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Address of Rev. G. W. Beale at the Northern neck soldiers' Reunion, November 11, 1884.

Comrades and Friends:

The motives which prompt a reunion of surviving Confederates are felt to be laudable and honorable, and the occasion awakens a sacred and melancholy pleasure. There is nothing of political significance or sectional aim in such an assemblage. It has no purpose or wish to rekindle the embers of discord, or to drag forth from the grave the dead issues of the past. The receding years have happily borne us far away from the era of angry recriminations. The snows of more than twenty winters have fallen with cooling effect upon the heated animosities of the war, and not one of us would seek to inflame them again. As innocent as are the gently fallen leaves of this autumn day to disturb the dreamless slumber of the men who fell in the great conflict, would we be to arouse by word or deed one of its slumbering passions.

We meet beneath this grove—consecrated to devotion and to God—for no unholy purpose. We come to this soldiers' reunion with no disloyal scheme and no unpatriotic sentiments. Our meeting is in the name of fraternity, of patriotism, and of peace. We are drawn hither by the ties of that manly friendship which was formed in the dark hours of trial, and indissolubly sealed in the red heat of suffering and danger. We come with the interests, the sympathies, and the stirring recollections, born of a mutual experience in the camp, on the march, and in the battle, to touch hearts together again, and with gratitude to God for our preservation, to answer once more to the roll-call before we go to answer to it in the great reunion before the bar of our Maker.

We meet to grasp once more in life and peace the hands we were wont to grasp amidst bloody scenes of strife, and in the clear sunlight of domestic quietude to look into the faces that we used to see bronzed with the exposure of the camp or begrimed with the smoke of battle. We bring together hearts that once rose and fell in mutual sympathy with the hopes and fears of a great common cause and danger, that they may beat responsively to that patriotic interest and manly friendship which bound us one to the other as with hooks of steel. We meet to commemorate our deeds of manhood on the arena of fiery trial, and to recall the names and recount the virtues of our fallen comrades, and, I trust, to pledge here, on this sacred spot, our [110] fidelity to both through every future change and circumstance, until our hearts shall become as cold as the clay that shall wrap them in the tomb.

We who, in the providence of God, have been spared to the present hour, as survivors of the war, are in a position to do much to vindicate the motives and to secure historic justice for the deeds of constancy and courage of the men of Virginia, who, on the side of the South, met that tremendous shock of arms. We have emerged from the era of deeply-excited prejudices and heated passions, when the actions of our people were so readily misrepresented and their motives impugned. The calmer feelings of the present day, and the cooler judgments of the people, are more favorable to the establishment and perpetuation of the truth as regards the motives and the achievements of men who toiled and struggled under the banners of the South.

In their calmer and more sober days, the facts are coming to light that will be accepted in future years as the honest verdicts of history, and the temper of the public mind, and the spirit of legislative assemblies, both State and national, make the present era specially favorable for the survivors of the struggle on either side to aid in securing for coming ages a faithful record of their names, their principles, and their deeds; as men who trod the fiery paths of danger in deference to what they honestly felt to be a patriotic duty.

As regards our cause in general, we feel no apprehension that history will not ultimately vindicate the integrity of its principles and aims. The disasters which befell it, and the early overthrow to which Providence and ‘overwhelming numbers and resources’ consigned it, have cast a shadow over its history, and will, for a time, obscure its principles and the grounds of its being. There will exist honest differences of opinion as to the justness of its claims and the wisdom of its policy. Let this, however, be said of the Confederacy, that in the hour of its overthrow, its chief leaders pleaded in vain for a trial on the charge of treason. There was no tribunal to be found that would, by solemn judicial action, brand that stigma on their names. The names made most illustrious by association with the Southern cause have commanded the profoundest respect of the civilized world, and those who opposed them in battle have vied with others in doing homage to their private worth and public virtue. In the integrity and virtue of the men who upheld that cause as the pillars of its strength, and in the purity of the women who sustained it with their prayers and lamented it with their tears, let us behold the [111] innocency and truth of the cause we loved. Our Troy has fallen, but its virtue and its purity we may maintain, even as we reverence the piety of a lost mother.

Ah! realm of tears, but let her bear
     This blazon to the end of time;
No nation rose so white and fair
     None fell so pure of crime.

With respect to the motives that actuated the men of Virginia, who flew to arms and battled for the cause of the South in the great civil struggle, it may be claimed that posterity is not likely to misjudge them. The names of these men will not be associated with any schemes of restless sedition, or with any designs of unrighteous political ambition, or any spirit of unholy, mercenary conquest. It was for no such purposes that they left their peaceful homes to brave the dangers of the fratricidal strife. Their sole aim was to protect their altars, their families, and their rights under the Constitution, from the perils of an armed invasion. They did not seek the conflict. They took up arms for no aggressive war. But, when the dark clouds were gathering and the storm threatened to burst upon the land, Virginia sought to act the part of mediator. She called for a congress of peace. Standing on the frontier, between the embittered sections, she pleaded, with one hand reaching northward and the other southward, that calm reason might prevail and pacific measures be adopted. But her pleadings were in vain. The heated passions of the sections could only be allayed in a baptism of blood.

