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Women of the South. Col. W. R. Aylett's address before Pickett Camp [from the Richmond, Va., Star, July 21, 1894.]

In behalf of a Monument to the women of the Southern Confederacy.

The following eloquent and touching address was delivered by Colonel William R. Aylett before Pickett Camp of Confederate Veterans, in Richmond, on the evening of July 2, 1894. A fitting memorial in this our ‘City of Monuments’ to the sublime devotion of our noble women, is assured in the pledge of the Richmond Howitzers, and will, ere long, be a grand realization.

On the evening of October 15th an entertainment was given in Fredericksburg, Va., to raise funds to erect a monument to the memory of Mrs. Lucy Ann Cox, who,

at the commencement of the war, surrendered all the comfort of her father's home, and followed the fortunes of her husband, who was a member of Company A, Thirteenth Virginia Regiment, until the flag of the Southern Confederacy was furled at Appomattox. No march was too long or weather too inclement to deter this patriotic woman from doing what she considered to be her duty. She was with her company and regiment on their two forays into Maryland, and her ministering hand carried comfort to many a wounded and worn soldier. While Company A was [55] the object of her untiring solicitude, no Confederate ever asked assistance from Mrs. Cox but it was cheerfully rendered.

She marched as the infantry did, seldom taking advantage of offered rides in ambulances and wagon trains. When Mrs. Cox died, a few years ago, it was her latest expressed wish that she be buried with military honors, and, so far as it was possible, her wish was carried out. Her funeral took place on a bright autumn Sunday, and the entire town turned out to do honor to this noble woman.

The camps that have undertaken the erection of this monument do honor themselves in thus commemorating the virtues of the heroine, Lucy Ann Cox.

My Comrades of Pickett Camp, Ladies and Gentlemen.:

The beautiful sentiment which has called into existence Camp Pickett, Camp Lee and all other kindred Confederate Camps in our land, touches the heart and commends itself to posterity.

In honoring our dead heroes; in erecting a monument to our fallen braves and chief in Hollywood; in building a cottage at Soldiers' Home; in providing for our sick and destitute old soldiers; in perpetuating the memory of our noble dead, and in decking their graves with sweet and lovely flowers as the circling seasons pass, we have earned the praise and admiration of the civilized world.

But in all this we have been aided by an influence and agency equal to, if not greater, than our own. Though far in rear of the line of battle, that line could not have been formed nor maintained without the influence and inspiration of this agency—a power direct, vital and all-pervading. I allude to the typical woman of the Southern Confederacy.

While our beloved Southland is historic and glorious from the monuments to our generals and soldiers, which proclaim to unborn generations and future ages the valor of our men, there is nothing in marble, granite or brass to immortalize the courage, fortitude—nay, heroism of the women of the South.

Only a few weeks ago a monument was completed to the memory of the mother of George Washington, about one hundred years after it ought to have been done, and at last, mainly through the exertions of her own sex.

It is to ask you to-night that I come to aid a movement that shall give to the women of the Southern Confederacy a monument worthy of their beauty, fortitude, love, suffering, heroism and holiness. Was there ever a nobler or dearer subject?

In selecting such a topic I feel that I come close to your homes [56] and hearts, and that in its discussion I can dispense with the borrowed charms of rhetoric, and that the theme itself will bring before us the angelic forms and faces of mother, sister, daughter, wife, sweetheart, and will thus possess a mute eloquence of its own, which in your willing ears, at least, will fill out the faltering accents of the speaker. Given to us by God as a help-mate, the handmaiden of Christian civilization, have we honored or exalted our women, even as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians did?

In their pagan mythology and religion they worshipped their women, in their goddesses, as much as their men, in their gods; and temples and statues filled their cities to Juno, Minerva, Diana, Vesta and Ceres, as much as to Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Mercury, Vulcan and Apollo. There was not a wood or murmuring stream that was not presided over by some beauteous nymph as its tutelary divinity, assigned by Jove. All this has passed away with the peoples and empires of the past, and perished from the earth. The nymphs and goddesses no longer sing with the birds from the woods, nor impress their music upon the murmuring brooks as they go singing on to the sea through the ancient forests. While this is so, yet nearly one-half of the Christian world seeks Heaven through the mediation of a Jewish woman, and her image appears in every Catholic church and home, the noble christian substitute for the pagan gods and goddesses. The mother of the Saviour has taken the place of fabled mythology. But in this broad Protestant land the only monuments erected to woman, except Mary Washington, lately finished, are the obelisk or Cleopatra's needle, in Central Park, New York city, and the great statue of ‘Liberty Enlightening the World,’ at the mouth of New York harbor—one given us by the French, and the other sent us by the Egyptians; the one perpetuating the memory of a bad woman, Caesar's and Mark Anthony's mistress, and the other representing a pagan goddess, in whose name all the agonies, bloodshed and horror of the French Revolution were perpetuated. But while the vices of an Egyptian woman speaks in one, and the social and political throes and orgies of a great and noble people, seeking freedom and its blessings through oceans of blood and slaughter, speak to us through the other, yet, until this Mary Washington monument, unveiled the other day, there was no monument to an American woman.

