Life of Robert E. Lee as General in the Confederate Army
Henry E. Shepherd
LEE AS A SOLDIER
It seems not foreign to the purpose of my story to introduce an account of my own war record, however humble or unpretentious that record may be. A genuine history of the great conflict and the part played by the South will never be an accomplished result or even a possibility unless the lives and achievements of the Confederate rank and file are rescued, and rescued speedily, from the oblivion to which the assaults of time are fast consigning them. It has been forty years since the surrender of Lee and the overthrow of the Confederacy. Before a quarter of a century has passed into history a Confederate survivor will have become a curiosity pointed out on the street as some lingering hero of Yorktown or Bunker Hill might have been pointed out to us by our nurses. The men who wore the gray are fast falling into shadow. Nearly every one of our leaders is in his place of rest, and during the first years of our new century death has had his carnival with the fearless band of men in the ranks over whom he alone has won the mastery. Every morning paper seems to bring its obituary of some heroic soul that stood in the line, and resisted to “the utterance,” without a dream of fame, or even a delusive hope of preferment. Each of these had a rich fund of recollections, reminiscences, stories of battles, sieges, fortunes he had passed—acts of knightly daring and heroic emprise unheralded, but unexcelled in the chronicles of war. The wealth of material buried in their graves can never be estimated—they were the actors not the authors of the drama. The time and the opportunity are rapidly vanishing. Every soldier of the South, however lowly his rank or limited his achievements and his sphere of action, rests under the strongest obligation that regard for truth and patriotic obligation can impose, to contribute, if it be in the smallest measure, to the purity of our Confederate story and its transmission unmarred and untainted to the coming ages. It is the abiding consciousness of this obligation, the claim of the dead, and the duty to generations to come that has induced me to break through a strong native reserve and tell what I know of the war, especially in so far as it relates to Lee, his lieutenants and the character of the Confederate soldier as illustrated in the Army of Northern Virginia.
I was a student at the University of Virginia and had just passed my seventeenth birthday when the civil war was ushered in by the attack upon Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, April, 1861. The prevailing excitement among the student body, numbering at least six hundred, cannot be described by any language of which I have the mastery. A few days passed and Virginia formally severed her connection with the Union. The issue was now fairly before us, and the very “joy of battle” thrilled the breast of every youth at the University. Scholastic exercises were almost abandoned, and it was not long before the battalion of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute passed through Charlottesville on their way to Richmond, in charge of an unheralded and eccentric instructor in mechanics and artillery tactics, the butt of his classes, who was soon to be known as “Stonewall” Jackson. I had known something of Major Jackson as he then was, before he made his sudden leap into fame. When a lad of fourteen I was a cadet at the Military Institute, Charlotte, N.C, conducted by Major—afterward General—D. H. Hill, brother-in-law of Major Jackson. I recall with the utmost vividness the season of the “John Brown Raid,” 1859; the thrilling address that Major Hill made to the cadets upon that occasion, urging every Southern man to arm himself for the imminent and inevitable conflict. More graphically than all, however, I summon back the memory of those pikes and spears captured from Brown at Harper's Ferry, and presented to his brother-in-law, Major Hill, by Major Jackson. These hideous implements of death, designed to be turned against the women and children of the South, were
exhibited in the armory of the Military Institute. Then, too, I knew Mrs. Hill, sister of Major Jackson's second wife, Miss Morrison of North Carolina. The first Mrs. Jackson was Miss Eleanor Junkin, daughter of Rev. Dr. Junkin, at one time President of Washington College, a native of Pennsylvania and implacable in his hostility to all the political traditions and cherished ideals of the Southern people. It was currently reported that just before the beginning of the struggle Major Jackson sat up all night in the hopeless endeavor to convert his father-in-law to the doctrine of States' rights. Two of Dr. Junkin's sons, however, remained loyal to the cause of the Confederacy, and the memory of his gifted daughter, Mrs. Margaret Junkin Preston, whose flights of song rise to our lips as household words, rests like a healing benediction upon the heart of the South.
MRS. ROBERT EDWARD LEE
So Jackson was not an entire stranger to me on that April morn in 61 as he rode by the University with his corps of cadets. My teacher and commanding officer, David Harvey Hill, will appear more than once in the later stages of this narrative. With regard to myself I can only say that all my sympathies, traditions, ideals, and aspiration linked me to the South and her fortunes in the intensest sense. One of my own blood, my maternal uncle, James C. Dobbin of North Carolina, was a conspicuous champion of the doctrine of secession, and as Secretary of the Navy during the administration of Mr. Pierce, 1853–57, was a colleague of Jefferson Davis, the future leader of the government of the Confederacy. My father was steadfast and inflexible in his allegiance to the cause, even when the faith of many had wavered and the vision of final overthrow hung above us, shrouding the sun from our gaze. My ancestral home at Fayetteville, N.C, was marked out for especial desolation by Sherman's vandals, March, 1865, as they advanced through the Carolinas to effect a junction with Schofield's army at Goldsboro, thus coming to the aid of Grant from the South, as the last stages of the death grapple with Lee were in progress along the lines enclosing Petersburg.
I withdrew from the University of Virginia in April, 1861, returned to my home in North Carolina, and in a few weeks was an enlisted soldier. After a month in camp, engaged in the drilling of raw recruits, I had my first taste of service in the field within our lines at Yorktown, near the point at which Washington and Lafayette advanced upon Cornwallis in the epoch-making siege of October, 1781. The defenses out of which Cornwallis had marched eighty years before were still in excellent condition—they needed only freshening and bracing at intervals to render them available for the purposes of modern war. The historic associations of the little hamlet were a ceaseless charm to me, living as I have largely lived from the dawn of intelligence, in dreaming and brooding over the vanished ages. There stood the Nelson house with the Revolutionary cannonball still resting in its sturdy walls, there was the desolate tomb of Spotswood—himself a soldier, and not far away was the simple monument that marked the point at which Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington, the founder of our Southern civilization. I enlisted under the banner of my former teacher in the Military Institute at Charlotte, N.C. He had entered the service as colonel of the First North Carolina Regiment, currently referred to as the “Bethel” regiment, from its brilliant participation in the engagement at Bethel Church, June 10, 1861.
The command of our forces in the Peninsula was assigned during this preliminary period of the war to Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder; and the colonel of the first North Carolina soon advanced to the rank of brigadier-general. Of General Magruder I saw and knew little, as he was transferred to the Army of the Southwest soon after the Seven Days' battles, June, 1862. He was an accomplished chief of artillery, but in his love of the spectacular, in his fondness “for the pomp, pride, and circumstance of glorious war,” he stood at the pole of contrast to his colleague and co-commander, D. H. Hill. Even Magruder, however, encountered his match, for the ready wit of the Confederate soldier rose to the height of any possible emergency. Upon a certain occasion which has become historic, General Magruder found himself at the same table with a humble, manly Confederate—a private in the ranks. Turning upon his companion with the utmost pomposity of manner and vehemence of language, the General thundered, “Sir, do you know with whom you are eating?” To which the response came instantaneous and unabashed, “No, I don't; and since I went into the army I ain't particular who I eat with, if the vittles is clean.” There runs no record of reply upon the part of General Magruder.
Our civil war developed an amazing richness and versatility of character, as well as intellectual, strategic, mechanical, social, religious, even literary attainments—as unguarded as the assertion may seem to those who are not versed in it. Yet among all its varied and diverse types it never revealed to the eye of the world a rarer personality than that of my teacher and commander, David Harvey Hill. My record is in large measure linked with his, for I was under his leadership during my Yorktown period—the first six months of the war, again in eastern North Carolina during the winter of 1862–3. He was not associated with the Gettysburg campaign, having been left in command in North Carolina, while the main body of the army advanced into Pennsylvania, June, 1863. There was a morbid, even a misanthropic strain in his nature, largely to be traced to physical causes—chronic infirmity; but the annals of war have not set before us a more heroic or dauntless soul. Jackson's genius for war, Lee's resistless magnetism, were not vouchsafed to Hill—but in those characteristics in which he excelled, invincible tenacity, absolute unconsciousness of fear, a courage never to submit or yield, no one has risen above him, not even in the annals of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was the very “Ironsides” of the South—Cromwell in some of his essential characteristics coming again in the person and genius of D. H. Hill. The antagonism of South to North assumed its intensest form in him. It ran through all his actions, it was the dominant motive that fashioned his life. Many survivors of the great conflict will recall Hill's Algebra, in which the passionless science of pure mathematics is transformed into a political propaganda—a sort of campaign document to illustrate the cowardice of New England volunteers in the war with Mexico, demonstrating by equations the number of miles, the rate of speed that marked their retreat, as well as the other moral infirmities that nature or the powers of evil had wrought into the soul of the typical Yankee.
The intensest fire of the Southern nature burned in the heart of D. H. Hill. Not less passionate than his hate of the Yankees was the indignation he cherished toward all renegades, recreants, or apostates that marred the fair fame of the South. An exempt, a skulk, or one upon whom rested the faintest suspicion of evading duty or shrinking in the critical hour of impending battle, was the special object of his wrath. The seven vials were poured upon him to the last dregs. The comment made by him upon an application for furlough submitted by a member of a brass band, “shooters before tooters,” has become historic. It was a common phrase in the Army of Northern Virginia. Not less vehement was his hatred of the political cabals at Richmond, which he claimed were destroying the efficiency of the Confederate service. Intemperance or dissipation in any form was for him the unpardonable sin. Yet with all his tendency toward extremes, D. H. Hill was a man of literary attainments, an assiduous student of Holy Scripture, and as a teacher of mathematics unsurpassed among American teachers. His little volumes of essays—“The Sermon on the Mount and the Agony in the Garden”—I preserve with affectionate care as a memory of one who stood to me in the complex relation of teacher, commander, and unswerving friend, until in 1889 he passed to “where beyond these voices there is peace.” His absolute unconsciousness of danger was enough to thrill the ordinary brain with a sort of vertigo as it revealed itself in the most phenomenal situations or supreme crises. Upon one occasion, his horse being shot under him, as he was in the act of writing an order, holding the paper in his hand, steed and rider sank to the earth and without the relaxation of a muscle or a movement of the head, he finished the order, handed it to a courier, as calm and unconcerned as if reviewing the battalion of cadets in the grounds of the Institute at Charlotte. General Hill's loyal devotion to his friends was in one notable instance, at least, not without its bearing upon the fortunes of the war. During my year as a cadet in the North Carolina Military Institute at Charlotte—1859–60—there was in the corps an amiable and genial lad from the native town of General Hill, Yorkville, S.C, whose name was James W. Ratchford. The attachment of General Hill to his native State and his home, rose to the height of adoration, and for Ratchford as his townsman he cherished a regard that displayed itself in every relation, personal as well as official. It was during the first Maryland campaign, 14th September. 1862, that General Hill made his wonderful record at South Mountain Gap, Boonsboro, Md., holding at bay the overwhelming force of McClellan until Jackson had accomplished the capture of Harper's Ferry. Then the several detached commands of the army converged upon Sharpsburg on Antietam Creek, at which point the army of Lee, with not more than one-third the effective troops at the disposal of McClellan, achieved the most brilliant single day of the entire war, repelling every assault, and withdrawing leisurely across the Potomac into Virginia. The character of this campaign is in a large measure involved with the history of my old classmate and comrade, Ratchford of Yorkville, S.C.
