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Pegram battalion Association.

The following addresses were delivered on the 31st day of May, 1887, on the occasion of the dedication of a memorial window, erected in memory of the dead of the Pegram Battalion Association, and the depositing of a register of the same, at the Chapel at the Soldiers' Home at Lee Camp. The following companies constituted the battalion: ‘Purcell’ Battery, of Richmond, Virginia; ‘Crenshaw’ Battery, of Richmond, Virginia; ‘Letcher’ Battery, of Richmond, Virginia; ‘Fredericksburg’ Battery, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and ‘Pee Dee’ Battery, of South Carolina—commanded by Colonel Wm. Johnston Pegram until he fell mortally wounded at Five Forks, April 1st, 1865:


Address of Rev. H. Melville Jackson, D. D.: religion an element of strength in the soldierly character.

When Aeneus related to the enamoured Queen of Carthage the story of Trojan woes, he could say that no inconsiderable part of those sufferings were borne by himself. And so, it seems to me, that one who is entitled to speak on an occasion of this sort, should have been a participator in the deeds whereof he speaks, a fellow-sufferer with those who suffered and a fellow-reaper with those who gathered glory on the fire-swept fields of war.

And, although I have not this title to speak, yet I yield to none in devotion to the principles which were then submitted to the arbitrament of arms, in grateful veneration for those who survived and loving reverence for those who died. They endured no hardship which does not enlist my sympathy, they won no glory which does not excite my enthusiasm and command my admiration. If this constitutes a title, I feel that I am not altogether unworthy to appear in your presence to-day and undertake to perform the duty which you have assigned me.

In the years which have ensued since the God of Peace breathed peace on this torn and distracted country, we have had time to make up our estimate of the Southern soldier. We have thought, and do verily believe, that neither the phalanxes of Macedonia, nor the legions of Rome, nor the disciplined battalions of Prussia, nor the sturdy brigades of Britain, nor the war-intoxicated soldiery of France, surpassed either in endurance or in valor the veteran armies which contested the long series of battles from Manassas to Appomattox. The estimate of the Southern soldier has been formed, has already passed into history, and will be perpetuated on her page.

There is, however, one element of strength in the soldierly character, contributing no little to the achievements of the armies of the Confederacy, which the historian is liable to overlook. The deep religious sentiment which pervaded the Southern armies, and animated alike both officers and men, will scarcely be included by the annalist among the contributory elements of success in war. And yet it is that element which I propose to emphasize to-day. Two distinguished chaplains of the war, Dr. W. W. Bennett in a book entitled ‘The Great Revival in the Southern Armies,’ and Dr. J. Wm. Jones in a work, ‘Christ in the Camp,’ which I understand is [196] shortly to appear, have treated this subject at large; but I am very sure that neither will resent the appearance on the field of an humbler ally in the laudable effort to present the Southern soldier in his noblest aspect—as a Christian warrior.

I shall allow myself large latitude to-day. I shall endeavor to refute what is perhaps the popular impression, that a soldier is a reckless dare-devil, fearing nothing in the heavens above or in the earth beneath. I shall endeavor to show that Cromwell was right when he said: ‘Truly I think he that prays and preaches best will fight best. I know nothing that will give like courage and confidence as the knowledge of God in Christ will.’

It were easy to make out an a priori case. It were easy to show that the religion of Christ enters into the individual, enhances and exalts the faculties and powers of mind and soul, supplies him with new and stronger motives for doing everything that is right, and therefore, all other things being equal, a man should be a better soldier, as he should be a better farmer, merchant, physician, lawyer or artisan, because he is a Christian.

But I shall approach this subject from another standpoint. I shall lay down the proposition, that the annals of religion have given us the best exemplars of generalship, of heroic action, and of personal bravery which, in all ages of the world, the history of war contains.

I am aware that on the first statement of this proposition it will be questioned, if not denied. The objector will point to the heroes, whose deeds have been preserved in classic literature, and whose faith was in false gods; he will point to an Alexander, a Hannibal and a Caesar; he will point to the intrepid valor of the Spartan and the irresistible courage of the Roman, and say, ‘These men owed nothing to a religious faith; produce, from any quarter, names worthy to be compared with them.’

In matters such as these we are very much controlled by traditional estimates. The splendid literature of the Greeks and Romans has immortalized the deeds of their heroes, the battles won by their armies, and the victories achieved by the strategy of their generals; and that literature has moulded the thought of the world. The estimates thus formed have become fixed; and Alexander and Caesar and Hannibal have become the world's standard in generalship, and the Spartan and the Roman have become the world's standard in courage and intrepidity. It may be rank heresy to question the unbroken tradition of the centuries; but, for my part, I have never regarded these estimates as final. [197]

For instance, have you ever seriously asked upon what grounds the world-wide fame of Julius Caesar rests?

Mainly upon the conquest of Gaul and Germany, does it not? And while no sane man will deny the military skill and strategy and resource of the Roman commander, yet, after all, it was the conquest of an undisciplined rabble of badly armed and half naked savages by the superbly equipped, mail-clad, and disciplined legions of Rome. And I would venture to put over against the campaigns of a Caesar, the achievements of a Joshua, who, at the head of an army composed of the escaped slaves of Egypt, with no weapons except such as they were able to forge in the desert or wrest from the hands of their enemies, undertook the conquest of the powerful nations of Moab and Ammon and Philistia and Canaan.

I understand very well that one may say that the Jewish commander had divine assistance, which the Roman had not. I do not deny that; but I distinctly affirm that the student of military history, considering the human elements alone, will find in the great captain of the Hebrews, whose soul was on fire with zeal for Jehovah's cause and whose dauntless faith was fixed on the Lord his God, the peer of any captain of any age.

And I will ask you to suppose for a moment that the heroic action of Gideon had occurred on Grecian soil, and had been preserved in classic in place of sacred literature? Who does not know that it would have passed into history as one of the world's exemplars of heroism, and occupied a place beside Thermopylae of ancient and Balaklava of modern times? But, alas, being recorded in sacred history, its fate has been to degenerate into a joke, and the name of that gallant border chieftain can scarce be mentioned without exciting a smile.

In the hill country of Benjamin, where the mountainous region falls away to the valley of the Jordan, there is a deep gorge or fissure, caused by some convulsion of nature, called the Valley of Michmash.

Over against each other, across this yawning and precipitous chasm, stand opposing cliffs. On yonder side of the chasm an army of the Philistines, numbering many thousands, has pitched its tents; on this side a little band of Hebrews, numbering about six hundred, occupy a strongly entrenched and fortified camp. It seems only a question of time when this gallant band must succumb to an overpowering force. Jonathan, that noble prince and superb soldier, is in command of the little army of the Israelites. He gazes across the intervening chasm upon the outstretched camp of the Philistines, and meditates [198] a project of surpassing bravery. He has determined to scale that cliff with his drawn sword in his hand, and attack that mighty host single-handed. What utter madness! A single sword against an armed multitude! No matter. The Lord God of Israel will nerve his arm; and if it be madness, it is just such madness as a religious faith is capable of inspiring. To-morrow, at the dawn of day, we see the valiant young prince scaling that craggy steep, and behind him steals his courageous armour-bearer. Now he draws himself up on the summit of the rock, and in an instant his terrible sword strikes the sentinel posted there to the earth. On he goes toward the camp of his enemies, like a young god infuriate; and as he goes he slays. Twenty Philistine warriors fall before him, and his armour-bearer slays after him. He reaches the camp, and the sleeping enemy start up from slumber and come forth from their tents in dazed and stupid amazement, while the sword of Jonathan deals wide havoc. Confusion seizes the Philistine host. In the uncertain light of the dawn each man takes the other for an enemy, and treacherous allies embrace the opportunity to break a hated allegiance and turn their swords against their late comrades.

The confusion grows wider, and grows wilder. Utter panic and rout ensue. A great army, lately flushed with victory, is in full flight, and on its rear, reaping a harvest of death, flashes and gleams in the morning light the single sword of Jonathan.

I search in vain the annals of war for an action parallel with that in the superb audacity of its conception and in the splendid valor with which it was executed. And yet, not one in ten of you all ever heard of it before. There it is, recorded on the page of Holy Writ, but it never arrested your most casual attention. If Herodotus had told the story, or Plutarch, or Walter Scott, you would have heard it a thousand times in your childhood, and you would have told it again and again to your children after you.

A distinguished divine, recently speaking in this place, said of a certain Psalm upon which he was commenting: ‘This is the soldier's Psalm.’ He might with equal propriety have said of the whole book of Psalms: ‘This is the soldier's book.’ How full it is, from beginning to end, of allusion to the camp, the battle and the weapons of a warrior. We read these glorious old hymns of antiquity, and we need no man to tell us that they are the devotional expressions of the mighty heart of a soldier. The Lord God, to him, is one who teacheth his hands to war and his fingers to fight.

His prayer is the prayer of a soldier: ‘Fight against them that [199] fight against me Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for my help.’ His conception of a protecting providence is expressed in such terms as ‘fortress’ and ‘defence’ and ‘a shield upon my right hand.’

Beyond all doubt the soldier-king of Israel was a great warrior. His earlier history, when hunted through the mountain fastnesses from cave to cave, reads like the romantic story of a Wallace or a Bruce; his later history, when his victorious armies established the supremacy of his little kingdom over surrounding nations, and held in check the rising power of Syria on the east and the mighty empire of Egypt on the south, will place him in the front rank of the captains of war.

But the greatest soldier which Israel ever produced was the renowned Judas Maccabeus. I will go even farther. I will say that I do not believe the whole world ever produced his superior. To my mind there is no grander figure in history. In him were united the bravery of a Julius Caesar, the military genius of a Napoleon Bonaparte, and the religious enthusiasm and fiery energy of a Stonewall Jackson. Taking up arms at a time when his country was a Grecian province, all its fortresses garrisoned by Grecian armies, his countrymen corrupted by Grecian luxury, he collected a little band from the number of those who were yet jealous for the Lord of Hosts and for the honor of His name, and won a series of victories unparalleled in the annals of war. City after city was reduced by his invincible arms, and their garrisons expelled, until the last shackle was struck from Israel. Mighty armies under experienced generals were sent to crush him, but were defeated in detail and driven back with disaster.

