These “Personal portraits” were undertaken with the design of making better known and understood the great actors in the recent struggle who are the subjects of them.
It is a matter of grave importance that the illustrious figures of the war should not be obscured by the mists of ignorance or falsehood.
Nor can they be. Dulness and slander do not long blind the eyes of men; and sooner or later the light of truth makes all things visible in their natural colours and proportions.
To the good work of placing upon record the actual truth in relation to the lives and characters of Stuart
and some other noble soldiers of the Southern
army, the writer of this page has here brought a few of his recollections-aiming to draw these “worthies” rather as they lived and moved, following their various idiosyncrasies, than as they performed their “official” duties on the public stage.
This seemed best calculated to display their real individuality — the embodiment of their personal characteristics in a portrait with the pen, as a painter draws the form and features of his sitter with the brush.
Such personal details of the characters of these eminent men will not be uninteresting to the lovers of noble natures of whatever “faction;” nor is the fondness for such particulars either trivial or ignoble.
They elucidate biography and history-which are the same — for they present the likeness of the actor in the
drama, his character and endowments; and to know what great men are
, is better than to know what they perform
. What Lee
, and their associates accomplished, history will record; how they looked, and moved, and spoke, will attract much less attention from the “historian of the future.”
The august muse of history will make her partial and passionate, or fair and dignified, summary of the events of the late war; will discuss the causas resum
with learned philosophy; and mete out in rounded periods what she thinks the due amount of glory or shame to the actors, in gray or in blue.
But meanwhile the real personages disappear, and the colours fade; figures become historical personages, not men. And events, too, “suffer change.”
They are fused in the mass; generalization replaces the particular incident as it does the impressive trait;--the terrible dust of “official documents” obscures personages, characters, and events.
This is trite, but it is true; and the fact thus lamely stated is one of the “chiefest spites of fate.”
For what is the picture worth unless drawn in its actual colours?-what the value of the figures unless they are likenesses?
The war just ended was not an “official transaction,” only to be calmly narrated with dignified generalization, philosophic reasoning, and commonplace comment upon peace conferences, grand tactics, and the political bearing of the result.
It was a mighty drama, all life, passion, movement, incident, and romance — a singular melange, wherein tears, laughter, sighs and smiles, rapidly followed each other, communicating to the bitter and determined struggle all the profound interest of a tragedy whose scenes sweep on before the spectator to the catastrophe.
Nor were the actors in the tragedy blocks of wood, or merely “official personages” playing coldly their stage parts.
They were men of flesh and blood, full of high resolve, vehement passion; subject to hope, fear, rejoicing, depression; but faithful through all to the great principles which drove them on-principles in which they believed, and for which they were ready to die. They were noble types of the great Norman
race of which the Southern
people come-brave, honourable, courteous, social; quick in resentment, proud, but placable; and these
conspicuous traits were everywhere seen in their actions and daily lives.
The portraits here presented of a few of these men may be rude and incomplete, but they are likenesses.
No personage is spoken of with whom the writer was not more or less acquainted; and every trait and incident set down was either observed by himself or obtained from good authority.
Invention has absolutely nothing to do with the sketches; the writer has recorded his recollections, and not his fancies.
The “picturesque” is a poor style of art, when truth is sacrificed to it. To represent General Lee
decked out in a splendid uniform bedizzened with gold lace, on a “prancing steed,” and followed by a numerous and glittering staff, might “tickle the ears of the groundlings;” but the picture would be apt to “make the judicious grieve.”
The latter class would much prefer the actual man, in his old gray cape and plain brown coat, riding, unattended, on his sober iron-gray along the lines; would rather hear him say amid the storm of Gettysburg
, in his calm brave voice, “Never mind; it is not your fault, General; I am to blame,” than read the most eloquent sentences which the imagination could invent for him. And in regard to others, the truth would possess an equal superiority over fiction.
was a noble human soul; pure, generous, fearless, of imperial genius for making war; but why claim for him personal graces, and the charm of social humour?
ranked justly with the two or three greatest cavalry commanders of the world, and in his character combined gaiety, courage, resolution, winning manners, and the purest traits of the gentleman and Christian
; but why draw the gallant cavalier as utterly faultless, never moved by anger, ever serious and devout as was Jackson
By such a process the actual characters disappear; the real men, with faults and virtues, grand traits and foibles, become mere lay-figures to hang uniforms upon.
The pictures should either be made likenesses, or not be painted; events should be represented in their real colours, or not at all.
These few words will explain the character of the sketches here presented, and the theory upon which the writer has proceeded in drawing them.
They are conscientious “studies,” and
the result of an honest desire to elucidate the characters of their subjects, who are here described in rapid outline as they lived and moved before all eyes upon the stage of the war. Eulogy has not magnified them, as partisan rancour has not blackened their adversaries.
They appeared as they are here drawn to the eyes of the writer; if the portraits are unfaithful, it is not because he lacked the fairness, but wanted the ability, to “denote them truly.”