At the beginning of the struggle Ratchford became an aid upon the staff of General Hill, and served in that capacity until its close. At the time that General Lee was arranging his plans for the capture of Harper's Ferry, the official orders explaining every detail of the campaign, sent to General Hill in common with the several heads of the army, were placed in the charge of his trusted aid, Ratchford, and by him were lost at the point where Hill and' his staff encamped for the night on the march from Frederick to Boonsboro. The lost orders were picked up by a Federal spy, promptly forwarded to McClellan, and the whole story of Lee's movements was in the hands of the enemy. Immediately McClellan swooped down upon Hill's division with his overwhelming array, like an eagle falling upon his prey. Had not D. Hi. Hill stood in the imminent deadly breach, it might have been a Thermopylae for the South. Hardly in the chronicles of war has there been a more heroic resistance or a more perilous escape. The fate of a nation seemed suspended upon the acts or the inadvertence of a single aid, a youthful staff officer whose devotion and fidelity not even malice or envy could impugn or suspect. Such was the commander with whom my fate was linked during the term of my novitiate in the army of the Confederacy. I remained on the Peninsula at Yorktown and Ship Point, until the autumn of 1861. My acquaintance with military tactics stood me in good stead, and I was especially assigned to the sad mechanic exercise of drilling the raw recruits who were coming into Yorktown from North Carolina. I acted in a similar capacity at Raleigh and at High Point during the winter and spring of 1861–62, and I often recall while brooding over the irreclaimable past, the faces and the individuality of the men that I trained for Lee's army, when I was a lad of seventeen fresh from academic centers, thrown at a bound from the studious cloister into the very heart of grim-visaged war. I must have drilled five hundred men for active service. Some of them won rank and fame; many are numbered with the unknown dead whose names are written in heaven.
During my first year of military experience I was the darling victim of fever and ague. It struck me down at Yorktown with terrific force; also at Raleigh, at Newberne, and Wilmington. I rose from my couch half dead with ague in June, 1862, as the Seven Days' grapple was impending at Richmond. When the storm of battle had passed over, I relapsed to my normal condition of fever at Drewry's Bluff, lying in the July sun, without even a tent to cover my defenseless head, and a knapsack improvised as a pillow. When quinine was available it was administered in its crude form,—the era of capsules and gilded pills was not yet,—and I eat it as a child devours molasses candy, despite its inexpressible bitterness, which will linger with me till the last syllable of recorded time. Then I was conveyed to Petersburg, where infinite kindness and excellent nursing gradually restored me to my wonted vigor and I was off to the wars again. During my illness at Yorktown I was watched over with the utmost care and tenderness by my grandmother's coachman, William, who had accompanied my uncle into the field. At a time when race relations are strained to the sorest tension, it is with more than ordinary pleasure that I record the unfailing fidelity and affection of an olden-time family servant, born and bred upon a Carolina plantation, a typical product of slavery as it existed under the ancient dispensation. This same William captured five Yankees at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. He survived the war for many years, and died amid his old associations at Fayetteville, N.C, with the absolute confidence and regard of all classes and of both races.
My first year in the service, as I have stated, was entirely occupied with the training or drilling of raw recruits, and I was transferred from command to command as occasion required. In April, 1862, when I was hardly eighteen years of age, I was elected a lieutenant of infantry in the Forty-third North Carolina Regiment, then stationed at Camp Mangum, near Raleigh, and commanded by Col. Thomas S. Keenan, an accomplished gentleman and soldier, associated with the purest and highest ideals of the old South. With this command my fortunes were linked so long as I remained in the service of the Confederacy. It was with the Forty-third that I received my “baptism of fire,” as McClellan was confronting the Confederate capital, and Lee had assumed the direction of the army, after the disabling of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at Seven Pines, May 31. To be exact, it was between June 25 and July 1, 1862. I saw no more of my old friend and instructor, Gen. D. H. Hill, except during the early months of 1863, when I engaged in the campaign against Washington, N.C. My brigadier-general was Junius Daniel of North Carolina, a graduate of West Point, and a capable, efficient officer. He was killed at Spottsylvania C. H. May, 1864. In parting from D. H. Hill I felt, youth as I was, that I had lost sight of the most striking personality whose name is linked with the history of the Army of Northern Virginia, except Lee and Stonewall Jackson. My record, such as it is, was that of a mere lad fresh from academic life, who had cast away Homer, Livy, and Shakespeare in the assured hope of renewing his collegiate routine with the advent of the September session. By that time we doubted not that the war cloud would have passed over us; and the conflict did not to our finite vision assume graver of austerer outline than a vacation episode, or an interlude which might vary the monotony of our long summer holiday, stretching as it did from June to the autumnal equinox. The strange scenes and moving incidents that I encountered as the war drama broadened from more to more, and especially the singular fortune by which when a prisoner I received the kindly offices of one who had been President of the United States, will appear at a later stage in the natural evolution of my story.
The month of June, 1862, found me with my command on the banks of James River, not far from Drewry's Bluff. The fever and ague had reduced me almost to ghostly dimensions, for it had racked me at intervals for months and at various points from Yorktown to Wilmington as I was despatched from one camp of instruction to another, engaged in the training of recruits. Though a mere outline of my normal self, I rose from my bunk and joined the Forty-third as soon as it was understood that the struggle for the Confederate capital was at hand and the lines were closing in for the long agony of the week of battle.
It was in front of Richmond, June, 1862, that Lee assumed command of the army which he led to almost unbroken victory for a period of nearly three years; it was there and then that the fame and fortunes of leader and troops were linked into that marvelous harmony which has echoed round the world, plucking at times hope from despair and triumph from the very bosom of disaster; crushing the aspirations of a long series of Federal commanders, and sinking under the process of attrition which in the final result broke the physical power of resistance without in the smallest degree touching the strong heroic soul. Before the beginning of the Seven Days' conflict the soldiers of the South knew little of Lee and had not divined his greatness. He had held no conspicuous command, such as brought him into contact with the great heart of the army. Then, too, his campaign in West Virginia had been in a degree marred by misfortune—the outcome of conditions for which he was in no sense accountable. In a day all this is changed. Never was transformation more sudden or more complete. The heart of the army was won at a blow—the magnetic charm, as well as the resistless genius of its new chief, swept all before it. Then followed that marvelous record, the second Bull Run; the repulse of McClellan at Sharpsburg; Fredericksburg, and the phenomenal radiance that crowns the memory of Chancellorsville, where the Gustavus Adolphus of our Southern story went down like his great prototype, in the splendor of his most wonderful achievement.
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head.
Nor were the campaigns of 1864 less marked by strategic power, faculty of divination, and heroic resistance than those of preceding years. Those whose narrow historic vision regards the fate of the Confederacy as having been virtually determined by the repulse of Lee at Gettysburg can find no confirmation nor consolation in the story of Spottsylvania C. H., nor in the overwhelming defeat of Grant at Cold Harbor, May 12 and June 3, 1864. The star of the Confederacy never soared to a higher point than at Cold Harbor, less than a year preceding the final overthrow of Lee at Appomattox. In order to estimate justly and intelligently the genius of a great master of the science of war, some critical acquaintance with the character and the history of the antagonists who confronted him is essential. For in generalship as in other spheres of achievement, men are great or small, successful or unfortunate as viewed in the light of a relative or comparative standard. The Federal commander with whom Lee was brought into conflict during the seven days at Richmond, and later at Sharpsburg, was Gen. George B. McClellan. I look upon McClellan as the foremost general developed on the Federal side, at least during their campaigns in Virginia. I may add that he approached more nearly to the Southern conception of a gentleman than any commander brought into the field by the North during the entire progress of the civil war. When contrasted with the malignity of Butler, the vulgar arrogance and relentless brutality of Sherman, or the wanton and demoniacal cruelty of Hunter, this foremost type of Federal generalship stands out in a most attractive light, worthy not only of admiration but of genuine regard on the part of those who withstood him at the gates of Richmond in June, 1862, as well as in the long day of dubious strife at Sharpsburg in September of this same crowded year. I came face to face with General McClellan in Baltimore in 1876, and heard him discuss with several well-known Confederates the different stages of his campaign before Richmond in June, 1862. The general who created the Army of the Potomac was not a mere theorist in the art of war. That he had devoted himself to the mastery of his profession from a scientific point of view is well understood. In addition to his training at West Point, he had explored the centers of war in European lands during the Crimean campaigns of 1854–5. When the exigency arose, he well knew how to translate his theories into practice, his visions of strategy into facts. No one of the Federal commanders pitted against Lee understood more thoroughly how and when to take occasion by the hand. The issue was now fairly before us. McClellan's army could descry the towers and spires of Richmond, and on June 25, at Mechanicsville, the long week of unrelenting struggle for the mastery of the Confederate capital was begun and fought to its final phase on the evening of the first of July, when McClellan, repelling all our assaults upon his position at Malvern Hill, withdrew under the shadow of night, to Harrison's Landing on the James River, and Richmond was for a season delivered from imminent peril. There was a happy interlude as the prolonged tension, the ceaseless unrest was for a time thrown off, and the seat of war was transferred to Northern Virginia. McClellan's famous despatch in regard to his so called “change of base” passed into a proverb, and was travestied and parodied in poetry and song. We perhaps failed to appreciate how near he had come to the attainment of his end, how narrowly Richmond had escaped. With a force immensely in advance of Lee's in numerical strength, equipped with every appliance that military art had then originated, and inspired by an unfaltering trust in the genius of its leader, he was driven from point to point through dense morasses and almost primeval forests until his final and crowning effort on that July evening at Malvern Hill with its carnival of blood. The supreme intuition of Jackson alone, who had joined us June 26, with all the halo of his campaign in the Valley resting upon him, seems to have divined that McClellan's strenuous resistance at Malvern Hill was designed merely to hold us in check until he made good his retreat: it was “the tawny lion struggling to get free,” and extricate himself he did, to our intense chagrin and disappointment. Dr. B. L. Dabney, one of the best known members of the Presbyterian Church in the South, and at the time referred to associated with Jackson's staff in the capacity of chaplain, narrates an incident which illustrates how vividly Jackson realized what modern writers term the “psychological moment” in the progress of an engagement. During the fury of the struggle at Malvern Hill, Jackson was roused with great difficulty from a heavy slumber, and informed of the situation. Those around him were apprehensive as to the result, for attack after attack on our part had been repulsed with severe loss. Jackson, upon recovering his consciousness, merely said, “McClellan is only fighting to get away. In the morning he will be gone.” He immediately resumed his nap, and Dr. Dabney adds that upon hearing his opinion he at once followed his example. When the morning light dawned upon this scene of blood, every trace of the enemy had disappeared. So completely was Jackson's foresight borne out by the sequel, that I learned from one in a position which enables him to speak with confidence, that all night long the rumble and roar of the Federal wagon-trains passing to the rear mingled with the clamor of the battle. It was during the course of operations at Malvern Hill that I had my first experience with the vaunted “gun-boats” which from their secure retreat in the James River protected the flank of the Union army. Only a few weeks before, they had met with signal disaster inflicted by our batteries at Drewry's Bluff, about seven miles below Richmond. Their enormous shells came shrilling and shrieking across the fields rich in wheat ripe for the harvest, but they caused no injury whatever—not a man in our brigade was struck. A company of ladies whose Virginia home sloped toward the river were almost frantic with terror as the shot curved over them in their parabolic flight. Thank Heaven, they escaped only with a momentary panic. The experiences of the fast-coming seasons impressed them with the ghastly truth that the war on the part of the Federal Government, was not waged against men in arms alone, but against defenseless women, lisping infants, children with stammering lips, the aged and the helpless—aye, upon the grave and the sepulchre itself. The shot from the gunboats buried themselves in the earth and perhaps have been long since brought to light by the peaceful plough, and laid to rest in some historic museum. The seven days had passed—McClellan was gone—Richmond for the time was safe. The result had forever assured Lee's fame as a general—commander and army understood each other, and in this instance confidence was not a plant of slow growth. I recall the moral effect of our victory over McClellan. It was hardly won, and at Malvern Hill it seemed almost plucked from the heart of despair.
