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General Lee to the rear.

By Professor W. W. Smith, of Randolph Macon College.
[In our narrative, in our January, 1880, number, of three occasions on which the men vociferated to General Lee to “go to the rear,” we promised to give in some future issue the sketch of one of the incidents written at the time by Professor W. W. Smith, then a private in the Forty-ninth Virginia regiment. We have been unable to find the sketch to which we then referred, but are glad to be able to give an extract from a speech made by Professor Smith on “Memorial day” in Warrenton, Va., June, 1878, in which the incident is eloquently given, if not with the fresh enthusiasm of the boy soldier which characterized the sketch Mr. Smith wrote the day after the bloody struggle at Spotsylvania.

We regret that we have not space for the whole speech, but give the extract as follows:]

We are met, comrades, to pay a brother's tribute to those who marched shoulder to shoulder with us in the army of Northern Virginia, whose hearts we knew,

True as the steel of their tried blades,
Heroes in heart and hand.

How our hearts beat more quickly at the recollection of that grand old army! When I think of the humble private, foot-sore and weary, toiling on after his tattered standard, shoeless and ill-clothed, munching his hard-tack, and eating his bacon raw to make it last the longer, yet all with a cheerfulness unfailing, because, forsooth, it was the best his country had to give; of the grand men who led our lines and breathed their spirit into lesser souls; of the glorious knight of the nodding plume; of the fierce, fiery God of War so meekly bowing to his God, but to his God alone; and then as my thought rests in the contemplation of the grand chieftain, who united in one majestic person the ardor of patriotism, the sublimity of genius, the dignity of greatness, whose name lit each eye and inspired every heart, himself so calm, so true — as thus the grand picture of our country and its cause, of that glorious army, and that most glorious leader rises before my mind, I think that surely

Never hand waved sword from stain so free,
Nor purer sword led a braver band,
Nor braver bled for a fairer land,
Nor fairer land had a cause so grand,
Nor cause a chief like Lee.


We go, comrades, to drop a flower upon the graves of those who represent to us the gallant dead of that army. From the cavalry, the artillery, and the infantry, 'tis not our privilege to place the tribute of devotion on the graves of our Stuart, our Pelham, or our Jackson, or even, perhaps, upon the humble mound of that comrade best beloved to each, but others of our brotherhood will drop the tear and strew the graves where tender hands have gathered them, and over those who lie yet where they fell, by hill and glen, and grove, will the good God spread the daisy and the buttercup, and the tender dew will drop its glistening tear. On the graves of these who rest within our charge we each will drop the flower in memory of his absent dead, while all unite in common tribute to him who loved them all, and was a father to us all — our great commander.

We are here, citizens of Fauquier, to honor those who have made your county historic ground. You yourselves have made its name an honored word in the households of the South; for none of those who came within the reach of the ever extended arms of your sympathy, none of that brave army, which sweeping along your rugged roads to intercept and force the foe to battle, fed on the bounty which the untiring hands of your fair women, and the eager ardor of your old men provided, can forget the patriotism which made you prodigal even in your penury, and raised the flush of honest pride upon your soldiers' cheeks, as any one could say, “I am from old Fauquier.”

But the gallant deeds of those you sent to battle have won for you a different and a peculiar glory. I need not mention the rich legacy of fame bequeathed you by creme de la creme of the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Black Horse of Fauquier. The heart of the State of Virginia throbs in quickened pulsations at the name of the knightliest leader of that knightly band, as she longs to place upon his brow some fitting testimonial of her honor. I need not speak of the honor won for his county by the Ashby, whom a nation mourned. I need not call to mind the fame won in the name of our county-seat, by the Warrenton Rifles, and their gallant leader, who fell indeed, “first in the foremost line.” There is no need to recount the exploits of those scouts and rangers who maintained an independent state within the lines, and almost within sight of the capitol of the enemy. Time would fail me even to sketch the glorious achievements of those other heroes who went forth with your Scott, the Carters, and your Randolph. On first Mannassas maiden field; through the hardship and the sickness and the one sharp conflict of the Peninsula campaign; in the splendors of the Valley victories; on the bloody field of Seven Pines; [564] at Cold Harbor and amid the deafening thunders of Malvern's rugged sides, belching forth flame and death; at second Manassas, scene of stern endurance; at Harper's Ferry's victory; on Sharpsburg's trying field; on Fredericksburg's hill-fringed plain and hill-side drenched in gore; in Chancellorsville's dear-bought victory; at the gallant storming of Winchester's heights, and the immortal sacrifice 'mid Gettysburg's volcanoes; amid the lurid lightnings of the Wilderness, the stern shock of Spotsylvania's massive onsets, and in that contested angle, pregnant with death; at Cold Harbor's second scene of carnage; in the wearying watchings in the trenches; the horrors of the Crater; the deadly Hatcher's Run, and the sad days when valor and devotion still strove to do impossibilities, and striving fell, until the army's father stayed their unavailing sacrifice at Appomattox's scene of bitter lamentations, and all along between these, in the thousand combats where lesser numbers won not lesser glory, where the untiring cavalry drove back the mounted foe, or with unflagging courage held at bay his hosts of infantry, or where the lonely scout dared death at every hour and did deeds of heroic valor with no eye to witness — in all these scenes which tried men's souls, your valor was found ready to perform, your genius to command. Let me illustrate by a single incident the deeds by which these dead soldiers won for you immortal fame and have deserved from you this annual honor.

When the boom of Sumter's signal gun of conflict was still reverberating among our mountains, and the roll of the recruiting drum was re-echoing the call to arms, there assembled at its summons a band of your youth and gave in their names as volunteer defenders of Virginia. Near to the spot where now we stand they met. A noble band they were, elate with high hopes and patriotic purpose. They went forth with their country's name inscribed upon their banners, the Fauquier Guards, amid the mingled tears and benedictions of age and the approving smiles of beauty.

I saw them once again. It is a calm May dawn, but darkened yet by the still lingering night-mists, chill and drear. Along the confronting lines of Spotsylvania lie the armies which for six days of conflict and manoeuvre have been tasting each others blood and testing each others prowess, all silent now in the hush of the morning twilight. Suddenly there bursts forth from the darkness the roar of battle. A mighty host rushes upon the protruding angle of the Confederate lines. In a moment the massed forces overwhelm its defenders, open wide the gap, and pour in hostile tide through the centre of our lines. The Army of Northern Virginia is severed in the midst, its ruin is impending. But [565] a quick order is received; in a moment two brigades are summoned from the nearest trenches, a feeble force against the thick massed foe, scarce one to five, but no other aid was near and delay was ruin. In that line, close by the colors of the old Forty-ninth Virginia, stood your Fauquier Guards, veterans now of three campaigns, tried and trusted. An officer upon an iron-gray rides to the front. He utters no word, but points forward to the foe and advances to lead the charge. He turns his face towards us now. The sight of that face, full of calm resolve, sends a thrill of dismay through each heart, for there amid the already whistling bullets, they recognize in him the idolized commander of the army. To throw their own bodies in front of him is the involuntary impulse of their devotion. The gallant Gordon, the commander of of the charging column sees the situation. Dashing up he lays his hand upon the bridle-rein of his commander, “General Lee, this, sir, is not your place; we will drive these people back, sir. These men are Virginians, they never yet have failed and they will not now; will you boys?” “No I no!” bursts from the eager lines, “General Lee to the rear! General Lee to the rear; we can't do anything till General Lee goes to the rear,” and while one reverently leads the iron-grey back through the opening line, right where your Guards were standing, the ringing voice of Gordon sounded “forward.”

Not with noisy shout nor rapid rush, but with stern-set faces and measured tread the line advanced. Veterans of many fields, their practiced eye perceived that on that charge depended the fate of the army, and each felt

As if 'twere he
On whose sole arm hung victory.

I saw their faces set in grim determination, for the odds were fearful; but down the line I heard a word of exhortation pass from mouth to mouth, the watch-word for the battle, “Remember General Lee is looking at us” ; aye, and depending on us too, was the thought which filled their hearts as they surmount an intervening rise in the wooded ground and burst upon the crowded foe, scarce twenty paces off. With a shout and deafening roar of musketry they rush upon their thickset ranks. The enemy received them with the steel. Their guns are empty, and alas I they have no bayonet fixed — no time to set them; what shall they do? They will do aught but fail. With stern resolve they club their muskets and hurl themselves upon the foe. Their desperate valor wins; the foemen waver, cower and give way. With a shout of triumph the ardent victors press upon them and hurl them on [566] in headlong rout, bearing back with them their supporting columns. But the battle is not yet ended; the lines are readjusted, your veterans hold the breach, and against them column after column is hurled. Nine times that eve did the enemy seek to drive them from their post; nine times their charging lines retired shattered and broken. 'Twas four in the morning when their charge began; 'twas nine at night ere the battle closed over the rescued army and the baffled foe, and your Fauquier Guards slept upon their arms with the sweet consciousness of duty done.

Such were the deeds by which these dead heroes won a right to your regard.

In such a flame and such a heat
The anchors of your fame were forged.

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