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William Johnson Pegram,

of the Third corps, who, at the early age of twenty-two, died sword in hand at the head of his men, with all his “honor-owing wounds” in front “to make a soldier's passage for his soul.”

On Sunday night, April 2d, the lines of Petersburg and Richmond were, as I have said, evacuated, and the Army of Northern Virginia passed out in retreat. Thus were yielded at the last forty miles of entrenchments guarded by less than 40,000 men,1 yet held during ten months of ceaseless vigil and fevered famine with such grim tenacity, as has made it hard for the brave of every nation to determine whether to accord their sorrowful admiration more to the stern prowess of the simple soldier, or to the matchless readiness of a leader who by the fervor of his genius developed from slender resources such amazing power.

With the abandonment of these lines ends the task confided to me, comrades, by your generous partiality. Already have you listened to the story of the “Retreat” from the lips of a soldier who bore an honorable part in the disastrous week which culminated in the surrender at Appomattox — a day which marked, indeed, the wreck of a nation, yet which may be recalled with no blush of shame by the men who there sadly furled those tattered colors emblazoned with the names of Manassas and Fredericksburg, of Chancellorsville and Cold Harbor — who there returned a park of blackened guns wrested from the victors at Gaines' Mill and Frazer's Farm, at Second Manassas and Harper's Ferry, at the Wilderness and Reams' Station, at Appomattox Courthouse itself on that very morning--who there, in the presence of above 140,000 of their adversaries, stacked 8,000 of those “bright muskets” which for more than four years had “borne upon their bayonets” the mightiest Revolt in history.

Nor shall those men ever forget the generous bearing of the victorious [304] host, which even in that supreme moment of triumph remembered that this gaunt remnant were the survivors of an army which but two years before had dealt them such staggering blows that there were more deserters from the Army of the Potomac than there were men for duty in the Army of Northern Virginia2--that they were the survivors of that army which, from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, had put hors du combat more men than Lee had carried into the campaign; which, from Cold Harbor to Five Forks, had again put hors du combat as great a number as was left him for the defence of Petersburg.3 Surely, it is meet that, with each recurring year, the survivors of such an army should gather themselves together to hear and know the truth. Thus shall the decorum of history be preserved and error be not perpetuated.

It is a duty, comrades, which we owe to ourselves, which we owe to our children, which we owe to our leader, whose fame shall shine with added lustre when the true nature of his difficulties shall be laid bare — when it shall be made clear to all, to what measure Lee the Soldier stood in the shade of powers to which Lee the Patriot rendered patriotic obedience. Yet of this are we sure, that it is a fame which malice cannot touch, which florid panegyric cannot injure — a fame which may well await the verdict of that time of which his ablest critic speaks with such prophetic confidence: “When History, with clear voice, shall recount the deeds done on either side, and the citizens of the whole Union do justice to the memories of the dead and place above all others the name of him, who, in strategy mighty, in battle terrible, in adversity as in prosperity a hero indeed, with the simple devotion to duty, and the rare purity of the ideal Christian knight, joined all the kingly qualities of a leader of men.”

Above all, it is duty, which we owe those dauntless spirits who preferred death in resistance to safety in submission.

“For a little while,” says Dr. Draper, the Union historian, “those who have been disappointed clamor, then objurgation subsides into [305] murmurs, and murmurs sink into souvenirs, and souvenirs end in oblivion.”

But no--

Time cannot teach forgetfulness
When grief's full heart is fed by fame.

Here in this battle-crowned capital of our ancient Commonwealth, shall “the men who wore the gray” yearly gather and recall the names of those who went forth to battle at the bidding of Virginia — who now lie sleeping on the bosom of this Mother, that, not unmindful of their valor, not ungrateful for this filial devotion, shall keep forever bright the splendor of their deeds, “till earth, and seas, and skies are rended.”

No “Painted Porch” is hers, like that of Athens, where, for half a thousand years, the descendants of the men who had followed Miltiades to victory might trace the glories of their Marathon — no gleaming Chapelle des Invalides, with the light flaming through gorgeous windows on tattered flags of battle — no grand historic Abbey, like that of England, where hard by the last resting place of her princes and her kings sleep the great soldiers who have writ glorious names high upon their country's roll with the point of their stainless swords.

Nay, none of this is hers.

Only the frosty stars to-night keep solemn watch and ward above the wind-swept graves of those who, from Potomac to James, from Rapidan to Appomattox, yielded up their lives that they might transmit to their children the heritage of their fathers.

Weep on, Virginia, weep these lives given to thy cause in vain;
The stalwart sons who ne'er shall heed thy trumpet-call again;

The homes whose light is quenched for aye; the graves without a stone;
The folded flag, the broken sword, the hope forever flown.

Yet raise thy head, fair land! thy dead died bravely for the Right;
The folded flag is stainless still, the broken sword is bright;
No blot is on thy record found, no treason soils thy fame,
Nor can disaster ever dim the lustre of thy name.4

Pondering in her heart all their deeds and words, Virginia calls us, her surviving sons, “from weak regrets and womanish laments to the contemplation of their virtues,” bidding us, in the noble words [306] of Tacitus, to “honor them not so much with transitory praises as with our reverence, and, if our powers permit us, with our emulation.”

Reminding her children, who were faithful to her in war, that “the reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another,” she points to the tasks left unfinished when the “nerveless hands drooped over the spotless shields,” and with imperious love claims a fealty no less devoted in these days of peace.

I claim no vision of seer or prophet, yet I fancy that even now I descry the faint dawn of that day, which thousands wait on with expectant eyes; when all this land, still the fairest on the globe — this land, which has known so long what old Isaiah termed the “dimness of anguish” --shall grow glad again in the broad sunlight of prosperity, and from Alleghany to Chesapeake shall resound the hum and stir of busy life; when yonder noble roadstead, where our iron-clad “Virginia” revolutionized the naval tactics of two continents, shall be whitened by many a foreign sail, and you, her children, shall tunnel those grand and hoary mountains, whose every pass Lee and “old Stonewall” have made forever historic by matchless skill and daring. Thus, comrades, assured of her heroic Past, stirred by a great hope for her Future, may we to-night reecho the cry of Richmond on Bosworth field:

Now civil wounds are stopped, peace lives again;
That she may long live here, God say amen!

1 In field returns for February, 1865, the number given is 59,094 for Department of Northern Virginia, but as General Early very pertinently remarks, this “affords no just criterion of the real strength of that army, as those returns included the forces in the Valley and other outlying commands not available for duty on the lines.” --Southern Historical Society Papers, July, 1876, p. 19. General Lee himself says: “At the time of withdrawing from the lines around Richmond and Petersburg, the number of troops amounted to about thirty-five thousand.” --Letter to General William S. Smith, July 27th, 1868, Reminiscences of General Lee, p. 268.

2 “At the moment I was placed in command (26th January, 1863), I caused a return to be made of the absentees of the army, and found the number to be 2,922 commissioned officers and 81,964 non-commissioned officers and privates. The desertions were at the rate of about 200 a day.” --Testimony of Major-General Joseph Hooker before the Congressional Committee, March 11th, 1865, Report on the Conduct of the War, vol. i, p. 112. The field returns for month of January, 1863, give 72,226 men “for duty” in the whole Department of Northern Virginia.

3 This statement is the result of careful calculations of Federal losses, based entirely on figures given by Swinton and other Northern historians.

4 These lines are slightly altered from the noble poem entitled “The Ninth of April, 1865,” by Percy Greg--Interleaves in the Workday Prose of Twenty years--London, 1875.

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