“General Lee to the rear” --the incident with Harris' Mississippi brigade.We take great pleasure in publishing the following detailed account of the incident which occurred with Harris' gallant Mississippians on the 12th of May, 1864, and to which we briefly alluded in our paper in the January number as being (alike with the scene with the Texans in the Wilderness, and that with Gordon's division at Spotsylvania) “well authenticated” :
It may be well to add that there is really no conflict in the several accounts we have published. The incident certainly occurred, under somewhat similar circumstances, upon three occasions, viz: In the Wilderness on the 6th of May with the Texas brigade; at Spotsylvania Courthouse on the 12th of May with Gordon's division; and on the same morning with Harris' Mississippi brigade. As completing his account of the three incidents, we quote Colonel Venable's description of the scene in the Wilderness, and with Gordon's division, as given in his address before the Virginia Division, Army of Northern Virginia Association:
Colonel Venable, in this splendid address on The campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg, also gives a vivid description of the scene with Harris' brigade; but as it is substantially the same as the account given in his letter to General Harris, quoted above, we will not reproduce it here. He concludes as follows:
The homely simplicity of General Lee in these scenes of the 6th and 12th of May, is in striking contrast with the theatrical tone of the famous order of Napoleon at Austerlitz, in which he said: “Soldiers, I will keep myself at a distance from the fire, if with your accustomed valor you carry disorder and confusion into the enemy's ranks; but it victory appear uncertain, you will see your Emperor expose himself in the front of battle.” It is the contrast of the simple devotion to duty of the Christian patriot, thoughtless of self, fighting for all that men held dear, with the selfish spirit of the soldier of fortune, “himself the only god of his idolatry.” I have been thus particular in giving this incident, because it has been by various writers of the life of Lee confounded with the other two incidents of a like character which I have before given. In fact, to our great Commander, “so low in his opinion of himself and so sublime in all his actions,” these were matters of small moment; and when written to by a friend in Maryland (Judge Mason), after the war, as to whether such an incident ever occurred, replied briefly, “Yes; General Gordon was the General” --alluding thus concisely to the incident of the early morning of the 12th, when General Gordon led the charge, passing over the similar occurrences entirely, in his characteristic manner of never speaking of himself when he could help it. But that which was a small matter to him was a great one to the men whom he thus led.