Tribute to the Confederate dead.
[The following eloquent address was delivered at the reunion of the veterans of the Army of Tennessee in New Orleans, on the 6th of April, 1882, and will be read with tender interest by all who cherish the memory of our fallen heroes:]
Mr. President and Comrades of the Army of Tennessee
,--Standing to-day beside the mound that is the base of the monument from whose four sides look out the faces of four of our dead heroes, with that typical figure, the Confederate
soldier, standing on the top of its commemorative column, and recalling the toast to which I was to respond here to-night, Irving
's tender and familiar words came vividly to mind: “There comes a voice from the tomb sweeter than song, and there is a remembrance of the dead to which we turn, even from the charms of the living.”
For those faces and that figure brought the dead to life.
There was Albert Sidney Johnston
, coming out from the cloud and mist of misapprehension and detraction, vindicated in his dying as the
peer of the most illustrious in that grand galaxy of generals, statesmen, and heroes that have made the name and fame of the Southern Confederacy immortal.
There was Louisiana
's bishop-general, Polk
, who, with a lofty soul, a clear conscience, and an abiding faith, and clad in the divine panoply, wore also with ease and grace the armor of human strife.
There was Stonewall Jackson
, flashing through the conflict the very genius of battle.
And there, too, was Lee
, “first in war, first in peace,” and still first in all our hearts.
And above, and of right crowning that monumental shaft and looking down upon that heroic group, stood that figure leaning upon his gun, a mute, yet eloquent reminder of the men who followed, trusted and loved those leaders — leaders who, without such followers, without men so courageous, patriotic and devoted, had never been lifted to their high places in human history.
Ah! amid associations so suggestive, there was a charm in the remembrance of our dead.
And, looking around on the throng of loving women and true men gathered to pay honor to “our dead,” I asked myself did these men die in vain?
Were their lives wasted or lost?
And in quick response and earnest protest my heart cried out, No I no!
a thousand times no!
True, they died sad and cruel deaths.
Ball and shot and shell made their lives leap forth at a bound, or left them shattered in frame or limb to sink in slower agonies.
Through long sickness they wasted in camps and hospitals, away from home, from wife and children, kindred and friends.
Through vigil-keeping nights and weary days, under parching suns, in blinding dust and amid freezing snows they toiled and suffered.
They fell in trenches, and in mines, or on fields of blood under the open sky, with none to close their eyes or compose their limbs; their last sighs heard only by the winds of heaven that moaned their requiem; leaving behind them empty homes, weeping eyes and breaking hearts.
And yet in the days when they suffered and died there were men who lived in ease and plenty, and died quietly in their beds, whose names are as dead and forgotten as their cold and mouldering forms.
And to be “forgotten as a dead man out of mind,” to be “to dumb forgetfulness a prey” is a dreaded fate.
For the desire of posthumous fame is a noble aspiration of the human soul.
Among life's right ambition it is a worthy aim to seek to do something that will keep a man's memory fresh and green; and it is a consolation to be able to say when dying, “I shall not altogether die.”
I have yet to learn that those generations that pass through uneventful and unhistoric days are to be envied, as gathering up their feet in
their beds they go gently to their fathers, or to be esteemed as favored above those other generations that lived in times that tried men's souls, times that showed the stuff that men were made of, times that developed the heroic qualities of honor, truth and strength, that are so often consumed by the “cankers of a long peace.”
The dead past of history lies along its wide deserts and level plains of quiet and abundance, while its living past is among its hills and hollows of unrest and want, and its heroic past is on its eminences, laboriously attained, from whose lofty heights of toil and strife, sun-illumined and heaven-touched, look out the men and shine forth the deeds that place man beside the immortals and lift him toward the eternal.
Were I a Jew — whose records are the grandest — and were I asked in what period of my people's history it was most an honor to have lived, I would select, not David's glorious day, when surrounding nations bowed to Israel
's conquering arms, nor Solomon's golden time — Israel
's high noon of peace and plenty — but I would choose, rather, the life time of that generation that camped forty years in the wilderness, their eyes not suffered to see Canaan
nor their feet to press its sacred soil; for in that day God came down and talked with Moses
in the mount, and gave to them that law that is the basis of the truth and right and justice that to-day prevail throughout Christendom.
And so with us, in that seven years struggle that made us a nation.
It was well worth “twice ten years of peaceful life” to have lived and labored with Washington
, to have fought at Bunker's Hill
, at Princeton
, and to have suffered and endured at Valley Forge
But it may be said that these gained and ours lost.
Well, be it so. Were the lives of ours, therefore, wasted, and did our dead die in vain?