It was only when Virginia was called to send her own sons for the invasion of the homes of their kindred of the South; only when armed regiments were gathering to traverse her domain on this mission, that she cast in her lot with the land of her kindred in blood, in sympathy, in interest, and in political conviction. Bound thus as she was to the South, it would have been no more natural for her to have joined in the bloody crusade against her, than for a mother to plunge the dagger into the heart of the child she loves.

Every man who went forth from our borders, armed for the conflict, felt that he went to defend his home, his family, his kindred, and the graves of his sires, from invasion and defamation. Above every consideration of constitutional construction and the paramount claim of the State to the allegiance of her sons, there was rooted in the hearts of our people the conviction that their families and their kindred were assailed with the mailed hand of war; that their institutions [112] and rights were threatened with armed overthrow; that all that they held most sacred in life was in danger of being trampled beneath the foot of military invasion. And, in the defence of these cherished objects, they sprung to arms with all the might they possessed. And now, after more than a score of years have passed, as we recall our motives and ponder over our aims in the clear, calm atmosphere of sober afterthought, now, with the larger part of our comrades, who shared our feelings, asleep in their graves beneath the soil on which we stand, and the great Searcher of Hearts looking down upon us, we may look the whole world in the face and declare that, in our sincerest convictions, men never went forth to battle with a clearer consciousness of the rectitude of their motives or a more assured confidence in the inherent righteousness of their actions.

With respect to the military leaders, whose standards we followed and whose orders we obeyed, we need cherish no misgivings as to the honorable station their names shall hold in future history. They indeed are among

the few, the immortal names,
     That were not born to die.

In the brightness of a well-earned distinction, they have been sealed to an immortality of fame. With those of Wellington, of Marlborough, of Hampden and of Washington, the names of Lee and of Jackson will be forever honorably associated on the roll of the military worthies who have illustrated the public virtue and genius of the Anglo-Saxon race. And as future generations shall look back through the vista of American glory on the field, among the conspicuous forms that shall pass in view shall be those of our own gallant leaders. There, at the head of their dashing columns, shall float, as of yore, the plumes of Ashby and Stuart; and there shall be seen Pickett and Hill, with outstretched arms, pointing their lines onward to victory or to death.

As regards, also, the great conflicts of arms that illustrated the skill of our leaders and tried the valor of our troops, we need harbor no apprehensions that the muse of history will not in coming years accord to them adequate justice. It may, indeed, be said of the men who followed Lee and Jackson in these heroic struggles, that the light of their camp fires has cast its reflection, and the thunder of their guns sent its echoes, over the civilized world. Appreciative historians, using other languages than our own, have written for distant people the story of our marches, our sufferings, our endurance [113] and our victories. The genius of our commanders and the daring of our men have given to Manassas, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg a prominence among the great battlefields of the world, from which our struggling legions in their tattered garments of gray shall never fade from the admiring gaze of men.

The government at Washington, rejoicing in the returning harmony of the once alienated and contending sections, is with liberal care placing in permanent form the official records of our battles, and in her archives, along with the reports of the Federal commanders, is sacredly preserving those that tell of the movements, the numbers, the successes and the losses of the Confederate troops. My comrades, the embers of the old camp-fires were long ago extinguished; the rifle-pits, from which flew our death-dealing volleys, have been plowed over; the forts and frowning earth-works that trembled beneath the fire of our heavy guns are fast levelling down, and our comrades are one by one passing rapidly away. Ere long the last of these grim relics and the last survivor of the war will be gone. But the valor and constancy of our soldiers on the field, their rapid marches, their fierce onslaughts in battle, their unflinching firmness in the face of immense odds, their unmurmuring endurance of hardships and suffering—in a word, their splendid bearing under every circumstance that called for patriotic devotion and manly virtue—will live in the traditions and history of the nation as long as a heart survives to appreciate noble fortitude, or an eye to kindle at the recital of heroic courage.

Of the brave comrades who fell at our sides or were borne away from the field to die, it is happily true that, in most of the counties represented here to-day, their names have been sacredly gathered up and carved on granite or marble monuments, there to remain through coming years a touching illustration of fidelity to patriotic duty even unto death, and also of the loving commemoration of a grateful people. Fellow-survivors of the great struggle, on whose altar these fallen heroes poured out their blood, it behooves us to see that the name of no humble comrade, who went out from our counties and died for our cause, is left to dumb forgetfulness and cold oblivion. We owe it to their sacred and gallant memories that some permanent memorial shall, with mute impressiveness, tell their names and their patriotic services to those who are to come after us. Let these monumental shafts rear their graceful forms at every county seat, where fathers and sons shall gather in coming years and look upon them; and may the showers fall gently upon them and the winds of [114] Heaven fan them softly as they shall bear our dead comrades' names carved on their shining faces; and may the memory and virtues of these fallen ones be forever graven deeply on the hearts of the people!

Of those who justly claim our reverent regard in these reunion services, we must not omit our associates who, since their return to their homes and the pursuits of peace, have followed their fallen comrades into the shades of death. How many there are who answered to the last roll-call in the army, who cannot answer to it to-day because their lips are sealed in the grave! Many of these were as true and faithful as any men who ever buckled on the armour or withstood the deadly hail of battle. Among them I recall Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, Surgeon Gilliam, Major Ward, Major Deshields, Captain Betts, Captain Robinson, Captain Scates, Captain Wharton, and many a man of humbler rank, but no less patriotic, valiant and faithful than they. For them no polished shaft rears its form, enriched with their honored names; for them no tablet is carved to tell, in other years, that they served their country's cause. But let it be our pious care to gather up their cherished names and embalm them among the precious treasures of the State they loved so well. Let us see to it that our muster rolls are made out with accuracy and completeness, and that among the sacred archives of the Commonwealth there shall be kept a record of the names of the men who, when the State was imperilled with invasion and overthrow, sprang to her rescue and on many a bloody field maintained, with unfaltering devotion, her ancient renown and honor. Let us heed this plea for Virginia's humble soldier-sons, the rank and file of her army who stood shoulder to shoulder in the ranks and, like a living wall of fire, beat back, for four weary years, the angry tide of battle. Let their names and their virtues abide forever in the sacred custody of the State. As through the ages there shall shine in the coronet of night, amidst its brightest constellation, an innumerable host of lesser lights; as along with Mars and Jupiter and Venus and all the dazzling planets the mingling stars that from the Milky Way shall girdle the heavens with a belt of silver glory, so in the coronet of Virginia's bright renown, along with the fame of her mighty names, may there gleam forth, through all time, the noble devotion and the undying memory of the private soldiers who suffered and bled in her defence.

Having thus dwelt, my comrades, on our relations to the cause with which we were identified in the late war, and the duties which those relations involve to ourselves and to the memory of our fallen [115] brothers, I turn from our past soldier-life to notice, in conclusion, our present and future obligations as citizens. The issues for which we contended in battle have been forever settled by the stern arbitration of the sword; our cause has been lost despite our noblest efforts and costliest sacrifices to maintain it. A new era with new claims and new duties is upon us. If the maxim be true, ‘In peace prepare for war,’ let us endeavor to illustrate the converse of it, and to show that in war we have been prepared for the privileges and duties of peace. By all our hearts have felt of the bitterness, the loss, the desolations of war, let us cherish and seek the enduring peace and prosperity of our common country. Let us know no North, no South, no East, no West; and as the soldiers of Lee were found faithful in every circumstance of war, let it be our aim to prove ourselves loyal and faithful citizens in every exigency of our country's need.

And let us cherish the welfare of Virginia. May we harbor no despairing views of the future of the Commonwealth, and may no selfish aim or ignoble greed of office ever lead us to betray our trust as her true and loyal sons. But with hearts as true to her as the needle to the pole, and souls as incorruptible as the wife of Caesar, may we be found whilst life lasts striving to promote her moral, material, and political interests, that those who stand in our places in time to come, may find them happier and better, because, as citizens of Virginia, we have filled them.

Never were men called to exercise a nobler patriotism or a higher public virtue than are we, the soldier-citizens of Virginia. Every enjoyment of liberty and every boon of free government are consecrated by the struggles and the blood which they have cost; our broad Commonwealth is hallowed in our hearts by the perils and sufferings which thousands of its plains, and villages, and mountain passes have witnessed; and its soil is a thousand times endeared by the precious dust of our comrades that mingles with it. Unnumbered scenes of sublime devotion to the public good, and a flood of burning and bleeding memories of deeds of patriotic love and martyrdom appeal to us to be firm and faithful to every high duty of citizenship as long as our lives shall last.

Let us, then, more deeply enshrine our mother State in our heart of hearts, because of the battle-scars that have torn her bleeding bosom; because of the tears of widows and orphans that have bedewed her furrowed cheeks; because of the desolation and anguish that have wrung her soul. Let us yearn for Virginia with the fervid devotion of the outcast patriots of Israel, as beside the [116] rivers of Babylon they yearned for the land of their nativity and the home of their fathers.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning; if I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

In the light of the magnificent memories that cluster around her name and over the dust of her patriot dead, let this be the desire of our hearts for her:

Oh! give me the State where the ruins are spread,
And the living tread light on the hearts of the dead;
Yes, give me the State that is blest by the dust,
And bright with the deeds of the down-trodden just;
Yes, give me the State that has legends and lays,
Enshrining the memory of long-vanished days;
Yes, give me the State that hath story and song,
To tell of the strife of the right and the wrong;
Yes, give me the State with a grave in each spot,
And names in the graves that shall not be forgot;
Yes, give me the State of the wreck and the tomb,
There's a grandeur in graves, there's a glory in gloom;
For out of the gloom future brightness is born,
And after the night looms the sunrise of morn,
And the graves of the dead with the grass overgrown,
May yet form the footstool of liberty's throne;
And each single wreck in the warpath of might,
Shall yet be a stone in the temple of right.

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