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The Army of Tennessee.

By Colonel Wm. Preston Johnston.
[The following eloquent response to a toast at the splendid banquet of the Army of Tennessee Association, in New Orleans the 7th of April last, is a fitting eulogy on as brave men as the world ever saw, and we are glad of the privilege of putting it on our record. Colonel Johnston was received by the veterans with great enthusiasm and cheered to the echo when he took his seat.]

Colonel Johnston said:

Soldiers of the Army of Tennessee,—In rising, at your invitation, to respond to the sentiment just announced, I feel a deep embarrassment. In any other presence I could stand forth unabashed as the chronicler of your deeds and the eulogist of your martial virtues. There are many links that bind me to you. It was at Camp Borne, Tennessee, that I did my first service in helping to build up the frame work of your army; and though I was soon transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia, I can never forget that your ranks were the arena which I chose as my field of service. Again, as the frequent intermediary staff officer of President Davis with the Generals of your army, I learned to know the Army of Tennessee in every bone and sinew and artery of its organization; and those who knew [41] it best admired it most. But most of all, as the son and biographer of one of your leaders, whom it has pleased you to honor, I feel a fraternal sympathy with you in every pulsation of my heart. I have, therefore, much to bind me to you, and anywhere else could proudly recount the famous deeds you have done, as one who had a common interest with you. But here, among the very actors of the most terrific tragedy of modern times—here, face to face with heroes who I know wrought such miracles of valor, I confess I stand abashed. But your kindness and your magnanimity reassure me.

But, soldiers, I do not accept the honor done me to-day as personal to myself. I recognize in it a tribute to the memory of my beloved father, whom Louisiana always treated as a favored child. Louisiana was the State which gave him his military education and toward which his kindliest feelings always flowed forth. And this city of New OrleansQueen of the Southern Waters, the Venice of the West—was the city of all cities pre-eminently dear to his heart. Here he numbered many of his choicest friends. Here he was most cherished in life and most honored in death. I can never forget that New Orleans received his mortal remains into her bosom as he was borne from the battle upon his shield, and that her mourning mingled the antique grandeur and tearful tenderness of the Spartan mother. I remember how your women made constant and solemn decoration of his tomb in the years it was with you, and until it was borne away to his adopted State of Texas.

It is needless, then, to dwell upon the fraternal ties which bind me to you. Soldiers of the Army of Tennessee, we know that we are brothers.

How then, am I coldly and critically to measure your worth, to weigh your acts and to enumerate your services? I cannot do it. It is useless to try, and I will not attempt it. From Bowling Green and Columbus, where, with a skirmish line, you held at bay the hesitating hosts of the North through all the eventful contests of the mightiest struggle of modern times, your army so bore itself as to win an imperishable renown.

It has been my privilege to write a history of the opening scenes of the war in the west; and I believe I have so written it that the tongues of the combatants will attest its truth. It has been questioned whether on Sunday evening at Shiloh—twenty years ago today—you were able to grasp the results of victory. I appeal to the men who were at the front; and on this issue I challenge all comers to abide by your verdict. [42]

But it is past. We did our duty, and whether victory crowned our arms, or the inextinguishable fires of hate cease not to pour upon us the consequences of defeat, yet it is well with us. We stand as the representatives of what has been poetically named ‘The Lost Cause.’ It is a good name, for we lost so much. The ruin around us, from which political vindictiveness and greed will not allow us to recover, still shows how much of material prosperity was overthrown by the doctrinaires who swayed the masses and controlled the policy of the North. But who shall count the tears, the broken hearts, the crushed hopes of this generous and gallant people? Much, indeed, was lost. But the central idea for which we fought is not lost; the right of self-government, the right to strike back when any alien hand attempts to put its shackles, or to impose its will, upon us or our communities. This is not lost. It is not dead, and since lovers of freedom live North as well as South, it will not die, but will grow and strengthen until the end. Louisiana, here in this city of New Orleans, has evinced this by the combined wisdom and manhood with which she broke the fetters that an impartial tyranny had placed upon her. Honor to the brave men who did it!

When the Southern Confederacy took the attitude of a combatant, it was with sword and shield. She chose to employ the Army of Northern Virginia as the sword of her right hand; while in her left the Western army guarded 1,000 miles of front. If glory gleamed from our flashing falchion in the east at Manassas, and Richmond, and Chancellorsville, and in the Valley, the shield of the west bore all the tests of as high a resolution, and of as noble endurance at Shiloh, and Perryville, and Murfreesboro, and Chickamauga, down to those last days when a remnant under Gibson held Canby and his 40,000 veterans in check at Spanish Fort.

If the Army of Northern Virginia was ‘the sword of the Lord and of Gideon’—sheathed by the mighty hand of Lee at Appomattox—verily, when the weeping eyes of our women were turned to where you guarded so long and well, the heart of the Confederacy, through the noise of the lamentation, a voice went up, crying, ‘This is, indeed, my shield and my buckler.’

And so may it ever be. May you, veterans of the Army of Tennessee, by the arms of your vigorous manhood and the counsels of your mature age, ever prove a shield and a defense for your people.

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