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Life and character of Ex-Governor B. G. Humphreys of Mississippi.

[funeral eulogy at Port Gibson, December 27th, 1882.]

By Rev. D. A. Planck.
The occasion that calls us together to-day is not only a sad one, in which it is proper to weep with those who weep, but it is also one of opportunity, in which it is befitting to speak forth the praises of a great and good man.

It is not too late to say over the bier of a friend or patriot or chieftain what might have seemed indelicate and immoderate flattery if spoken in his living presence; for, while their are some men whom it is our duty to forget, burying their memories with their bones; yet, there are others whom it becomes our duty to study; men whose lives are revelations, and whose histories are the unfolding of a manhood that reveals the purpose of their Creator.

And such men merit our study, not only because their experiences may assist us in solving the problems of life (for such an aim might be marked with an intensity of selfishness), but also because we should carry in our hearts the memories of those who, in unselfish and noble lives, sought the glory of God and the good of men. [242]

Some one has said that ‘history is the glass by which the royal mind should be dressed,’ and you can appreciate the cleverness of the remark when applied to any mind that is able to distinguish what is solid from what is merely splendid, which with analyzing powers sifts the chaff from the wheat and strives to emulate the goodness of the good and the courage of the brave.

And it is circumstances of this sort that make this hour one of peculiar and solemn interest to us, as we stand in the presence of a finished life, from every side of which is reflected that which stimulates to noble purposes and worthy deeds. We gather to-day with mournful purposes of honor around the bier of no ordinary man. We stand under the shadow of a life that has spread out its noble branches, from every one of which drop upon our head the ripening fruit of wisdom and grace, integrity and virtue, benevolence and sympathy, piety and honor.

Benjamin G. Humphreys, a native of your own soil, your friend and neighbor, a man of unblemished character, an actor in many scenes, the hero of many battles, is no more.

As if conscious that his end was near, and weary of the struggles of life that were relentless even amidst the infirmities of age, he wrapped his mantle about him, ready to be gathered unto his fathers, and his spirit passed calmly and peacefully into the audience chamber of the blest.

He was born in Claiborne county, Mississippi, in 1808, of a house and lineage, to the honor of which no word need be spoken before this assembly.

As a youth he evidently manifested a precocity that encouraged his father to give him special educational advantages, which at that early day were purchased at great expense and inconvenience. He passed through a preparatory course in a classical school at Morristown, New Jersey, a State long ago famous for its educational facilities, and afterwards received an appointment of cadetship in the national school at West Point. And while there he was associated as classmate and confederate with such men as Jefferson Davis, Joseph E. Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee, men of whom Southern history and Southern chivalry shall ever be justly proud.

It might have been expected that by such associations and influences he would have been tempted at once into public life; but public life as a matter of profession seemed to have no attractions for [243] him, and returning to his native home he devoted himself to the unostentatious calling of a planter's life.

And in this pursuit, which engaged but a small share of his diversified gifts, he found happiness and success, and won such confidence among the business men of the day, that, in the language of one of his old friends—his name was good for any amount he saw fit to write it.

But while yet a young man, in 1837, he was called by his fellowcitizens to represent them in the State Legislature, and upon his return, as an evidence of his fidelity and worth, he was returned to the State Capitol as a member of the Senate, and again later in life he was honored with the highest gift in the keeping of his fellow-citizens and became their Governor.

Considering his modest and retiring disposition, some distinguishing excellence of character, some uncommon and acknowledged gifts must have lifted this man above his fellows, and commended him to their confidence and affection.

And as we pause a few moments to-day on our way to the final resting place of our honored dead, let us calculate some of those virtues that made him what he was. Some men are the creatures of circumstance, but this is the exception and not the rule. Men of sterling worth, are men of sterling principle, and we may expect to find in the character of our lamented chieftain, that which signalized him as one worthy of pre-eminence among his countrymen.

Without being dogmatic, he was a man of deep and sincere conviction. He thought for himself, and by sober reflection he matured these convictions upon which he was willing to construct his history. When the idea of secession began to develop into a fact, he took his stand in opposition to it. Having canvassed the whole subject he pronounced it impractical if not unwarrantable, and to the end of his life this conviction was unchanged, but he saw no remedy but to fight, and his brilliant career as a soldier bears witness of his fidelity to an adopted duty.

When led on by a sense of duty he feared no enemy, spared no friendship, realized no difficulties, and dreaded no consequences. He was no disciple of utilitarianism, and scorned with an unutterable contempt every form of subterfuge and chicanery by which the mere interests of partisanship are secured.

Not only was he a man who acted upon honest and well-matured conviction, but there was born in his heart the truth that ‘no man liveth unto himself.’ He acknowledged that mutual dependence that [244] exists among men, out of which grow the laws of a common brotherhood. This made him benevolent, this made him conservative, and this made him public-spirited.

There was a time when his purse was full, and it was always at the command of a heart that was likewise full. No man was ever turned from his door hungry, and his ear was the first to catch the cry of distress. His was a benevolence that thought of no display—a concealed liberality, which, while it aided the unfortunate, kept the misfortune a secret.

And I reveal only another phase of his benevolent spirit when I say he was ‘conservative.’ Fanaticism was not born in him, and he fixed himself upon that form of justice, which, while it injured none, blessed all.

He was a man fitted to stand between opposing parties, and check the rage of party spirit set on fire by the excitement of doubtful contest. In the most heated political canvass ever prosecuted in his county, and in which he was elected by a majority of only two votes, he exacted an agreement from his opponent to credit no slanderous or discreditable report until testified to in his own presence. Perhaps there was no other virtue that so distinguished him as a leader, or to which he was more indebted for his well merited success. It is remembered by some of you, how, that in your own streets he stood between the mob and its victim, until he concilitated the passions of men, and secured the triumph of law and order.

