previous next

The Phi Gamma in war. [from the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, June 12, 1900.]

A Federal officer speaks of incidents of great struggle.

denunciation of General Shaw.
The speaker Condemns the utterances of the G. A. R. Man at Atlanta—Instances of Restoration of good will and Fraternity.

A Virginia reader of the Dispatch, who heard Colonel James M. Wells, of Toledo, O., deliver an address at the fifty-second annual convention of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity at Niagara Falls, July 28th, was so pleased with the sentiments of the former Union soldier that he secured the manuscript and sent to the Dispatch for publication.

The address will be read with interest by the thousands of Phi Gams of the South. It will be especially interesting to Confederate veterans, in view of Colonel Wells's denunciation of General Albert D. Shaw, of the Grand Army of the Republic, for his recent attack on the Southern soldier in a speech at Atlanta. Colonel Wells, by the way, fought under Sherman, and placed the first Federal flag on the City Hall in Atlanta when that place was captured.

Colonel Wells's speech was in response to the toast, ‘The Phi Gam. in War.’ He said:

On July 21, 1861, at Bull Run, Va., while the battle raged, a Federal soldier lay in the burning sun, sorely wounded, thirsty, faint from loss of blood, racked with pain, and almost famished. His regiment had moved to the right, and he was alone.

Out of the woods near by stepped a stalwart Confederate, with blood on his face and a handkerchief bound about his head. He approached the wounded Federal, stooped over him, and said: ‘Hello! Yank; be you wounded, be you much hurt?’ The Yank, rousing himself from his drowsiness and stupor, looked up into the bronzed and kindly face above him and said: ‘Water.’ ‘For suah!’ said the Confederate, and water came to the lips of the Federal, and he drank, and drank, and drank, while his head lay upon the arm of the Confederate. As he ceased drinking, the Confederate said: ‘Drink more, Yank, you need it.’ ‘No, thanks, sir,’ [310] said the Federal, ‘I'm full and sleepy,’ and he slept, his head resting on the kindly arm of the Confederate, his dream of home, his safety assured—yea, thrice assured—for above him and beneath him were the face and the arm of a brave and generous and gallant foe. He waked and found himself beneath the branches of a giant tree, whither the Confederate had borne him, his head resting in the lap of his foe; his face fanned by that foeman's hat. He looked up and smiled, and received a pitying, kindly smile in return, accompanied by more water.

On the breast of the Federal was the pin of a Phi Gam. Touching the pin tenderly with his finger, the Confederate said: ‘Phi Gam?’ The Federal answered with glad eyes: ‘Yes, Phi Gam.’ Grasping the hand of the Federal in warm embrace, the Confederate said, as his glad glance met the glad glance of his foe: ‘I am a Phi Gam, too.’ With their hands clasped, the palm of each in the palm of the other, forgetful of the battle which had brought to both of them wounds and pain, they talked confidingly and lovingly of the ties of Phi Gam. Rising, the Confederate placed beneath the Federal's head a carefully-folded blanket, gave him another drink of water from his own canteen, placed a well-filled canteen of water within easy reach of him, looked wistfully and lovingly into his pallid face, touched the pin, pressed his hands again, said: ‘God be with you, Phi Gam,’ turned away, and disappared.

Thirty-nine years have passed since that meeting and that parting. Somewhere they—Federal and Confederate—will surely meet again.

During the battle of Chantilly, Va., fought on September 1, 1862, amid thunder and lightning and pouring rain, at sore cost of life to both North and South (the gallant Phil Kearney died there), a Federal passing from the right to the left of his line hit his foot against the body of a wounded Confederate, who lay in the mud, moaning with pain. ‘Give me water, please,’ said the Confederate, ‘I am wounded through the chest and must die.’ The Federal knelt at the side of the wounded soldier, lifted his head upon his hand and arm, put a canteen of fresh water to his lips and bade him drink. He drained the canteen of its contents, and said: ‘I thank you, sir; God bless you, Yank,’ and continued to moan.

Soon he spoke again and said: ‘This rain is very severe, and I have nothing to cover me.’ The Federal, deeply touched, instantly took his own gum-blanklet from his shoulders, spread it over the face and body of the Confederate, sat down beside him, and held it [311] there in place. It was nearly morning. Darkness was struggling with dawn for mastery. The battle had ceased. The Confederate moaned and talked to ‘mother,’ and ‘father,’ and ‘little sister,’ and ‘dear old mammy.’

In his delirium he repeated the line of Horace: ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ ‘When did you read Horace?’ asked the Federal. Rising to a sitting posture, he answered: ‘When I was first a Phi Gam.’ ‘I am a Phi Gam,’ said the Federal, with choking voice. Reaching his trembling hand up to the face of the Federal, the dying soldier tenderly stroked it for a moment, and then fell back, while his soul went up to God. The rays of the early morning sun of September 2, 1862, caressing the manful, white face of that dead Confederate, clothed it with beauty not easy to describe. Wrapping the dead soldier in the gum-blanket, which had protected him, the Federal scooped out a grave, kissed the forehead and the hair of his brother Phi Gam, lowered his body into the grave, and tenderly covered it with the soil of Virginia.

On November 24, 1863, as Hooker's men charged and captured Lookout Mountain, with its beetling crags, the right of the changing line passed over many wounded men lying on the rocky mountain side. One of these, a fair-haired, blue-eyed Confederate, looking up into the face of a Federal officer charging by him, said: ‘Please, sir, my left leg is shot and broken, and I need some water. I am so thirsty, sir; can you give me some water?’ The Federal tore his canteen from his side, handed it to the Confederate, said to him, ‘Drink, Johnnie, drink,’ at the same time putting a knapsack beneath the Confederate's head, and moved on with his men.