Thanks be to God that the first recognition of woman in a monument on the American continent comes to us in a Virginia woman and on Virginia soil! [57]

The monument to Mary Washington proclaims the virtues of the women of the Revolution, represented in the mother of that great Virginian, who, while his little army was shivering and almost starved at Valley Forge, with our liberties at their last gasp, crossed the Delaware on that dark and stormy Christmas night and through snow and ice, marked by the bloody footsteps of his men, waked the frozen echoes of the morning with the thunder of his guns and the sound of a great victory, and thus poured the living tide of hope into the bosoms of our forefathers.

While there are monuments to him—one the highest on earth; while a monument has lately gone up to his mother; while monuments to our heroes stand all over the land, yet we want a monument in which should be represented the mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters of R. E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Sidney Johnston, Jubal A. Early, G. T. Beauregard, J. E. B. Stuart, George E. Pickett, Fitz Lee, and all the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of the Confederate Soldiers, living and dead; in short, to the ‘Confederate Woman,’ looking as she did, when, with fair hands and bright eyes, she worked the banners and gave them to the boys to be unfurled in the bloody tempest; looking as she did when the shouts of victory throbbed her true, loving heart and flushed her cheeks; looking as she did when bad news reached her, and with anxious face and downcast eyes she waited for the impending calamity; looking as she did when she met the pale, cold face of the loved one—father, husband, brother, or son—kissed his wan cheek, oh! so cold, bathed it with her tears, while prayers, with inarticulate sobs, shook her angelic frame; looking as she did in the Nitre and Mining Bureau, making gunpowder; in the arsenals, making cartridges and filling shells; in the hospitals, preparing bandadges and lint, and dressing wounds; closing the eyes of the poor dead boys, whose mothers were in the far South; looking as she did in the night and darkness of the tempest of disaster and defeat, a glorified saint, wrapped in prayer, and ascending to Heaven, like the last ray of sunshine lingering on the cloud before the burst of the cyclone, the hissing lightning and the crashing thunder.

The very existence and greatness of Virginia were due, on two occasions, to woman's love and courage. Who can forget the act of that fair Indian maiden, who first saved the life of Captain Smith, and three years afterwards came alone through miles of tangled wilderness, on a dark and tempestuous night, to warn the colonists [58] of Jamestown of the coming of her people. But for her love and mercy the last white man in Virginia would have perished. Let it also be remembered, when on another occasion the colonists at Jamestown were about to return to England in despair, they heard that ninety virtuous, young, handsome girls were coming to Virginia, the first that had dared the dangers of the great deep to reach Virginia.

The colonists at Jamestown determined to await their arrival. In a short time they all got husbands. Domestic ties were formed, virtuous sentiments and habits of thrift ensued, and the tide of immigration swelled. The men had something to live for and die for, and the foundations of the great coming Commonwealth were laid deep and everlasting.

De Tocqueville, that wise and acute Frenchman who wrote the best commentary on our institutions, people and country which has ever been penned, after travelling and residing for several years in America, remarked, with all the emphasis of an enthusiast, that if he were asked to what he attributed the growth, greatness, prosperity and strength of the American people, his reply would be, ‘I ascribe it all to the superiority of their women.’

That strength and courage which she displays in aiding us in founding States and Empires will melt at times into tenderness and love, which seem borrowed from Heaven and the angels.

Who has not had his heart touched and his eyes moistened by the lines of Scott's famous poem? When Marmion lay gasping for his last breath on Flodden Field, deserted by the pages and squires his halls had nursed and fed, without a friend to close his fading eyes, to bathe his gory face, or slake his dying thirst, the injured Clave, struck with a spark of divine pity which extinguished every feeling of resentment, discharged offices which the ingratitude of man denied to a benefactor. How true are the lines!

O, woman! in hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the quivering aspen made,
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou.

Once during the war when the lines of the enemy separated me from my home, I was an inmate of my brother's Richmond home while suffering from a wound. As soon as I could walk about a little [59] my first steps were directed to Seabrook's Hospital to see some of my dear comrades who were worse wounded than I.

