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Address of General Dabney H. Maury at the Reunion of Confederate veterans, Maury camp, no. 2, Fredericksburg, Va., August 23, 1883.

Ladies, Comrades, and Fellow-Citizens:
As I look upon these once familiar scenes, sad and sweet memories throng about me. More than sixty years have passed since first I saw the light in Fredericksburg; and with them have passed away, one by one, my dearest and best loved of my youth, till now all who made my boyhood's home have crossed over the river, and are beckoning me to follow.

Along this valley, where for many generations my people have lived and died, nothing of them now remains but their names upon their graves.

This was a blessed and happy land—blessed in climate and in soil—abounding in prosperity and rich in its traditions. No higher civilization has ever existed on earth than was here; and you can have no nobler work than the preservation of the memories of our [545] struggle to maintain that civilization, and of the people who so bravely made it.

Virginia has a history which well may make us proud. An appanage of the Kings of England—her arms were quartered on the royal standard. Her territory stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, till in 1756, she wrested the Northwest Territory from France, and extended her domain to the great lakes.

When, at the conclusion of the war for independence, the burthen of the debt incurred by the colonies was under adjustment, responding to the complaints of the feebler, poorer colonies of New England, Virginia, with a generosity unparalleled in the history of nations, deeded all that vast domain now embracing Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin to be a common territory of the United States, and procured an enactment that no slave should ever enter them; that whoever trod that soil should be forever free.

Not Greek nor Roman can show a nobler record than Virginia; no people in all the history of the world has ever accomplished so much of all that ennobles mankind as her people have in three generations. And this district of the Northern Neck, which lies before our eyes, is the very nidus of all that has made this country great. Here, one hundred years ago, lived and thought, and wrought those good and great men who conceived and accomplished that scheme of civil liberty which to-day blesses all mankind. What made those men so wise confounds the wisdom of the wisest living to-day, and the greater the intellect, the broader the views, the wider the range of knowledge of men and things, the profounder is the veneration for those sages. Only bigotry and ignorance ever venture to disparage them.

The great Georgia Senator (Hill), in the last speech he ever made (the hand of death was then upon him), declared: ‘I never enter Virginia that I do not feel I should uncover my head in reverence to her great dead and in respect to her great living men; for I tell you that never has any nation in the world's history produced so many men so great.’

That great lawyer, Jere Black, who has just left a void in the world of intellect that cannot well be filled, said: ‘The histories of this country are erroneous. They have been mostly written by New England book-makers, and they make the impression on young minds that New England had much to do with the scheme of civil liberty in America, while the truth is it was conceived and matured by a dozen Virginians, and New England had little to do with it.’ [546]

And, my friends, right around us here is where those Virginians were born and lived. Blessed with ample fortunes, educated in the best schools of the old country, they returned to their estates to pass their lives in contemplating the great possibilities awaiting this country, and devising the modes by which they could be attained. Living like the patriarchs, under their own vine and fig-tree, served by the kindly hands of willing slaves, freed from all impecunious cares, undiverted by newspapers or telegrams, and unknowing of any short cuts to knowledge, with minds stored with the precedents of history, and trained in the great schools of thought, those men wrought out and announced the plan of self-government which stands to-day the envy and admiration of all the peoples of the earth, and the terror of all the tyrants.

Thus, George Mason, of Gunston Hall, made the Bill of Rights of Virginia, and Jefferson, of Monticello, a few years later, framed it into the Declaration of the Independence of these United States.

I need not name these men to you; but they have been aptly grouped in another's words. Just after the close of the war between the States, this Congressional district was represented in Congress by Judge John Critcher, of Westmoreland county. In the course of debate in the House of Representatives, a member from Massachusetts said that ‘slavery was not so much to be deplored because of the cruelty to the slaves as because of the degradation and ignorance it entailed upon the masters.’

Judge Critcher arose and said: ‘I beg to interrupt the gentleman for one moment while I call over the names of a few slave-owners in my parish in Virginia, who were born and bred in slavery, and who for elevation of character, education and surpassing intellect cannot be matched by the whole State of Massachusetts. The plantation adjoining mine on the north is Wakefield, where George Washington was born. Next to me on the south is Stratford, where Richard Henry Lee and Light Horse Harry Lee were born. Next to Stratford comes Chantilly, where Arthur Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Charles Lee and William Lee were born. If the gentleman will ride with me six miles I'll take him to Monroe's Creek, where President Monroe was born; if he will ride with me half an hour longer I will take him to Port Conway, where President Madison was born; if he will then stand with me in my portico I will show him, over the tree-tops, the chimney-stacks of the baronial mansion where Robert E. Lee first saw the light. Can Massachusetts match those men?’ [547]

There is no wonder, then, that this old town, seated at the very head of this favored region, should have borne herself so proudly, and have remembered so well ‘the breed of noble bloods from whom her people sprung.’ We can never forget them, and we must teach our children how proud their heritage is, and how jealously they must guard it.

There have been eras in the lives of nations which have been prolific of men great in war, great in literature, great in art. This era in the life of our State has been prolific of men great in goodness, great in devotion to duty, great in the simple purity of their lives, and in the good works which live after them to bless and elevate us all. On yonder Stafford hills, but a bowshot off, George Washington had his boyhood's home. From there he went out on his great voyage of life, freighted with courage, truth and honor, to return the great hero of the world. Half a century later, Robert E. Lee passed the happy summer days of his young life in that old house of Chatham. And I tell you that the lessons he learned there, as he stood a barefooted boy at his mother's knee, did more to make him the great, good knight he was, than all the teachings of the schools.

Hard by, Maury, that Matthew Fontaine Maury, whose name your encampment bears, first drew his breath, and in this town began his work, which has filled the world with wonder.

Here, too, Lewis Herndon lived, that noble Captain, who, gentle as Sydney, forgot himself to save others. And his whole duty done, passed with bowed and uncovered head into his Maker's presence, to receive his ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’

And we who are assembled here to-day have seen the men of this generation who gave their life blood freely forth for the cause we all so dearly loved.

There was no paltering with honor in this people then; only devotion to duty was found in their ranks, when the storm of war rolled over us. Had the men shrunk, these Fredericksburg women would have nerved and shamed them. But no man faltered. The fiercest onslaughts of the war were here, and here we repulsed them all. On yonder hillsides sleep the mute witnessess of that tragic story. On the slope of Marye's Hill now stand twenty thousand monuments to the valor and the victories of our people. And on the opposing slope of Kenmore rest the brave Confederates who won those victories—all States of the Confederacy are recorded there by the gentle, loving hands of our women. [548]

On Fame's eternal camping ground their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round the bivouac of the dead.
We may not rear a marble shaft above the hearts that now are dust,
But Nature, like a mother fond, will ne'er forget her sacred trust.
Young April o'er their lowly mounds shall shake the violets from her hair,
And glorious June, with fervid kiss, shall bid the roses blossom there.
And round about, the droning bee, with drowsy hum shall come and go,
And west winds all the livelong day shall murmur dirges soft and low.

No truer heroes ever went to battle than those brave boys of ours. And other heroes went out from here to teach us how to live and how to die. These were the heroes of ‘the pestilence that walketh in darkness,’ who, on humanity's call, gave up their lives. In the still watches of the night, amidst the sick and dying, silently and tenderly their work was done; none, save God above, saw it. His eye was on them. And when each in his turn fell under the fever he had so long fought for others, God took him. 'Twas here they drew the inspiration of a heroism nobler than that of battle. And in emulating the examples before them, they have left us fresh examples to guide our lives. ‘For greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’

A few months ago a venerable prelate, now long past his four score years, and looking over the boundary of that happy land he yearns to enter, said: ‘The longer I live the more I estimate goodness above great intellect. I think it is a common mistake of mankind to praise and exalt men of talents too highly. Unless guided by goodness they do only evil.’

In the examples before us, greatness and goodness have gone hand in hand; our great men have been great Christians too. Let us remember that. In statecraft, in philosophy, in war, they remembered their Creator, and reverenced His holy name. It could not, then, be otherwise than that their influence was shed over all the community in which they lived, and I have often reflected upon the gentleness and purity of this people.

The social crimes which daily pollute the public prints were never heard of here. Homicide was unknown, and I cannot recall a fight with deadly weapons, nor a duel, except one fifty years ago, in which a Randolph received his antagonist's shot, and fired his own into the air. In fact old Fredericksburg had attained to that civilization which can dispense with ‘the code,’ and God grant that she may never go backward in this, and that her young men and her maidens may ‘ever in their right hands carry gentle peace to silence envious tongues.’ [549]

And now when you ask what influence made these men so great and good, I tell you that it was the influence of the pure Virginia women. In that civilization which was our privilege, woman in all her highest and gentlest influences reigned supreme. Established in her hereditary home, surrounded by kindred and congenial friends, served by hereditary servants, she was secluded from every contamination of the coarser life of cities, as from the depressing effects of domestic drudgery. She was the Lady Bountiful of her domain, but she was no idler—with the lark, she saw her household in order, she ministered to the sick and comforted the afflicted; bond and free alike rejoiced in her gentle care.

‘The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.’

‘She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.’

‘Her children rise up and call her blessed.’

She clung with loving reverence to the traditions of her race, and she taught her sons to be brave, to tell the truth, to love God, and to respect and protect woman. These were the women who have made our men so great and good.

