Address by S. T. Wallis, Esq. Delivered at the Academy of Music, In Baltimore, April 10th, 1875,
On Behalf of the Lee Memorial Association
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
The ladies, at whose invitation you are here this evening, have honored me by their command to state the scope and purpose of the work in which they solicit you to join them. But for the deference to which their wishes and opinions are entitled, I should have ventured to believe the task a needless one, for I am sure the feelings which induce your presence have already spoken to you with a deep impressiveness, to which I can add neither pathos nor power. There are names which in themselves are a history and a consecration—themes which are their own eloquent interpreters beyond speech or writing—and who is there that can add a word or a thought to the story, when, to those who are around me, I name the name and call up the memory of LEE?
More than four years have gone, since the great citizen and soldier was called to his reward. He would, himself, have coveted no prouder resting-place, than the green bosom of his mother State—no monument beyond the love and the remembrance of the people he had loved and served. But the gratitude and devotion of the living refused to be measured by the humility of the dead, and it was at once determined, by his followers in arms, to mark the grave of their illustrious leader by some fitting and permanent memorial. An eminent sculptor of Richmond, Mr. Edward V. Valentine, well known, by reputation, through the country, was accordingly invited to assist in carrying out their wishes. The choice was, in all respects, appropriate, the artist being not only of unquestionable genius, skill and cultivation, but full
of enthusiasm in his art, and with that high sense of its nobility and dignity, without which none can pass beyond the outer places of its temple. These qualities existing in the sculptor, it was doubly meet he should be chosen, so that the tomb of the great Virginian should be modeled by the reverent and loving hand of a son of the same mother. Mr. Valentine’s design of a recumbent figure of the hero, was accepted, by the Memorial Association, in the early summer of 1871, but the model was not finished in plaster until late in the ensuing winter. The statue itself, which is of marble, and of rather more than the size of life, received the last touches of the chisel but a few days since, and was exhibited to the public in Richmond, where it created the profoundest sensation. It appears to have commanded the admiration not only of the many, with whom devotion might naturally have stood in the place of criticism, but of those, as well, whose taste and culture entitle them to render authoritative judgment.
The task of the sculptor was a difficult and grave one, but he has shown himself equal to it. His conception and its execution are severely simple. The hero is lying in his uniform, as if in sleep, upon his narrow soldier’s bed. His posture is natural and easy. One hand is on his bosom, and touches, unconsciously and gently, “the drapery of his couch.” The other is lying by his side, where it has fallen, and rests upon his sword. The portraiture is perfect, as to form no less than feature. The whole expression is that of tranquil and absolute repose. But it is not the sleep of death and nothingness, when the soul is gone, nor yet of bodily exhaustion, with its “dumb forgetfulness.” It is the repose of physical power, unshaken though dormant—of manly grace, most graceful when at rest—of noble faculties, alive and sovereign, though still. It is a presence in which
men stand, uncovered and in silence—half listening for the voice—He “is not dead, but sleepeth.”
The remains of General Lee were deposited and are now resting beneath the chapel of Washington and Lee University, at Lexington, Virginia, in a chamber designed by him for a library. The place is altogether unsuited for the monument proposed, which is to consist not only of the figure I have attempted to describe, but of an appropriate sarcophagus, in marble, on which the statue is to rest. There is neither light enough nor sufficient elevation in the apartment, which, in its style and appointments besides, is altogether out of keeping with the work of the artist, and unworthy to receive it. It had therefore been determined to erect a separate and suitable memorial building or mausoleum, upon ground which the University has placed at the disposal of the Association, not far from the spot where the great life it will commemorate was ended. In this good work it is, that your [sic] are asked to share.
Apart from the wishes of the family of General Lee, who desire that his remains shall lie in the peaceful and scholastic shades, to which he retired from the gratitude and admiration of his people, there is eminent propriety in this selection of his final resting place. Had he died upon the field of fame and battle, amid, “the thunder of the captains and the shouting”—had he gone home, victor in some crowning and decisive fight, as he was victor in so many that were so very glorious—it might have been well to lay him where men come and go—a leader of men among men, still ruling their spirits from his urn. But such was not his death or fortune. The clam, self-sacrificing, upright, unrepining gentleman—
“Who wore no less a loving face, because so broken-hearted”—
humble before God and without enmity to men ; bending the faculties that might have swayed a realm, to schemes of quiet usefulness and unpraised toil ; silent before slander and insult; unmoved by threat and falsehood ; teaching, by noble precept and example, the duty of submission, as he had nobly taught and led resistance and defiance, while resistance was a duty—this was the hero who died at Lexington, giving the lesson of a greatness that was far above his glory. On the field of that greatness he laid down his life, and on it he should rest. To his fame it is nothing where he sleeps. To the State that bore him—having borne him—it matters almost as little. Could she have buried him at Arlington, as was her right and his, she would have blended the memories of Washington and Lee with the sacred associations of their homes. At Lexington, their names at least are joined together, and there the pilgrims, from Mount Vernon, to the shrine your hands will help to build, may lay their offerings on the grave of Jackson also.
WASHINGTON, LEE, JACKSON!
“dust, which is
Even in itself, an immortality!”
There are before me, doubtless, some, who pay their willing tribute to the great Confederate soldier, yet sympathize in nothing with the cause to which he gave his heart and genius. They see, in his career and character, those traits which true men love and honor, no matter in what cause displayed. They share the admiration which his name awakens, in the wise and brave and good, the wide world over. Their pride grows warm and high, when they remember that they are his brethren—that his fame will be the treasure of their country and the heritage of their own children, so long as they shall live in a free land and share its glories. It is in the inspira-
tion of this reverence for what is pure and noble—the perpetual suggestion of this brotherhood and common pride, the obliteration of animosities, the bringing of men’s hearts together, upon lofty common ground—that the memory of the illustrious dead is a beneficent and living power. Its influence, first felt by the bravest and the best of those who were his foes, when swords were crossed, is now confined no longer to party or to section. It has awakened magnanimity and softened resentment almost every where. It has helped to break the spell of prejudiced and passion, and make men feel how narrow, false and very mean a thing it is, to call opinion crime. I look upon this influence as of the happiest augury. I trust, nay, I believe the time is not far off, when the great struggle, which ended at Appomattox, will be regarded by the people of all America in the light of what it was, and not of what violence and falsehood, in high places and in low places, have found it their interest to call it. I look for the returning sense of self-respect as well as justice, in the country, to blot out from its laws and its judicial decisions, not long hereafter, the opprobrious epithets by which it is still the fashion to disgrace them, when the Confederate war is mentioned. I persuade myself it will not be long, before all intelligent and honorable men—without abating one jot or tittle of their own convictions, or of their honest pride in having fought victoriously to maintain them—will begin to feel that the wearisome and insulting cant about “rebels” and the “rebellion,” and “treason” and “traitors,” is altogether unworthy of them, and should be relegated to the pot-houses and their demagogues. I know that such already is the feeling in hosts of bosoms scarred in honorable fight, and it is a feeling that must grow and spread, because it is just and manly, and because manhood and justice are inherent in the race from which we chiefly spring, and, though they may be reached but slowly, sometimes, are certain to be reached at last.
Let me not be misunderstood. Of course no Southern man has right or reason to complain of those who thought that wrong, which he thought right. Believing that a separate government was his plain right, when he might choose to have it, he may not quarrel with the opposite convictions of his countrymen, who thought, and with sincerity as deep as his, that the Union was a priceless right of theirs, and were therefore ready to immolate him for it, as well as sacrifice themselves. But he has the right to ask that the honesty of his convictions, the sincerity of his patriotism, the good faith of his sacrifices, shall not be doubted or denied, any more than theirs. He is entitled to demand that no enemy shall put a tongue into his wounds—“poor, poor dumb mouths,” and make them lie. It was melancholy beyond words, that political differences between brethren—the citizens of a republic whose government rested on consent—could not be settled without blood. But they were political differences nevertheless, and they were nothing more. They were the expression of political principles, concerning which parties and sections had long been long divided, and which separated the best and wisest of the land, long before their antagonism was startled into strife. One side may have been right and the other wrong, or there may have been right and wrong with both—but neither could question, with truth, the sincerity of the other, and only fanaticism and folly, upon either side, can deny it to the other, now. I speak of the true men, upon both sides, for they only are worth considering, on either. There is something marvelous, if not inconceivable, in the belief which some people, otherwise sane, profess to entertain, that a man is, mentally or morally, better or worse for his sincere political opinions—better or worse because he is a monarchist instead of a republican—because he favors state rights or thinks them sinful; that it was profligacy to believe
secession constitutional or in any way defensible, and virtuous to believe the contrary; that to be “loyal” was to pass into the communion of saints, and to be “disloyal” was to forfeit, in the act, the prestige of the loftiest and purest life. While blood was hot and flowing, such madness might have passed for reason. War over—ten years gone—it is but drivelling folly, without the dignity of madness. And yet to-day, this “clotted nonsense” (as Dr. Johnson would have called it, in any body but himself) is standing or is thrust in the way of justice, among thousands of honest and good people ; and, standing in the way of justice, is in the way also of that perfect reconciliation and mutual trust, which will never come, until justice shall be frankly done by the victors to the vanquished. The men who fought in the same cause with Lee, and all whose hearts were with them, are bound in honor to abide by the arbitrament they sought. They are bound to accept defeat and its legitimate consequences, in as good faith as they would have accepted victory. They are bound to obey the laws and support the constitution ; to fulfil, to the letter, every duty of citizenship, and answer freely every call of patriotic obligation. But they are not bound to defile the ashes of their dead, or to submit, in silence, to injustice or dishonor. They may have been wrong. That is fair matter of opinion, and posterity will judge them. They may have been unwise. There is no absolute criterion, on earth, of what is wise, and none of us have reason to think, like the friends of holy Job, that we are the people, and that wisdom shall die with us. But the men of the South are entitled before mankind as a people, who, believing they were right and acting with what wisdom they knew, set hope and existence on the die. They have a right to resent and denounce imputations on their purposes and motives. When they read in political journals and discourses, or hear,
from the halls of legislation or the bench of justice, that for eight millions of free-born men to separate themselves from a popular government, of which they formed a part, and set up and be governed by another which they preferred, was “wicked rebellion”—an effort to overthrow society and turn back the current of civilization—they have a right to say that the time has come, when educated people should be ashamed of such things. They are the froth of the angry waters and should have passed away with the storm. Until they cease to sully the stream, the serenity of peace and brotherhood can never be reflected, like heaven, from its bosom.
Such devices and phrases are not new. They are as old as foolishness and foul language. I have before me a copy which Mr. Parton has furnished, from a Tory “Extra” of 1777, chronicling the retreat of Washington across the Harlem River, and denouncing the cause in which he was enlisted as “the most wicked, daring and unnatural rebellion that ever disgraced the annals of history.” The ingenuity and eloquence of our own day, with all the modern improvements, have not been able, I believe, to add a single epithet to this pleasing expression of by-gone loyalty. And yet, ten years after it was written, or at all events after the Revolution was over, I am sure that all reasonable tories, and certainly all sensible Englishmen, would have agreed to laugh at it and forget it. We are ourselves about to demonstrate, by a Centennial commemoration, how entirely nature has recovered from the shock which that “rebellion” was supposed to have given her. True, it was successful, and that unquestionably makes some difference—but only with time-servers. We are dealing, now, moralists, and they will never, I suppose, suggest that wickedness ceases to be wicked, because the horn of the ungodly happens to be exalted. If Grant had surrendered to Lee, they would still have died in the conviction,
that secession was a heresy ; that the ways of Providence were inscrutable, if not unconstitutional (according to Story’s Commentaries) ; and that truth and reason are not questions of numbers, artillery or ammunition.
I make these observations here, in no spirit of unkindness or contention. You would resent, and with justice, the intrusion of past or present controversial issues, upon an occasion dedicated only to reverent and gentle memories of the dead. But I feel, in common with all to whom those memories are dear, that silence concerning such things as I have mentioned is no longer consistent with proper self-respect. So long as the bitterness of party can be profitably stirred by the worn-out catch-words of the war, we must of course expect to hear them from the lips of those to whom profit is a compensation for shame. But we have a right to appeal from these, to the men who lead opinion, because they are worthy and entitled to lead it. We have a right to throw upon them the responsibility, which belongs to their influence, their intelligence,—nay, their taste, their breeding and their manners. And for saying this, respectfully but earnestly and frankly, I know no better occasion than the present, when we are honoring one, who, though a “rebel” of “rebels,” if there were any such, was, by common consent, the soul of honor, and than whom no man living dares to say that he or his are purer or better. And, when I remember how his generous and unselfish nature would have scorned to place upon a lower level than his own, the purposes and motives of the humblest of the soldiers, who gave all to the same cause and the same country—living or dying, in defeat or victory, half-naked in the field, half-famished on the march and in the camp, but heroes always—I feel as if I did his bidding, in this earnest protest against further maligning their good name.
