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Ungenerous criticism of Rev. Dr. R. C. Cave's oration. Letter of Columbia Post, Department Illinois, G. A. R.

With the reply of Lee Camp, Confederate Veterans.

The patriotic oration of Dr. Cave, it is to be regretted, evoked from some bodies of Federal veterans and a few ultra-newspapers, narrow and unbrotherly criticism.

The following letter enlisted widely, public interest and occasioned much comment:

Headquarters Columbia Post, No. 706, Department Illinois, G. A. R., Chicago, June 14, 1894.
To the Commander of Lee Camp, Confederate Veterans, Richmond, Va.
dear Sir: On the morning after Memorial-Day, while looking over the morning papers, we noticed the enclosed report of your dedication exercises at the unveiling of the monument to the memory of the private soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy.

The sentiments expressed by the orator of the day in his speech upon that occasion were so different from those expressed by Confederate veterans in many places, and notably in our own city of Chicago, that we were deeply moved, and cannot refrain from writing to inquire if these are the prevailing sentiments of the rank and file of Confederates South?

During the solemn services of Memorial-Day, ‘Columbia’ Post, No. 706, together with other posts of the State of Illinois, joined with the Confederate veterans, now living in Chicago, in decorating the graves of their comrades, who now lie in our beautiful Oakwood Cemetery. The sentiments there expressed by all were that, while we were paying a willing tribute to the memory of brave men fallen, we were in no wise referring to the cause for which they fell, or the [382] final settlement of that cause at Appomattox. If the sentiments uttered by Rev. Cave on the occasion referred to, and which received ‘tremendous applause’ from the audience assembled there, be the true sentiments of the average ex-Confederate veteran, then will it indeed be hard to ever heal the breach between ‘brothers of one land,’ engendered by that awful conflict, and the generous action of our Union veterans seems truly wasted.

Although we belong to different political parties, first of all we are true and loyal Americans, who offered our lives for the starry flag which to-day floats in beauty and glory over a free and glorious country. And while anxious to look with pleasure upon these reunions in your sunny southland, we cannot but regret such disloyal sentiments as these, and must protest in the name of the fallen of both sides.

Let not the sacred ceremonies of Memorial Day be dishonored by such words as these.

We write not in bitterness or rancor, remembering with great pleasure and pride the welcome accorded to our Illinois veterans by Lee Camp and other ex-Confederate organizations while returning from the encampment at Washington, and fondly hoped and believed that the spirit which was shown at Appomattox, by both sides, was the prevailing spirit of our Southern brothers, and that hope and belief we are loath to relinquish even in the face of such a speech as this to which we refer.

Will you kindly reply to this and oblige yours for America,

Columbia Post.

J. G. Everest, Chairman of Committee. Attest: Henry Stephens, Adjutant.

It was laid before Lee Camp, June 22, 1894, and provoked a heated discussion, which developed a great diversity of opinion as to what disposition should be made of it. Finally it was laid on the table indefinitely. At the same time a resolution offered by Commander Pollard endorsing the oration of Rev. Mr. Cave was laid upon the table until the ensuing meeting. The camp, however, declined to permit the contents of the letter to be disclosed, and even withheld from the public the name of the Post from which it came, but the latter leaked out.


Zzzreferred to a Committee.

At the meeting of the camp on June 29th not only the resolution of Commander Pollard, but the communication of Columbia Post was taken up.

Another animated discussion took place, and Mr. Cave's address was endorsed, but the letter from Columbia Post was referred for answer to a committee, consisting of Judge George L. Christian, Major Charles S. Stringfellow, Colonel Archer Anderson, Colonel John B. Cary and Commander Thomas P. Pollard.

At a meeting of the camp, held July 6, this committee, through their chairman, Judge Christian, submitted the following frank and courteous report:

Richmond, Va., July 6, 1894.
J. G. Everest, Esq., Chairman, &c., Columbia Post, No. 706, G. A. R., Chicago, III:
dear Sir: Your letter of the 14th ultimo, written on behalf of Columbia Post, though tempered somewhat by its kind assurances, was received by Lee Camp with great surprise, and still greater regret.

We cannot suspect, still less do we charge, any purpose on your part to provoke sectional controversy or add fuel to the dying embers of sectional hate; but such seems to be its natural tendency, though we earnestly hope this may not prove its practical effect.

You do not indicate what particular ‘sentiments expressed by the orator of the day’ moved Columbia Post so deeply, and we shall not go into any speculation on the subject, but we respectfully suggest that had they been more distasteful than they probably are, it would have been wiser and better in the real interest of peace and brotherly feeling if Columbia Post had pardoned something to the spirit of the place and the occasion, and passed them by without comment, at least to those who presumably approved them.

That those sentiments do not in all respects commend themselves to your judgement or feelings; that you may well and honestly differ from Mr. Cave and Lee Camp as to the facts—social, political and historical—on which they are founded, we can readily understand; but a careful examination of his oration, as reported, discloses no sentiment, which, fairly construed, is, or we believe was, intended [384] to be ‘disloyal’ to the existing Constitution, laws and government of our Union, and your ‘protest’ seems, therefore, not only unnecessary, but very uncalled for, albeit made ‘in the name of the fallen of both sides.’

