previous next

The address of Hon. John Lamb.

Delivered at Ashland, Va., on memorial day, Saturday, May 26th, 1906.

Memorial day has grown into an institution among us. The old Confederate naturally becomes reminiscent when in the presence of his comrades he recalls the hardships, the sacrifices and the conflicts of 40 years ago. The features and the forms of those who stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the conflict, or fell by his side, come before his mind's eye as distinct as the scenes of yesterday. This is a day of sadness to him, not unmixed however, with the proud recollection that he was an humble factor in one of the grandest struggles for self government that has ever occurred on the earth.

As the younger people of this generation cannot enter into our feelings now, so they cannot imagine how we felt 40 years ago. The causes for that struggle, and the motives of those who participated have been so misrepresented and maligned by the historians of the day that it becomes the sacred duty of those who survive to vindicate the motives, and explain the principles, of the actors in that great drama.

The writers and speakers of the South owe it to our dead leaders, and the noble men who followed them, to vindicate their action in the eyes of mankind, and prove to all the world, that those who fought for the South were neither rebels nor traitors.

For this reason, my comrades, and the older people here, will indulge me while I present some views not new to them, but intended for the rising generation—those perhaps who studied Barnes' and Fiske's histories.

We do not meet in our Camps or on Memorial occasions to discuss the abstract question of the right or wrong of the conflict that was waged with such fury 40 years ago. It is useless to raise this question. Possibly it may be urged that in some respects both sides were wrong. The historian of the future may probably delare that upon the strict construction of the Constitution one side was [58] right, and owing to the changed condition of National affairs, the other side was right.

The old Confederate has never consented to say he thought he was right. He believes the expression comes of too much complacency or from lack of grit. We did not discuss its expediency after the State made its choice. Our comrades who sleep beneath the sod, died for the right as they saw it. While memory holds its place, you and your sons and daughters will pay the homage of grateful and loving hearts to their heroism and value, as annually you strew their graves with flowers, and teach your children to lisp their names and revere their memories.

As we meet on these memorial occasions, or beside the graves of our heroes, without one bitter thought for those whom they met in deadly conflict, we thank God for the courage that enabled them to face the ‘dangers nature shrinks from,’ and to die in defense of the manhood and self respect of this Southland. We could not have tamely yielded our rights and convictions to avoid suffering and loss.

The necessity for the war was written in the history of the Colonies, in the climate, soil and productions of the different States, on the flag of the first ship that brought slaves to North America. The splendid eloquence and patriotism of Henry Clay and others delayed it. The madness of a few on both sides hastened it. Two questions had to be settled, the right of secession and chattel slavery.

Some writers have contended that it was worth all our dreadful financial losses; all the sufferings of the conflict and all the blood of our precious dead, to have these two questions flung behind us forever. From this conclusion I respectfully dissent, and will endeavor to show that the right of secession rested with the South, while slavery was an incident of, but not the cause of the war; and would have ceased in time without so drastic a measure.

The histories of the Civil war, as well as the books of fiction, by Northern writers, have left a baleful and erroneous impression on the minds of the present generation.

The Southern States exercised a power that had been claimed from the very adoption of the Constitution. In the early days of the Republic their statesmen recognized the theory that the Constitution was a compact between the sovereign States, entered into for the common welfare. The sovereignty of the States was recognized [59] and the idea of coercing a sovereign State was not entertained at all.

The proceedings of the Convention which framed the Constitution, as well as those of the States that ratified it, together with the debates, go to show that at the time there was little difference of opinion as to this question. Had the framers of the Constitution declared their intention to create a supreme Central Government to bind the States beyond all power of withdrawal, it never would have been ratified at all. This State, as well as New York, and possibly others, inserted in their resolutions of ratification a declaration that the powers vested by the Constitution in the United States of America, might be resumed by them when they should deem it necessary to prevent injury or oppression.