While sitting by the cot of a friend, who was soon to ‘pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees,’ I witnessed a scene that I can hardly ever think of without quickened pulse and moist eye. A beautiful boy, too young to fight and die, and a member of an Alabama regiment, was dying from a terrible wound a few feet off. His mother had been telegraphed for at his request. In the wild delirium of his dying moments he had been steadily calling for her, ‘Oh, mother, come, do come quickly!’ Then, under the influence of opiates given to smooth his entrance into eternal rest, he dozed and slumbered.

The thunders of the great guns along the lines of the immortal Lee roused him up. Just then his dying eye rested upon one of the lovely matrons of Richmond advancing toward him. His reeling brain and distempered imagination mistook her for his mother. Raising himself up, with a wild, delirious cry of joy, which rang throughout the hospital, he cried: ‘Oh, mother, mother! I knew you would come! I knew you would come! I can die easy now;’ and she, humoring his illusion, let him fall upon her bosom, and he died happy in her arms, her tears flowing for him as if he had been her own son.

When we reflect how much our women did and suffered during the war, the wonder is that no monument has risen sooner to their memory. Were we to go into Hollywood and Oakwood, those silent ‘Cities of the dead,’ and see all the monuments erected to the memory of the men and none to the women, it would strike us as very strange. No less strange would it be if the heroes of our lost cause should have all the monuments and the heroines none.

The barbaric idea that woman should occupy a subordinate and inferior position in the civilization of the world has long since exploded. Miss Hopkins a few weeks ago became a member of the medical staff of the Western State Hospital, and Belva Lockwood has entered the works of the Virginia Bar. As clerks, cashiers, and employees of our State and Federal Governments, and as successful teachers novelists, and journalists they have come fully to the front, and they have come to stay. As telegraphers and 'phone-keepers their soft fingers and gentle voices send angelic sounds along the cold wires, thrilling under their magic touch like whispered music, passing from earth to Heaven. In the pulpit she has spoken with [60] inspired voice, and on the stage the great actresses are equal to the great actors. The doctrine no longer prevails that the only thing woman can do is to bear children, rock the cradle, and attend to the kitchen, fowls and washing. While I do not want her to unsex herself, I will say, whatever she wants to do in the struggle for bread and life, lend her a helping hand, and bid her ‘God speed!’ And the man who grudges her this should swap his trousers for her balmoral.

I claim for Camp Pickett the paternity of the first public expression in form of a Confederate woman's monument. On the 16th of January, 1890, in an address made by me upon the presentation of General Pickett's portrait to this camp by Mrs. Jennings as my remarks, published in the Richmond DisPatch of 17th of January, 1890, will show, I urged that steps be taken to erect a monument to the women of the Southern Confederacy, and you applauded the suggestion. But this idea, and the execution of it, is something in which none of us should claim exclusive glory and ownership. The monument should be carried not alone upon the shoulders of the infantry, artillery, cavalry, engineers and sailors of the Confederacy, but should be urged forward by the hearts and hands of the whole South. And wherever a northern man has a southern wife (and a good many northern men of taste have them) let him help, too, for God never gave him a nobler or richer blessing. The place for such a monument, it seems to me, should be by the side of the Confederate soldier on Libby Hill. It is not well for a man to be alone, nor woman either. To place her elsewhere would make a perpetual stag of him, and a perpetual wall-flower of her. Companions in glory and suffering; let them go down the corridors of time side by side, the representatives of a race of heroes and heroines.

It has been truly said by Guizot in his history of civilization that as the women of a nation are elevated so the nation is elevated, and that the social and moral condition of woman measures the march of civilization.

Let us prove the truth of the great philosopher's words in all the coming years of our united land. The time is most propitious for our resolution and action. We live now with our faces to the rising sun. Behind us are the joys, griefs and glories of the past, checkered with light and shade. Before us are the hopes, fortunes and splendors of our future, bright and dazzling in our front. Peace has its victories no less than war. [61]

The pen is now mightier than the sword and rifle. The empire of Aristotle has married the empire of Alexander, and moral forces are overcoming physical. ‘Grim visaged war has smoothed his wrinkled front,’ and the men we once sought to slay we greet now with a brother's grasp. The Union is ours, too. The great guns are dumb, the dust has settled on the drums, and the bugles ring out their clarion notes for the charge no more along the embattled lines. Peace once more spreads her wings over the land, hallowed and consecrated to freedom as the home of the free. Hell is too cool a place, and eternity too short a time in which to punish those, whether they be North or South, who, for selfish purpose and political capital, keeps alive the feeling that drenched our land with blood and filled it with grief, mourning widows, orphans and graves.

