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General Lee's Birthday. [from the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, Jan. 20, 1898 ]

The anniversary very generally observed in Richmond. Light of the Camp fire of R. E. Lee Camp, no. 1, C. V.

Many Veterans gather in its genial Glow—Captain R. S. Parks delivers a splendid Oration—Howitzers salute the monument.

The anniversary of the birth of General Robert E. Lee was celebrated in Richmond yesterday by the closing of the State and city offices, the banks, and many commercial institutions. Salutes were fired in honor of the event, and from the masthead of nearly every flagpole in the city, the colors of the Confederacy floated to the breeze.

The holiday was generally observed. The particular celebrations of the anniversary, however, took place at the Soldier's Home, and at Lee Camp, where orations were delivered, and carefully prepared programmes were carried out. A salute of seventeen guns was fired at the Home at noon, and a platoon of the Howitzers fired another salute at 5 o'clock beneath the shadow of the monument to the great General, erected in the western portion of the city.

Around the Camp fire.

At night, Lee Camp kindled a camp-fire, the genial glow of which shed nothing but radiance and charm. Within the magic circle were gathered distinguished veterans from all over the State, and the guests of honor were the members of both houses of the Legislature.

The yearly celebration of the birthday of General Robert E. Lee, is the prime event in the calendar of the Camp, and no effort is spared to make it delightful and successful. All along the Southern lines, the camp-fires are lighted on each recurring January 19th, in honor of the great leader, but no fire burns more brightly than that of the Richmond camp, or attracts to it a more distinguished body of men. It was a night of great festivity; a genial and whole-souled [355] hospitality was dispensed, and warm indeed was the welcome extended to all who came to pay a tribute by their presence, to the memory of the dead chieftain. The feature of the evening was the address delivered by Captain R. S. Parks. It was received with unbounded enthusiasm, and was said by many of those present to be the finest eulogy ever delivered within the walls of Lee Camp.

Following the exercises came a social session of unrestrained mirth and good-fellowship. The good humor of the occasion was infectious and irresistible, and even old men, whose locks were hoary, and whose forms were bent with age, danced and sang, and seemed to grow young again. Old Southern melodies struck pleasantly on the ear, and the familiar songs were sung over and over again. Refreshments were served in great abundance, and the hour for parting came all too soon.

The formal programme.

It was nearly a quarter-past 8 o'clock when FirstLieutenant-Com-mander A. C. Peay, in the absence of Commander Laughton, called the assemblage to order, and in a few words recalled the ‘sacred cause’ which they had come together to celebrate. The doxology was sung by all, standing, after which Hon. J. Taylor Ellyson was called upon and offered a short, but fervent, prayer for a benediction upon those who had come together to commemorate the memory of their chieftain, and asked that they might follow his example, as he had endeavored to follow that of his Divine Master.

Greetings from Washington.

The following telegram from the Confederate Veterans' Association, of Washington, D. C., was read and received with applause:

Washington, D. C., January 19, 1898.
R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Veterans, Richmond, Va.:
The Confederate Veterans' Association of Washington assembled to honor the name of our great leader, General R. E. Lee, send loving greetings to their comrades of Richmond, and remember with them a vow to keep green his memory.

Robert I. Fleming, President.

Adjutant J. Taylor Stratton was instructed to telegraph the following reply: [356]

Richmond, Va., January 19, 1898.
Colonel Robert I. Fleming, President Confederate Veterans' Association, Washington, D. C.:
R. E. Lee Camp, Confederate Veterans, reciprocates your kindly greeting, and pledges eternal fidelity to the memory of our illustrious chieftain.

A. C. Peay, Lieutenant-Commander, Commanding.

Captain Parks' fine address.

Captain Parks was then introduced as the orator of the evening, and was cordially received. After an appropriate introduction, he said:

Borne on the rapid, tireless wings of time, nearly thirty-three years have passed since guns were stacked, flags were furled, and the Southern soldier, with heavy heart, turned his steps homeward. But with every recurring spring time, the people throughout the Southland, upon such days and at such places as may be fixed, meet together, strew the graves of the dead soldiers with flowers, each feeling that whatever part he may perform, he is engaged in a work made obligatory by a lofty sense of patriotism. Associations of various names have been formed, all of which have for their object the commemoration of the Confederate dead, and the keeping green in the minds of the rising generation all that pertains to the struggle in which the blood of the South was poured out like water. Here we meet to-day in the far-famed city of Richmond, whose every street has been trodden by armed men, whose adjacent fields have been crimsoned by the blood of her sons, and whose historic hills have echoed and re-echoed with the scream of shot and shell as they sped on their mission of death, mingled with the shout of victory, or the yell of defiance.