Early in the nineteenth century the doctrine of secession, characterized as treason and rebellion in 1861, was openly advocated in Massachusetts. Col. Pickering, a member of General Washington's cabinet, in July, 1804, wrote as follows: ‘The principles of our revolution point to the remedy—a separation. That this can be accomplished, and without spilling one drop of blood, I have no doubt. * * * I do not believe in the practicability of a long continued union. A Northern Confederacy would unite congenial characters and present a fairer prospect of public happiness; while the Southern States, having a similarity of habits, might be left to manage their own affairs in their own way. If a separation were to take place, our mutual wants would render a friendly and commercial intercourse inevitable. The Southern States would require the moral protection of the Northern Union, and the products of the former would be important to the navigation and commerce of the latter. * * It (meaning the separation) must begin in Massachusetts. The proposition would be welcome in Connecticut, and could we doubt New Hampshire? But New York must be associated, and how is her concurrence to be obtained? She must be made the centre of the Confederacy. Vermont and New Hampshire would follow of course, and Rhode Island of necessity.’

This letter shows that Col. Pickering believed that the doctrine of secession had the approval of New England, as well as New York and New Jersey.

In 1811 the admission of the State of Louisiana was violently opposed in Congress. During the debate, Mr. Quincy of Massachusetts, said: If this bill passes it is my deliberate opinion that it [60] is virtually a dissolution of the Union; that it will free the States from their moral obligations, and, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some definitely to prepare for a separation amicably, if they can—violently, if they must.

A Southern delegate, mark you, called him to order. The point of order was sustained by the Speaker of the House. From this decision an appeal was taken, and the Speaker was Overruled.

Here was an open contention of the right of secession by a Massachusetts representative, and a decision by the House that it was a lawful matter for discussion.

The Hartford Convention of 1814, consisting of delegates from the States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, discussed the question, and although they did not decide to secede at that time, declared as follows: ‘If the Union be destined to dissolution by reason of the multiplied abuses of bad administration, it should, if possible, be the work of peaceable times and deliberate consent. Some new form of Confederacy should be substituted among the States which shall intend to maintain a Federal relation to each other. Events may prove that the causes of our calamities are deep and permanent. They may be found to proceed not merely from blindness of prejudice, pride or opinion, violence of party spirit, or the confusion of the times, but they may be traced to implacable combinations of individuals, or of States, to monopolize power and office and to trample without remorse upon the rights and interests of commercial sections of the Union. Whenever it shall appear that the causes are radical and permanent a separation, by equitable arrangement will be preferable to an alliance by constraint among nominal friends, but real enemies.’

The New England States in 1844 threatened a dissolution of the Union. In that year the Legislature of Massachusetts adopted this resolution:

“The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, faithful to the compact between the people of the United States, according to the plain meaning and intent in which it was understood by them, is sincerely anxious for its preservation; but that it is determined, as it doubts not that the other States are, to submit to undelegated powers in no body of men on earth.” It further declared that ‘ the project [61] of the annexation of Texas, unless arrested on the threshold, may tend to drive these States to a dissolution of the Union.’

Prior to the Louisiana purchase the settlers on the Mississippi river, who were harrassed by the Spaniards, petitioned Congress, saying, ‘if Congress refuses us effectual protection; if it forsakes us, we will adopt the measures which our safety requires, even if they endanger the peace of the Union and our connection with the other States. No protection; no allegiance.’

You see the right to secede was advocated by the North and West, and threats to avail themselves of this right were made by Northern Legislatures, leading statesmen, and petitioners in Congress.

Through 50 years of our history this discussion continued, and the eloquence of Webster and the logic of Calhoun were exhausted while no satisfactory conclusion was reached.

Finally, when the Southern States, for grievances that are fresh in our memories, and far outweighed all the fancied evils that New England suffered, or all the trials the Mississippi Valley settlers bore, withdrew from the Union and reasserted their sovereignty, they were coerced by Federal powers, and falsely represented, not only to the world, but to our own children, as traitors and rebels.

The question of the justice of our cause having been so completely established, why should our people admit, as we know they sometimes do, that it was best after all that we failed in the attempt to establish a separate government?