Our wisest generals had the highest appreciation of McClellan's power and the sway he exercised over the spirit of his army. My old teacher, D. H. Hill, said of him early in the campaign of 1862, “He's a dangerous man for us.” He was still a wand to conjure with at Gettysburg, for the impression was in some way disseminated throughout the Union army that he had returned to the command of which he had been relieved after the campaign of Sharpsburg during the preceding autumn. His name was greeted with acclaim by the men he had led, but he was far away and was seen no more on battle plain.
Some of those I loved most strongly went down in the seven days before Richmond. My teacher at Charlotte, Col. Charles C. Lee, Thirty-seventh North Carolina, fell at Fraser's Farm, June 30. When asked as he was struck, “Are you much hurt?” he replied, “Yes,” and immediately fell asleep. I saw his body laid upon a wagon and borne from the field, the head shrouded in a soldier's cloak, and I thought of Headley Vickers of the Ninety-seventh British Regiment, wounded unto death, and passing into the presence of God with this request, “Cover my face, cover my face.” Lee had more than one trait of character in common with Vickers. The two have no doubt formed a congenial fellowship. It was said that Colonel Lee's commission as brigadier-general had been issued a day or two preceding his death, but it never came into his hands.
So passed his strong heroic soul away.
McClellan's stroke at Malvern Hill, by means of which he held in check all our determined advances and effected his escape under the shadow of the friendly darkness, demonstrated beyond cavil his capacity as a strategist. Only the inspired vision of Jackson penetrated his design and knew that the struggle was for self-preservation alone. Still his plans were foiled, Richmond was delivered from a state of siege, and Lee, who a month before was scarcely more than the echo of a famous name, had burst out into the full splendor of soldierly renown. It was one of the great transformations of history—a sovereign achievement in the long records of modern war. That the odds were immensely against us during the progress of the seven days, as in every one of the notable campaigns of Lee in Virginia, is a truth which only blind and implacable partisanship, or ignorance so dense as to defy conviction, can for a moment hesitate to accept. We did not ourselves appreciate the enormous disparity of material resources that marked us from our antagonist. It ran through every phase and pervaded every detail of the service. There was more truth than fiction in the comment of a Pennsylvania lady to one of our troops, “Why, our privates dress finer than your major-generals.” Those only who saw behind the scenes, who had inner views of the situation, could form an accurate or definite impression of the desperate character of the conflict we were waging.
At Gettysburg, July 3, I was severely wounded by a Minie ball, and upon the retreat of our army toward Hagerstown I fell into the hands of Kilpatrick's cavalry. With the rest of my party I was conveyed across the country to the hospital at Frederick, and passed through a large part of the Union forces, studied their equipment, the perfection of detail that marked every feature, the care bestowed upon health and physical well-being, and, above all, the enormous mass, the immense strength that set them in so sharp contrast with our thin gray lines of ragged, barefooted, and ofttimes half-starving men. In the retrospect of forty years, and after a critical study of the records of great wars in European lands, I am more than ever impressed with the conviction that the achievements of Lee as commander of our army in Virginia from June, 1862, till April, 1865, are without parallel in the chronicles of modern life. In no other of the great world struggles have cause and chief been so absolutely one. To the consciousness of the common soldier, the man in the trenches, or the “private in the rear rank,” the right and truth of the issue centered in Lee alone. No subtle point of constitutional law, no fine drawn speculation of logic disturbed his mental serenity. For him Lee was the end of the argument. “Marse Robert's” cause was his; it was just because he was its leader and champion. Never in the history of the race has the action of perfect faith in the purity and wisdom of a single man been more impressively illustrated than in the bond which linked Lee to his army during the three years of its brilliant and incomparable life. That it formed a surpassing moral power requires no demonstration. And yet this childlike trust in the leader whom they adored was not tainted by the slightest trace of even unconscious blasphemy such as marked the words of one of Sherman's vandals who, when the name of Christ was mentioned in his presence, replied, “I'll bet he ain't half so great a man as old Bill Sherman.”
The campaign of Second Bull Run was soon on foot, and by a series of brilliant strokes Jackson sent the vain-glorious and arrogant braggart Pope reeling back upon Washington. Not in all time has the leader of an organized army in the course of presumably civilized war dropped into such instantaneous and irreclaimable infamy as Pope after the crushing blows administered by Lee and Jackson during the month of August, 1862. In this instance the mills of the gods ground not slowly, and the ingredients of Pope's poisoned chalice were soon commended to his own lips. The brutal desolator, the man in armor who struck down the helpless and the homeless, sunk at one descent into an infinite abyss of moral debasement, scorned by his allies, loathed by his foes, like that company of fallen angels created by the genius of Dante, which Heaven cast out and the infernal world refuses to accept. With the annihilation of Pope all seemed auspicious for the Confederacy. We were radiant with hope. McClellan, however, was moving up from James River to the front by way of Washington, and Sharpsburg was near at hand. In Washington a state of demoralization, approaching almost to the height of panic, was the effect of Pope's overwhelming defeat. His broken legions poured into the capital; his army seemed to disappear from the eyes of men; I was never able to ascertain their fate. They were apparently absorbed by McClellan, but their identity was utterly lost. Pope himself, like Cromwell's Lucifer, fell never to hope again.
The Army of Northern Virginia now passed the Potomac and the first Maryland campaign was fully initiated. The army concentrating upon Frederick, environed by its mountain ranges and “green walled by the hills of Maryland,” was soon despatched upon its several missions—Jackson across the Potomac to invest and capture Harper's Ferry, D. H. Hill and Longstreet to occupy South Mountain pass at Boonsboro, and Crampton Gap, so as to exclude the possibility of relief to the Federal garrison while Jackson was completing his brilliant achievement. Harper's Ferry fell into his grasp and eleven thousand Union soldiers laid down their arms near the historic spot at which, almost exactly three years preceding, John Brown descended upon Maryland and Virginia, with murderous intent, equipped with diabolic weapons to be turned upon the women and children of the States whose borders he had desecrated by his unhallowed and ruthless assault. Harper's Ferry was won; the “soul” of John Brown had evidently “marched by”—but Jackson escaped as by fire. In a preceding chapter I referred to the deplorable accident by which the order containing all Lee's instructions to his generals was lost by one of the staff of D. H. Hill and came into the hands of a Federal spy, who at once conveyed it to McClellan. Then his immense army instantaneously fell upon Hill and Longstreet, whose desperate resistance held him at bay until Jackson's mission was assured and the garrison was in his hands. Had McClellan been two days in advance of his actual movement against Hill and Longstreet, our plans might have been thwarted in every detail. As it was, our escape verged upon the miraculous. The very genius of auspicious fate seemed to hover over the destiny of Stonewall Jackson. And now the detached commands of the army concentrated upon Sharpsburg, McClellan's line resting upon Antietam Creek. There on the soil of Maryland, September 17, 1862, was achieved the bloodiest record of a single day in the annals of our national conflict. Lee's thin line of 35,000 men held in check all the assaults of McClellan with a force not less than 90,000, repelling attack after attack upon his exhausted and impoverished front, retiring leisurely and without molestation into Virginia some days after the slopes and valleys of western Maryland had relapsed to their normal rest. It was upon the field of Sharpsburg that General Lee encountered his son, Robert, of the Rockbridge Artillery, all begrimed with battle smoke, and did not recognize him. There, too, Lee spoke of Longstreet as “the old war horse”—the Massena of Northern Virginia.
At Oakland in western Maryland, some four-score miles from the dreaming hamlet of Sharpsburg, Dr. John Williamson Palmer, of Baltimore, a very Ulysses in the changeful fortunes that have crowned his versatile genius, noted the progress of the dubious grapple, and as the long autumnal struggle approached its crisis, 'mid the thunder of the captains and the shouting, his lips were touched with a living flame from off the Muses' altar, the strains of “Stonewall Jackson's Way” leaped to life, and passing from land to sea, circled the globe with its thrilling music. Its hero, in the mean time, with the luster of his recent achievement resting over him like a halo, watched the ebb and flow of the bloody tide, crunching a sour apple, his leg thrown carelessly across his saddle. A few days before, during the siege of Harper's Ferry, as the elephantine host of McClellan was bearing down upon the defiles of South Mountain, and the fate of our army trembled in the balance, a woman of lowly rank, wife of a humble laborer, brought her babe in arms to Jackson and asked for his blessing. So he laid his hand on the head of the child and invoked for it the special guidance of God.
No army that the world has seen could have excelled the fight made by Lee's reduced and attenuated host at Sharpsburg. The condition of the men was deplorable, not as to physical exhaustion alone, but lack of equipment—above all, lack of shoes. The suffering from this one cause can never be appreciated save by those who have traversed rugged mountain roads on prolonged marches with bare and bleeding feet, uncheered by even a hope of relief. In spite of all the adverse conditions, the colossal odds of three to one, Lee had repelled McClellan and retired in safety to his stronghold in Virginia. His return to Virginia at least restored the confidence of the North—its moral effect was great. With all that can be said, however, the balance of advantage lay with us at the close of the first Maryland campaign. We had annihilated Pope, captured Harper's Ferry, and repulsed McClellan with a force three times greater than our own. Had Pope, Burnside, or Hooker led the Union armies during this critical period their names would have been heard no more on battle-plain. It was the spirit of McClellan that evolved some approach to stability and consistence out of the moral and strategic chaos wrought by the hero who “had seen nothing but the backs of his enemies.” As a mark of grateful appreciation, McClellan was relieved of his command at Warrenton, Va., several weeks after the battle of Sharpsburg. Doubtless, the Shakespearean scholars of the army echoed the note of Francisco in Hamlet, “For this relief, much thanks.” McClellan's record as a soldier was complete. Then followed the episode at Fredericksburg on that calm and beautiful Sabbath morning, December 13, 1862, and the mastery of the situation was once more in our hands. It was upon the occasion of the Federal disaster at Fredericksburg that Mr. Lincoln remarked that whatever might be the issue of the war, he was confident that he would never survive it. Perhaps an unconscious prophecy it may have been—
The spiritual presentiment,
And such refraction of events,
As often rises, ere they rise.
On part of the field the Union dead lay three deep. So fearful was the slaughter that our men at certain points on the line cried out to the advancing Federal forces, “Go back; we don't want to kill you all!” Still they pressed forward in the face of despair, and they fell in the unshrinking station where they fought. In six months Lee had effaced Pope, checked McClellan, and crushed Burnside—June 25 to December 13, 1862.
We pass next to the story of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, then to the titanic grapple of 1864–65—its initial stages in the Wilderness—and its climax at Appomattox. Through every phase of the action Lee seemed to move from high to higher. He was the pillar of the people's hope. Never in the history of revolutions has the fate of a great cause been more completely linked with the fortunes of an individual leader. When Lee surrendered there were other armies in the field still unvanquished and formidable. No one failed to foresee the inevitable issue when Lee's star went down. The end was nigh and the hopes, ideals, aspirations of the South which Washington had created forever faded into eclipse as Lee's standards were furled at Appomattox.
Chancellorsville is as historic as Waterloo or Blenheim. Every school boy knows that at Chancellorsville Jackson received the wound which, blended with pneumonia, carried him to his grave at Lexington in the Valley of Virginia. The bodeful shot is said to have been fired by Lane's North Carolina brigade; the truth will never be revealed. Let us rather be grateful for the cloud of mystery which broods over the darksome tragedy. When I meditate calmly over the achievements of Chancellorsville I confess that I almost lose equilibrium—there is a sort of mental vertigo induced when I recall what was undertaken by Lee and Jackson and what was actually accomplished, despite the fall of its hero in the crowning moment of supreme success. First of all, the immense disparity of forces; for Longstreet's corps was at Suffolk, and took no part whatever in the two days' struggle, May 2 and 3, 1863. The army of Hooker, who had succeeded Burnside, was in his own phraseology “the finest on this planet,” and numbered according to Federal estimates, 130,000 men. To this enormous force Lee could oppose not more than 50,000 at the utmost, including every branch of the service. The grandiloquent language of Hooker has passed into a proverb—the disaster at Fredericksburg was to be retrieved, Jackson was in full retreat upon Gordonsville, the way to Richmond was open to the armies of the Union. The North was elated beyond measure, a speedy conclusion of hostilities was expected, terms of peace with the vanquished “rebels” were in contemplation and were seriously discussed by the Northern press.
When looked at with the ordinary human eye, the situation seemed fully to justify this outburst of exultant confidence. Lee, with probably one-third of his army more than a hundred miles away, confronts an army nearly three times as great as his own, equipped with the utmost perfection of detail, and stimulated by the all-prevailing prophecy of resistless and overwhelming success. Yet it was just in the heart of this critical exigency that the genius of Lee and Jackson rose to a height never excelled in the chronicles of war. The very audacity of the movement causes a thrill of terror as one soberly reflects upon the fearful issues involved in its execution. The slightest deflection might cause a hopeless miscarriage. The fate of an army and a nation hung upon the result. Early's command having been left at Fredericksburg, to hold Sedgwick in check, Jackson began that immortal march through the forest with the purpose of turning Hooker's flank at Chancellorsville some ten or twelve miles away on the Rappahannock River; for Chancellorsville, not Fredericksburg, was the real point of attack. The movement of Sedgwick was merely a feint or demonstration, designed to conceal the intentions of the Federal commander. The whole world knows the marvelous success that crowned the brilliant but most perilous scheme; how Jackson fell on Hooker's unsuspecting host, in careless security, guns stacked, supper preparing—fully assured that he was far away in retreat. The seeming rashness, the almost fatal hazard involved in the plan was an assurance of its success; it cut, as it were, Lee's army in two—leaving an undefended interval of ten miles or more between the forces under Early at Fredericksburg, and the heroic band under Jackson which emerged from the solitude of the Wilderness on the evening of May 2 and crushed the flank of Hooker's immense and unguarded army.
The world rang from side to side with acclaim as the feat of Lee and Jackson spread beyond the seas; for the oceanic cable which has overleaped time and space was then in the future. The foremost critics, bred in the schools of European war, made the Chancellorsville campaign a theme of critical investigation. Germany was represented by such masters as Borcke and Scheibert, and an English staff officer of eminence and renown, Lieut.-Col. Henderson, has added to the literature of the language a biography of Jackson which will attain to the rank of a military classic.
It is no touch of overwrought enthusiasm to pronounce it, in view of all the conditions, especially the overwhelming disparity of force, and the sublime audacity which marked Jackson's stroke on May 2, the most extraordinary achievement of modern war. Let those who cavil or dissent produce its parallel in all the campaigns of the sovereign masters, from Gustavus Adolphus to the era of Napoleon, Wellington, or Molkte. No marvel that Hooker never dreamed that Jackson would precipitate himself upon seemingly inevitable disaster. His inspired daring was the source of his power, the spring of his emprise. He undertook what no one save Lee would have imagined, and no general of contemporary times but himself would have dared to carry into execution. Our two peerless chiefs of the science of war were as richly endowed in their sphere with creative and versatile power, as Dante in poetry, or Michael Angelo in the ranges of the art which discerns the angel's features in the crude and shapeless marble.
Much has been written in regard to the life and death of Jackson, but years do not wither the theme, or stale its infinite variety. His last command on the field, addressed to that brilliant and accomplished soldier, Gen. W. D. Pender, of North Carolina, has always seemed to me like a special admonition, if not an unconscious prophecy, designed for the people of the South. “General Pender, you must hold your ground; you must hold your ground!” Two months later Pender himself fell in the forefront of the battle at Gettysburg. It was of him that General Lee said on that critical occasion, “If Pender had remained in the saddle half an hour longer we should have carried the day.”
Among all the inspired masters of the art of war, the nearest parallel to the hero of Chancellorsville may be found, it seems to me, in the life and campaigns of Gustavus Adolphus. The great Swedish chieftain and our own Stonewall reveal essential points of likeness in every phase of their character, and in nearly every stage of their crowded, glorious careers. The period of military achievement in each—I refer to their matured achievements, not the preliminary training of early days—extends over a limit of about two years, that of Gustavus Adolphus from 1630–32, that of Jackson from 1861–63. Both died at nearly the same age—Gustavus at 38, Jackson at 39. Each fell in the hour of victory—Gustavus at Lutzen, 1632; Jackson at Chancellorsville, 1863. Each was distinguished by religious fervor and consecration. Each was a “God-inspired general”—original, creative, free from empirical routine or the tyranny of military tradition—developing in his life and achievements a new era in the history of modern war. Such was the great star who had passed from us in the mere morning of his glory. Jackson at 39 had not begun to reach the fulness of the days. Had he attained unto the rich measure of his strength and adhered to the vocation of war, Chancellorsville would have been accounted a mere prologue to the imperial themes that crowned his riper fate.
And now we pass to Gettysburg—the first of our great encounters with the enemy after Jackson's death. Jackson died on May 10, 1863. The battle of Gettysburg was begun July 1, and lasted until the evening of the 3d. About the first of June, 1863, our army began to move by degrees from its winter home in the country around Fredericksburg. My own division, Rodes's, left Hamilton's Crossing on the 3d of the month, and advanced by way of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania Court House toward Orange Court House, thence to Culpeper, which we reached, I think, on the 7th. We now formed part of Ewell's corps, Ewell, who had been disabled by wounds received at Second Bull Run, having been promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel upon the death of General Jackson. The first familiar figure that met my eye as we entered Culpeper was that of Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, in full uniform, and looking as gay and happy as if no shadow of a war cloud ever rested upon his shining morning face. He was one of the foremost knights of a knightly circle, and all the glory of battle seemed to radiate from his countenance as our line passed the lawn on that fair June day where he rested with his staff, and leaving him behind, moved in the direction of Brandy Station, some seven miles beyond Culpeper, in the direction of Washington. Two days later, June 9, there occurred at this point one of the most notable cavalry encounters of the war, and our division formed the infantry support of Stuart during the progress of the long and desperately contested strife. “Our friends across the river” from Fredericksburg soon became aware that we had disappeared from their front, and the collision at Brandy Station was the result of their determination to find out where we were going and what we were doing.
It was on the sloping hill which overlooks Brandy Station that the home of John Minor Botts stood, and our line of battle ran directly through the garden adjoining the house. Mr. Botts was a Unionist of the straitest sect; he stoutly withstood the secession of the State, and when General Grant was in command at Culpeper preparatory to the campaign of 1864, he and his staff were received and entertained at his own fireside by this recreant and apostate son of Virginia. In order to form our line of battle it was necessary to pull down Mr. Botts's fence, and down it came in an instant to the level of the earth. Mr. Botts, from his front steps, delivered an address in which all the maledictions contained in the 109th Psalm were invoked upon us—in short, he exhausted the vocabulary of epithets; but we made no reply, for Lee's army, even under the intensest provocation, was never guilty of violence or indignity to women or children, or even unarmed and defenseless men. A group of young ladies congregated on the front porch and watched our movements while Mr. Botts delivered his rapt oration flowing free. One of the party I met at Culpeper several summers ago, a mature matron surrounded by children older than she was on that historic morn in June, 1863, when Mr. Botts anathematized the Army of Northern Virginia.
We moved from Culpeper into the Valley, Early and Rodes swooping down upon Milroy's forces at Winchester and Berry ville, the great vandal barely escaping to find refuge within the lines of Harper's Ferry. His garrison at Winchester fell into our hands, that at Berryville eluded us by dint of speed alone, and we pursued them for ten miles down the Valley pike. So narrow was their escape that we captured their dinners just hot and ready to be eaten. I secured a Life of Napoleon from the officers' quarters, my single achievement in the art of plundering during all my experience as a soldier. Soon the Potomac rose before us—we were in Maryland—Hagerstown—then we were on the soil of the enemy. Shippensburg, Chambersburg, Carlisle, all rise to memory, and on the morning of July, as we were resting leisurely by the roadside, the distant rumble and roar of artillery fell upon the ear. We at once moved rapidly to the front—I did not even have time to finish eating my apple-butter—and in two hours the battle of Gettysburg in its first day's stage, as fought by the commands of A. P. Hill and Ewell, was fairly begun.
A library of controversy has gathered around the story of Gettysburg—why we did not win it; who was to blame for our failure; why the success of the first day was not immediately followed up to its final and assured result. My own explanation is simple—it has been made before and is not designed to be absolute or dogmatic. First of all, the failure of our cavalry to keep General Lee advised as to the movements of the enemy was a grave and nearly fatal error. It was said at the time that Mr. Stanton had sent out a wagon train from Washington to attract Stuart's attention and divert him from his immediate object—keeping pace with the movements of the enemy. Stuart, it was understood, fell into the trap, for the train was a mere decoy, and when secured was of no value to the army.
GENERAL W. H. F. LEE, SON OF GENERAL LEE
The two opposing forces, neither aware of the other's position, fell upon each other at Gettysburg rather as the outcome of accident than of intention. Yet, despite the formidable drawback involved in our ignorance of the enemy's whereabouts, the first day's encounter was a brilliant and assured success for the Army of Northern Virginia in the heart of the enemy's territory. The second and the irretrievable cause of our disaster was our failure to follow up the results of our victory of July 1, take possession of the heights that overlook and command Gettysburg, and from these impregnable points, Round Top and Cemetery Hill, keep at bay the hosts of the universe if they should be brought to bear against us. By some strange fatuity it was decided to delay until Longstreet's corps should come up before renewing the attack. When Longstreet arrived the grand opportunity had nearly slipped from our hands. Before he went into action it was gone and the battle of Gettysburg was forever lost to the cause of the Confederacy. This is the conclusion of the whole matter. We failed to take occasion by the hand, and victory was lost to us even when it had been already written on our banners. Col. H. Kyd Douglas, of Jackson's staff, remarked just before his own death, “We lost the battle of Gettysburg because General Lee needed a reminder that Stonewall Jackson was dead.” There is no doubt that had Jackson been at Gettysburg he would have pressed on and captured the heights on the first day. We seemed to overlook the vital fact that while we tarried for Longstreet, Meade's army was pouring into Gettysburg; that during the evening of July 1, train after train of wagons was rushing forward, and that when day came the slopes and hills would be covered with works which no army could assail with an assured hope of success. During the summer night 100,000 Union soldiers were felling trees, erecting defenses, the sound of the ax rang in our ears as we lay serenely under the grim shadows of the rising barriers which we were to storm with the coming day. With the approach of the early dawn I saw the long blue lines ranged upon Cemetery Hill, the stars and stripes flaunting in the air, and thought of the assault impending in which the living closed in mortal grapple over the resting-places of the dead. Such are the strange ironies that mark the fortunes of war. The golden moment had passed, and our hope of an easy victory had gone with it.
The engagement of July 1 was one of the most brilliant successes ever won by our army in the open field. We drove the front of Meade's army before us in superb fashion over Seminary Hill back to those frowning and almost inaccessible heights which nature herself had created as a barrier, and had provided as a strong tower and rock of defense for the retreating hosts of the Union. I recall the encounter in the railway cut—the historic “Tape Worm” constructed by Thaddeus Stevens, malignant and implacable in his attitude and utterances toward the people of the South. The blue and the gray almost fell into each other's arms, blending into a common mass, distinguishable only by their dress, and the stars and bars which flouted the hostile air in the face of the national standard.
And now that our irretrievable delay had lost for us the rich fruits of the first day's victory, there was no alternative except to assail by direct attack the position of the enemy upon the Round Top mountain, Cemetery Hill, and Culp's Hill, all occupied by Meade's army, and, in addition to their great natural strength, fortified not only by entrenchments, but by heavy boles of trees cut during that ill-starred July night from the forests that crowned with their dense growth the crests and slopes of Culp's Hill. Three times since the close of the civil war I have explored the field of Gettysburg, studying minutely the principal points occupied by each of the confronting force. My impression was one of amazement that the army of Lee was not annihilated during the two final days, July 2 and 3, and above all that any general the world has known would assail an enemy so perfectly protected by all the resources of lavish nature, as was the army of Meade. The assaults on Cemetery Hill, the engagement at Culp's Hill, the charge of Pickett and Pettigrew across the open fields for a distance of a mile, in the July sun, the attack on the Round Top, rank among the prodigies of human valor. At these points, as the command rang out over the broad and unshielded plain, “Right shoulder, shift arms! Forward, march!” not a man flinched or faltered, though each well knew that he advanced into the very jaws of death.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made,
All the world wondered.
I can convey no adequate impression of the long-drawn agony of the three days' strife. The artillery on each side had acquired a deadly precision of aim—a poor fellow in my company was struck fairly in the head by a solid shell and died without a groan; a young officer was shot in the throat by grape, and with the single exclamation “O Lord!” fell dead in the line. As the evening stole gently on, despite the saturnalia of blood, the scenic effect of the artillery fire was so lurid and brilliant as to set at naught all power of description. I have looked upon the pyrotechnic displays of Florence, Geneva, and Venice on grand festal days, when the artistic genius of the Romance races was called into play to create the most fascinating spectacular result, but all these “pale their uneffectual fires” when compared with the glory that crowned the crests and slopes of Gettysburg on the evening of July 2, 1863.
Among the strangest incidents of the fight was an encounter with a Union officer, Lieut.-Col. Callis of the “Black Hat” Wisconsin Brigade, famed in the annals of the Army of the Potomac. He was born in my native town, Fayetteville, N.C, and when a mere child, had removed with his parents to the distant West, had grown up amid Northern associations, and at the beginning of the war had entered the service of the Union. During the progress of the first day's engagement he was shot in the lungs, and upon the retreat of his command was left a wounded prisoner in our hands. He incidentally learned that he had been captured by a North Carolina regiment, and revealed the place of his birth to me, a native of the same quaint town on the Cape Fear River. I ministered to his necessities as far as was possible, and reported the case to my regimental commander, Col. Thos. S. Keenan, who had him removed to a place beyond the range of his own artillery. I remember that he presented Colonel Keenan with his spurs. When Lee retired from Gettysburg our friend from Wisconsin was in the hands of his own people. He lived for many years after the war, became prominent in politics, was elected to Congress, and died in 1897, carrying the “Tar Heel” bullet to the grave with him.
Our losses during the three days of relentless strife will never be ascertained with more than approximate accuracy. They at least exceeded from all causes 20,000, and may have reached 25,000. The country around Gettysburg was strewn with improvised hospitals, barns, and granaries transformed into resting places for the wounded; and the hills and valleys were dotted with shallow and hastily made graves, many of which, desolated by storm and tempest, as well as the unimaginable touch of time, relapsed into native earth, their tenants mingling not even with the unknown and unrecorded dead. Our best and bravest fell freely; the flower of our chivalry was there in the forefront of the battle. The roll of our slain is appalling to contemplate.
O proud death, what feast was toward in thine eternal cell.
That thou so many princes at a shot so bloodily hast struck.
In the morning of July 3 I was wounded in front of the Union lines on Culp's Hill, as my brigade was supporting the division of Gen. Edward Johnson. The air turned green, and I was seized with a fearful vertigo, for my wound bled copiously and I was almost at the point of unconsciousness from mere physical exhaustion. A member of my command, a sturdy countryman, gathered me up in his arms as if I had been an infant, and carried me in the face of a galling fire across Rock Creek to a neighboring barn which had been converted to the uses of a hospital. Twice I had an almost miraculous escape from shell which fell at my feet, but buried themselves in the kindly earth without exploding. My wound was dressed, and I was removed to our general hospital beyond the range of artillery. The hospital steward restored me to life with a cup of hot coffee. I had scarcely tasted food for three days, except a fragment of petrified hard tack and a bunch of cherries plucked on the morning of the first day's encounter. In front of the tent where I lay there was revealed the gruesome sight of a heap of amputated limbs, neatly arranged, and I suppose awaiting burial. From sheer exhaustion I fell asleep as evening descended on this field of blood, and with the dawn I was in the ambulance train, moving with Lee's army as he began his retreat toward the Potomac.
Our train was intercepted in the mountain passes by the cavalry of Kilpatrick and I was conveyed with several of my regiment to the Federal hospital at Frederick; and afterward to Baltimore. In three months I had regained my vigor, despite the treatment of at least one of the surgeons, for the science of antiseptics was then only in its germinal stage. A dreary imprisonment followed, and at last I was in the South again as Grant's colossal forces were engirdling Richmond and Petersburg.
The battle of Gettysburg left both armies in a state of exhaustion. The Union forces had probably received severer injury than they had inflicted, and the question of retreating before Lee was discussed in council by Meade and his generals. That we retired into Virginia without serious molestation is the significant comment upon the situation. The spirit of the army was unbroken, its trust in the great leader untouched by this reverse in the heart of the enemy's country. With the exception of the movement at Mine Run, military operations remained almost in a state of suspended animation from the close of the Pennsylvania campaign until the advent of that colossal grapple which, beginning in the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, reached its climax on April 9, 1865. Each antagonist required an interlude of rest, a season of recovery, and each was girding for the impending struggle, a struggle which was to prove the final one, and so far as it involved the Army of Northern Virginia, and the genius of its commander, the most marvelous in its eventful history.
It is the greatest of errors to assume that the battle of Gettysburg virtually determined the fate of the Confederacy. Only the shallowest reasoning or the densest ignorance could accept so fallacious and erroneous a judgment. The nature of the campaign inaugurated by Grant in May, 1864, the enormous magnitude of the preparations made by the Federal Government, the suspension of the cartel for the exchange of prisoners, so that every Confederate prisoner might be retained indefinitely and kept from service in the field, all demonstrate beyond question that the enemy himself was aware that the cause of the Confederacy, so far from being hopeless after our disaster at Gettysburg, was thrilling with energy, and inspired by a most reasonable expectation of ultimate success. Assuredly the earlier stages of the campaign in every point justified this confidence, for never in the chronicles of war have more amazing results been achieved than by Lee's inferior force against the over-whelming array of Grant, at the Wilderness, May 5 and 6; Spottsylvania Court House, May 12, and Cold Harbor, June 3. Jackson had died a year before, Longstreet was disabled by wounds at the very outset of the campaign, Lee was the victim of disease, painful in character and prolonged in its attacks. Yet, despite all the adverse conditions, he did not wait to receive the shock, but sprang upon his massive antagonist in the mazes of the Wilderness.
The repulse of Grant at Spottsylvania, where eight lines of battle assailed our front, is another of the long series of heroic achievements of our army in Virginia. It was upon this fateful day that Hancock's vast surging mass of infantry broke through a certain point in our line and the situation for us was one of extreme peril. Lee's quick and discerning eye realized the danger, for the movement of Hancock was like the descent of an avalanche. At once Lee threw himself into the breach—he would lead our line, repulse the desperate wave of assault bearing all beneath it, and restore our dismantled front of battle. Then rose the simultaneous cry, “Lee to the rear! Lee to the rear!” The sovereign was compelled to submit to the dictates of his own subjects, and was almost literally carried to the rear. Then the shattered line was reformed, the elephantine attack of Hancock “the Superb” was repulsed, and the mastery of the field remained in our hands. Contrast this notable incident in the life of Lee with one that relates to the Duke of Wellington and that occurred on the field of Waterloo. Two of the auxiliary brigades had given way, leaving the English front at that point in imminent peril. If Napoleon had been quick to take advantage of the opportunity, the story of Waterloo might have been different. The Iron Duke, with his characteristic coolness, at once restored the line, the breach was closed and Waterloo was won. Lee threw his own life into the trembling issue. In his character there was no thought of self, no dream of stars and diadems, no inner vision of personal glory, not even the hollow wraith of dying fame arose to tempt his pure and unclouded spirit. It is a forceful commentary upon the fallibility of human judgment that on the day preceding the battle of Spottsylvania Court House, General Grant had reported to Federal headquarters at Washington that the “rebels were very shaky, and it required the utmost exertion on the part of their officers to keep them up to their duty.” And Cold Harbor was yet to come! Come it did on June 3, and in twenty minutes 8,000 Federal soldiers lay prostrate under the terrific fire of Lee's infantry. Never did an army encounter a more signal and disastrous repulse. In my judgment it is an error from every point of view save one to place Grant upon the roll of great commanders—Lee, Jackson, Napoleon, Wellington, Frederick, Marlborough, Gustavus. His tenacity was unsurpassed, his grasp was that of the relentless and overpowering animal that crushes his prey by the mere impact of brute force, and never relaxes until death is assured. Yet which one of all the higher elements of strategy did he ever reveal or bring into play during his campaign against Lee, from the initiative grapple on May 5 till the closing 9th of April? His judgments of his antagonist; his genius, versatility; his boundless resourcefulness, as well as the unshrinking spirit of the men that closed around him like a wall of steel, “one equal temper of heroic hearts,” were marked by an almost fatal lack of discernment or penetration—a limitation in itself sufficient to exclude him from the catalogue of the world's foremost masters of military achievement. The day preceding Spottsylvania he imagined that the “rebels” had lost heart and were kept to their duty only by the strenuous efforts of their leaders. His boast of “fighting it out on this line if it takes all the summer,” which has passed into a proverb, was completely reversed by the facts, and after Cold Harbor he crossed the James River, with the capture of Petersburg in view, every movement against Lee having been foiled with consummate skill, until his adversary, thwarted at all points, transformed his entire plan of campaign, and having lost by the process of “constant hammering” in less than a month more men than composed the army of Lee, found himself at the gates of Petersburg, and proceeded to cast his massive lines around its walls. During all the complex struggle there is not a movement on the part of Grant which rises to the height of strategy, not a trace of creative power, or that mysterious faculty of adaptation and origination which in art as in the sphere of war the world recognizes as genius. It was reduced to a proposition somewhat similar to this: Given three men to the enemy's one, “I will pound and hammer him till life is extinct. If one application does not accomplish the result, repeat it more vigorously from time to time, until the last trace of vitality has faded, and the dead lion lies at my feet. I am well aware that we are not his peer, man to man, in the open field, so that we shall compensate for inferior soldiership by superior strength, and achieve by three men confronting one, what we could not otherwise accomplish if we struggled until the end of the world.” Such was the theory of Grant's campaign—it was translated into practice and fought out upon this line with remorseless consistency to the final and inevitable issue.
While not conceding the claim of Grant to be ranged among the masters of military science, he was from every moral point of view far above the plane of such Federal commanders as Sherman, Sheridan, Butler, or Hunter. There was no malignity apparent in his nature, and his treatment of Lee at Appomattox was marked by a form of crude chivalry which canot fail to commend him to our regard, despite all the sentimental vaporing of orators and declaimers in reference to his refusal to accept Lee's sword, which had never been tendered, the small arms of the officers having been expressly reserved by the terms of the capitulation. During the campaign of 1864 he hanged in front of his own lines, in view of both armies, a Federal soldier who had assaulted an unprotected Virginia woman. It was not apparently a part of his policy to make war upon the aged and the defenseless, to strike down the child in arms, to invade the sanctuary, and desecrate the resting places of the dead, all of which formed essential features in the scheme of campaigns as conducted by Sherman, Butler, and Hunter. Not even the sanctity of the grave is proof against the instincts of the human hyena. It was during his final struggle that Lee attained the full meridian of his glory. There was no decadence of power, no dimness of vision. The Napoleon
of Waterloo was not the Napoleon of Marengo and Austerlitz. Disease had wrought upon his faculties—he was merely the shadow of a mighty name. When the end came on April 9, 1865, the tidings echoed round the world, and the foremost organs of cultured life in our mother land ranged Lee with the knights of the Arthurian circle, attaining his ample measure of ideal greatness only in the character of the “blameless king.” He had foiled the schemes and blasted the hopes of six Federal generals. With his 35,000 men he had held at bay the hundreds of thousands of Grant during one of the most prolonged sieges whereof modern war holds record. One of his ablest antagonists declared at Appomattox that Lee was responsible for his gray hairs. When the long line at length snapped under the relentless tension, the sword of Lee, like the mystic Excalibur, should have been seized as it fell in undimmed luster and borne into the deeps of the lake, until Arthur should come again. Were I asked to select the most fitting and significant symbol to express through the medium of art, though it was designed for another purpose, the genius, the ideal, the mission of Lee and his army, I should point at once to that crowning-achievement of Thorwaldsen, The Lion of Lucerne.
The army was an essential, nay a vital factor, in the accomplishment of those almost miraculous results that marked the career of Lee from 1862 to 1865. The foremost generals of all the ages could never have won the unparalleled brilliance that crowns Lee's story without the cooperation and support of troops who reflected all the high mental and moral attributes which are embodied in their chief. We have striven to set forth the glory of the general; let us now examine in detail the story of the men who followed his standards. It is no flourish of rhetoric to affirm that the world has never looked upon an army which represented and concentrated in its ranks so highly developed a degree of moral force, as well as native intelligence and scholarly acquirement in its most far-reaching sense, as that commanded by Robert E. Lee. For ages the oracles of the Northern press, compilers of school books, and editors of second-class cyclopedias have harped upon one mouldered string—the illiteracy and ignorance of the South. During the progress of the war, N. P. Willis, whose journal had been largely sustained by Southern patronage, declared that “the armies of the South are composed of the scum of the earth.” There is no more direct and effective mode of estimating the high moral and intellectual standard of Lee's army than to trace in detail the records of its survivors from 1865 to 1905—exactly embracing a period of forty years. Many of our purest, noblest, most gifted types are blended with the earth, and their spirits have moved from high to higher, for there is other work for other worlds. Take the roll of those who still abide with us, examine it from every point of view—the broadening ranges of commercial life, the intricate sphere of trade, the myriad phases into which our material world differentiates—the men who followed Lee's standards are in the foremost files and are principal forces in propelling our complex civilization along its tortuous and titanic course.
It would constitute a fascinating, as well as suggestive and revealing study in Southern biography, an analysis of our intellectual life and development, as well as a startling exhibition of the intellectual culture and power embodied in Lee's army, if we were enabled to trace the careers of the men that entered its ranks in the days of their youth, and have since the close of the struggle won fame, or achieved eminence in law, jurisprudence, medicine, theology, education, scholarship, literature, politics, science. We ourselves should be amazed at the result, for it is a goodly fellowship. The names that I cite and the illustrations that accompany them are in nearly every instance based upon personal association or experience; some of those introduced were my contemporaries at the University of Virginia, as well as my mates in the field; one at least was a former teacher—of all I had personal knowledge, and I have striven to keep pace with their fortunes as they passed from the war into the smoothness and tranquillity that followed as our battle-flags were furled and our sun went down in endless night.
Let us begin at the University of Virginia, then the foremost center of scholarly culture in the South. The most eminent Greek scholar in America to-day, then a professor in its halls, and in the flower of his early manhood, went from his lecture room into the service of the Confederacy, and as volunteer aid upon the staff of Gen. J. B. Gordon was severely wounded in the valley campaign of 1864. My professor of Latin, Lewis Minor Coleman, died of wounds received at Fredericksburg, December, 1862. His successor, Col. William E. Peters, was a most gallant and accomplished soldier. At the conclusion of the war, Col. Charles S. Venable, so honorably and conspicuously associated with the staff of Lee, became professor of mathematics in the University of Virginia, succeeding to the chair of such eminent representatives of their science as Courtenay and Albert Taylor Bledsoe. Every college and university in the South was present in the ranks of Lee's army, not in the persons of its students alone, but in many conspicuous instances members of faculties were there—men who knew Latin and Greek and science. There were Professor Martin, of Chapel Hill, at a subsequent date at Davidson; and C. D. Fishburne, professor of Greek in the latter institution. These, however, are but a few of the names that might be cited. Let us pass from the men of riper years to the lads of 16 or 17 and the men of 21, all of whom pressed vigorously to the front. Let us trace their fortunes and follow their fates since the land had rest from war, and they passed from the leadership of “Uncle Robert”—
To breast the blows of circumstance
And grapple with their evil star.
A detailed history of the men who followed Lee, and, above all, an account of their development in every sphere since the war, would form a most valuable contribution, not to the annals of the South alone, but to the record of American progress and expansion in the broadest sense. Many eminent and honored names are found wanting as my roll is called, for I speak only of those whom I saw face to face. To call them by name as they rise in the retrospect of memory is an easy task; for age has not withered them, and they respond as I saw them with the dew of youth upon them, that same gray line which for three years bore the cause of the South aloft on its bayonets. There is Robert Bingham, the heir of three generations of scholastic tradition, an intellectual power in the evolution of the South, the renown of whose great school, like that of Eton or Rugby, has passed beyond the seas. There is Randolph McKim, whose studious, concentrated face I recall in Dr. McGuffey's Sunday morning lectures on the Psalms during my early days at the University of Virginia, now an honored minister of the Episcopal Church. He has kept the faith and still fights the good fight. There comes William Morton Brown of the Rockbridge Artillery, a born polemic, a critical scholar—now an eminent lawyer in the far distant South. We read the Latin classics together, for each of us was disabled at Gettysburg and found consolation in his books as we lay helpless and the leaden hours dragged by. There too was Thomas R. Price, the most suggestive and inspiring of teachers, the creator in large measure of that renascence of English which has done so much for the scholarship of the South. There too is Col. William Allan, one of the eminent illustrations of that broad and harmonious attainment which marked the great age of the University of Virginia—Allan whom General Lee trusted with perfect faith, who followed him from the army to Washington College in accordance with Lee's special request, and who at a later time organized the McDonough School near Baltimore, an institution so “famous, so excellent in art and still so rising, that Christendom shall ever speak his virtue.” Then, too, comes before me a long array of others who achieved renown in the ranges of philology, ancient or modern, masters of sentences, and heads of academies, researchers who explored the fountains of our tongue, or illustrated and revealed the fadeless graces of the classic world; translators of Beowulf like Garnett, commentators, exegetes, inspirers of our Southern youth like Maupin, McCabe, Henry A. Wise, Charles C. Wight, all of whom followed Lee until his banners were furled and the throb of his war-drum was no longer heard. One of these, Henry A. Wise, a strong, heroic soul, commanded the battalion of Virginia Military Institute cadets in the fight at Newmarket, May, 1864, the memory of which has become famous. Charles C. Wight, one
of Jackson's trusted scouts, used playfully to remark that General Jackson was never defeated but once, and that then he was not with him. In art circles at Rome one hears the name of Sir Moses Ezekiel, a leading American artist. He was a cadet in the Institute at Lexington, was in the service of the South, and but a few years ago presented to his Alma Mater a masterpiece of statuary, his own conception and execution, “Virginia Mourning Her Dead.”
The array of scholarly acquirement alone, represented on the roll of Lee's army, has never been equaled in the history of war. If this statement seems broad and in need of qualification, let me ask for a parallel in any age, or in any military organization ever set in the field. The parallel assuredly cannot be supplied by the armies of the North, for the faculties of Yale, Harvard, and the other leading centers of culture in New England and the Middle States, were rarely represented on the roster of military organizations, or seldom heard even the echo of the distant conflict. Compare the Memorial Halls of Yale and Harvard with those that record the student dead at the University of Virginia or of North Carolina. The story conveys its own moral, and cavil is hushed into reverence as we contemplate the long-drawn array of our youthful heroes, lads of 16 or 18, who stood in the forefront of every battle-plain from Bull Run to Appomattox.
We could not wish them to a fairer death,
And so their knell is knolled.
Then, too, in the army of Lee was young Sidney Lanier, with one exception—Edgar A. Poe—the foremost poet of the South, a masterful critic, and lord of the flute. Death by tuberculosis, that darling malady of the poet, had set his signet upon him as it had with his predecessors, Keats and Timrod. When taken prisoner his principal anxiety was to preserve his flute, for it was to him as the wand of the magician. He was the very Child-Roland of our Southern literature. Neither Holmes, Longfellow, Whittier, nor Lowell was found in the service of the Union armies. Their malignity poured itself out in copious streams from afar off, but if they ever ministered to the needs of a Union soldier on the field of battle, not even their eulogists have preserved its memory. Their mature years might be pleaded in palliation, but age did not abate their virulence nor temper the rancor of their hate.