I have no intention of wearying you with an extended account of these wonderful triumphs. I think one memorable engagement will suffice. An army of forty thousand men, under the Generals Gorgias and Nicanor, had penetrated into the very heart of the devoted province, and were encamped at Emmaus. To oppose this formidable force, Judas had a little army of six thousand patriots encamped at Mizpeh, by the Eben-ha-ezer, ‘the stone of the helper,’ which Samuel had erected centuries before.

The disparity of force was great enough one would think, but the indomitable Jewish leader assembled his army and made proclamation that all who had built a house, or planted a vineyard, or married a wife in the past year, and all who were afraid, were at liberty to withdraw from his standard. Three thousand left the ranks; three thousand stood in their place; three thousand now against [200] forty thousand. Tremendous odds! But these men are fighting for God, and they know no fear. ‘In God is our help,’ was the battery which went up from that devoted band.

The army of the invaders divides; one part remains encamped at Emmaus under Nicanor; the other part, under Gorgias, makes a detour through the mountains to surprise Judas and destroy him in his tents. This is his opportunity, and with the instinct of genius he seizes it. With the celerity of movement for which he was famous, and in which he is unequalled in ancient or in modern times, except, as I think, by the ‘foot-cavalry’ of Stonewall Jackson, he descended upon the camp of Nicanor, and when Gorgias had reached the mountain top, where he expected to find his victim, he could behold the conflagration which proclaimed the rout and destruction of the main body of the invading army.

Nor is he left long to brood over his disappointment. Before nightfall of that eventful day, and before he could extricate himself from that mountainous region, he is attacked in one of its defiles with such impetuous fury that his army melts in a moment, and flees in terror, with the avenging swords of the patriots driving them like the scourge of God. The discomfited generals return to the regent Lysias, and declare that ‘the God who fought for the Jews is indeed mighty, and it is worse than useless to attack them.’

Now it seems strange to me that this great general, who fought a score of battles, and always at the odds of about one man against ten, but yet who never lost an engagement, who achieved the independence of his country, and who wrested freedom from the mighty power of the Grecian Empire, has not been accorded the place in the estimation of the world to which his signal prowess and military genius entitle him. I know no reason except that which was alleged by Tacitus in a similar instance, when he says of the Greeks, that they ‘never admire any exploits but their own.’ Grecian literature is silent respecting Judas Maccabeus, and Grecian literature has moulded the thought of the world.

Surely it is not enough to do deeds of glory. Their formative influence, their inspiring example, is lost to the world unless they are embodied in an imperishable literature. And I assert that no more imperative duty lies before the South than to secure the preservation of the records of our recent war. I do not mean so much the records of extended campaigns, which I have no doubt the military historian will faithfully chronicle, but the personal acts of devotion and deeds of prowess, which shed the light of a higher glory on the dark page [201] of war, and which will be the pabulum of inspiration for generations yet unborn.

My proposition is: That religion is an element of strength in the soldierly character. My proposition is: That the annals of religion will afford the best examplars of heroic action. In support of this proposition we are following those annals down the centuries, and noting the conspicuous figures of history; and we pass now from Judaic to Christian times.

I shall not weary you with instances; but my discussion would surely be incomplete without passing notice of that outburst of religious fervor, which moved all Europe to war, sent army after army against the Mohammedan power of the East, and was the occasion of such abandon of devotion, such prodigies of valor, and such hardly-won meed of glory as the world has scarcely seen the like, before or since.

The beginning of the Crusades was farcical enough. I know of no more ludicrous spectacle than Peter the Hermit, clad in his monk's cowl and astride of a diminutive donkey, leading a motley host of men, women and children, armed with sticks, stones, hammers and pitchforks, and other such weapons, across Europe to exterminate the Turk. An expedition farcical surely, if its termination were not so tragical. Cut off to a man; the whole host of them slaughtered in heaps by the remorseless scimitar of the Saracen; the spot where they fell marked for long years by their whitening bones.

But, if the beginning was ridiculous, the sequel was glorious; when the flower of the chivalry of all the nations of Europe gathered to the standard of Godfrey, an army of the choicest spirits that ever assembled on a field of battle, sworn on the red cross of the Crusade to recover the sepulchre of the Son of God, or die in the effort.

Twenty thousand men, each man of them a hero in battle and an expert in arms, stormed at the walls and tower and gates of Jerusalem, reputed impregnable, and defended by an army of seventy thousand Saracens. The besieged more than three times the number of the besiegers. When was it ever heard that a walled and fortified city was carried by assault on such terms? And yet Jerusalem was taken; how, no man knows. The Arab chroniclers dismiss the whole matter curtly, saying: ‘It was the will of God that the city should be taken, and so the Christians, rushing on as one man, took it—God curse them.’

I have often tried to picture to myself the scene which a battle-array, in the times of the Crusades, would present to the eyes of a [202] spectator. No dense clouds of sulphurous smoke hung over a field of battle in those days, enveloping and concealing the action.

There was no refuge in rifle-pits, and no long-range batteries dealing death across the interval of miles. Doubtless the spectacle was imposing and inspiring.

The sunlight gleaming on the burnished armour of the steel-clad knights; the gay trappings of the caparisoned steeds; the standards of the chieftains unfurled to the breezes, resplendent with armorial bearings; the blare of the trumpets sounding defiance and uttering the signal of battle; the evolutions of the glittering lines; the fierce onset of the knights with lances couched and bodies bent to the pommel; the swords leaping from their scabbards and clashing on shields and helmeted heads; the terrible crash of the battle-axe—oh, it seems to me that a man must needs have been a man, with a heart that knows not how to tremble, with a frame of iron, and with sinews of steel, to engage in such warfare as that. Give me, then, a man whose physical frame has been developed as befits a frame which enshrines an immortal soul. Give me a man who is endowed with all the natural qualities of a true manhood. I will baptize him with the fire of a religious enthusiasm; I will kindle in his soul the zeal which is born of faith in the everlasting God; I will send him forth on such a field, armed in a righteous cause, and he will be invincible.

Gentlemen, religion is a force which enters the innermost recesses of the heart, and stirs the deepest powers of the soul. There is many a fool who thinks it a fit thing for women and children, but somehow detrimental to manliness and incongruous with the most exalted types of character, as they are manifested in the stirring action of life. It is this idea I combat. Believe me, religion strengthens, ennobles. It gives bones of iron and sinews of brass. In every righteous cause it enters as an ally heaven-born, and endowed of heaven with the heroic virtues of the archangels about the throne. It is no weak, nerveless, effeminate thing. It tones the tension of the soul to a pitch of heroism which earth-born spirits may strive in vain to reach.

It is night. It is the eve of the battle of Hastings. To-morrow shall be fought the fight upon which hang the destinies of England. I stand on the area between the embattled hosts, the area which shall to-morrow be contested with stubborn valor, and which shall run red with brave blood. The moon sheds her sweet light, as though she were shining on human loves, and happiness, and sweet peace, and the stars blink and twinkle in the skies. Yonder is the camp of the Normans, and there the tents of the Saxons. I stand between. Upon [203] mine ears, from this side, comes the noise of revelry, the music of the dance, the merriment of men who linger long with the cup; from that side there steals upon the night air the low chant of devotion, and I hear the murmur of a multitude in worship of the Lord God of Hosts. Do I need one to tell me how the battle will go on the morrow? Ring down the curtain. Spill no human blood. The destiny is forecast and fixed. The devotee will conquer the reveler as surely as the trumpets shall sound the onset of battle.

Oh, Religion, what deeds of valor hast thou inspired! What names of glory, unsurpassed, unequalled, hast thou dictated to fame that their deeds should be blown upon the four winds and heralded to the ages!

The long catalogue runs synchronously with the centuries. The record is not closed, the record is never closed. Our own times, our own century, adds its resplendent quota; heroes worthy to be catalogued with the patriots of Thermopylae and the chivalry of the Crusades. We nominate a Havelock, we nominate a Gordon, we nominate a Lee, we nominate a Jackson, we nominate a Pegram, as names worthy to be inscribed on the immortal scroll which bears the record of the lives whose sacred fires were kindled at the altar of a religious faith.

The historian, when he formulates for posterity the estimate of the Southern soldier, is liable to overlook the religious element as one of the factors of strength in the almost invincible armies of the South.

He will not understand that the training which should fit him to do deeds of glory was not in the manual of arms, nor in the evolutions of tactics, but in the inculcation of the principles of a religious faith.

A mother's knee seems a strange place to train a soldier, but I tell you that there is the school of the heroes of all the ages; wanting that, the schools of war and camps of instruction will never suffice to train a race of patriots or develop a nation of warriors. Thanks be to God, the people of the South are still in the main a religious people. Festering and pestilent scepticism has made no considerable inroad among us, destroying faith, corrupting morals and tainting virtue. Still for us there is a God in the heavens reigning over all; still a right and a wrong; still a commanding respect for all that is noble and true and good. And when mothers sent their sons to battle, they sent youths whose souls had been made stalwart by the strengthening principles of a religious faith.

This is not the estimate of a prejudiced and partial judge. After [204] the battle of Gettysburg a Federal chaplain, preaching to Federal soldiers, paid this high tribute to the Southern armies:

The Southern army,

said he,

is one which, from its commanding generals to its lowest privates, is pervaded with the sense of dependence upon God. The highest councils of its military leaders are opened with prayer for His divine guidance and benediction. Every battle is planned and every campaign conducted in the spirit of prayer.

More than this; every soldier is taught to feel that the cause in which he contends is one that God approves; that if he is faithful to God, His almighty arm will protect, and His infinite strength ensure success. Thus believing that God's eye of approval is upon him, that God's arm of protection is thrown around him, the Southern soldier enters the field of battle nerved with a power of endurance and a fearlessness of death which nothing else can give.

You may call this fanaticism, enthusiasm, or what you will, but remember, you are fighting an enemy that comes from the closet to the battlefield; that comes from its knees in prayer to engage in deadly strife; that comes in the belief that its battles are the battles of Jehovah; that His smile is resting upon its banners and will ensure success.

With what indomitable strength,

said he, ‘does such a conviction, whether true or false, endue men? What power it has to make every man a hero, and every hero, if need be, a martyr.’

I want no higher encomium than that; I want no better testimony to the truth of the position I assume. Far be it from us to assert that the armies of the South were armies of saints.

I do not assert that; but I do affirm that, perhaps, never in the world's history were gathered together such large bodies of men who were so generally pervaded by a deep and strong religious spirit.

How many of its leaders were great whole-hearted Christian men. Polk was a bishop; Pendleton, a clergyman, and D. H. Hill a religious author. Call the roll of brigadiers, and you will be astonished to find how large a proportion of them were God-fearing men.

Joseph E. Johnston, eminent for military skill, consecrated his talents to the service of God. Lee is the noblest type of a Christian warrior that our century has produced; nay, stands peerless among the sons of men of every nationality and of every age. In the crisis of many a fight the right arm of Stonewall Jackson was seen uplifted in prayer to the God of battles, and many a long night [205] that stout-hearted soldier was putting forth in petition all the energies of his indomitable spirit which on the morrow would be thrown into action.

As with the leaders, so with the rank and file. Soldiers, veterans of many a bloody field, as your memory goes back to those days, what are the scenes which you love to recall in your tenderest moments? Are any pictures graven deeper in your recollection than the evening prayer-meeting, the group around the camp-fire singing the grand old hymns of the Christian religion, and the Sunday services, when your faithful chaplains told you of the love of Jesus, and exhorted you, by all you held most dear, to patient endurance and valiant bearing? I do not know; but it seems to me those are the things which would outlive the memory of the charge and countercharge of stern resistance and fierce fight.

Let me show you a scene. The battle is raging far and near. There, in an advanced and exposed position, is a line of sharpshooters thrown out to check the onset of a furious charge. The ammunition of one of those men is exhausted. He can fight no more. He lies there with the storm of shot and shell bursting over his head, and he takes from his pocket a little Bible and reads. He shuts the book and his eyes close in prayer. Storm on, ye fiends of war! rage on, ye hurtling hurricanes of battle! Behold there, in the midst of your din and turmoil and wild uproar, the unshaken heart of a soldier is communing with his God—communing low and softly as the sweet prattle of a child in twilight prayer!

Where was it? At Frasier's Farm, was it not, that a passing officer saw a soldier kneeling? He approached him, touched him, when, lo! he was dead, stark and cold, and stiffened in the attitude of prayer.

Tell me, O thou sainted spirit, what was the swift petition which winged its way from thy dying lips?

I know it was brief, terse, incisive: ‘O God grant victory to our arms this day: O God bless the loved ones far away in the home on the hillside: O God receive my spirit;’ and the brave head fell forward, and the lips that never quivered were stilled forever, and the light was quenched in a dauntless eye.

Ask the devoted priests of this religion, who ministered in camp, in hospital, and under the shade of the trees where the wounded were borne out of the thick of the fight; ask a Jones, a Bennett, a Duncan, a Granbery, a Quintard, and the host of kindred spirits who went up and down through the armies of the Confederacy preaching [206] the Cross of the crucified Christ; ask them what was the message they received from the lips of the dying? Was is not something like this: ‘Tell my mother I died for my country, in the fear of God and in the faith of Jesus Christ. Go, messenger; go tell her, who gave me my being, that the lessons I learned in the long ago at her knee, nerved my arm in battle and comforted my soul in death. Go tell her that hers is the honor I won, hers the glory I reaped, and mine the proud consolation that I have been true, in life and in death, to my God, my country and to her.’

And now, does one need to ask will such men fight? I tell you that is the stuff of which heroes are fashioned and martyrs made. I tell you that there is no deed of high emprise they will not dare; there is no peril in the presence of which their cheeks will blanch; there is no foe before whom their hearts will quail.

And standing here this day I charge the historian of these times that he shall not fail to tell to future ages that the Southern soldier was a Christian warrior, and that he was brave, he was irresistible, because his faith was in God and in the justice of his cause. But that cause was lost, that faith was apparently misplaced.

Gentlemen, the beautiful window which we are here to dedicate this day to the memory of our dead, is veiled; a curtain shrouds it from your view. Presently that veil shall be withdrawn, and you will look upon it as it came from the hand of the artist. It is an allegory. There is a veil over it all. But I look on. The hour shall surely come when God will draw it aside, and we shall see the wonders of His ways and the glorious vindication of His providence.

And I know not what legend you have inscribed upon that window, but I would write there to-day, memorial though it be of those who fell in a cause that was lost: ‘In the God of battles is the soldier's trust.’

Headquarters Pegram Battalion Association, Richmond, Va., June 1st, 1887.
Rev. H. Melville Jackson:
dear Sir—The Pegram Battalion Association return their sincere thanks for the beautiful address delivered on the 31st ultimo, at the dedication of their Memorial Window, erected in the Chapel at Lee Camp Soldiers' Home, and most earnestly request a [207] copy of same, that it may be published and thereby handed down to future history.

Very respectfully, Thomas Ellett

, President.

300 W. Franklin St., Richmond, Va., June 4th, 1887.
Thomas Ellett, Esq., Pres't Pegram Battalion Association:
dear Sir—I thank you for the kind expressions which your letter of the 1st contains, and in accordance with the wish you express, I herewith send you a copy of the address delivered on the occasion of the unveiling of the Memorial Window at the Soldiers' Home.

Very truly yours,

Address of Hon. John Fitzhugh lay, late Colonel of cavalry, Confederate States army.

To you, Major Randolph, Chairman of the Executive Committee, and to you, gentlemen, the authorities of Lee Camp, the Soldiers' Home, and of this beautiful Chapel, and as such, the custodians of its records, I address myself:

The ‘Pegram Battalion Association’ have conferred upon me the proud distinction of delegating to you a valuable trust in the presentation of this register. As the ‘Vestal Virgins’ kept the sacred fires at the Temple of Vesta at Rome, so are you to keep and guard this. Remember, it embodies the names and memories of some of our ‘household gods.’ Gratefully I have accepted the duty, not that, when so many voices more eloquent than mine were easily to be had, I saw any fitness in the selection of myself. Yes, one perhaps. When I recall the eventful scenes of the memorable day of the battle of First Manassas, let me briefly recall some of them pertinent to my subject.

It was a lovely Sabbath morn, all the surroundings of Nature in perfect harmony, nothing in them to portend the coming storm; each [208] soldier as he arose in the early morn, and gazing around, could say in the language of the good old missionary hymn,

Every prospect pleases,
     And only man is vile.

Nothing but the passions of man were to disturb its solemn quiet. This was not long to last. Soon the bugle-call, the tap of the drum, the strains of martial music, the tramp of heavy bodies of moving troops broke upon the stillness of the air, and gave evidence of a coming strife. With elastic step, and with the proud confidence of new troops, we marched into position; we not only thought that we were invincible, but that we could whip ‘the world.’ We had read and believed—

To hearts that the spirit of Liberty flushes.
     Resistance is idle—numbers a dream!
They burst from control, as the mountain stream rushes
     From its pillows of ice in the warmth of the beam!

Later in the day we reflected that this was pretty poetry, embodying a noble sentiment, but somehow had so far not prospered us. Many, and I among them, found ourselves a mile in rear of the position we had assumed in the early day, and with no brilliant prospect of recovering our lost ground (we did so subsequently); and I tell you from the standpoint of that day things were very doubtful; my heart, and the hearts of the stoutest, almost quailed with silent apprehension—the scales of battle so hung upon an equipoise, that a breath might disturb them. We expected reinforcements—we hoped for them—we prayed for them—eagerly we sent for them—as Elijah of old from Mount Carmel sent his servant to watch for the coming cloud, even if ‘no bigger than a man's hand.’ They came at a late, but most opportune hour. There dashed upon the field in gallant style a battery, at the time engaged under orders from General Joseph E. Johnston, in rallying some broken troops. I was ordered by him to guide this battery into action. I did so; but here let me pause to say a word descriptive: This battery, subsequently, but not then, a part of this military organization, had its origin and existence in the loyal heart and generous purse of one of my oldest and best esteemed friends, then and now one of your oldest, most valued and valuable citizens, from whom it took its name—John Purcell. It was commanded by my almost life-long friend, Lindsay Walker, as gallant a soldier as [209] ever carried a gun into action, and next in command, the ‘boy’ soldier, Willie Pegram, whom I had known and loved from his babyhood, and who in the beginning of the war, seemed like ‘Minerva,’ to have sprung armed from the god-king of war. I do not unsex him in the simile, for with all the manliness of any man, he had all the gentleness and tenderness of a woman. As charged against King David of old by his brethren, I could not resist, in the ‘haughtiness of my heart’—and though temporarily absent from my own command—resting upon my horse to see this ‘battle.’ Rapidly they wheeled into position; I saw the boy soldier leap from his horse, and with a comrade (I wish I could give his name) sight the first gun and fire it; I saw its first shot surge through the advancing column of the enemy, and then like lightning flashes, shot after shot ploughing through their ranks, like some ‘cyclone of desolation’ through a narrow valley, leaving carnage in their tracks and aiding far to produce the demoralization which resulted in the memorable panic of that day. I can never forget — I do not wish even to forget—this scene, and when I recall it I feel there may be fitness, perhaps, in my voicing them, at least, in the solemn ceremonies of this day. Called, with his equally gallant and lamented brother to distant scenes of war in the west, I only once again saw this gallant hero and Christian warrior. Sad, is it not? to think that at the early age of twenty-three years—almost a bud, but a bud which had wonderfully blossomed—he should lay down his life, a sacrifice upon the altar of his country, but not before he had given his name to this ‘battalion,’ and it and himself to history; not before he had thrice been recommended for promotion by gallant corps commanders, and with an endorsement from General Lee of which any man might well be proud: ‘I would approve, but I cannot spare him from my command!’ Better than promotion—better die a colonel with this encomium, than the generalship he had earned. Peace to thy ashes, brave and gentle comrade and friend.

Time forbids that I mention other names. I would love to mention them—the ‘Crenshaw,’ the outcome of another loyal and brave heart from our midst—the Letcher and the Fredericksburg batteries, with their noble men and officers—and last, but not least, the Pee Dee Battery from our gallant and plucky little sister State, South Carolina. We will never forget any of you, and this register enshrines your noble dead.

But the shadows of the coming evening warn me that I must not linger. I can only present you this record as a whole — the register [210] of names and memories to be treasured—of those, many of whom gave their lives, and all risked them, for a holy cause.

To us, the survivors of the war, the Confederacy as a government is dead—as our buried heroes—beyond the power of human resurrection, even if we so willed it; but, though dead, it liveth to us in its memories, so sad, yet at times so joyous, in its regrets mingled, but never remorseful. No true heart that ever wore the gray will ever apologize for so doing. We regret nothing that we did. Our regrets are, naturally, that we failed to accomplish that for which we hoped, for which we fought, and for which these brave men died. Our regrets are for desolated homes and hearts, for so much blood and treasure seemingly shed and expended in vain. Did I say seemingly? Yes. The gifted and eloquent orator who has just addressed you, and whose words linger in our ears, has given you a beautiful allegory in that window—a moment since obscure and dark—now unveiled, a radiant thing of beauty. So some of these days when the veil is taken from our eyes we may see and understand the ‘Divine’ wisdom which hath ordered it all. I thank him for the thought (comforting, as beautiful); and our memories, how they brighten at the remembrance of scenes, of comrades and camp. Why I can quicken the blood of these old soldiers here if I tell them of the camp, the bivouac, the march, the simple jest, the song and the buttermilk raid. Then the excitement of the battle, softened by the memory of some comrade, our ‘chum,’ who, with light heart and merry eye, called out, ‘Good-bye, old fellow! take care of yourself till I see you again.’ He never saw us again. We saw him a few hours later, cold and stiff, with lifeless eyes upturned to heaven; and then we remember that some of them left widows and orphans—a sacred legacy to be treasured; and comrades, many dependent in advancing years. I thank God this home, where day by day earthly wants and comforts are supplied to these time-worn and war-scarred veterans (their earthly refuge), this sacred building, in which each recurring Sunday they may worship and listen to the words of heavenly wisdom (to prepare them for their final march and eternal encampment) speak aloud the fact that we have not forgotten to remember them, nor will our children after us.

My comrades! this is not a roll of the living but of the dead. It is not the only roll of honor. There is another, of mingled staff, infantry, cavalry and artillery, of officers and privates. Upon this may be found the names of Lee, Jackson and Stuart, of Sydney Johnson, Zollicoffer and Forrest (names we have honored), and some [211] of whose memories we almost worship. Neither of these rolls are yet complete. As the years glide by other names will be added. Sooner or later you and I must appear before the one or the other. It may not be a pleasant thought, but it is a fact in the future, which should remind us so to live, that when we are enrolled our comrades will not be ashamed of our companionship.

And there may be a third roll of honor of which I love to think. When the ‘Mother of the Gracchi’ was asked for her jewels, she pointed to her sons; when the sons of the Confederacy were asked for their jewels, little of diamonds, pearls, sapphires, silver or gold, could they show from the wreck, but with proud confidence they could point to the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and sweethearts of the Confederacy, more precious than all the crown-jewels of the combined kingdoms of the world. If the men fought the battles, who encouraged; nay, armed and uniformed them for the fray? Who toiled for them, suffered and wept for them? Who nursed them? Go to the bed-side of yonder soldier-boy, far from home and loved ones, fever-tossed, or with suffering wound, talk to him of diamonds, and he will turn his face to the wall. What interest has he in them? But let him but hear the gentle voice, or feel the soothing hand of the ministering angel standing by his hospital cot, he will turn his softened glance, and say of diamonds—

About her neck, they gleam in lustre bright,
Like stars that shimmer on the zone of night!
But more than Afric's flawless gems I prize,
Soft pity's jewels! in her loving eyes.

There is such a roll—not perhaps on parchment, but engraved with diamond pen, and hung upon the tablets of our hearts ‘like apples of gold, in pictures of silver.’ God bless, and may we cherish the memories ever, of the ‘Women of the Confederacy.’