Does the fact of failure prove that we were in the wrong, and our enemies right in the contention? Was Providence on their side, and were we fighting against the fiat of the Almighty? If so, why? Was religion and character on the side of the North? If America had to suffer the penalty of violated law, were we of the South sinners above all others? In the conduct of the war, which side exhibited most of the Christian, and least of the brutal character? To ask these questions is but to answer them.

In the ‘ Confederate Secession,’ a work by an Englishman, the author draws a deadly parallel between the methods and aims of the two people, and sums up the matter with the significant words: ‘All the good qualities were on the one tide, and all the bad on the other.’ [62]

Let us discard the old superstition that Heaven is revealed in the immediate results of ‘trial by combat.’ We know that the Christian civilization of the first centuries went down in the darkness of midiaeval times. We know that Paul was beheaded and Nero crowned, and Christ crucified. Our defeat was but another instance of ‘Truth on the scaffold, and wrong on the throne.’

We know that the North succeeded because they mustered 2,500,000 men, and had the world to draw supplies from, while the South failed because she could not muster over 600,000 men all told, and was confined to her own territories for supplies.

Northern writers and speakers have attempted to show that the South plunged this country into desperate war for the purpose of perpetuating slavery. Do the facts of history sustain contention? The colony of Virginia protested again and again to the King of England against sending slaves to her shores. The House of Burgesses enacted laws on twenty-three different occasions against the importation of slaves. The King of England vetoed each act. Then the people of Virginia petitioned the King to stop the traffic. He turned a deaf ear to the appeal. In 1832 the Legislature of Virginia came within one vote of passing a law of emancipation.

On page 88, Vol. I, of Henderson's Life of Stonewall Jackson, you will find an interesting letter written by General R. E. Lee, showing what he thought of slavery before the war. Dr. Hunter McGuire, in his able report on School Histories of the South, made to the Grand Camp of Virginia in 1899, states that Lee set free his slaves before the war began, while Grant retained his until freed by proclamation. Dr. McGuire also says in his report, that not one man in 30 of the Stonewall Brigade owned a slave. Of 80 men of my Company, 40 never owned a slave, nor did their fathers before them own one.

A Northern writer says: ‘Slavery was the cause of war, just as property is the cause of robbery.’

If any man will read the debates between Lincoln and Douglas, just prior to the war, or the emancipation proclamation, he will see that slavery was not the cause of action, or its abolition his intent. Emancipation was a war measure, not affecting the border States.

Mr. Webster said at Capon Springs in 1851: ‘I do not hesitate to say and repeat, that if the Northern States refused to carry into effect that part of the Constitution which respects the restoration of [63] fugitive slaves, the South would no longer be bound to keep the compact.’

Did any of you ever see a soldier who was fighting for slavery? A celebrated English historian in treating this subject, remarks: ‘Slavery was but the occasion of the rupture, in no sense, the object of the war.’

Slavery would have been abolished in time had the South succeeded. Virginia would have taken the initiatory in a few years. Her whole history, and the action of her statesmen and representatives in Congress, go to show this.

The enlightened sentiment of mankind, the spirit of the age, was against chattel slavery. England and France had freed their bondmen. Russia emancipated her serfs about 1880. In 1873 the Island of Porto Rico taxed itself $12,000,000 and freed 30,000 slaves. Does any one suppose that the enlightened and Christian people of the Southern States would have set themselves against the moral sentiment of mankind? and refuse to heed the voice of civilization and progress?

I have given this hasty argument in no captious spirit, but simply to vindicate the truth of history in the presence of so many of the younger generation.

It would hasten the progress of harmony between the sections if the people of the North would acquaint themselves with these historic facts. It would hasten the era of good feeling now setting in if they would realize that the black race problem is not the only race problem that confronts us.

I look into the faces of men who on their father's knees listened to the stories of Bunker Hill, Lexington and Yorktown. Teach your children the truth of history touching both revolutions in this country. Virginia as then constituted, furnished one third of Washington's army at Yorktown, while at the same time she had 2,500 soldiers with Green in the South, and 700 also fighting the Indians on the Ohio. Let it go down to your children that the one revolution was as justifiable as the other, and that for the first, Virginia gave the immortal Washington, and to the last supplied the peerless Lee.

Let me give you a pen portrait of our chieftain from an English view point. In a translation of Homer, dedicated to ‘General R. E. Lee, the most stainless of living commanders and except in fortune the greatest,’ Philip Stanley Worsley of Oxford, wrote: [64]

The grand old bard that never dies
     Receive him in our English tongue;
I send thee, but with weeping eyes,
     The story that he sung.

Thy Tory is fallen, thy dear land
     Is marred beneath the spoilers heel,
I can not trust my trembling hand
     To write the things I feel.

Ah, realm of tombs, but let her bear
     This blazon to the last of times;
No nation rose so white and fair,
     Or fell so pure of crimes.

The widow's moan, the orphan's wail
     Come round thee; yet in truth be strong;
Eternal right, though all else fail,
     Can never be made wrong.

An Angel's heart, an Angel's mouth,
     Not Homer's, could atone for me,
Hymn well the great Confederate South,
     Virginia first, and Lee.

On occasions like this our hearts turn to one who was imprisoned, manacled and treated with many indignities, although no more responsible for the action of the Southern States than other public men. His persecutors were unable to bring him to trial. The text books on the Constitution taught at West Point stood in the way. For the Chief Magistracy of the young republic, that arose so full of hope and noble purposes and died so free of crime, the Commonwealth of Mississippi gave Jefferson Davis; soldier, statesman and vicarious sufferer, for a people who will cherish his memory so long as valor has a votary or virtue a shrine.

Our heroes who fell in the struggle.

We pause to pay a tribute to the mighty host of brave officers, soldiers and sailors who fell under the banner of the Lost Cause forty years ago. We cannot call their names. They are too numerous to be mentioned. All honor to the heroes who gave their lives to the cause of Constitutional Government. We tell [65] of their fate without a sigh. They were spared from witnessing the glorious flag furled. A large number of these did not turn from the fated field of Gettysburg, as did some here, with the burning thought that ‘Some one had blundered’

The tragic scenes at Appomattox could leave no regretful and sorrowful memories in their hearts and lives.

As the mists of the past are rolled away,
Our heroes who died in their tattered gray,
Grow taller and greater in all their parts,
Till they fill our minds, as they filled our hearts;
And for them who lament them there is this relief,
That glory sits by the side of grief,
And they grow taller as the years pass by
And the world learns how they could do or die.

Private soldiers and sailors.

We sing praises to the officers; we erect monuments of bronze and marble to their memories; we hang portaits on the walls of our camps that will remind our children's children of their undying fame and imperishable valor, but we do not emphasize on every occasion, as we should, the self sacrifice and noble devotion to duty of the private soldier and sailor who made possible the fame and glory of their officers.

The Confederate private soldier was by far above the average of the armies of the world. No country ever had a larger percentage of thinking and intelligent men in the ranks; men more thoroughly imbued with moral principle.

To their everlasting honor stands the fact that in their march through the enemy's country they left behind them no wasted fields, no families cruelly robbed, no homes violated.

An English writer contemporaneously wrote:

‘In no case had the Pennsylvanians to complaim of personal injury or even discourtesy at the hands of those whose homes they had burned; whose families they had insulted, robbed and tormented. Even the tardy destruction of Chambersburg was an act of regular, limited and righteous reprisal.’

‘I must say that they acted like gentlemen, and, their cause aside, I would rather have 40,000 rebels quartered on my premises [66] than 1,000 Union troops,’ was said by a Pennsylvania farmer during that invasion.

No one who participated in that struggle for Constitutional government could have failed to observe the unselfish devotion of the private soldier.

The generals and line officers, charged with responsibility and nerved with ambition, too often soldiers of fortune, had a stimulus and hope of reward that did not often stir the private soldier. His breast was fired and his arm nerved by devotion to duty. He was in many cases better born and more intelligent than his officers, yet he was obedient to orders and marched into the jaws of death with a heroism and courage that challenged the admiration of the world. He knew that in the story of the battle the officers' names would be mentioned, and if among the slain, he would be borne to a well marked tomb, over which loving hands and grateful hearts would spread flowers and shed tears; while over his unmarked grave, most likely the wind would sing a sad requiem and no loving hand would plant a single flower.

