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Address of Gen. R. E. Colston. Before the Ladies' Memorial Association, at Wilmington, N. C., May 10, 1870.

Preliminary note.

This address was delivered nearly twenty four years ago when military rule and carpet-bag governments were still prevailing over the South, causing more bitter feeling than even the war itself. Since then, almost a quarter of a century has elapsed and has taught salutary lessons.

We had already appreciated the value of the Northern soldiers, and we now understand the motives which impelled them to war from their point of view, motives just as honest, patriotic, and noble as ours.

Prejudices on both sides have melted away, and there are now no better friends than those who fought each other in the blue and gray. Mr. Beecher's prophecy proved conspicuously false, and all the Southern land is now dotted with monuments, growing more numerous each year, erected to the memory of her fallen heroes.

Peace has made us, in many respects, the most powerful nation in the world, and the most prosperous. We got rid of the incubus of slavery, which we would not otherwise have shaken off in more than a century.

We shall always cherish the memories of our struggle, which was inevitable, and in which we acted our part honorably and gloriously; and now, looking to the future and realizing the magnificent destiny placed before us and our children as one people, with one country and one flag, we accept the verdict of Fate and say: It is well

R. E. Colston.1 Washington, Dec. 25th, 1893.

Ladies of the Memorial Association and Fellow-Citizens .
A beneficent Providence has mercifully decreed that Time shall be the great healer and consoler of almost every form of human woe. Five years ago our land was still reeling with the calamities [39] of war. The blood was hardly dry upon the battle-fields, the dead were not yet all buried, the smouldering ruins were still smoking, and the echoes of the closing cannonades had hardly ceased to resound in our ears. All was desolation in the present—doubt and fear for the future. So sudden and so complete had been our fall that we lay stunned beneath the crushing blow, with no strength but to suffer, no energy but to despair!

But time rolled on and brought healing upon his wings. The ruined homesteads have been rebuilt. The ploughshare has turned up the soil enriched by the slaughter of war. The luxuriant grass has covered up the graves of the fallen. Some years more and a few slight ridges in the plain, a few mutilated trunks in the forest, will alone mark the spot where rose the bristling fortifications and the red-mouthed artillery shot out its thunders.

And not in the material world alone has the gentle hand of time closed the gaping wounds of war. It has also poured its balm in our sorrowing hearts. It has soothed the agony of recent bereavement and defeat; it has showed us that we have still a country to live for—a country which, if we cannot, as we once fondly hoped, raise to power and proud independence, we can still love and render prosperous by the arts of peace, as we made her illustrious, even in defeat, by the fortitude of our struggle. And now, though many bitter things are still to be endured and the regrets for what might have been, can never cease to exist, yet the light of hope shines brighter and brighter before our eyes, and speaks to us of better days in the future.

But with time and returning prosperity come also the waters of oblivion, whose rising tide threatens to engulf all the vestiges of the past. Here and there a stricken heart, wounded to its inmost core, and alone knowing its own bitterness, will cherish its sacred grief until time itself shall be no more. But without a proper effort on our part there is danger that the corroding cares of the present and the absorbing exertions for existence may make us or our descendants forget the rightfulness of our cause, and the heroic martyrs who fell in its defence.

And beside all this, upon their fate and history lies there not the blight of failure and defeat?

Those who fall in the arms of victory and success need no monuments to preserve their memories. The continued existence and prosperity of their country are sufficient epitaphs, and their names can never be forgotten. But how shall those be remembered who failed? It is their enemies who write their history—painting it with [40] their own colors—distorting it with their calumnies, their prejudices, and their passions, and it is this one-sided version of the conquerors that the world at large accept as the truth, for in history as in the present, ‘Voe Victis!’—woe to the conquered!

It is true that when we, the actors in the late contest, shall be sleeping in our graves little will it matter to us what the world may think of us or our motives. But methinks that we could hardly rest in peace, even in the tomb, should our descendants misjudge or condemn us. And yet, is there no possibility of this? They will be told that their fathers were oligarchs, aristocrats, slave drivers, rebels, traitors, who, to perpetuate the monstrous sin of human slavery, tried to throttle out the life of the nation, and to rend asunder the government founded by Washington; that they raised parricidal hands against the sacred ark of the Constitution; that they were the unprovoked aggressors, and struck the first sacrilegious blow against the Union and the flag of their country.

