On the 29th of May, 1890, I stood with you where never again till at the judgment seat will I see as many of the war-worn Confederates, where with roll of drums and boom of cannon General Joseph E. Johnston, now gone to be with Lee, pulled the cord which unveiled the statue and one hundred thousand voises made the air resonant with the name of Robert E. Lee. And then as they passed his old home, with many wooden legs and armless sleeves, and all with uncovered heads, they sang ‘Shall auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind.’ The noble women of Richmond wept. The brawny, brave, gray-haired veterans wept. I could not refrain from mingling my tears with theirs. We wept not because the slaves were free, for none of us would have them back; we wept not that the Confederacy failed to gain independence, for we love our own rights as States and individuals, made doubly sure in terrific struggle and in the close of that war in which we were actors. Those questions were forever settled then: But we wept because we recalled that day a common suffering in a common heritage of hardships shared so willingly with us by our grand old commander. We wept because we all loved General Lee. The Sentinel Song of the poet is the expression of our thoughts to-day:
When falls the soldier brave dead at the feet of wrong
The poet sings and guards his grave with sentinels of song.
Songs, march! he gives command. Keep faithful watch and true.
The living and the dead of the conquered land have no guards save you.
Go, wearing the gray of grief! Go watch over the dead in gray.
Go, guard the private and guard the chief. Go, sentinel their clay.
And songs in stately rhyme, and with softly sounding tread.
Go forth to watch for a time, a time where sleeps the deathless dead.
Go sing through a nation's sighs. Go, sob through a people's tears!
Sweep the horizons of all the skies and throb through a thousand years.
And the songs with waving wing, fly far, float far away.
From the ages' crests, o'er the world they fling the shade of the stainless gray;
And when they come they will sweep a harp with tears all stringed,
And the very notes they strike will sleep, as they come from hearers woe-wringed.
But oh, if in song or speech, in major or minor key,
Could my voice o'er the ages reach, I would whisper the name of Lee.
In the night of our defeat star after star had gone,
But the way was bright to our soldiers' feet where the star of Lee led on.
The world shall yet decide in truth's clear, far-off light
That the soldiers who wore the gray and died with Lee were clearly in the right;