As well say so of the martys, whose blood was the seed of the church.
And, drawing reverently the parallel, when Jesus died in agony and ignominy, Pilate and Herod
In that eclipse of the God-man, was his cause lost?
Why, in three centuries he became the world's master, his name ruling that empire whose subordinate official had delivered him to death.
Ah! men die, but principles live, and truth,
Though struck to earth revives again.
The eternal years of God are her's.
And, to-day, the principles of constitutional right and individual liberty, of State sovereignty, and local self-government, for which our men warred and died, find assertion and advocacy throughout the land.
In the homage paid, to this day, at their tombs by fair women and brave men, among them men once foes who came as friends, a homage paid through floral offerings symbolizing love and peace, our association offered our dead the highest tribute.
What said that pair of scales set there in silent but expressive beauty?
“Weighed in the balances they were not found wanting.”
Comrades, I know that as the words of our toast arrest our ears, tender memories are awakened in our hearts — memories of men whose hearts were knit to ours in the camp, the march, the bivouac, the siege and the battle.
And as Shiloh
, and Murfreesboro
, and Chickamauga
, and Chattanooga
, and Vicksburg
, and Atlanta
, and Franklin
, and Nashville
, and Mansfield
, and Pleasant Hill
, pass before us, familiar forms and faces appear instinct with the life and bright with the light that was the strength and the joy of those camping and campaigning days.
And some of them, alas I we see bathed in their blood, shrouded in their blankets and laid away in their nameless graves.
Well do I recall our charges up Franklin
's fatal slope, and remember how, the day after, as their chaplain, with Scripture and prayer, I buried seventy of the best and bravest of my brigade, placed side by side in the long trenches that were their common grave.
And that fight at Peach Tree Creek
, above Atlanta
, where, of our 1,230 that went in, but 650 came out. Ah!
how often, as we entered those fields of slaughter, looking along our devoted ranks, the pathos and power of those lines, in which a master of words commemorates Waterloo
, thrilled my soul as prophecies of that awaiting us:
And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves
Dewy with Nature's tear-drops, as they pass
Grieving, if aught inanimate e'er grieves,
Over the unreturning brave, alas!
Ere evening to be trodden like the grass,
Which now beneath them but above shall grow
In its next verdure, when this fiery mass
Of living valor rolling on the foe,
And burning with high hope, shall moulder cold and low.
Last noon beheld them full of lusty life,
Last eve in beauty's circle proudly gay,
The midnight brought the signal sound of strife,
The noon the marshaling to arms — the day
Battle's magnificently stern array.
The thunder clouds close o'er it, which, when rent,
The earth is covered thick with other clay,
Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent,
Rider and horse, friend, foe — in one red burial blent.
Comrades, though divided from “Our dead,” we are not dissevered.
For while not of those — nor would I be — who believe that
Ever near us, though unseen,
Their dear immortal spirits tread,
while I cannot think that they are roused from their rest
On fame's eternal camping-ground,
and sent forth on this weary and anxious patrol, keeping watch and ward over our miseries, follies and sins, I yet believe, finding my warrant in that book that tells us that the angels of God are his ministering messengers of love and mercy, that these same angels, who take the tear and the prayer of penitence above, so that Heaven's arches resound with notes of joy over the repenting, that they also bear word of us to ours who are gone before, telling them how, with toil and wrestle, we are yet struggling up toward the better land and the blessed life, and telling, too, that they, though dead, are living in our hearts and on our lips.
In such a faith there is set a stimulus to our endeavors so to live that our lives here may waken joy in hearts that love us there.
And in the light of such a faith, it is not overbold or strained to say that, doubtless, to-night the hearts of heroes who have passed over the river and await us on the other side are made glad by our remembrance, as, gathered here, we honor their names, their virtues and their deeds.
And, comrades, one word more.
The time will come when this association will have reached its maximum; when our president shall no more report, as he has done to-night, an increase in our number; when there will be no more new members.
And then will our contraction begin.
From that day will date our decline.
One by one the veterans who survive, dropping from our thinning ranks, will diminish our ever-decreasing roll.
And there will be a day when the last survivor, on this the night of our annual reunion, shall enter our hall alone.
God grant that, then, as with the trembling grasp of age, he lifts to his lips the glass of remembrance, and dreading to break the solemn stillness in which he sits, faintly whispers to his own ear his last toast--“My” (no longer “our” ) “My dead” --that, then and there, as his eye passes over the long roll, and he folds it for a final report, he may send it up indorsed and approved, writing on it: “These, my comrades, in war
, died on the field of honor, in peace
, at the post of duty, and are living in the fields of glory.”