What if this be but false cant and calumny? Constant repetition will give it something of the authority of truth. We cannot doubt it. Our descendants will see these slanders repeated in Northern and probably in European publications—perhaps even in the very text-books of their schools (for unfortunately we Southerners write too little), and they may be compelled, like ourselves, to look abroad for their intellectual nutriment. It is true that our own immediate sons and daughters will not believe these falsifications of history, but perchance their children or grandchildren may believe them. And those who are still our enemies after five years of peace, rely confidently upon this result. A so-called minister of the Prince of Peace, but whose early and persistent advocacy of war and bloodshed prove that he obtained his commission from a very opposite quarter, has dared to say that ‘in a few years the relatives of those Southern men who fell in our struggle will be ashamed to be seen standing by the side of their dishonored graves.’ And he who said this, mark you, is no obscure driveller, but, on the contrary, one of the highest representative men of the North; one whom they delight to honor. No less a personage than the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, who tendered his church as a shooting-gallery for bandits to acquire skill to murder Southern men in Kansas—Beecher, the abettor and panegyrist of John Brown, the chief of those bandits—Beecher, the burning and shining light of the Northern Church, whose utterances attract thousands every Sabbath. He says that in a few years the Southern [41] people will be ashamed to stand by the dishonored graves of their fallen champions.

Fellow Southerners, whose teachings and influence can accomplish more than all other agencies combined to hurl back this foul slander in the teeth of that reverend liar? Who can best guard our posterity from the corrupting venom of falsehood? Who can so implant the right and justice of our lost cause into their souls as to prevail over all the calumnies of our detractors?

Your hearts reply like mine, ‘It is the noble, patriotic, unwavering women of the South.’ Yes, let me repeat this last epithet, for it belongs peculiar to them. Unwavering, true to the right, true to the South, in the past and in the present, as they will be in the future. This is neither the time nor the place for vapid compliments or fulsome eulogy, and I speak only ‘the words of truth and soberness,’ as all of you will testify. We would be baser than the brutes that perish could we forget what the women of the South did to promote the success of our efforts. By night and by day they labored with diligent hands to supply the deficiencies of the government. They nursed the sick and wounded; they bore sorrows and privations of every kind without a murmur. What they suffered no tongue, no pen can ever express. Yet they never faltered; they never gave up, and they continued to cheer the sinking hearts of their defenders, and to hope against all hope, even when all was over. And see how nobly they have kept their faith. While some men who once did gallant service in the Southern armies have, alas, turned false for filthy lucre, where are the renegades among Southern women? Even we who have preserved our truth unstained, have we not grown colder and more forgetful? Had it depended upon us alone, is there not much reason to fear that our brothers' bones would still lie unheeded where they fell? Not that we have grown indifferent or estranged, but the claims of the living and the anxieties of misfortune have absorbed our attention. It is these blessed Southern women, whose tender hearts never forget, that deserve the credit of all that has been done among us to preserve from destruction the remains of our brave comrades. Unwearied by all their labors and self-sacrifice during four years of war, they were, like Mary, the first at the graves of their beloved dead. Therefore; to them we may safely entrust the holy ark of our Southern faith. Yes, it is for you, wives, mothers, daughters of the South—it is for you far more than for us, to fashion the hearts and thoughts of our children. We have neither the time nor the aptitude that you possess for training the infant mind from [42] the beginning and inclining the twig the way the tree should grow. You are now, or will be some day, the mothers of future generations. See that you transmit to them the traditions and memories of our cause, and of our glorious, if unsuccessful, struggle, that they may in their turn transmit them unchanged to those who succeed them. And let them learn from you that although the same inscrutable Providence that once permitted the Grecian cross to go down before the Moslem crescent has decreed that we should yield to Northern supremacy, and that we should fail in our endeavor, yet, for all that, we were right.

