Washington and Lee University

Lee and His Cause
By John R. Deering




Careful and competent judges (one a Cabinet member, Secretary Shaw, of the United States Treasury) tell us that there were, during the four years, three thousand, one hundred and twenty, conflicts of arms! “The total cost of the Civil War has been moderately estimated at $8,000,000,000. In addition to which the Government spent $800,000,000, mainly in war expenses, and large outlays were made by States, whilst the property destroyed is beyond computation.” (Encyclopedia of United States History). “This estimate, Doctor Deering, is not heavy enough, because it included an estimate of only $1,500,000,000 for pensions. The official figures, which I furnish, show that the pensions aggregated almost twice that sum.” If, then, we may trust this experienced and very painstaking official in Washington, and if we add his pension figures, we have the justly estimated cost of our “late unpleasantness”—NINE AND A HALF BILLIONS. Now, since nobody can comprehend such a sum—let it pass! The money is gone anyway!

In the area that it overspread, in the populations it embraced, in the men it enlisted, in the money it cost, in the battles that were fought, in the lives that it sacrificed, in the questions that it settled, in the problems that it created, in the burdens that it imposed upon the black man, in the emancipation that it brought to the Southern white people, in the misery and poverty into which it plunged millions, in the wealth that it bestowed upon a favored few, in the antagonisms that it left for us and our children, it has earned a title to its greatness that will never be disputed while sun and moon endure! A single item of its expense remains and recurs, from year to year, as a reminder of what no man can ever fully understand, namely $145,937,000—the present yearly outlay for pensions, of one side only, and that after forty-two years have passed away. The total expenditure for pensions alone has reached the enormous sum of $3,545,377,806.60, and no seer can see the end! This sum is more by $258,527,243.60 than was the cost of both the Army and Navy during the whole conflict. Yet legislation in this direction seems scarce begun. There were added to the rolls of pensioners last year—34,974 names; and this year, under the “Service Pension Law,” just enacted, it is estimated that 100,000 more people will be cared for by “the best Government that the world ever saw.” The Government's estimate of this increase annually is $10,414,400.

There are now, forty-two years after the war's close, 666,345 soldier's names on the pension rolls. This is a longer line than the South had in all the years of the war. If the United States had bought and set free all the slaves on the American continent, and in Africa, and the islands of the sea, and had never shot a gun, or dug a grave, or builded a prison, or broken a heart, or pillaged a city, or burned a home, or laid waste an acre, how tremendous the saving would have been! Think! The estimated value, at the outbreak of the war, of all the slaves held in all our territory was only $2,000,000,000, and to free them, without law, we came out of the struggle with a debt, on August 31st, 1865, according to the Government bookkeeper's report, of $2,845,907,626.56—so that, it is clear, we might have bought and freed every slave, paid the bill in cash, and had left a balance of $845,907,626.56. That would have been a mountain of money, not to speak of the brains, blood, hearts, homes, lives, labors, energies, materials, and everything else saved! Verily, the war wasn't a very economical transaction!

One general, who commanded in one march, through two or three States, confessed that, his spoils and conflagrations “amounted to $100,000,000. Of this, $20,000,000 inured to our benefit, and the rest was mere waste and destruction”—so said Sherman. That was in Georgia and the Carolinas. Poor Virginia, Mother of States and of Statesmen, no man has ever had the courage to count up thy costs. In one of thy valleys, seventy mills full of grain, with 2,000 barns containing farming implements, were fired to furnish light for the retreating invaders! It is no wonder that the cruel commander could report to his superior, “The next crow that flies over the Valley must carry his own rations.” The marvel is that, any American commander could be so savage, so utteriy heartless, as to authorize such destruction! That Sherman left a swath of blight and fire, and ruins and bones, from forty to sixty miles wide, and reaching through three broad commonwealths makes us marvel at man's inhumanity to man! In its wicked and awful rage, Sherman's army was more cruel than fire, or famine or plague—for fire spared people; famine spared property; plague spared both food and property; that army spared nothing; it left a desert without anoasis and almost without life. And besides Sherman's, there were Sheridan's and Hunter's ravages, as fearful as fire could make them! Enough, the story is unbearable! General Bradley Johnson says, “The face of the country was so changed that one born in it could scarcely recognize it.”

It was a wicked and cruel war, yet not wholly bad or fought in vain. It had a brighter side—THE SOUTHERN SIDE. Lee's address to his advancing army at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, made the statement that “civilization and Christianity would not allow retaliation upon enemies. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered, without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support, our efforts must all prove in vain.” We are given the effect of this order by Mr. Charles F. Adams, of Boston, in his New York address, January 26th, 1903. “In scope and spirit Lee's order was observed, and I doubt if a hostile force ever advanced in an enemy's country, or fell back from it in retreat, leaving behind it less cause for hate and bitterness than did the Army of Northern Virginia.” Remembering that this gentleman was an officer in the army of General Grant, we could hardly wish for a better witness. But he speaks the bare truth, nothing more. A Union citizen who lived in Danville, Kentucky, when Bragg's army passed through it, told me that his soldiers did not take the apples ripe in his orchard. It is said that Bragg had some soldiers shot for stealing chickens. My captain made me return to a prisoner his old hat; wouldn't allow the swap; and he once ordered me to ride my horse “until he falls,” rather than “press” one on the march to risk being captured rather than swap a tired horse for a fresh one! Such was the spirit and discipline of the Southern soldiers.

And the war had its compensations. It wrought in us, and for us, some things that nothing else could. It made us a better and a greater people; it brought men nearer to God, and made women more like Christ; it showed human nature at its best, and grace in her divinest form. Faith worked by love, and the faith we had in God, and Joe Johnston, and the Army of Northern Virginia, knew no bounds. Hope was never so heavenly. We realized the truth—“A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” We had little to eat, and less to drink, and nearly nothing to wear, but what we were going to have “when this cruel war is over” would have satisfied King Croesus himself! Charity never failed us, patience had her perfect work; self-denial was glorified before our very eyes. The spirit of sympathy and helpfulness spread over the land. Every man was his “brother's keeper.” Most things were done or endured for the public good. We “had all things common”—except tea and coffee, of which there wasn't enough to be divided. Tobacco and toilet soap were about the only things a man might not beg, borrow or steal. We were at our best and approximated the Christ life. We lived and moved and had our being for Dixie and Independence. The fires of patriotism never burned more intensely in Revolutionary times, or on Grecian altars. We forgot the fashions, threw away useless purses and grew rich in noble examples and self-sacrificing deeds. We came home worn and weary, hungry and ragged, broken in health and bankrupt in everything, but we gave the world our Lees and Davis, and the mighty “Stonewall,” with the Hills, and Johnstones, and Helm, and Hanson, and Stuart, and Forrest, and Morgan, and Breckinridge, and Admiral Semmes, and Private Sam Davis, the “Boy Martyr” of Tennessee! No money could buy these immortal names; no historic doubts can blacken them or cause us to forget. The war made us a solid South, a self-reliant, self-respecting people. We stand together, and will stand in the face of creation, and we feel “the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed.” For myself, I would not barter that for all Kentucky! I have been ashamed of many things in my life, but the recollection of my course as a Confederate soldier has been for forty years, my chief joy and pride I If ever I was fit to live or willing to die, if ever I was worthy of my father's name or my mother's blood, if ever I was pleased with my place, suited to my rank, or satisfied with my sinful self—it must have been whilst I was marching under that white-starred cross upon that blood-red banner against the invaders of my native Southland. For that I want no forgiveness in this world or the next. I can adopt the saying of my great Commander, General Lee: “If all were to be done over again, I should act in precisely the same manner; I could have taken no other course without dishonor.”

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