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The private Confederate soldier.

By General Henry A. Wiss.
[January 30th 1866, General Henry A. Wise--the brave soldier, the gifted orator, “the fearless tribune of the people” --delivered in the Second Baptist Church, Richmond, an address of thrilling eloquence on “Female Orphanage.” In the course of the address he pronounced an eulogy on the private soldier of the Confederacy, which it were well to recall, and to preserve, in these days when some men seem ashamed that they ever “wore the Gray,” and others, from [418] whom we should expect better things, to forget the debt of gratitude they owe these men.]

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There are among these infants not only orphans, orphans of the poor, female orphans, and orphans whose lot has been cast in dreary and desolate times; but some of these are the female orphans of deceased and disabled Confederate soldiers, privates in the rank which you embattled for your independence. You failed only by the fall of such men. They fell for you, and you fell. Are any afraid or ashamed to embrace them in the fall? Listen, whilst I repeat truths which you must not try and must not dare to forget; truths which, if you do not gratefully recognize and openly avow and maintain at all hazards, without the fear of showing sympathy, if not without some reproach; shame! shame! shame! shall so shout and hoot at shrimped, and shriveled, sordid, selfish souls as to shake them like miser's money-bags, until with appalling jars their coin-idols shall be jostled out and scattered to street-beggars and vagrants of the “Arts of Industrie” War itself appalled not the hearts of the Confederate heroes who fell; and war is now over; the cloud has burst; the lightning hath done its scathing; the thunder hath ceased to mutter; in honor's name, then, let craven cringing cease!