And the struggle of the Southern people, under the trials of the past eighteen years, give assurance there is no decay of manhood in our men, nor of womanliness in our women. The sunset of the day of Appomattox enshrouded Virginia in the gloom of the direst desolation that ever overwhelmed a people. Her whole land had been ravaged and wasted by war; thousands of her noblest sons had been slain and maimed, and languished in prison; her labor was all gone; her mills and her barns, her horses and her oxen, and the very implements of husbandry had been swept away. In one day all the currency of the country became worthless, and worst of all the degradations history records of a conquered people, her menial slaves were elevated to be the political masters of her population. But, with the dawn of the next day, Virginia began her retrieval. She buried her dead out of her sight, washed away her tears, and with no stain of shame upon her cheek, she marched on her new career, and such a victory has never been snatched from such a defeat as hers. Peace and prosperity abound through all her borders, and she is again in the very van of the States of this great Republic, cooperating with all for the common good of the whole country, and the glory of her sons and her daughters who have done all this, is worthy of all the glories their fathers have won. [550]

My friends, the responsibility of a proud history is a great conservator of virtue. A just love of fame is the greatest stimulus of high endeavor. We have a fierce battle before us, and must carry these with us into the fight. On us devolves to develop the resources of our State, to plant her in her pristine place amongst the States, and above all, to transmit the influences of the great examples who have, till now, guided us on the mountain ranges of thought and of honor. This duty done, we can say with a loftier pride than the ‘Roman Citizen,’ ‘I am a Virginian.’

And I will briefly sketch to my younger hearers the career of him whose name your Encampment bears:

Matthew Fontaine Maury was born in Spotsylvania county, January 14, 1806. In 1811 his father moved with his family and slaves to a cotton plantation near Franklin, Tennessee. In 1824, Captain John Minor Maury, the oldest son, died while serving against the pirates as Flag Captain of the West India Squadron, (under old Commodore David Porter,) and next year young Matthew was appointed midshipman. His father opposed so strongly his entry into the Navy, that supplied with money by a friend, and by the overseer with a horse, young Matthew rode away from his father's home without his father's blessing, through that great wilderness that lay between him and the career for which his spirit yearned. If ever an unfilial act was justified by the event, this was. He was warmly greeted on reaching Fredericksburg by his uncle, General John Minor, who sped him on his way to Washington, and to his dying day remembered with gratitude and affection the kindly courtesies shown him here by that examplar of our hospitality, the late Thomas B. Barton. His pay was then, as midshipman, $20 per month. He allotted one-half of it to his widowed sister. His first voyage was in the Brandywine Frigate, when she took General Lafayette to France. And from the very outset of his professional career, diligence in its pursuit, and eager study of all the marvels of creation it unfolded to his eyes engrossed him. In the steerage of the midshipman he began the new treatise on navigation, which he completed a few years later here. In 1834 he married Miss Anne Herndon, sister of Captain Herndon, and for several years their home was here, and he was occupied in forecasting measures of reform and improvement in his profession. In 1842 he was made Superintendent of the Depot of Charts, which, under him, was developed into the National Observatory [551] at Washington, the great world center of Hydrographical Science. There he issued his Wind and Current Charts and published his Physical Geography of the Sea. In the words of Humboldt, ‘he created a new science.’

There he marked out the tracks of speed and safety for mariners of every clime over the ocean's bosom, and showed the beds on the bottoms of the seas where the telegraph now safely lies. And at his call all the maratime nations sent their officers to learn of him in the great Conference at Brussels. Honors now were richly poured upon him. Every Emperor, King and Potentate of Europe sent him orders, medals and jeweled decorations. And Humboldt sent him his great Cosmos medal. Of a truth he had been ‘diligent in his business,’ and was declared ‘worthy to stand before Kings.’

The war between the States now approached and filled him with apprehension. It broke forth while he was in the very climax of his fame. No man then living held so proud a place. But on Virginia's call he gave it freely up and devoted himself thenceforth to the service of his people. No act of self-abnegation was ever more marked than this. The Emperor of Russia, and a few days later the Emperor of France, invited him in generous and eloquent terms to make his home with them, and away from the turmoil of civil war pursue those great works which were the property of the whole human race. In grateful words he declined these tempting honors because he could not abandon his own people in the day of their calamity. When the war closed a price had been set upon his head, and he was a homeless exile. Again Russia and France invited him, and the new born Mexican Empire won him to her service for a time. He was in England when Maximilian fell, and remained there to complete the School Geographies now so widely used. Then once again Napoleon sought him, offering the highest scientific office of France, which he declined, because his own people needed him. And in their service he calmly closed his great career. His last words were, ‘It is well,’ and well it is with him, indeed. In all his writings, all his works, he had illustrated the Christian's life and confirmed the Christian's faith. In these days of flippant infidelity, when would-be wise men question the revelations of the Scriptures through their developments of modern science, they are rebuked by this great master of Nature's laws, who ever held them to be the laws of God, and that the Bible is their great expounder.

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