Immediately after the mountain had been captured, the Federal went back to the wounded Confederate, found him sleeping, gently wakened him and gave him another canteen of water, which he eagerly and quickly drank, lifted him in his arms, bore him down the side of the mountain, and laid him on the bank of Lookout creek, at the foot of the mountain. Calling his brigade surgeon to him, he earnestly requested him to care for, and immediately treat the wounded Confederate. This the surgeon did. He frankly told the Confederate that his leg must come off. Looking up into the Federal officer's face, he said, with tears running down his cheeks, ‘Must I lose my leg, sir? It is hard; very hard, to lose my leg.’ The Federal, with choked utterance, could only say, ‘Yes.’ The surgeon's lantern (it was evening and somewhat dark) was just then [312] turned toward the Federal, and the rays fell upon a Phi Gamma pin fastened to the breast of his coat.

With a glad cry the Confederate placed his hand upon the pin and said: ‘And you are a Phi Gam! My father, dead now, was a Phi Gam. I am a Phi Gam. How fortunate!’ More fortunate, indeed, than he knew. Turning to the surgeon, whose flushed and sympathetic face betrayed his interest in the scene, the Federal said: ‘Doctor, this is my brother; as you value my friendship, deal gently and uprightly with him. Give him your best attention, your best skill.’ ‘He shall be carefully treated and carefully nursed,’ answered the surgeon. Turning to the wounded soldier, then resting in his lap, the Federal pressed his hand, bade him be patient and cheerful, commended him again to the surgeon, and said ‘Good-bye, Phi Gain.,’ left him, and returned to his men.

In January, 1895, this same Federal officer stood in the railroad station at Chattanooga, Tenn., and was explaining to a large number of Confederate veterans how Lookout Mountain was won. As he talked, one-legged, grizzled Confederate edged up to his side and gazed into his face wistfully, eagerly and with emotion so strongly portrayed in his face and his movements as to rivet the attention of all present. When the Federal had ended his explanation the Confederate, dropping his crutches, placed his hands on the shoulders of the Federal and said: ‘I believe I know you, sir. I know your face and your voice. God grant that I am not mistaken, sir. As your forces charged along the side of Lookout, a Federal officer gave a wounded Confederate a canteen of water, told him to drink, put a knapsack under his head, and then rushed on with his men. That evening he came back to the wounded Confederate, found him asleep, woke him up, carried him down the mountain side, laid him on the bank of Lookout creek, called a surgeon, pledged him to care for and treat the Confederate, and then went back to his men. Do you know anything about that officer, sir?’ Hope and the dread of possible disappointment in his quest made his tones and words touchingly pathetic.

Trembling with emotion he could not conceal the Federal said: I am that Federal, and you —— ‘He could get no further.’ ‘I am that Confederate sir,’ said the man, and winding his arm about the Federal, he kissed him and wept. The Federal wept with him, and the gray-haired Confederate veterans near, wept also. Gathering about the two, they joined their hands and arms, formed a mighty shield of loyal and loving hearts and sang: [313]

Long may our land be bright,
     With freedom's holy light
Great God, our King.

These grizzled veterans of the ‘Gray’ and the ‘Blue’ stood and sat and chatted of the old days, and sang till the light of morning warned them of the fleeting hours. Then, standing close together, shoulder to shoulder, in a ring, surrounding the Federal, the Confederates and the Federal sang, ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot,’ shook hands in loving friendship, and went their different ways.

These, my brothers, are some of the sacred memories of a ‘Phi Gam in War.’ Very many scenes like these graced and glorified Southern battlefields during the great war. Such was the spirit that moved and controlled the men, Federals and Confederates alike, who stood on the fighting line and did their duty there. Such was the spirit that animated them as they assembled at Appomattox, Va., April 9, 1865, the veterans of the North silent, expectant, glad in the assured hope that peace was near, gazing with sympathy and profound respect upon their foes—the veterans of the South, in torn and ragged battalions, stacking and surrendering their arms, forever folding their battle torn colors, and turning, proud and self-reliant, toward their homes, there to take up the struggle for bread.

Such has been the spirit—generous, manly, considerate—that has marked the behavior of the worthy veterans of the ‘Blue’ and the ‘Gray’ toward each other since the war, and has made and kept them friends, steadfast and sincere. Silenced and detested be the tongue that utters one word to weaken or mar this friendship Born of mutual respect and esteem begun on the battle-field, it has stood the test of years, growing more loving all the time. It is the cement that binds together the granite blocks of our governmental power. It is the hope of this republic. Touch it not.

I protest that the words of Albert D. Shaw, at Atlanta, Ga., July 20, 1900, in referring to the sentiment and belief taught in the South, were uncalled for and unwise. Strange indeed must that man be, who, having espoused a cause, having honestly defended it and bravely fought for it for four years, turns about and says that his cause was wrong. Stranger still, detestable must that Confederate be, who, surrounded by the graves of his comrades who fought and died at his side for that same cause, turns about and says: ‘The cause [314] for which they died was wrong.’ The sons and daughters of the South rejoice with us to-day that slavery has been swept forever from American soil, that the American Union was saved, and made forever secure. They reverence, as they should, the memory of their heroes, ‘who died hopelessly but unfearing in defeat;’ and to ask them to turn any away from that memory is to ask them ‘to sacrifice that without which no people can be steadfast or great.’ Only the inconsiderate and the craven ask the sacrifice.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Phi Gam (13)
James M. Wells (4)
Yank (3)
Albert D. Shaw (2)
John Gray (2)
Sherman (1)
Frank Shaw (1)
King (1)
Joe Hooker (1)
Condemns (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: