saw the inevitable end.
Hope of success was gone.
It was only a question of the days he might be spared before the bullet pierced his heart.
He saw the end before the statesmen in the Capitol at Richmond. He knew overwhelming numbers would crush out the soldiery of the South.
His comrades were falling, and no recruits came to fill their places. He saw the end and felt it in the summer of 1864, but his allegiance to the army, his duty to himself and his family bade him go almost daily to a hopeless slaughter, and often he marched to battle for his personal honor, without the slightest hope for his country's independence.
Can you imagine heroism more sublime than the private infantryman's who held the front lines of the Confederacy during the last half of 1864 and the winter and spring of 1865?
Around Petersburg along the disastrous line of retreat to Appomattox, and even there he shouldered his musket and yielded ready obedience to the order for a charge, until his matchless commander said his duty to his country had been "faithfully performed," and further resistance would be a useless sacrifice.
He had enlisted as a private, he fought as a private, he surrendered as a private, and then he returned to private life to battle for bread. His country was lost, but a dauntless spirit directed him in the evolution to another citizenship. He guided the plow, wielded the axe, and did whatever his hand found to do, with the same unassuming fortitude which marked his career in the army.
He inspired courage in the young. He gave life to the weak, and grappled the new order of things with masterly mind.
Napoleon said: "True heroism consists in being superior to the ills of life in whatever shape they may challenge him to combat."
The infantryman not only felt as the illustrious warrior when he uttered this sublime sentiment, but he has demonstrated its truth by rising superior to all the evils of disaster, imbuing his associates with that resolute endurance which made him the breakwater of the Confederacy, and has made the bone and sinew of the progress and prosperity of the New South.
As his is the glory of the past, so his is the strength of the present. Whenever you find him, whether laboring on your streets, building your ships or tilling your fields, pause and lift your hat, for the Confederate private infantryman is the typical hero of the South.
He is entitled to the absolute respect of the grandest in the land. Already many stately granite shafts commemorate our hero leaders, but shall there not be one higher by an hundredfold and a thousand times more beautiful in design than any of these, dedicated to the infantry privates of the South?
Aye! I wish a shaft of burnished gold could lift its head from Virginia's valley, in which sleep the remains of Lee and Jackson, in memory of the private infantrymen of the Confederacy, emblazoning their glory to coming generations, for their heroism is the grandest type of all the thousand bloody fields which heralded Southern valor.
The private infantrymen were lowest in rank, yet highest in their loyalty to the finest sense of honor the human mind can conceive--grandest in humility, greatest in sincerity, purest in purpose; and never can temples of fame enshrine the memory of knightlier souls!
WILLIAM H. STEWART,
Late Lt.-Col. 61st Va. Infantry, C. S. A.,
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XX. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1892
This page last updated 12/23/06
RETURN TO CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA PAGE