And this points to another great lesson to be instilled into their minds.

The worship of success, no matter how achieved, is but too universal in the world. In the North it is the great idol of the day. Generals whose luck it was to come upon the stage when they could oppose to the exhausted remnants of the South the unlimited resources of the North, have been magnified into demi-gods, and receive the daily adorations of the multitude. So far does this idolatry blind the Northern people that they cannot understand our lack of admiration for the men whose ruthless course deluged our land with blood, and whose tracks were marked by the ashes of our desolate homes. Still less can they comprehend the love, veneration, and enthusiasm that we still continue to feel for our own unsuccessful leaders. The events of the last ten years have impressed upon the Northern mind that failure is ignominious, and that success, no matter how iniquitous, is the only criterion of right.

It is for you, Southern matrons, to guard your cherished ones against this foul idolatry, and to teach them a nobler and a higher moral. It is for you to bring the youth of our land to these consecrated mounds, and to engrave in their candid souls the true story of our wrongs, our motives, and our deeds. Tell them in those tender and eloquent words that you know so well how to use; tell them that those who lie here entombed were neither traitors nor rebels, and that those absurd epithets are but the ravings of malignant folly when applied to men who claimed nothing but their right under the Constitution of their fathers—the right of self-government. Tell them how we exhausted every honorable means to avoid the terrible arbitrament of war, asking only to be let alone, and tendering alliance, friendship, free navigation—everything reasonable and magnanimous—to obtain an amicable settlement. Tell them how, when driven to draw the sword, we fought the mercenaries of all the world until, [43] overpowered by tenfold numbers, we fell; but, like Leonidas and his Spartans of old, fell so heroically that our defeat was more glorious than victory.

Then from so sublime a theme teach our children a no less sublime lesson. Bid them honor the right, just because it is the right. Honor it when its defenders have gained the rich prize of success. Honor it still more when they are languishing in the dungeons of oppression, or lying in bloody graves, like the martyrs we celebrate to-day. And bid them remember that no triumph however brilliant can ever change the wrong into the right. Next to their duty to God, teach your offspring to love their native Southern land all the more tenderly for its calamities, and to cherish the memories of their fathers all the more preciously becaue they battled for the right and went down in the unequal strife. And should their youthful hearts wonder at the triumph of force over justice, teach them that the ways of Providence are mysterious, and not like our ways. For a time the wicked may flourish like a green bay tree, but he shall not endure forever; and far better is it to suffer with the righteous than to rejoice with the unjust. Sooner or later, in some mysterious way that we cannot now perceive — in their own day, perhaps, if not in ours-the truth of our principles will be recognized. Meanwhile, bid them scorn ‘to crook the pregnant hinges of the knee, that thrift may fol-follow fawning.’ Let the satraps of tyranny ride in state like Haman; but let us and our descendants be the Mordecais at the gate, refusing to do reverence to those who represent nothing but the triumph of might over right. Yet, while clinging to our principles and vindicating the righteousness of our motives, let our children learn also the Christian lessons of forgiveness. God forbid that the bitterness of our times should be perpetuated from generation to generation! God forbid, above all, that this land should ever be drenched again with the blood of contending armies, speaking the same language and springing from a kindred race. On the contrary, may He grant that the causes of strife, being at last all extinct, peace and harmony may prevail, and make this land in truth, and not merely in name, the asylum of human liberty!

It is in order that these noble lessons may be deeply engraved in the hearts of our people, that throughout the South the Memorial Associations of our generous-hearted ladies are calling us together this day from every town and village in the land to the cemeteries wherein their pious care has collected the precious remains of our fallen brothers. And it is peculiarly appropriate that this, the 10th [44] day of May, should have been selected by almost unanimous consent as the great memorial day of the South. For it was on this day seven years ago that the greatest and most illustrious of our dead fellow-soldiers yielded up his spirit to his Maker, and left his country to mourn the irreparable loss of Stonewall Jackson!