There were indeed two sides to that great question, which you say, and we fully admit, had its ‘final settlement’ at Appomattox. But Appomattox was a battle-field, not a judicial forum, and that settlement, final and complete as we acknowledge it to have been, was made by weight of numbers and force of arms, and not by reason, judgment, or law. Physical might cannot determine the question of legal or moral right, and whether the North or the South had right and law and justice on its side is still a disputed point, which can only be settled by the impartial judgment of posterity, when we who took part in that great contest, which cost so much of blood and treasure, and gave to the world such splendid examplars of the dignity, the worth, and the grandeur of man, have joined our comrades who now sleep in their honored graves.

“A decent respect to the opinions of mankind” has impelled both sides, the North and the South as well, to set forth in historic records, in memorial orations, in song and story, the reasons which controlled their action; and both, to their honor, be it said, have reared monuments of bronze and marble to perpetuate the memory and deeds of those who nobly died for the cause they believed to be just.

We acknowledge with pleasure the generous action of Columbia and other Illinois Posts in uniting with the Confederate veterans now living in Chicago in decorating on last Memorial-Day the graves of their dead in Oakwood cemetery. In like manner, as you know, Confederate veterans here and throughout the South have often laid their floral wreaths on the grass-grown mounds which mark the last resting-places of the brave soldiers who fought against them.

On such occasions we, too, but pay ‘a willing tribute to the memory of brave men, in no wise referring to the cause for which they fell.’

But we must remind you that Mr. Cave did not speak on any such occasion. His oration was delivered at the unveiling of a monument to the private soldiers and sailors who died in behalf of the Southern cause, in resistance to an armed invasion of their native land, and in defence, as they honestly believed, of their personal liberties and constitutional rights.

He spoke almost in sight of the graves of some 7,000 of those heroic men, almost in sight of the battle-fields once drenched with [385] their blood, and he spoke to their surviving comrades. It was therefore meet and right that he should not only pay a ‘tribute to the memory of brave men,’ who gave their lives in defence of their firesides and their homes, but that he should also refer to and vindicate ‘the cause for which they fell.’

He spoke of the past, not of the present; of the Constitution as our fathers framed it, and not of that Constitution as amended by the mailed hand of war, and Lee Camp emphatically answers that it endorses the statements made in his oration, in justification of the course of the Southern States, when, in 1861, they took up arms to maintain the rights and liberties guaranteed to them and their people by the Constitution as then framed.

We believe with him, and with him we maintain, that Robert E. Lee and the brave and noble men who fought under the flag that was furled forever at Appomattox were patriots as pure and as true as was the truest and best of the soldiers who carried to ultimate victory the flag that we all now gladly and proudly hail as the flag of our glorious country. Esto perpetua!

In the war for our independence no traitor, so far as we know, was bred on Southern soil. There were many rebels until Yorktown stamped the seal of success on the Colonial cause, when the rebel became the patriot! But success, dear sir, is not the touchstone by which the motives or conduct of men can be rightly tried. As Mr. Cave well said, though not intending the inference you have probably drawn, ‘Suwaroff triumphed and a Kosciusko fell.’ The monument unveiled in this city on the 30th of May last was not erected in honor of traitors or rebels, but to perpetuate the memory of brave men and true, who knew their rights and died in defending them.

According to the people of the North, perfectly honest in the views they entertained and the course they pursued, we claim for ourselves motives as honorable and as pure. The differences between us were submitted to the stern arbitrament of war. We lost, and we have in good faith accepted the result, and we propose as loyally to abide it. More than this we cannot say or do; and more, brave and magnanimous men should not and will not ask of us.

We gladly note you remember the kind feelings with which Lee Camp met the veterans of Illinois on a former occasion, and we indulge the hope that you will not permit forced constructions of isolated sentences in the speech to which you refer, detached from their context and misinterpreted, to lessen the mutual friendship and respect which we should feel for each other as soldiers, or weaken the [386] ties which should bind us together as true and loyal citizens of our beloved and now happily-united country.

On behalf of Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Veterans.

The report evoked loud applause. It was written by Major Stringfellow.

Major Brander said he was satisfied when the committee was appointed that they would bring in the right sort of report. He moved its adoption.

Mr. T. W. Sydnor seconded the motion, and moved a rising vote, and the latter motion being carried, and the question being put on the adoption of the report, every member of the camp stood up. The adjutant was instructed to forward a copy of the report to Columbia Post.

Rev. Dr. Ray said there were sitting near him two sons of Confederate veterans, who asked him if they could vote on the adoption of the report. He knew it was out of order, but he had replied, ‘Vote, boys, vote.’

Remarks referring in complimentary terms to the committee who had drafted the report were made by Colonel Alexander Archer, Mr. A. G. Evans, Rev. Dr. Ray, and others.

On motion of Mr. Philip Samuels, Rev. Robert C. Cave was elected an honorary member of the camp. The camp then adjourned. There was a very full attendance upon the meeting.

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