While he was unrelenting in his consciousness, and invincible in the discharge of his duty, yet he was as forgiving as a mother, and pursued the path of conciliation down to that point at which it became a wrong to go further.

But, in order to complete an estimate of him as a citizen, I must not fail to mention his public-spiritedness—not a spirit, indeed, that was the new-born offspring of sudden occasion, but that grew out of the fact that he considered himself a member in the body politic, a joint of the great machinery that grinds out the people's progress and happiness; a spirit pure in its exercise, and one that sprang from a combination of disinterestedness, integrity and true benevolence, and is the product of the formative influence of many domestic charities.

Some of you can recollect how promptly he came to the rescue, along with Judge Stamps, Hon. J. H. Maury and others, when the great fire had destroyed almost the entire business part of your town, [245] and provided the means necessary to bridge over that almost fatal calamity.

And before I pass from this line of remark, I would not fail to pay a tribute to that innate modesty that so adorned his character, and I had almost said achieved his greatness. He shrank from the gaze of men. He invariably took the lowest seat until invited to go up higher; and his whole life has been a beautiful commentary on that word of holy Scripture which says: ‘He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ His worth more appreciated by his fellow-citizens than by himself, he is by them brought forward and honored with the highest positions of confidence and trust that they could confer upon him.

During a transfer of a portion of the army with which he was connected in Virginia, they came to a stream greatly swollen by continued rains, and upon his arrival he was invited to join in council with his superior officers, concerning the situation, as there was no time for delay and no means of bridging the stream. Declining to counsel his superiors he simply requested that he be allowed to act at his discretion with his immediate command. The permission was granted, he plunged into the threatening stream with orders for his men to follow, and in a few moments his brigade was safely over. And immediately there went up a shout from the troops on the other side, applauding the daring but successful deed, and as soon as General Humphreys discovered that he was the subject of such applause, he put spurs to his horse and was soon out of sight in the woodland, his modest spirit carrying him away.

And likewise when he united with the church he sought an occasion that would be free from all notoriety. It seemed that he had heard his Master say to him, as He so often said to those who sought His grace when on earth, ‘See that thou tell it no man.’ Abundant in good deeds—the very synonym of charity, kindness and brotherly love—yet he would have scorned as unworthy and distasteful the publication of such acts, or the assumption of any merit on account of them.

But nowhere, perhaps, did he manifest so clearly his power and wisdom as when called to the Governorship of his State. It was a perilous time; the sound of arms had scarcely ceased its echo; all the disorganizing and demoralizing influences of war had to be met; a revolution had been affected. Pre-existing institutions having been swept away, every fortune gone, and every home in mourning, a new beginning must be made. From every quarter there came the inquiry, [246] Who shall assume the leadership as we attempt to gather together the shattered pieces and rebuild? Where is there a man who can awaken hopefulness in the heart of the despairing, and at the same time check the heedless impetuosity of those maddened by defeat and restore their wrecked government to active and efficient service?

The problem was solved by one of your own boys when he suggested the name of General Benj. G. Humphreys. At once all parties acknowleged his peculiar fitness, and as by acclamation he was made the custodian of the highest interests of the Commonwealth.

And the success of his administration attests the wisdom of their choice.

His wise counsels, and his conservative measures, had brought again the reign of peace and prosperity—until he was called to meet a form of reconstruction, superinduced by the United States Government, which was at once unconstitutional in form, and destructive in tendency, and by which he was required to abandon his office, and give up the government. This he refused to do, regarding as sacred the trusts confided to his care, until at length, at the point of the bayonet, he was compelled to relinquish those trusts into the hands of strangers.

Leaving now civil life, in so many phases of which we find him conspicuous, I must speak of him as a soldier. So varied was the form of his genius that he was at home in any field that demanded his service. It cannot be expected that I should now give a detailed account of his military career. This part of his life I must leave chiefly to the pen of the historian. When he saw there was no alternative but to fight, he gave himself, with all the energy and sincerity of his nature, to the cause of the Confederacy. He raised a company, and became its Captain; he joined a regiment, and became its Colonel; was assigned to a brigade, and became its commander.

By nature he was singularly fitted as an official soldier. He had courage without impetuosity, fidelity without ambition, and firmness without oppression. Each soldier was his brother, and not one should suffer when it was in his power to furnish relief. He participated in nearly all the hard-fought battles of his command, coming out of one after having had two horses shot from under him, and with nine bullet holes through his cloak within a radius of eleven inches from his collar-button, and finally returned from the conflict bearing in his body four severe wounds, that undermined his health and doubtless hastened his death. [247]

Other swords may be sheathed in scabbards of greater renown, but none in higher forms of valor and patriotism than his.

But I must speak of him yet again as a man of God. He felt that his duty was but half done when he had served his fellowmen; he must serve his Lord and Master too, and he responded to the claims of religion as he responded to all other duties, in no half-hearted service, but in a sincere and manly way. The Bible was the book for him, and there he found the spirit that made him one of God's noblest creatures.

He loved the house of God; he loved the fellowship of good people; he loved his Saviour; and he loved to think and talk about that glory which through faith he was allowed to inherit.

As a citizen, he lives in the hearts of his friends-honored in life, and lamented in death.

As a legislator and ruler, his people's praise is his monument. As a patriot and soldier his fame will stand immortal on the page of history. As a Christian he ‘rests from his labors and his works do follow him.’

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