A Southern soldier of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry, in pathetic words has epitomized this subject. A lady of Loudoun County, Va., set the words to music. We often heard it sung around our Camp Fires:

All quiet along the Potomac they say
     Except here and there a stray picket
Is shot as he walks on his beat to and fro,
     By a rifleman hid in the thicket.

'Tis nothing—a private or two now and then
     Will not count in the news of the battle,
Not an officer lost; only one of the men—
     Moaning out all alone the death rattle.

All quiet along the Potomac to-night,
     No sound save the rush of the river;
While soft falls the dew on the face of the dead,
     That picket's off duty forever.

The women of the South.

No story of our war; no record of the gallent defenders of our stainless banner; no recital of the deeds of daring and the unselfish sacrifices of these men, would be complete without mention of the [67] heroic spirit and undying devotion of the noble women of the South. The old stories of the Roman matrons and self-sacrifices of the Spartan women, were reproduced in every State, and nearly every home of this Southland.

It would be easy to furnish from memory of the stirring events during the war between the States, incidents that would show the most exalted patriotism and the highest conception of duty on the part of the noble women of the South that the history of any people in any age can furnish.

We are proud of the fact that their mantle has fallen upon the shoulders of the Daughters of the Confederacy, whose hearts burn to day with a love and devotion as pure and sacred as that of their mothers, when they sent forth their sons to battle with the Roman matron's injunction; or gave their parting kiss to loved ones, whom they cheerfully resigned to their country's call.

The unselfish devotion of the noble women of the South upheld and prolonged the unequal struggle while their patience and sacrifices at home, rearing their children, and praying for the absent husband and father, often with no protector save the faithful slaves who stood guard at their doors, furnishes the most striking example of love and devotion that this world has ever known. When under the providence of God our vexed problems are settled, and the South comes again to her own, as under the unvarying law of compensation she surely will, another monument will crown one of the seven hills of our monumental city, erected by the sons and daughters of the Confederacy, and dedicated to the noble women of the South.

A land without ruins.

A land without ruins is a land without memories. A land without memories is a land without a history. ‘Crowns of roses fade; crowns of thorns endure. Calvaries and Crucifixions take deepest hold of humanity. The triumphs of might are transient; they pass and are forgotten. The sufferings of right are deepest on the chronicles of Nations.’

A parting word for his old comrades.

The shadows of the evening are lengthening on our pathway, The twilight approaches; for the most part you have lived brave lives, [68]

May you die worthy patriots, dear to God and famous to all the ages.

Our battlefields are around us; the graves of our dead comrades remind us of the sacrifices Virginians made for their convictions. The evening song of our declining years may find passionate longing in the plaintive strain of our Southern bard:

Yes, give me the land where the ruins are spread,
And the living tread light on the hearts of the dead;
Yes, give me the land that is blest by the dust
And bright with the deeds of the down-trodden just;
Yes, give me the land where the battle's red blast
Has flashed to the future the fame of the past;
Yes, give me the land that hath legends and lays
That tell of the memory of long vanished days;
Yes, give me the land that has story and song
Enshrine the strife of the right with the wrong;
Yes, give me a land with a grave in each spot
And names in those graves that shall ne'er be forgot;
Yes, give me the land of the wreck and the tomb,
There is grandeur in graves; there is glory in gloom;
For out of the gloom future brightness is born
As after the night comes the sunshine of morn,
And the graves of the dead with the grass overgrown
May yet form the footstool of Liberty's throne,
And each single wreck in the warpath of might
Shall yet be a rock in the Temple of Right.

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)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 26th, 1906 AD (1)
1899 AD (1)
1880 AD (1)
1873 AD (1)
1861 AD (1)
1851 AD (1)
1844 AD (1)
1832 AD (1)
1814 AD (1)
1811 AD (1)
July, 1804 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: