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General W. H. C. Whiting. [from the times Democrat, June, 1895.] a Chevalier of the lost cause. His incomparable gifts and one Misfortune-were Mr. Davis and General Bragg responsible for his Fatalities?

A recent elaborate and sympathetic article on the career of the late General W. H. C. Whiting, while properly eulogizing the hero of it, may have, unintentionally, done injustice to Hon. Jefferson Davis, as President of the Southern Confederacy, and General Braxton Bragg, who was conspicuous in the same cause. The phenomenal accomplishments of General Whiting are admirably summed up. Few men have been born into the world with such astonishing endowments of body and mind. His personal masculine beauty was a splendid shrine for one of the most brilliant, comprehensive, and versatile intellects. His record at West Point has not yet, I presume, been matched. The late Dr. Greebough, of the navy, who knew him well, declared to me that Whiting not only surpassed all of his military contemporaries in serious or manly accomplishments, but could even beat all the boys of his time playing marbles. He was by parentage a northern man, southern born, however, and, like Byron, his ‘blood was all meridian.’ My personal acquaintance with him was very slight, but it happened at a time when this extraordinary man was in the crisis of his destiny, and, perhaps, with as much delicacy as possible, I may clear up some of the adverse criticisms made, in all sincerity, no doubt, upon men who, like Whiting, are with the historic dead, and whose characters need not fear truth as well as commendation.

The charge made against Mr. Davis substantially is that he did not [275] thoroughly appreciate General Whiting, and so this gifted and intrepid soldier did not have the scope his eminent and exceptional talents, to say nothing of his services, deserved. This is a hard question to decide, where much, no doubt, could be said on both sides, but it may be due to Mr. Davis' memory, without injustice to the memory of Whiting, to state some facts which I have reason to believe well-founded.

His removal.

Whether Mr. Davis removed General Whiting from the field of active operations for wise or unwise motives or reasons, others must settle who are more competent to judge than myself; but my recollection is that nothing could have been more unfortunate for this wonderfully gifted officer than initially giving him command at Wilmington, N. C. We may charitably suppose that Mr. Davis intended no harm to General Whiting, for Wilmington was one of the important sea-gates of the Confederacy, and the man who defended it had need of just such engineering skill as Beauregard had at Charleston. I have always been under the impression from personal experience at the time when stationed at Wilmington, that General Whiting would have been spared many troubles if it had not happened that blockade running was one of the most demoralizing agencies at that place. He was honest and incorruptible, but like many another dazzling genius, he did not always avoid the danger of the ‘insidious spirit of wine.’ He was placed in a trying position, with very inadequate materials for exploiting his great talents. He was possessed of an active, fearless, resolute spirit, that loved the combat of the field of arms. He was presumably chafing under what he deemed the grievance of banishment from glorious combat. He felt unsphered, and this tormenting sentiment may have forced him into moodiness, and opened the way for what seemed his one temptation. At any rate, he never rested until, through the request of General Beauregard, he was assigned to an important command under that distinguished leader, who was operating in the vicinity of Petersburg against General B. F. Butler, who had been making a diversion in favor of General Grant at Bermuda Hundreds. I was told at the time that General Beauregard exacted from General Whiting a promise that he would not, while with him, use potent liquors. It appears to be a historical fact that Beauregard had Butler in what he called a sack, and Whiting was assigned to watch the neck of it so that the Federal commander, who, as Grant phrased it, was ‘bottied [276] up,’ should not slip away or uncork himself. There was a huge promise, coupled with lively expectation, that Butler and his whole force would be captured, and it was considered peculiarly significant that the man who made himself notoriously obnoxious—to put it mildly—at New Orleans, should be enmeshed and made prisoner by the Creole General. At the very moment when this master piece of strategy and dramatic revenge of time was about to be consummated, Butler escaped, and the blame is attached to General Whiting.

Kept his promise.

Some weeks afterward I happened to meet the chief engineer of General Beauregard near Charleston, and asked him if the misadventure was due to General Whiting's infirmity. He replied almost in these words: ‘You were never more mistaken. Whiting's failure was wholly ascribed to the fact that, like a man of honor and truth, he kept his promise. Had he had a single dram, at the critical moment, to clear his brain, Butler and his whole army would have been prisoners of war.’

After this episode, General Whiting returned to Wilmington, and his subsequent career was at once heroic and inspirational. He performed prodigies of valor, and stamped himself as one of the most worthy of ‘the chevaliers of the Lost Cause,’ by grand tactics at Wilmington and the sacrifice of his life in splendid, but vain, defence of Fort Fisher. On the ruined ramparts of that fort he fought like a hero of old days, and only ceased to struggle when, what proved a mortal wound, closed his military achievements. There was then, and there is now, complaint that General Bragg did not come to his rescue when Fort Fisher was assailed on the land side by General Terry. It may be that Bragg was culpable, but it may be also that he could no more, for the same reason, help Whiting than Joseph E. Johnston could disentangle Pemberton at Vicksburg. This must be solved by experts. Many of the men who had consummate knowledge of the situation are dead, but they have left records, and some persons may survive who can set the matter right, without disparagement of any actors in the scene. What prominent general of our interstate conflict was free from commission of error, on either side? The greatest of all—Robert E. Lee—ascribed to himself the disaster at Gettysburg, although Major Kyd Douglas told the Count of Paris that Lee needed just such a reverse to admonish him that Stonewall Jackson was dead. At Shiloh, General Beauregard's unfortunate order of retreat saved the Federals from capture or destruction, [277] and made it possible for Grant to be afterward President of the United States. Colonel Frank Schaller, now no more, told me that when Bragg received the order to retire from the cowering enemy and harmless gunboat fire, his indignation was boundless, and, in a fury, he broke his sword across his knees. It is strange that this same General should, by any fault of his, have subsequently permitted the intrepid Whiting to be defeated and virtually slain.

Colonel Schaller.

Right here I desire to pay a tribute to my dear friend, Colonel Frank Schaller. He was, in a large degree, the equal of General Whiting in the range and profundity of his gifts and acquirements. He was a highly trained soldier, a classic and scientific scholar, a writer of the first order, a man of almost prophetic insight, and an adept in all physical equipment or martial exercises. Long before the event, he wrote an editorial for me in an Augusta paper, predicting the downfall of Louis Napoleon, and reciting analytically the causes of that memorable overthrow. He showed, with mastery and seership, that this monarch was, when advancing to Italian victory, also marching to Sedan, and Parisian revolution, as Mr. Ropes demonstrates, long after the event, that the First Napoleon, when progressing towards Austerlitz, was none the less moving fatally to Waterloo and St. Helena. Colonel Schaffer did not, as some of us thought, get the reward in proportion that he deserved, but I cannot recall that he ever murmured. He was by birth a Pole, and by adoption a Georgian. He taught a school at Athens, Georgia, and died in pedagogic harness, in the golden prime of manhood. Peace be with him and with his spirit, for he was a grand character, and never was there ‘a bolder spirit in a more loyal breast.’

In reviewing some of the passages in the life of General Whiting, I have striven to be just to him as well as to Mr. Davis and General Bragg. The one fault of Whiting was so magnificently atoned for, that it will not dim the lustre of his true glory. He merits all of the honor that his admirers claim for him, without seeking to injure his superiors or compeers, and nothing so became him as his heroic end, which was peaceful, resigned, and pathetically courageous. Napoleon said at St. Helena, that the misfortunes he finally encountered were necessary to give sublimity and roundness to his character. Relatively, we may say the same of General Whiting, and trust that the Southern people, and especially North Carolinians, will some day make his memory monumental and sublime.

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