Speaking here to-night, I know I represent, my dear comrades, the brave men and beauteous women who surround me, when I say that we should be unworthy of the banner we once followed and unworthy of Robert E. Lee if we were not, twenty-nine years after Appomattox, as loyal to the country and the Star-Spangled Banner as any northern man living or dead. Brave men do not bear malice, nor cherish revenge and hate, after peace and reconciliation with their brethren. The South breeds no men of that sort. Cowards and devils only do that, and only cowards and devils can object to the tears, flowers and monuments which we bestow upon our dead, whose heroic dust and ashes are all now left for us to mourn and to honor. We have met the brave men of the North since the war at Gettysburg, here, at Philadelphia and Washington, and their hearts, like ours, are in the right place.

All around us we can hear the rush of steamers, the thunder of locomotives, the whispering of telegraph and telephone, and the ceaseless din of mighty manufactories, whose cyclopean fires and workman shake the land like the ponderous hammers of Vulcan in his fabled furnaces beneath Mount Aetna.

The tremendous power which Franklin led from the clouds by a kite string, which, with blinding flash and crashing thunder-bolt, rends the tall monarchs of the forest and shivers the rocky summit of the mountain, now moves, bridled, bitted and belled, with harmless hum and scintillation along your crowded streets, an unseen giant of infinite power and boundless strength, yoked by the wondrous hand of science to your coaches, as obedient to the touch of the reins and more docile with the burden of manhood and beauty than [62] the dumb animals which once staggered laboriously along your thoroughfares. Startling are the achievements of our race and age, and Virginia (God bless her!) and the great South stand in the forefront of advancing civilization and mighty empires. Vast steamers now run from West Point and Newport News to Europe, and as they dash through the capes to the sea, moved by a power which is but a bucketful of its own brine, sending towards Heaven gigantic columns of smoke and lashing the mighty deep into snowy foam all around the pathway through the billows, they look like calumets of peace which nations interchange as the eternal pledges of amity and friendship, never to be broken.

The passenger locomotive which left here this morning ere midday has scaled the mountain slope, rushed through the very heart of the tunneled monster that once stood in the path of human progress, and as night and darkness thicken in its front it is now lighting up the rolling praries beyond the Alleghanies with the fierce glare of its great, fiery eye, and by to-morrow's noon it will cool its heated limbs by the banks of the ‘Father of Waters.’

Our mountains are opening to their base and giving up their ancient treasures, ‘the cataract has ceased to blow its trumpet from the steep to charm the ear of listening poets,’ and lends its mighty hand to turn our mills, float our ships, and furnish the light and power of electricity. Steam, with gleaming front, giant form and brazen throat, sounds the trumpets of civilization along all our echoing shores, and stretches forth its vaporous sceptre over the swelling tide, proclaiming to the world our triumphs over the greatest physical agencies of the universe.

But while we view the grand procession as it moves with majestic steps along the path of human progress, let us not forget to honor, glorify and immortalize ‘Heaven's last best gift to man,’ the loving partner of our hearts, homes, joys and sufferings. Let us place her high up by the side of the Confederate soldier, on the eternal and imperishable granite of our own native hills. Let her stand thus in sight of the battlefields and monuments that commemorate the deeds and perpetrate the memories of Virginia's statesmen and heroes, proclaiming to all future ages and generations how the people of this State and of the South love, cherish and honor the truth, courage, constancy and fortitude of the women of the Southern Confederacy, who followed the banner of the ‘Lost Cause’ with hope and pride, and tears and prayers, from Big Bethel to Appomattox. [63]

Let her stand there as long as the winds of autumn shall sigh gently and sadly over the graves of the buried valor in Hollywood and Oakwood, and deck them with the russet and golden splendor of falling leaves. Let her stand there as long as winter comes with icy fingers to touch the soldiers' graves with frost, and wrap them with the pure and spotless winding sheet of its snows. And let her, from her lofty throne, welcome spring, when, with warm sunshine and lovely flowers, she comes to deck the sod which covers the forms of the men who made the gray jacket a mantle of glory, and the southern flag a blazing meteor in history, eternal in all the annals of fame. And when eventide shall come with gentle, vernal showers, just before the sun sinks into his ocean bed, let his last rays from the West, coming across ocean and continent, passing over the city of the dead (Hollywood) and of the living (Richmond), light up the heroic forms in bronze of Robert E. Lee and George Washington, forming, as they reach the Confederate soldier and the Confederate woman, through the falling rain, a gorgeous rainbow, spanning the whole eastern sky, a heavenly crown for the brave man and lovely woman standing there, glorious in the bow and sunshine of hope, and refulgent in the promise of immortality.

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