To-day all nature smiles genially around us. The forest and the field lie all glowing beneath the spring sunlight. The gentle breeze that fans our brows brings naught but the perfumes of sweet flowers and the songs of joyous birds. In this tranquil and beauteous resting place of the dead all speaks of calmness and peace. The busy hum of the distant city scarce penetrates this placid retreat, while the mellow sounds of the church bells faintly ring in melancholy chimes, like a sad, yet soothing requiem.

But seven years ago this day!

Shall I retrace before your eyes the picture that memory brings to mind?

A scrubby growth of dwarf oaks, so dense as to be almost impenetrable, blasted and scorched by the fires kindled by bursting shells, and still concealing within its gloomy depths the half calcined corpses of those hapless wounded too feeble to escape the fearful conflagration. As far as the eye can reach nothing to be seen but that dreary region of the Wilderness in which nature herself looks frowning, even in the jocund days of spring. Blackened ruins, tottering chimneys, crumbling fortifications and shattered cannon-wheels alone mark the site where once stood the quiet hamlet of Chancellorsville. Trees riven and shorn a few feet about the ground as if by some gigantic scythe, bushes showing in every twig the fractures caused by some monstrous hail exhibit the terrible traces of artillery and musketry. No sweet perfumes of spring flowers here. To that peculiar acrid smell of the battle-field, never to be forgotten or mistaken by those who have once breathed it; to that mingled odor of burning leaves, fresh blood, and powder smoke has succeeded the far more repulsive scent of corruption and decay. The whole atmosphere is reeking with the putrid emanations from hundreds of dead horses and from thousands of shallow graves; for, as we ride this Sunday morning over that wasted battle-field of a week ago, at every step we see the skeleton hands and feet washed out by the recent rains and already blackened and fleshless. And for fitting music in this Golgotha, not the tuneful song of summer birds, but the pestiferous humming of carrion flies. Not the pensive sound of holy bells on this Sabbath morning, but the sullen roar of the still unextinguished [45] forest, and the irregular crash of bursting shells as the flames reach and explode them.

Such I remember this day seven years ago, on the banks of the Rappahannock, on the desolate field of the great battle.

And yet, you remember, comrades—for some of you are present here to-day who were with me there—you well remember that our veterans, inured to all the vicissitudes of a soldier's life, were enjoying the temporary rest after the fierce conflict. Our dead had been buried, our wounded transported to more remote hospitals. Our hopes were buoyant, for though our great leader was prostrated for the present by his wounds, we all looked forward to a time not far distant when he would again lead us to other victories, which would at last bring blessed peace to the land. In the camps of the division when evening came the usual song and jest were heard as before, exhibiting that careless gaiety so gratifying to behold, as indicating a cheerful readiness for all emergencies. Thus it was up to that Sunday, the 10th of May, seven years ago.

The sun rose cloudless on that Sabbath morning—obscured only by the smoke of the still smouldering woods. In most of our camps services were held by the chaplains, and attended by the troops in more than usual numbers. None but the Omniscient can tell what prayers arose that day—many from hearts and lips unused to pray for themselves—on behalf of the beloved chieftain who, at that very moment, was descending into the shadow of the dark valley. But death, which he had so often looked in the face, had no terrors for him. Both for this world and the next he had fought the good fight, he had won the victory; and when in the supreme hour his soul beheld the weird river of death, his last words were: ‘Let us cross over the river and rest under the trees.’ One minute more and the cold stream was passed, and he rests forever under those heavenly trees whose leaves are for the healing of nations.

Ah! my countrymen, could you have seen and felt as I did, the sudden change in those camps of the Wilderness, when the dread announcement came that evening, ‘Jackson is dead!’ it would be a memory never to be effaced from your hearts. The sounds of merriment died away as if the Angel of Death himself had flapped his muffled wings over the troops. A silence profound, mournful, stifling and oppressive as a funeral pall succeeded to the voices of cheerfulness, and many were the veterans who had followed him from Harper's Ferry to Manassas, from Winchester to Port Republic, from Cold Harbor to Fredericksburg, whose bronzed cheeks were now wet [46] with burning tears, and whose dauntless breasts were heaving with uncontrollable sobs. Alas, the star of our fortunes set when he fell, and thenceforth ‘unmerciful disaster followed fast and followed faster,’ until our meteor flag, conquered, but still spotless and glorious, went down forever!