Constitute a sublime spectacle.

How suggestive such an occasion. These gatherings of the people of the South to decorate the graves of those who died in defence of the Southern cause, and to commemorate the deeds of valor of an army whose banners went down in an unsuccessful struggle, constitute the sublimest and yet most remarkable spectacle that the world has ever seen. Were these men rebels against constitutional government? [357] If they were, then it would be treason in us to honor their memory; vindicate their principles, and praise their deeds. They were not rebels, and the world will yet know it, and accord to them their meed as patriots.

For what did the South contend? Time would not suffice, nor would it be appropriate to give in detail the causes that led up to the war, nor to discuss the various issues that arose, which produced bittter feeling and stirred up sectional animosities. I assert that the South fought for the preservation of individual liberty and a right of local self-government, which we honestly believed were endangered by the usurpation of power by the Federal Government, and a tendency to centralization and the ultimate destruction of the autonomy of the States.

The germ of free institutions is in the personal consciousness of the individual man, that he is born into the world as a creature of God, with responsibility to Him for the proper use of his God-given powers, and that to work out his personal destiny upon this personal accountability, he needs to be free from the constraints with which despotism would bind his body, mind, heart, and conscience.

Right of self-government.

When the man has this idea planted in his soul, it becomes a moral force which dreads treason to the Almighty Sovereign more than all the threats of human authority, and makes resistance to tyrants obedience to God. The personal right of the man to his liberty is asserted from his deepest self-consciousness against the government that would abridge or destroy it. The great battle that was fought by our fathers at the formation of the Federal Constitution in 1787 was for the protection of this right of self-government, and in opposition to the centralization of power in the Federal head. They believed that centralization of power in the general government would show itself in a too great tendency to control, regulate and direct the industry and enterprise of the individual man. They believed that such a centralization of power would build up a paternal government, the patria potestas of ancient despotism, and merging the man into the mass and directing the destiny of all, would sacrifice the interest of the toiling, home-staying citizen to the grasp and greed of the few fawning parasites, who crowd the lobby and swarm the corridors of legislative bodies. They believed that paternity in government would beget class legislation, which instead of [358] leaving each man to enjoy the fruits of his own toil, would pool the earnings of society, upon which to fatten its favorite children in palaces of splendor, while it would starve its foundlings in hovels of squalor and misery.

It was for local self-government as embodied in the doctrine of States' Rights, as we had learned it from our fathers, that the South fought. It had grown with our growth; strengthened with our strength, and become the very warp and woof of our natures. To us it was a principle, not a shadowy sentiment; but a principle whose foundations were deep down below the grasp of political earthquakes, and whose spires pierced the stars beyond the sweep of storms of fanaticism. The bitter feelings and sectional animosities to which I have referred became intensified as the years went by. The Constitution of our fathers, as we understood it, was set at naught, and its provisions, as we construed them, were disregarded, and that solemn compact which to us was sacred, was declared by many leading men of the North to be ‘a league with death and a covenant with hell.’

Secession of the States.

In the fall of 1860, the crisis came. The people of the South, feeling that the time had come when they should resume the powers delegated to the Federal Government, called conventions, and one State after another passed acts of secession, by which they undertook to secede from the Union of States, resumed the delegated powers, and sever their connection with the Federal Government. They did not make war upon any one. They only asked to be let alone. They asked for no property, and demanded nothing except the recognition of their rights to govern their own affairs. These States formed another union of States, known as the Confederate States of America. Our northern brethren did not interpret the Constitution as we did. They denied our right to sever connection with the Union. They declared that we were rebels in a state of rebellion, and they resorted to arms to enforce the laws of the United States, and to compel obedience to its authority. We believed we were right, and, believing this, we had the manhood to dare maintain it. The gage of battle was tendered, and we accepted it. To arms, to arms, was echoed throughout the land. The bugle-call was heard from every hilltop, and throughout every valley. Fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, and sweethearts, gave the farewell kiss, and pressed forward to repel the foe, that as we honestly believe, [359] was invading our territory. From every State came the sons of the South. From the plains of Texas, from the States washed by the Gulf, from across the Father of Waters, from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Maryland, from the Carolinas and Florida, from every State of the Southland they came. They came from the farm, from the store, from the office, and workshop; from every trade and profession, till Virginia bristled with bayonets, from the driftwood of the Ohio to the sands of the seashore. There were those who were not of our race, but were adopted from other climes, who stood with us. I would not forget them.

Some months ago, while in this city, I visited the Jewish Cemetery, and saw the plat dedicated to the graves of those of that race who fell in the Southern army. Had I ever felt disposed to deride those people, and give them the cold shoulder, I could do so no more. They touched elbow with us, and died for us. We know what part they played in the history of the past, and if I read the lines of prophecy correctly, they will have an important part yet to act in the great drama of life, and I do believe that the descendants of Judah will yet herd their flocks amid the hills of Assyrian kings, and sing songs to the Messiah beneath the white stars of the Chaldean sky. All, all were our comrades—

Who, living, were true and tried for us,
And, dying, sleep side by side for us.

The South's gallant sons.

Without an army, without munitions of war, with our ports blockaded, and cut off from the rest of the world, with only our own resources to rely upon, the South in a few months sent into the field an army of volunteers that in gallantry, undaunted courage and powers of endurance was seldom equalled, and never excelled in ancient or modern times. For four years the Southern army, with no place to recruit from except our own homes, met in the open field an army of vastly superior numbers, with money and army stores in abundance, and with the world to draw from to swell its ranks. Those who were our enemies have furnished indisputable proof of the dash and terrible fighting qualities of the Southern army. While the pension system of the Federal Government is the most stupendous fraud ever perpetrated upon a long-suffering people, it furnishes a monument to the chivalry of the Southern soldier, that speaks with [360] a trumpet's tongue and a thunder's voice. Think of it. Thirty-three years after the close of the war there are more pensioners upon the list, basing their claims upon service in the Federal army, directly or indirectly, than the Southern Confederacy ever had men in the field, including the living and the dead.

On and on rolled the surging, fiery billows of war, till scarcely a home in the Southland was beyond the roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry. Stronger and stronger grew the Federal army; weaker and weaker grew the Southern, till at last our chieftain, Robert E. Lee, beside whom as man and soldier, there is no one to place who can claim to be his peer, surrendered the remnant of the gallant army. Our flag was furled, our hopes were blasted, our cause was lost.

Lee the Central figure.

Amid all these stirring scenes who was the central figure? Around whom did all the hopes of the people cluster? To whom did the people of the Southland look in the darkest hour with a confidence that knew no wavering? To that grand man and great commander, Robert E. Lee. And what shall I say of him? Language which my feeble ability enables me to command, is inadequate to express my admiration for him, and my conception of his greatness as man and soldier. The Southland, ploughed with graves and reddened with blood, that can look the proudest nation fearlessly in the face, and whose sons he led to battle, will ever cherish for him the highest regard and the deepest affection. Aye, more, his fame is not bounded by the country of which he was a citizen, but it has gone across the waters, and wherever there is a heart upon whose altar burn the fires of liberty, and a soul that appreciates all that is great and good, there the name of Robert E. Lee is enshrined, and when the monuments we may build to his memory shall have crumbled into dust, his virtues will still live—a high model for the imitation of generations yet unborn. As has been beautifully said, ‘he was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocracy, and a man without guilt. He was Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness, and Washington without his reward. He was obedient to authority as a servant, and royal in authority as [361] a king. He was as gentle as a woman in life; pure and modest as a virgin in thought; watchful as a Roman vestal; submissive to law as Socrates, and grand in battle as Achilles.’

The profession of the soldier has been honored by his renown, the cause of education by his virtues, religion by his piety.

The greatest gift a hero leaves his race
Is to have been a hero.

In the ancient East, it is said, the wandering Arabs are searching for treasures buried in the tombs of their monarchs. He whose memory we commemorate, on this, the ninety-first anniversary of his birth, has no treasures buried with him. The treasures of his life were brave, noble, unselfish deeds, which he left behind him to make the sons of men wiser, nobler and better.

Our principles still live.

I said our cause was lost, but it was lost only in the sense that we did not accomplish that for which we struggled, but the principles for which we contended still live. Clouds may obscure the sun, but it still shines; truth may be crushed to the earth, but it will rise again; principles of justice and right may be trampled under the feet of demagogues and fanatics, but they still survive. All else may change and decay. Passing away is written upon all material things. ‘The grass of the field withereth; the flower thereof fadeth, the wind passeth over it, and it is gone.’ The tiny leaf springing from the expanding twig changes its color from summer beauty to autumnal loveliness, and falls in withered worthlessness to the ground, teaching man who treads upon it a lesson of his own destiny. The granite peaks that stand like sentinels keeping watch over the valleys below, that have withstood the frost of centuries, around whose heads the lightnings of Heaven have harmlessly played, and on whose crest the lurid bolt as it leaped from the bosom of the storm-cloud has spent its force in vain, will succumb to the corroding touch of time and pass away. But the principles of right, which spring from the Eternal Throne, will survive ‘the wreck of matter and crush of worlds,’ and shine with resplendent lustre when illumined by the pure light of eternity.

The struggle was ended, the soldier perished, but the principles for which he fought survive, and I believe that the time will come when the Southern soldier will not only stand acquitted, but justified by the verdict of the world. [362]

What means this building with the significant name of ‘Lee Camp?’ What means the hundreds of similar organizations all over the Southland? They speak in no unmeaning language. They tell us that though our cause is lost in the sense that the independence of the Southern Confederacy was not achieved; that though we were wasted and worn and all was lost, we saved our honor and our manhood, and we cannot forget our heroes. Sacred history tells us that one of the disciples proposed that three tabernacles should be raised on the mount of transfiguration, and in all ages of the world heroic deeds of men and nations have been commemorated by their fellow-citizens. Show me a land where there are no churches whose spires point heavenward, commemorative of the great work finished on Calvary, as told in that Book, suspended as it were in the zenith of the moral heaven, bidding all men to look, believe, and live; show me a land where there are no tombs of marble, no statues of bronze, no monuments of granite, erected to commemorate heroic, self-sacrificing deeds, and I will show you a people lost to every lofty emotion, without an ennobling sentiment, fit subjects to be the dupes of demagogues and the slaves of the ambitious. No, no; we cannot forget the boys who wore the gray and offered their lives for what they believed to be right.

On fame's eternal camping ground
     Their silent tents are spread;
While glory guards with solemn round
     The bivouac of the dead.

Men of the noblest type.

Raise monuments to their memory, and with each returning season strew their graves with flowers of field and garden, and by these things let your children and children's children be taught that the heroes of the Lost Cause were not rebels and traitors, but men of the noblest type, who were ready to do, to dare, and to die in obedience to the call of duty. Go on with the work, and the brave, the true of every land, will approve such conduct. No one who wore the blue, and who was a soldier, will say aught against it. Only those who were peace-like in war and warlike in peace will condemn. ‘He jests at scars who never felt a wound.’ We covet not their praise, nor will we be deterred by their censure.

A few more words and I am done. To the rising generation I would deliver a message. Soon ‘taps’ for ‘lights out’ will sound [363] for all who wore the gray, and they will go to answer roll-call on the other shore. Will you permit the memory of their deeds of daring, their knightly valor, their devotion to principle, to perish from off the earth, or will you take up the work when other hands shall droop and fail, and see that they shall live in the history of coming years? True, they fought and lost, but is that all?

Is that all? Was duty naught?
     Love and Faith made blind with tears?
What the lessons that they taught?
     What the glory that they caught
From the onward sweeping years?

Here are they who marched away,
     Followed by our hopes and fears;
Nobler never went than they
     To a bloodier, madder fray,
In the lapse of all the years.

Garlands still shall wreathe the swords
     That they drew amid our cheers;
Children's lispings, women's words,
     Sunshine, and the songs of birds
Greet them here through all the years.

With them ever shall abide
     All our love and all our prayers.
‘What of them?’ the battle's tide
     Hath not scathed them. Lo, they ride
Still with Stuart down the years.

Where are they who went away,
     Sped with smiles that changed to tears?
Lee yet leads the lines of gray-
     Stonewall still rides down this way;
They are Fame's through all the years.

Given vote of thanks.

Captain Parks was frequently applauded during his speech, and at its close he received quite an ovation.

Captain Stratton moved that the thanks of the camp should be extended to the distinguished speaker for his eloquent and patriotic oration, and the motion was seconded, though before it could be put Captain Alex. Archer moved to amend it so as to include the thanks of the entire audience. [364]

The amendment was accepted, and the motion adopted by a rising vote.

The Tony Miller Combination played several selections, and Mr. Eugene Davis, Sr., by special request, sang several dialect songs, which were liberally applauded.

Judge Farrar speaks.

Judge F. R. Farrar was called upon by Commander Peay, and responded very happily. He prefaced his remarks with a graceful compliment to Captain Parks, and said he had no desire to mar the perfect autonomy, as he wittily termed it, of the occasion, by any words of his. He was induced to proceed, however, and with his well-known versatility, he flitted from grave to joy, and touched many a tender chord in the hearts of his listeners. Leaving the platform, he took one of the violins belonging to the Miller Combination, and played some old fashioned Virginia reels and other music, which fairly delighted his hearers.

Refreshments were served in the committee rooms adjoining the camp hall, and the rest of the evening was spent in telling war stories, singing, playing, and impromptu speech making.

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