And here, I am permitted, by the kindness of a friend, to read some extracts from a letter of the illustrious soldier, which has never seen the light before, and which will shew through what sad struggles, of both heart and mind, he passed to what he felt to be his duty. I doubt not—nay, I know—that many a gallant gentleman who fought beside him, and many another in the opposing host, grieved, with as deep a grief as Lee, to draw his sword. The letter that I speak of bears the date of January 16th, 1861, and was written from Fort Mason, near San Antonio, in Texas. It was addressed to a young lady, a relative of his, for whom he had great affection, and the passages of which I speak were written as a message to her father. Alluding to the homes of two families of friends, he said :
“I think of the occupants of both, very often, and hope, some day, to see them again. I may have the opportunity soon ; for, if the Union is dissolved, I shall return to Virginia to share the fortune of my people. But before so great a calamity befalls the country, I hope all honorable means of maintaining the Constitution and the equal rights of the people will be first exhausted. Tell your father he must not allow Maryland to be tacked on to South Carolina, before the just demands of the South have been fairly presented to the North and rejected. Then, if the rights guarantied by the Constitution are denied us, and the citizens of one portion of the country are granted privileges not extended to the other, we can, with a clear conscience, separate. I am for maintaining all our rights, not for abandoning all for the sake of one. Our national rights, liberty at home and security abroad, our lands, navy, forts, dockyards, arsenals and institutions of every kind. It will result in war I know, fierce, bloody war. But so will secession, for it is revolution and war at last, and cannot be otherwise, and we might as well look at
it in its true character. There is a long message, A—, for your father, and a grave one, which I had not intended to put in my letter to you, but it is a subject on which my serious thoughts often turn, for, as an American citizen, I prize my government and country highly, and there is no sacrifice I am not willing to make for their preservation, save that of honor. I trust there is wisdom and patriotism enough in the country to save them, for I cannot anticipate so great a calamity to the nation as the dissolution of the Union.”
Alas! alas! That the hand which wrote those touching, anxious words, was not near enough to the helm to avert the shipwreck! Alas! alas! that no voice should have been lifted in the land, potent enough to bid the whirlwind stay! Who lacked the wisdom—who lacked the patriotism—which Lee invoked, it is not for me, in third place at least, to say. If they existed, they were dumb and helpless, and the whirlwind came. But I have read enough to you, to show the stuff of which some men were made whom they call “rebels”—enough to show that they who fought, at last, against the Union, were not always they who loved it least, or would, least willingly, have died to save it.
I have spoken, Ladies and Gentlemen, of our hero’s character and life, as they attract the admiration of mankind—of the qualities which enemies and friends may venerate alike. It would be unmanly affectation in me to prevent that, here in Maryland, we loved him and remember him chiefly for these. We are proud of the great name—as proud as any—but the household word is dearer far to us. His story and his memory are linked with all the hopes and triumphs, the exultation and despair, which made a century of those four bitter, bloody, torturing years. He was to us the incarnation of his Cause—of what was noblest in it, and knightliest, and best. Whatever of perplexity best his path before he chose
it, he knew no doubts, when it was chosen. He followed where it led him, knowing no step backward. Along it, through victory and defeat, our sympathies and prayers went with him. Around him gathered the fresh, valiant manhood of our State, and many a brave young heart that ceased to beat, beside him, drew him but closer to the bleeding hearts in all our saddened homes. These are the ties that bind him to us. These are the memories that troop around us here, to-night—not of the far-off hero, belonging to the world and history—but memories of our hero—ours—the man that wore the gray! Not in the valley where he sleeps, not among the fields he made immortal, lives he, or will he live, in fonder recollection, than where Calvert planted freedom.
“And far and near, through vale and hill,
Are faces that attest the same ;
The proud heart flashing through the eyes,
At sound of his loved name.”
And when they tell us, as they do, those wiser, better brethren of ours—and tell the world, to make it history—that this, our Southern civilization, is half barbarism, we may be pardoned if we answer : Behold its product and its representative! “Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble-bush gather they grapes.” Here is Robert Lee—shew us his fellow !
Source: Papers of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Box 4, M2009.414, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 October 26