The noblest bands of men who ever fought or who ever fell in the annals of war, whose glorious deeds history ever took pen to record, were, I exultingly claim, the private soldiers in the armies of the great Confederate cause. Whether right or wrong in the cause which they espoused, they were earnest and honest patriots in their convictions, who thought that they were right to defend their own, their native land, its soil, its altars, and its honor. They felt that they were no rebels, and no traitors in obeying their State sovereignties, and they thought that it was lawful to take up arms under their mandates, authorized expressly by the Federal Constitution, to repel invasion or to suppress insurrection, when there was such “imminent danger as not to admit of delay.” The only reason for the delay which could have been demanded of them was to have appealed to the invaders themselves for defense against their own invasion; and whether there was imminent danger or not, events have proved. They have been invaded until every blade of grass has been trodden down, until every sanctuary of temple, and fame, and altar, and home has been profaned. The most of these men had no stately mansions for their homes; no slaves to plow and plant any broad fields of theirs; no stocks or investments in interest bearing funds. They were poor, but proudly patriotic and [419] indomitably brave. Their country was their only heritage. The mothers and wives and daughters buckled on the belts, and sent husbands and sons and brothers forth, and women toiled for the bread and spun the raiment of “little ones” of “shanty” homes in country, or of shops in town, whilst their champions of defense were in their country's camps, or marches, or trenches, or battles! They faithfully followed leaders whom they trusted and honored. Nor Cabinets, nor Congress, nor Commissariat, nor Quartermaster's Department, nor speculators, nor spies, nor renegades, nor enemy's emissaries, nor poverty, nor privation, nor heat, nor cold, nor sufferings, nor toil, nor danger, nor wounds, nor death could impair their constancy! They fought with a devout confidence and courage which was unconquerable save by starvation, blockade, overwhelming numbers, foreign dupes and mercenaries, Yankeedom, Negrodom, and death! Prodigies of valor, miracles of victories, undoubted and undoubting devotion and endurance to the last, entitled them to honors of surrender which gilded the arms of their victors and extorted from them even cheers on the battle-field where at last they yielded for peace! Alas! how many thousands had fallen before their few surviving comrades laid down their arms! Of these men of the ranks their beloved leader, General R. E. Lee, said to me, during the last winter on the lines: “Sir, the men of this war who will deserve the most honor and gratitude are not the men of rank, but the men of the ranks--the privates!” I cordially concurred in the justice and truth of the compliment, for I had seen them tried on the rocks of Coal river, of Gauley and the Pocotalico. I had tested their endurance in the marches and countermarches, and scouting and skirmishing, of the Kanawha Valley; I had seen them in a first fight and victory against all odds at Scary, and their last stand against greater odds on the Sewall mountains; I had seen their constancy and courage proved at Hawk's Nest, at Honey Creek, at Big Creek, at Carnifax Ferry, and at Camp Defiance, in Northwest Virginia. I had seen them leap with alacrity to the defense of Roanoke Island, knowing when they went that they could not return but as captives or corpses. I have seen them in the “Slaughter pen” there slay twice their own numbers before they stacked the arms for which they had no amunition. I have seen them employ their leisure and amuse their ennui at Chaffin's farm by mechanic arts for the army of a blockaded country! I have seen their efficiency on the peninsulas of the James and York, and of the Chickahominy and Pamunkey. I have seen their successful strategy at Williamsburg and Whitaker's Mill, and their steadiness in the din of metal at Malvern Hill. I have [420] seen their temper and spirit tried in the lagoons and galls of the Edisto and Stono, and their pluck on John's Island, in South Carolina. I have heard the shouts of the Virginia men when ordered back from South Carolina and Florida to rally again around the altars of home, and heard them raise the slogan of “Old Virginia never tire,” when they pressed forward to open the defile at Nottoway bridge, and rushed to Petersburg in time twice to save the Cockade City against odds of more than ten to one. I have seen them drive through the barricade and cut at Walthall Junction, and storm the lines at Howlett's not for five days only, but for twice five days successive fighting. I have seen them on the picket lines and in the trenches, throughout all seasons of the year, in heat and cold, day and night, in storm and sunshine, often without food fit to feed brutes, with not enough of that; without half enough of fuel or clothing or blankets; under the almost incessant fire of shot and shell; without forage for transportation and without transportation for forage; scarce of ordnance stores; not supplied with medicines for the hospital; all the time rolling a Sisyphean stone of parapet, and traverse, and breastwork, and bomb-proof, for the want of material for revetment, and for the want of tools to dig out and work up the indispensable lines of defenses. I have seen their manhood worn by every variety of disease and wounds in the hospital wards. Starved, half naked, rest broken, I have seen them summoned to stand to or to storm the breach and do it, filling ditches and a crater full of the assailant's dead. I have seen their brigades blasted by the shock of mines and rise from the debris and rubbish to repel and conquer the storming enemy. I have seen them bivouacked on the right of Hatcher's Run, and on the ever memorable days of the 29th and 31st of March last advance first one, then two, then less than three brigades, on the Military and Boydton plank-roads, against two corps, and fight them for hours, and so stagger them that they dared not follow the retreat. I have seen them on the quick night-march to Church Crossings, and thence hurried to the Namozine, to Flat Creek, to Big Creek, to Sailor's Creek, to the High Bridge, and to Farmville, marching and charging, and charging and marching, and starving, but not sleeping nor stopping on the way, but to work or to fight. And I have seen them fire their last volleys at Appomattox; and often times in marches, on picket, in the trenches, in camps and in charges I have seen them sad and almost sink, but I never saw their tears until their beloved commander-in-chief ordered them to surrender their arms. Then they wept, and many of them broke their trusty weapons! The blessed and ever glorious dead were not there to surrender, and they [421] are not here to defend their memories from the taint of the reproach of rebellion and treason. Alas! I am alive and here, and am bound, at every hazard, to declare that those men were no rebels and no traitors. Let whoever will swear that they were rebels and traitors I will contradict the oath, and appeal to God on the Holy of Holies as high as Heaven's throne, and swear they were pure patriots, loyal citizens, well tried and true soldiers, brave, honest, devoted men, who proved their faith in their principles by the deaths which canonized them immortal heroes and martyrs! No one shall inscribe the epitaphs of rebellion and treason upon the tombs of their dead without my burning protest being uttered against the foul and false profanation. And if any wounds of the living are labeled with rebellion and treason I would tear away the infamy though the wounds should bleed unto death. If I suffer their names to be dishonored and their glory to be tarnished, and don't gainsay the reproach, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; and if I suffer their orphans to be outcasts for the want of sympathy, warmly outspoken and more warmly felt, may my right hand forget its cunning. Alas! in these times it has no cunning, for it has no coins! I too am a beggar. I can beg, then, and do beg like a Belisarius, for them. Please give them one obolus! Have you a crumb to spare? Divide it with them Have you comfort, give them. I implore you give them some of your abundance! Their enemies who slew their fathers honor them enough to feed their poor orphans! They won't hurt you for daring to do deeds of charity. Many of them are brave men, and the brave are always generous to the brave. The orphan, the orphan of the poor, the female orphan, the orphan fallen on evil times, the Confederate soldier's orphan girl-child cry to you! Will you not heed their cries and in some way help the helpless ones? If you will not, then may we apostrophize the manes of their martyred sires, in the language of the lays of the Scottish cavaliers:

Last of Freemen--
     Last of all that dauntless race
Who would rather die unsullied
     Than outlive the land's disgrace--
O thou lion-hearted warrior!
     Reck not of the after-time!
Honor may be deemed dishonor,
     Loyalty be called a crime.
Sleep in peace with kindred ashes
     Of the noble and the true,
Hands that never failed their country,
     Hearts that never baseness knew!

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