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The private soldier of the C. S. Army, and as Exemplified by the Representation from North Carolina.

An address by Hon. R. T. Bennett, late Colonel 14th North Carolina Infantry, C. S. A.

before the

Ladies' Memorial Association at Raleigh, N. C., May 10, 1897.


Madam President, Ladies of the Memorial Association, My Countrymen .

Every people has its heroes—of these heroes some are enshrined as champions of human liberty.

There are many elevations between the level of the plain and the height of Parnassus.

From the outbreak of the war between the Government and the Confederate States until Palm Sunday, in 1865, when the unpowerful regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia lowered their banners and dispersed to find ruined homes and a country girded with sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes, the United States employed [303] 1,700 regiments of infantry, 270 regiments of cavalry and 900 batteries of artillery, an estimated total in excess of 2,600,000 men. Against this force the Confederacy opposed a total of all arms of the service computed at 600,000 men.

Of these, North Carolina organized and furnished the Confederacy more than sixty regiments of infantry, six regiments of cavalry, three regiments of artillery, besides half a score of battalions and other commands.

The force so furnished is placed by thoughtful, accurate and painstaking men at 115,000. It is impossible in the present ill-assorted state of our information to give the exact number of these soldiers.

Amidst the inspiring surroundings of this place, this time and occasion, we reverently assume the task of doing some measure of justice to the private soldiers whom North Carolina, under a sense of the appalling conflict at hand, and a deeper sense of duty to her neighbors, herself; and the right, summoned to her standards, forwarded with her blessing, and now, after the fierce pang of battle is over, in spite of humiliation, poverty and anguish, honors and loves from the deep bottom of her great motherly heart.

It is fitting that we should call the roll of these men. That we should inquire why so many of them have not come back from the direction in which their faces were so resolutely set, why they linger on the homeward march. In what ditch they perished. In what tempestuous onset of battle they went down to death.

The sons and grandsons, the daughters and granddaughters, of these citizen soldiers should come together at stated periods—now or in the autumn after the vintage is over, and the declining year is hastening to its close, and rehearse their services, their sacrifices, their valorous actions, their sense of duty, their patient obedience, and their humble faith in God.

Human courage has wrought trophies on every considerable theatre of its actions.

The four years of war were punctuated by 2,265 conflicts, counting great and small of every sort, including 625 considerable fights, and 330 battles.

Into these trials of strength, the soldiers of North Carolina clove their way with sword and bayonet, with gun and cannon, and came off with good report.

The people of those Southern States which were completely identified with the Confederacy during the late war, possessed many [304] characteristics in common—descended as they were from ancestors who sprang from the Anglo-Saxon nurseries, they inherited the same laws, the same literature, the same traditions of civil and political liberty and a like inborn sense of religion. Their pursuits bore a striking similitude the South over—agriculture was their chiefest vocation. It sustained a most unusually large proportion to all other engagements of the population.

They were a pure bred people. Local influences gave a variety and coloring here and there. North Carolina, from earliest days of its tutelage, had been conservative.

In the period immediately preceding the war of the Colonies against Great Britain, North Carolina behaved with much reserve. She positively refused for a time to adopt the Articles of Confederation, and Botta, who has written the most instructive history of the war of Independence, says: ‘She was often excepted from the orders in council which the government of Great Britain denounced against the other colonies.’ In this particular North Carolina in sentiment shared the attitude of New York more nearly than any other colony.

Unaffectedly modest, the State has lost beyond reparation in divers ways. She has but recently awakened under the importunities of her patriotic women to her combined duty and advantage of monuments to her uncounted dead.

The French are perhaps the most civilized people in Europe. In France no unselfish and meritorious act of public service, whether done by artisan or caste, fails to command expressive recognition in brass or stone or canvass.

There is an unpretending shaft in one of the northwestern States erected to the memory of a school-boy, who at the early age of twelve, died under the lash rather than tell an untruth.

The people of North Carolina, while liable, like others, to bursts of vehement impatience, in their normal mood delight to see justice clothed ‘in orderly forms, unstained by precipitation or suspicion of perversion, advancing to its ends with the majesty of law without unseemly haste, proving things honest in the sight of all men.’

Some men have rendered such transcendent and brilliant service that the genius of history in compassion upon the multitude has shadowed their performance.

The philosopher, in dealing with causes, would be greatly amiss if he omitted to reckon with impulses which drive our race to explore [305] now its origin, then the advances of our people from one stage of development to another, culminating in the most careful scrutiny into individual character and genealogy.

The youth, manhood and age, who, in 1861, in a steady column of march, presented themselves representatives of every house, household and altar in our State, were born in these surroundings, amidst these traditions.

They were brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They had a well grounded faith in our precious Creator and in His Word. ‘Their good limbs were grown in North Carolina.’

Cromwell, writing after one of the reverses which befell the arms of the Parliament early in the struggle with the King, said: ‘We need men of religion to fight with men of honor.’

Receiving at the hands of the proper officials their company and regimental assignments, these men selected by their free votes their captains, lieutenants and ensigns; these were their neighbors and equals at home. Capable men, worthy of the trust and confidence of the companies, and these company officers in turn chose by their votes the colonels, lieutenant-colonels and majors of the regiments.

The field officers of the ten regiments known as State troops, were appointed and were commissioned by the Governor at the beginning of their service.

And now these companies and regiments began the exercises and duties in camp, on guard and on the march, which at length hardened them into veterans, and rendered them among the toughest soldiers who ever did battle in any cause. The men proved obedient to discipline and orders. Company and regimental government was more due to the personal influence and example of the officers and non-commissioned officers, to the reciprocal esteem of private soldiers and their immediate superiors in rank for each other than to ‘The Article of War’ and to the army regulations.

The greater the fool the better the soldier has been ascribed to the Duke of Wellington. It is a perverse saying contradicted by the experience of our war.

I heard a venerable man caution a youth, who was given to indiscretions, against the first wrong steps in life. The after weight of such false start.

Never were soldiers more helped by fortune in their first hostile meeting with the enemy, than was the 1st regiment of North Carolina in its baptism of blood at Bethel. You have commemorated in [306] deep letters cut away down into the stone body of the monument, which stands sentinel by day and by night at the west gate of your beautiful Capitol Square, the courage and daring of this command on that day. In a public building overlooking the same square, is a presentment of the youth who perished there. His name I am forbidden to utter to-day in these exercises, as thousands of others equally brave, equally deserving to be named here, might challenge the record as incomplete, since it spoke less than the whole truth. Bethel was the private soldiers' fight and victory. In the years of war which followed this splendid exhibition of bravery, the soldiers of North Carolina acquitted themselves in noble fashion and achieved imperishable renown.

Good tempered and calm, they were self-restrained—obedient to those in authority, not given to complaining, not exacting of those who were set over them. They fought well, meanwhile they were perfected in all the requirements of the service.

They attained precision of movement, rapidity in covering ground, capacity to endure fatigue and an excellence in sustaining long marches which was the admiration of the army.

The greatest accomplishment in soldiers next to courage, is a high power of locomotion.

When Alexander the Great complained of his illustrious master for having exposed philosophy to the knowledge of the vulgar, he uttered a sentiment common to antiquity, and in complete unison with the spirit of his age.

The murmuring multitude have during a hundred years invaded the domain of exclusive rights. Exclusion is doomed. The people have conquered. Education which in its complete analysis is the knowledge of the world's past, its storied past, the achievements and resources of its civilization, its advances and recessions, its toilsome climb is now as completely the birth-right of the citizen as is personal security, personal liberty and private property.

To the full and equal participation of the people of our State in all the rights and privileges which constitutions and statutes assure to the citizen is due in a measure the unanimous decision in 1861 to make common cause with the South, and the heroic determination with which that decision was upheld.

When the true and faithful account of the war is written, there will be accorded to the private soldier of North Carolina a full share [307] of every enduring virtue, great quality, persistent courage which has distinguished soldiers since history emerged from fable.

The limitations imposed upon us by the proprieties of this occasion will not be overstepped if we say these soldiers rose to their highest and most honorable estate perhaps in the campaign which began in the tangled forest near the Rapidan in the early days of May, 1864. The sweet breath of the wind came up from the deserted chambers of the South. The soldiers by their experience and sound sense penetrated through all disguise, all strategy—they knew the supreme moment had come—that supreme moment with all its agony and strain, and blood was drawn out full three months. Never was the peril of an army more constant, never marched nor fought nor slept nor hungered nor prayed men in arms to whom disaster might prove more irreparable. The private soldiers were conscious of all this while it was passing.

Never did the rank and file of an army hold a heavier share in the anxieties, the ‘fearful looking for’ of their commanders.

There are occasions in the experience of regiments, brigades and armies, when they rise superior to themselves, when the enemy, astounded by their audacity, stand at attention and applaud the on-coming host.

In that epic campaign, Gideon, Sampson, Barak and David were outdone.

Once in the supreme crisis of a great battle, when the earth trembled like a heated oven, and the battalion hesitated, a private soldier of well earned renown, appealed to them to go forward and strike home for their cause. Persisting in his appeal, he said: ‘They that love God go forward.’

Every human virtue was repeated during that struggle.

The glimpse mercifully given us of the Chevalier Bayard constituting the rear guard of his army, done to death by a great stone—urging his squire to take care of his life for the morrow, receiving the last rites of our Holy Religion at the hands of his courier, was equalled and equalled again by ragged North Carolina privates.

The zeal which impelled the men of the Crusades in their mission to redeem the Holy Sepulchre, was not more fiery than the Divine intoxication which moved the spirits of our soldiery.

If in the midst of war these men wrought well, how shall we portray them since peace, troubled peace, came back to our distracted State. [308]

In every peril, in every tumultuous assembly
They have demanded the regular order,
And striven to repair the ravages
Inflicted by the cruel surgery of war.

The Band of Patriots who made the first resistance to that construction of the Constitution of the United States, and the laws thereunder, which would exalt the powers of the general government and restrain the powers of the State, understood well what was involved in the issue. Upon this issue and upon the unseen foundation beneath it, the war was fought.

We lost. Philosophers do not repine over the inevitable. They are content after acting well their parts, to submit to the will of God.

When the Governor of Mississippi was arrested in the executive office, on a warrant issued by a United States Commissioner, who held his appointment at the hands of a Federal Judge—the Revolution was complete.

Charles Dickens in one of those pathetic creations in the domain of romance, the delight of his contemporaries and the admiration of this age, represents the early Christians as escaping from their persecutors into the Catacombs of Rome. Their hiding place having been discovered, the cruel soldiery murder the fathers and mothers in the presence of their children, who in the transports of feeling, rush towards the murderers, crying aloud:

‘We are Christians.’

Those of us who in our very hearts believed in the justice of the cause for which our comrades less fortunate but more happy than ourselves perished, though abandoned by hope, are Confederates still.

The memory of those days grows more tender year upon year.

My countrymen preserve the scraps. Gather up the fragments that nothing be lost.

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