On this sad anniversary day let us therefore remember him, and with him all our slain brothers in arms, of whom he is the noblest representative.

But how shall we, how can we do sufficient honor to their memories? We look in vain around us this day for a stately structure to commemorate their names. Nothing meets our eyes, nothing but—

A simple sodded mound of earth,
     Without a line above it;
With only fragrant votive flowers
     To show that any love it!

Imperial Rome, rich in the spoils of a world, could eternize in marble and in bronze the triumphs of her legions; and the columns of Trajanus and Antonine, the arches of Titus and Severus, are still standing to-day to rescue from oblivion the proud names of her Caesars. Greece, radiant with the prodigality of genius, crystalizes the glories of her past ages in the unrivaled outlines of the Parthenon, while nature itself endows her with the imperishable monuments of Thermopylae and Salamis.

But, alas! not for us, the despoiled sons of the war-wasted South, to build such memorials to our lamented dead. Not for us to dedicate the ‘storied urn or animated bust.’ Yet, let us not despond if adversity still forbids us to erect proud mausoleums to our fallen heroes. The day will come, doubt it not, when returning prosperity will enable us to do this. But meanwhile there are other monuments, ‘not made with hands,’ yet more lasting than brass, whose foundations it is our present duty to sink so deep that they may endure forever. They are those traditions and sentiments which live eternal in the hearts of a nation, and become interwoven with its very existence.

The Israelite, descended from God's chosen people, needs no lofty pile to remind him of his deliverance from Egyptian bondage, so long as the Passover remains to him as a perennial memento of Exodus. His simple observance of his anniversary day has outlived Solomon's magnificent temple, merely because, though conquered, [47] dispersed, persecuted, banished, nothing has ever made him forget or neglect the tradition of his race.

Well, my fellow-citizens, oppressed and impoverished as we are, it is in our power to establish for ourselves and our posterity forever as unfading and significant a memorial. Let this day become the national Holy day of the South. Let it be celebrated each returning year by the prayers of the church for the prosperity of the land for which these martyrs gave their lives, and by the tribute of praise paid by eloquent lips. Let young and old repair to these consecrated graves to decorate them with the graceful floral offerings of spring. Let these pious and touching ceremonies be so engrafted upon our nation's customs that when our descendants shall ask, like the Hebrew children of old, ‘What mean ye by this service?’ they shall be answered: ‘In memory of those devoted men who fought and died to secure to our land the blessings of liberty and self-government.’ Let these solemn observances be sacredly transmitted from generation to generation, and they will remain a monument in the hearts of our posterity which shall endure as long as our language and our race—long after the proudest trophies erected to the triumphs of our adversaries shall have crumbled into dust.

And full well do they, whose hallowed dust lies entombed under our feet, deserve all the respect and veneration we can render to their memories. Those whose scattered remains have been collected here by our Memorial Association belonged mainly to the rank and file of the Confederate armies. Ah! whenever I think of them, the suffering and devoted soldiers of our army, my heart swells with tender and mournful emotions. I have lived with them and known them so well.

It was my fortune during the war to command at various times, troops from no less than nine States of our late Confederacy, and in all of them, I recognized the same noble characteristics. So intrepid in danger, and yet so gentle, so obedient to those who know how to command them—so patriotic, so constant and enduring under hardships that can never be adequately described; and I feel a just pride in being able to say that, although always strict in my discipline, never was a single one of our valiant soldiers subjected by any order of mine to a cruel or degrading punishment. Yes, while yielding heartily the full meed of glory due to those chiefs whose genius crowned our arms with so many splendid victories, and to that illustrious body of gallant officers whose position and education made it their duty to command, as it was the duty of others to obey, I [48] believe that the rank and file of our troops were, as a mass, the real martyrs of our cause. The world will never know, never appreciate what they underwent for the vindication of their country. To all the unspeakable calamities which inevitably follow in the bloody footsteps of war, were added all those evils resulting from our peculiar position. Cut off from all the world, they daily felt the want of all the necessaries of life. The want of shoes, when the continual marches tore their bleeding feet; the want of warm clothing, when the pitiless blasts and the driving rains pierced them to the bone; the want of medicine, when the wounds and the diseases of army life stretched them upon the hard hospital bed—nay, more than this, the want of needful food to enable them to support the exhausting fatigues of war. Yes, fellow Southerners, the world will not credit, and even our own posterity, perhaps, will deem an exaggeration what is but the literal fact, as you well know, you that were there. Yes, for more than two long and weary years the Confederate army, as a whole, never knew what it was to have enough to eat. As early as the winter of 1863, the Confederate ration was reduced to less than one—third of that of our enemies, which experience had proved to be necessary to support soldiers in the field. Where is another example in all history of an army, neither clothed nor paid, nor more than half fed—always unsatisfied, always hungering for bread enough, and yet keeping together and battling for more than two lingering years of such unparalleled privations. And remember how those starving, ragged, barefooted privates marched and toiled and fought, through the burning suns of summer—through the frozen blasts of winter—fought until over-powered by irresistible odds, having lost their best blood and the most of their brothers, they yielded at last, less to numbers than to famine, but saving bright and unstained from the fearful ruin their sacred honor, the honor of the Southern land.

And who, then, were they, these humble privates, these anonymous heroes, who were content to die unknown, expecting neither reward nor fame? Most of them possessed neither lands nor slaves, nor anything worth the risk of their lives. But they thought not of this. They gave their lives for their country, their principles, their sacred right to self-government, inherited from the founders of the Republic. Politicians may have been incapable or corrupt—commanders intemperate or incompetent—but let us never forget it, the rank and file, when properly led, never failed to do their whole duty as long as human nature could endure, with a heroism that has [49] never been equalled. Gallant knights they were, Nature's own true noblemen, though coarse might be their garb, and uncouth their exterior—

Brave knights, and true as ever drew
     Their swords with knightly Roland,
Or died at Sobieski's side
     For love of martyr'd Poland,
Or knelt with Cromwell's Ironsides
     Or bled with great Gustavus,
Or on the plains of Austerlitz
     Breathed out their dying aves?

Comrades of those glorious days, our ranks are forever broken, and the splendid regiments whose martial array once gladdened our eyes and our hearts, shall never answer again but to the roll call of the last day, when the trumpet of resurrection shall sound the reveille of the dead!

They sleep their last sleep,
     They have fought their last battle.

On Fame's eternal camping ground
     Their silent tents are spread,
And Honor guards with solemn round
     The bivouac of the dead.

Lightly rest the sods upon their heroic breasts! Green forever be the mound over their sacred remains! Let the sun at morn and eve kiss lovingly its crest; let the gentle dews of heaven drop tenderly upon it! Let the flowers of the earth and the birds of the air embellish it with their sweetest odors and most melodious sounds, and let pure hands and loving hearts watch over it with jealous care, for—

If chanted praise,
     With all the world to listen;
If pride, that swells all Southern souls,
     If comrades' tears that glisten;
If pilgrims' shrining love, if grief
     That naught can sooth or sever,
If these can consecrate—this spot
     Is sacred ground forever!


The accomplished gentleman and soldier, the author of this address, is to-day stretched upon a bed of pain, where he faces the inroads of disease, and the approach of the last enemy, with a gentle chivalry and heroic firmness, which might put to the blush many a famous victory. In the service of Longstreet and Jackson, of Joseph E. Johnston and Robert E. Lee, he shared all that the New World can teach of battle and danger. In the service of the Khedive and in the deserts of Africa, he shared the suffering of the Old World, and now bears it as his cross. The injuries of earth have only taught forgiveness to his lips. From a crucified body comes only the message of good will to man; and the sermon of peace on earth is the legacy of his life of war. On no day more appropriately than Christmas day could this latest missive receive his seal and superscription.

L. R.

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