One closing thought and I am done. The war is over—we gaze back down an avenue of nearly twenty-six years—‘Distance but lends enchantment to the view’—but so should all unpleasant memories recede—all bitterness of feeling should pass away-peace and fraternal feeling exist now with soldiers once opposed. As we were good Confederates then, so now we should be good and loyal citizens of a common government which affords us its protection, and to which we have given our allegiance. We were brethren before the war (it was an internecine war), we are brethren again. There were not desolated homes with them, because the scene of war was confined [212] to us, but there were desolated and anguish torn hearts, sad memories, vacant chairs, voids created, never again to be filled on both sides. We should sympathize with each other, as the brave soldier of either side felt for and gave the last drop of his canteen to a wounded or dying opponent. The household before the war, and after the war! both sides! a gifted divine and poet of South Carolina, in his elegant essay ‘God in history,’ has sweetly sung. I give you his words:

Fair faces beaming round tile household hearth,
Young, joyous tones in melody of mirth,
The sire, doubly living in his boy,
And she the crown of all that wealth of joy!
These make the home, like some sweet lyre given
To sound on earth the harmonies of heaven.

A sudden discord breaks the swelling strain;
One chord has snapped — the harmony again
Subdued and slower moves, but never more
Can polar the same glad music as of yore;
Less and less full the strains successive wake,
Chord after chord must break—and break—and break!
Until on earth, the lyre dumb and riven,
Finds all its chords restrung to loftier notes in heaven.

Upon some quiet summer evening you may gaze upwards and see the tints of the blue and gray so commingled in the sky that human vision, at the immeasurable distance, fails to separate them, and may it not be a happy speculation that departed spirits of the blue and the gray—once opposed in angry contest, now in blended harmony—inhabit those airy mansions; and the spirits of our own departed comrades, where are they? (I am not of those who would ‘rashly climb where angels fear to tread,’ or seek unduly to penetrate into mysteries not revealed.) May it not be that in a time like this, in a place like this, apart from the bustle and din of the busy and social world, in the ‘quietude of silence,’ may we not think—dream, if you choose—in reverence that they hover around us, that we seem to hear the rustling of their wings in the air, and gentle whisperings of their voices:

Comrades! you are thinking of us; we are watching over you, waiting for you: and the utterances of a prayer like this:

Teach them, dear Father, their vices to shun,
Teach them to worship, that when life is done,
They may cross the dark river, Thy judgment appease,
And rest (with us) 'neath the shade of unwithering trees.


And inspired by such thoughts, may not here to-day the living blue and gray, or wherever hereafter assembled, in heart and voice unite in the anthem of ‘Glory to God! on earth peace, good will,’ which, swelling in one grand diapason of harmony, may rise above earth and find its echoes amid the stars and planets, thence caught up higher by angel voices and wafted across the ‘sea of glass,’ sink in sweet, declining cadence before the ‘throne of God.’

To you, sirs, I deliver this register. I know I commit it to worthy hands.

Response of Major Norman V. Randolph.

Mr. President: It is with mingled feelings of sorrow, pleasure and pride, that I accept the register of the dead so eloquently tendered by Judge Lay. Sorrow for the gallant men who laid down their lives for their country and the cause they believed to be just. Pleasure in being able to participate in the ceremonies to-day, which tell us that time has not dimmed our love and admiration for our dead comrades. Pride in the remembrance of the glorious deeds won by Pegram's Battalion on sixty-three hard-fought battlefields.

I am sorry that one more gifted by nature than myself has not been chosen to respond. But, sir, no one could have been selected who reverences the name of Pegram more than I. Willie Pegram was my school-mate. I knew him as a boy; I knew him as a man; I knew him as a soldier. It was my good fortune to serve part of the war on the staff of his knightly brother; and there I learned to know him better as a soldier than I had as a boy.

To you men who served under him, nothing I can say will add to your love, respect and admiration in which you held him. As a Christian, as a gentleman, as a soldier. Brave as he was generous, generous as he was just. Young men and old, think of it; twenty-three years of age and a colonel of artillery. The commander of twenty guns that belched forth defiance in every general battle in which the Army of Northern Virginia was engaged, and every gun captured from the enemy. And, sir, after four years of constant fighting, he had the proud pleasure of saying to his commander, ‘I have never lost a gun.’

This certainly is a glorious record for a soldier; but while I give willing praise to the young and gallant commander, my admiration [214] and respect goes out to the brave men who, in the presence of death, served his guns, and on more than one occasion turned defeat into victory, and by this matchless courage won for him the stars he wore and praise from Stonewall Jackson.

As the star of the Confederacy set behind the hills of Appomattox and victory no longer perched on the tattered banner of his battalion, the soul of the commander took its flight; and standing before the throne of his Maker, amid the hosannas of the angels, received the reward of the just, ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant.’

Mr. President, the memorial window you unveil to-day in this house, dedicated to the service of God, to William Johnson Pegram and the two hundred gallant men who died by his side, is a fit testimonial of the respect and love we will ever bear them.

Headquarters Pegram Battalion Association, Richmond, Va., June 1st, 1887.
Judge John F. Lay:
dear Sir—The Pegram Battalion Association return their sincere thanks for the beautiful address delivered on the 31st ultimo, at the presentation of the register to the Chapel at Lee Camp Soldiers' Home, and most earnestly request a copy of same, that it may be published and thereby handed down to future history.

Very respectfully,

Thomas Ellett, President.

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