The names I have cited are but a few even of those whom I knew face to face, had seen in lecture halls or met in the associations of the camp. Some of them came within my ken after the war wave had passed over us, and I took up the burden of life, saying like Maud Muller, “it might have been.” There was Edward McCrady of Charleston, an admirable soldier, whose life energy was concentrated on one theme—the record of his own State, which he had just brought to its final stage as he passed from us, leaving the story of South Carolina well written. Major John Johnson, now rector of historic St. Philip's church, abides with us, ripe in years and full of vigor, the engineer in charge of the defenses of Fort Sumter during the long agony of the siege which ran from months to years and taxed the unavailing resources of the Federal Government to the last degree. It was he who wrote the “Defense of Charleston Harbor,— in accordance with the special injunction of General Beauregard—a work which rose at once to the rank of a literary as well as a military classic, and is read by all students and masters of the science of war, quoted as an authority, and accepted as the final presentation of a great phase of the great struggle. Here comes a reverend father in God—Bishop Joseph B. Cheshire of North Carolina, who, passing from the service of the South into academic life at Trinity College, Conn., for he was still a youth, was set upon by a crew of hazers in his own room, who frankly avowed their purpose. The future bishop at once drew out his Confederate revolver, leveled it in the faces of his would-be tormentors, and gave command, “Forward, march; file out, one by one!” File out they did like hounds, and as the last of the gallant band retired, he said, “Good evening, hope you have had a pleasant time; come again.” We commend the example of our friend the Bishop to young gentlemen who may be in peril of the practice of hazing, that abomination of our college life—as vulgar as it is cowardly, as base as it is brutal. The record would be prolonged almost to infinity if we even endeavored to introduce all those who passed from the service of Lee into the manifold forms and spheres of civil life in which they have achieved fame or won most honorable recognition.
Our men returned to homes laid bare and desolate by Sherman or Sheridan; the toil of years flamed in their faces; they had not even the redeeming hope of our first parents exiled from paradise—the world before them where to choose. At home was death—abroad was despair. Then fell upon the war-stricken land those saturnalian years of crime and folly, the era of reconstruction—a plague in some vital points more touched by the spirit of perdition than the era of strife in the field, a carnival of infamy. Yet from the very smoke of the political abyss the men who had been trained in the school of Lee emerged like the ancient heroes of the fiery furnace, without a trace of the flame upon their garments. They restored the waste places, they repaired the former desolations. The marvelous force of the Southern race triumphed over apparent despair. The old soldiers surviving from Lee's army were the leavening element, the renewing, vitalizing force that rescued the South during the era of her second death—the period of reconstruction—from anarchy and chaos, from the horrors of a commune, from the ninth or crowning circle of social degeneration and debasement. Among the foremost files of the world's heroes stands Wade Hampton, the knightly, the Bayard of his own State, with his two-fold garland—the glory of his record in the army of Lee, with the added and even ampler glory of 1876–77. From the very slough of political despond rose the unvanquished spirits that had shared the glories of Lee. In commercial emprise in the guidance of great corporations, in the administration of far-reaching schemes for the advancement of material well-being, in law, medicine, journalism, theology, science, they have triumphed over death and plucked marvelous success from the very front of disaster and defeat. The South Carolina colonel who formed a law class while a prisoner at Fort Delaware, rose to the rank of a Federal judge whose decisions were accepted as final, and regarded as almost classical in accuracy of style as well as vigor of reasoning. Captain Jos. J. Davis of North Carolina taught Blackstone's Commentaries while a prisoner at Johnson's Island. He died a justice of the Supreme Court in his native State, a tribunal which has been adorned by such lawyers as Gaston, Battle, Ruffin, and Pearson. And yet the half has not been told, for many of those who form part of the incomparable story rest in their graves until the resurrection.
It was not in culture and native intelligence alone that the army of Lee ranks foremost in the records of war. When contemplated from a moral standpoint its rank is equally high, its history equally pure from the taint of gross immorality, and above all from that consistent, unvarying brutality toward defenseless women and innocent children which is the especial and ineffaceable reproach of several notorious commanders—above all, Sherman, Sheridan, Hunter, Butler—who led the forces of the Union in more than one campaign which has become an infamy and abomination in the thought of all Christendom. Robert E. Lee was by nature incapable of rudeness or discourtesy to aught that wore the guise of woman, however humble or repellant. The same note of true chivalry animated the men who clung to his standard. Compare with this high chivalric character, the order of Butler issued at New Orleans in the spring of 1862, in accordance with which the ladies of that city who should be deemed guilty of discourtesy or rudeness to Federal soldiers, by gesture or by language, by look or word, were to be regarded and treated “as women of the town plying their vocation.— The ladies of New Orleans placed in the category of prostitutes by the arbitrary decree of a Federal commander! It sounds like the echo of some Russian story in which even the refinements of Muscovite torture are touched with the hues of romance. On the contrary, it is a question of official record; the atrocity of the act outraged the moral sense of the civilized world, and Butler's own government was compelled to recall him from the command of the department of New Orleans.
The treatment of Mr. Davis at Fortress Monroe while in charge of Gen. Nelson T. Miles is a theme which will not “down” at the bidding of any power. Even the great innovator and hate-healer, Time, has not caused its freshness to fade. That crowning' atrocity of American history, the judicial murder of Mrs. Surratt, upon the absurd and irrational charge of complicity in the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, is ceaselessly looming up like a grim spectre from the vanished past, and the voice of the innocent woman's blood cries unto us from the ground. No such record of shame clings to the record of the Confederate Government—no cause ever fell so pure of crime. The men who battled with Lee, even to the climax of despair, had the common infirmities of our frail humanity—they had their escapades, they gave vent to merriment and jollity, and they bore privation and want with unflinching courage and cheerfulness. The murder of the innocent, the torture of the helpless, the crusade against the infant and the aged can never rise in reproach against them, even their enemies themselves being judges.
From the cold and passionless voice of history goes forth the award which assigns to the Army of Northern Virginia the preeminence in the story of war, in the high attributes of moral purity and intellectual acquirement. Let us note some of the distinctive forms in which the moral and religious life of Lee's army expressed itself—in the camp, in deadly grapple with the foe, in the hospital, in daily converse, and in the presence of the last enemy.
Much has been written of the religious fervor which marked the armies commanded by such masters of war as Cromwell and Gustavus Adolphus. The shaping spirit of Shakespeare's imagination has seized upon this same characteristic in Henry V. His epic hero is portrayed as having strong religious conviction. Note the scene that follows the English victory at Agincourt and the chanting of Psalm cxv to the glory and praise of the God of battle. Something, of course, must be conceded to the idealizing of the poet, but there is an element of truth blended with the presentation of the artist. In no army that the world has seen was the moral standard of a higher order than in that of Lee. This is conspicuously illustrated in the long record of three years by the absence of gross immorality, flagrant vandalism, or infamous cruelty to defenseless women and children, such as has invested with immortal shame the campaigns of Hunter and Sherman, and the career of Butler while in command of the department of New Orleans. More than that, the virtues of Lee's army were not merely passive or negative. There was a vital spirit of true Christianity pervading in large measure the rank and file—a strong explicit faith in the sovereignty and the wisdom of God. An army is never composed of saints—the gay cavalier is always there; the trooper has his escapades, and the soldier gives vent to mirth and jollity, but practical infidelity was almost unknown in the Army of Northern Virginia. Never was the power of example more impressively illustrated, the influence of personal righteousness more potent in its action upon the characters and destinies of men. Lee, Jackson, D. H. Hill “lived ever in the Great Taskmaster's eye.” Life with them was a ceaseless consecration to the service of God. It was in a measure inevitable that their pure and devout conversation should mould and fashion the moral tone of the men they led. There is no force like that of personal example. Christianity illustrated in the individual life, the concrete appeal is resistless. It is the power of personality before whose presence opposition and antagonism vanish. Under such directing auspices, I need hardly add that the utmost care and diligence were used to provide for the religious instruction and welfare of the army. Many of the foremost clergymen in the South were in the service in the capacity of chaplains. Some even commanded regiments or battalions. The “Fighting Parson” was by no means a creation of fiction, but in not a few instances a formidable fact. The standard of the Southern pulpit in 1861 was unsurpassed for true eloquence, scholarly acquirement, and spirituality of character. In no sphere of our society was the cause of the Confederacy more intensely and devotedly upheld than by the clergy. The flower of the church was ofttimes in the field—with Lee at Richmond, Jackson in the Valley, ministering to the sick or the dying, consoling some wounded lad, or preaching simple faith to heroic men, at times within view of the enemy and under the range of his guns. I can recall in the lapse of years many of the sermons to which I listened, the texts on which they were based, and the general order of the presentation. The Sunday preceding the battle of Gettysburg Rev. B. T. Lacey preached in the barracks at Carlisle, Pa., from the 15th chapter of first Corinthians—that classical and logical exposition of the doctrine of the resurrection. The following Sunday I was lying in the hospital at Frederick, Md., prostrate from two wounds inflicted by Minie balls. Eminent theologians like Dr. R. L. Dabney had emerged from the seclusion of seminaries and lecture-rooms to preach the faith to men in arms. Dr. Dabney was associated with General Jackson until the close of the Seven Days' campaign before Richmond in the summer of 1862. He was a formidable power in the pulpit, despite his scholastic tone and temperament vehement and unsparing in his denunciation of sin and sinners. So strongly was this characteristic reflected in his style that upon a certain occasion when he was preaching at the University of Virginia, Dr. Albert Taylor Bledsoe was in the church, and being asked at the close of the services how he liked the sermon he replied, “Well, he preached as if we were all going to hell and he was glad of it.” Among those who ministered with devout love and care to our troops in the field, was Bishop Atkinson of North Carolina. I recall distinctly his evening service on the plains of Yorktown, his rich sonorous voice, and the incomparable cadence of the liturgy as it fell upon the balmy air of the Southern summer night. The river flowed placidly by, the sentinel stars set their watch in the sky, the ramparts wrought by Cornwallis rose in austere outline, the men ranged themselves devoutly in order, and the venerable Bishop read by the light of a lantern the rhythmic and golden phrases that fell like the chime of church bells upon the serene stillness of the July evening. It was this same godly bishop who was brutally assaulted by Sherman's troopers during their raid through North Carolina in March, 1865, among other indignities his watch being snatched from his person. He invoked the forgiveness of Heaven upon his tormentors.
I do not overstep the limits of truth and soberness when I declare that the history of war does not bear record of an army inspired by a higher religious ideal than that which characterized the Army of Northern Virginia. It is equally true that the godly and devout life of its chief was a powerful element in contributing to this result. What an illustration—a consummate object-lesson for the youth of the South. The supreme commander has rested from his labors, but of none of all the sons of men is it more intensely true that their works do follow them. The examples I have cited are but few of the mighty host of illustrations that might be drawn from the unpublished story of the Southern clergy during the agonies of the conflict. While Rev. B. M. Palmer, D.D., of New Orleans, was preaching on one occasion near the enemy's lines, the shot from their guns fell upon the building in which he was ministering, not to soldiers alone, but to women and children as well. The fire continued, but there was no panic, no chaos, not even a demonstration. With the utmost decorum Dr. Palmer pronounced the benediction, the congregation withdrew, and Dr. Palmer, walking down the middle aisle with perfect deliberation, retired from the church. Such was the spirit that thrilled the clergy of the South.
The world has rarely listened to more effective and evangelical preaching of the gospel than might be heard on any Sabbath morn from the chaplains of the Army of Northern Virginia. Unless the exigencies of the campaign rendered it impossible, religious services were strictly maintained, and the purest moral ideals were present as a ceaseless object-lesson in the lives and examples of Lee and Jackson. The experiences of war are rich in ethical teachings and suggestive moral lessons. In the imminent dread of death, the conscience acts with an especial vigor. If it does not make cowards, it exercises a kind of inquisitorial scrutiny over the soul. I remember on at least one occasion to have seen men throw away the cards with which they had been gambling as they were advancing into battle, and the issue of life or death hung in the balance. The devotee of the vice seemed anxious to cast away his reproach before possibly entering the presence of God, and would strew the roadside with the traces of his game as if to pacify the stings of his own moral nature before rushing into the lists and joining in the deadly grapple. Let us trust that the chroniclers of our Southern story will guard the fame of this pure soldiery and bring it into the luster of seven days as we grow from more to more with the expanding ages.
The record of the survivors of Lee's army seems to me to constitute its most extraordinary vindication. It is an epoch in our annals as wonderful as the story of the army in the field from 1862 to 1865. We pass over the few apostate angels, the men that paltered with the truth; how narrow is the list, how short the roll of those that sinned against light and are exiled from friend and home. The role of Arnold or Bourbon is rare in our Southern story. With regard to the little company of recreant spirits who could not resist the “jingling of the guinea,” let us say without a trace of vindictiveness or malevolence—
Just for a handful of silver they left us,
Just for a ribbon to stick in their coat,
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others she lets us devote.
The great heart of the South maintains its integrity unscathed—never was a race more marked by unity of ideal, solidarity of life and character. A fitting type or illustration may be found in the story of Dr. Gabriel Manigault of Charleston, S.C., a name that at once recalls the purest social and intellectual ranges of our olden life. He brought from the wreck of war little save his home and the cavalry saber that had stood him in good stead during Hampton's campaigns in Virginia. This was suspended from the wall over the bed on which he slept, I think, until the time of his death some six years ago. His life subsequent to the war was a ceaseless consecration to the development of scientific research in the South, especially in the sphere of natural history. His labors were in the main unheralded and unrequited, but his versatile tact and rare mechanical skill did not flag for want of emolument or even the absence of that conventional appreciation which flows from formal courtesy. Such was the cavalier who rode with Hampton, and gathered little from the all-pervading wreck, save his doughty sword. What armed host ever plucked from its attenuated ranks, almost a ghostly band, such a versatility of culture, of far-reaching attainment, of subtilizing intellect? The long array already cited may be easily reinforced and stretched out to the crack of doom.
The mere sportive effusiveness of Lee's army might yield a rich and rare anthology. Brilliant repartees that should have crystallized into epigrams as they touched the embracing air, have passed into shade and vanished from memory. No army was ever more pervaded by a keener perception of the ludicrous, or animated by a more intensive sense of humor. This characteristic they possessed in common with their chief, for Lee's appreciation of the ludicrous was quick and penetrating. I might cite a thousand illustrations“but only a few can find place in this chapter. On one occasion Governor Z. B. Vance was visiting the North Carolina troops in front of Petersburg during the summer of 1864. The Governor was making a characteristic address, extolling the “Tar Heel” virtues of tenacity, “sticking fast,” etc., when all at once there broke upon the ears of his audience this query from a soldier, “Say, Governor, don't you know that when the fire's hottest, the tar runs fastest?” Vance's wit and readiness were equal to almost any conceivable exigency, but in this instance he seems to have been thrown off his balance by the cleverness of a Confederate in the ranks. No one was immune from the far-ranging wit and sense of jollity that marked Lee's army. Neither rank, dignity, nor the gravest subjects always escaped. Coffins were currently referred to as “furlough bottoms.” If one was lucky enough to capture a new hat, the torment was unceasing. From all sides went up the cry, “Come out of that hat, I know you're in there, I see your feet sticking out.” If the sound of cheering was heard in the distance, it was prolonged with this comment: “There goes a rabbit, or General Jackson.” Yet with all his sense of mirth and love of jest, the Confederate soldier was not devoid of reverence, and upon occasion expressed it with dignity and even impressiveness. Let me illustrate. A few weeks after the death of Jackson an officer of Lee's army approached a bridge which was guarded by a sentry. It was late in the evening and the stars were shining. He drew from his pocket a “pass” received some time before from General Jackson and handed it to the soldier. He took it, read it, and looking up reverently toward the stars, remarked, “That will pass you into heaven, but not across this bridge.“
GENERAL G. W. CUSTIS LEE, SON OF GENERAL LEE
(TAKEN IN 1870)
It is the tendency of literary criticism to depreciate or disparage the poetry which derives its inspiration from the fervor and passion of war. The press of the North was fond of remarking that “the rebels fought better than they wrote.” Yet in all the annals of strife, nothing has leaped to light which excels in spirit-stirring energy, in thrilling strain the note of “Dixie,” “Carolina,” the “Carmen Triumphale,” “Maryland, My Maryland,” “The Conquered Banner,” or “Stonewall Jackson's Way.” As I hear them even in the long retrospect of years, they affect the heart as the ballad of the Douglass and the Percy did Sir Philip Sidney, and I am “moved more than with a trumpet.” What did the bards of the North add to the richness of our poetry during the era of struggle, that approaches these songs? A few months since I heard the band on one of the most popular steamers of the North German Lloyd, as we were entering the “mid-sea that moans with memories,” play “Dixie” as dinner was in progress. The company was largely composed of Northerners, but as the first note of “Dixie” vibrated through the pure Mediterranean air, the vast cabin resounded with applause, regardless of section, or the sway of political sympathy. It was a spontaneous tribute to the resistless charm of the melody—applauded to the very heavens, “which did applaud again.” At what a pole of contrast does it stand to the stately pomp, the mechanical precisianism of “Hail Columbia,” or “The Star Spangled Banner!” Yet the men in the ranks of Lee's army had their own songs, rough but vigorous strains, most of which are fast vanishing into dumb forgetfulness. They existed only on the lips of the singers; would that some assiduous anthologist or compiler of Southern folk-lore had rescued them from the touch of time! I recall snatches of these fading echoes as I heard them in boyish days on the lines in front of Richmond and Petersburg, in our marches down the Valley, or in the mountain passes of western Maryland as we lay at Hagerstown during our advancement into Pennsylvania, June, 1863. One of them ran in this fashion:
O poor old Washington, his work is all undone,
And he'll never see his darling any more.
Unfortunately, there is more of truth than fiction in this flash of soldier song. Another ran:
He that has good whiskey,
And giveth his neighbor none,
He shall have none of my good whiskey
When his good whiskey is gone.
A favorite air during General Magruder's occupation of Yorktown was:
Put him in the ditch! put him in the ditch!
Old Magruder he says so.
Working on the railroad, forty cents a day,
John came picking on the banjo.
“Eating Goober Peas” rang through the army: it was a universal note.
Soldier wit was equal to any emergency. Would that the flashes of merriment that were wont to set the company on a roar and beguile the dreary hours of camp life or the agony of the march had been rescued from the common decay. They were all-embracing. No phase or form of army life escaped the keen and penetrating humor of the men in the ranks. If a command had for any reason not been frequently in action, it was jeered as one of the “life insurance brigades.” A young Virginia officer lost one of his toes at the battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864. A friend addicted to punning, described the accident as “a notorious affair” for him. A young man who “couldn't stand the racket,” that is, was lacking in nerve or courage, was tauntingly asked if he “didn't wish he was a baby,” to which he replied, “Yes, I do, and a gal baby too.” Gen. D. H. Hill consoled two Yankee prisoners of war who complained of the heat, by reminding them that they were in “the sunny South.” Victor Hugo's famed romance, “Les Miserables,” which appeared during the earlier stages of the war, underwent a phonetic transformation into LLee's Miserables. The heroic soul of the Confederate rarely failed him, even in the conflict with the last enemy to be subdued.
By many a death-bed have I been,
And many a soldier's parting seen.
Let me refer to one in which the general truth of my statement is illustrated. My cousin, James W. Huske of Fayetteville, N.C, was wounded unto death on the field at Hatcher's Run in the fall of 1864. With his dying lips he implored his comrades not to tarry in caring for him, but to press forward against the enemy. “Don't stop for me, go ahead!” So passed his pure and dauntless soul to its rest. He was laid in a humble grave, and no man knowetb of his sepulture to this day. Then, too, he was the only surviving son of his mother, and she was a widow. His book of Common Prayer fell into my hands and is cherished with religious care.
The newspaper press of the Confederacy has not yet received the mead of praise and appreciation to which its eminent merits entitle it. Conducted in spite of almost invincible difficulties, it preserved its high character to the last, in the teeth of all the adverse environments. More vigorous and classical English I have rarely read than marked the editorial columns of the Richmond Examiner as I glanced at it in the morning light along the banks of the James during the fall and spring-tide of 1862–63. It recalls to maturer years and more rational judgment the great era of the London Times, in its pervasive power, its brilliant antithesis, its constructive skill in the sphere of epigrams, most of which have vanished into darkness. Neither friend nor foe enjoyed immunity from its caustic touch, its penetrating irony, its relentless grapple with imbecility or shortcoming even in the highest places. A notable commander who was retained in position, though his name had become almost a synonym for disaster, was tersely summed up as endowed by nature “with an iron hand, an iron heart, and a wooden head.” It is one of the saddest commentaries upon the truth of history that an army which excelled all records of the ages or creations of chivalric imagination, in skill, in heroism, and in the range of culture represented in its rank and file, should be caricatured even by its enemies, as composed of “the scum of the earth.” A complete history of this incomparable host is a task reserved for some unrevealed Macaulay of the South. No more marvelous theme ever summoned into amplest activity all the constructive power of the supreme annalist, the shaping spirit of the epic master, the creative imagination of the sovereign dramatist. Lee and his army: “Their
glory dies not and our grief is past.”
Death hath had his carnival with those that lingered, and Long-street, Gordon, Hampton, the Bayard of the South; Fitz Lee, Joe Wheeler have rejoined their sovereign leader. Where is their parallel? Show us their fellows. They range around their chief, the light of many luminaries blending with the surpassing brilliance of a central sun. In rich resourcefulness, in original conception, in creative power applied to the colossal and subtle problems of strategy, in rare audacity of genius, in gift of divination which grasped the “psychological moment,” and with seeming recklessness turned to flight the armies of the aliens—where in all the chronicles of war is their model, their peer, their prototype?
Native faculty, the gift of warlike intuition, was tempered, as well as stimulated, by assiduous devotion to the science of war as set forth by its wise and master spirits. Some years preceding the coming of the struggle, Major T. J. Jackson, then an unheralded teacher in the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, spent several months in Europe, explored the battlefield of Waterloo, studied the plan of campaign adopted by Napoleon, and indicated the points in which it was fatally defective. As this same Jackson, six years later, descended upon McClellan's flank in front of Richmond, the gaze of the world resting upon his movement, he discussed in the evening hours of the long June day the situation at Waterloo, the strategy of Napoleon, and the grounds of his disaster, as the battle for the salvation of the Confederate capital waxed fierce around him. May these comments be rescued and set in abiding form before the spirit of oblivion shall have placed his seal upon them.
A critical study of the science of war had been made by Pettigrew of North Carolina years before the beginning of this struggle. In intellectual culture, in symmetry of development, unsurpassed in the South of the olden day, he passed like Pender in the mere morning of his glory, a
Sidney as he fought,
And as he fell, and as he lived and loved,
Sublimely mild, a spirit without spot.
Not these alone, but a host that no man can number, names that have fallen into irreclaimable eclipse, whose very sepultures no one knoweth to this clay; lads fresh from school, and young men from colleges and universities, the dew of the morning resting upon them, all were there, sharing in the common heritage of glory, even though they be reckoned the heirs of unfulfilled renown.
And many more whose names on earth aie dark,
But whose transmitted effluence cannot die
So long as fire outlives the parent spark,
Rise, robed in dazzling immortality.
Since the preceding portion of this chapter was written, “The Science of War,” by the late Lieut. Col. Henderson of the British Army has been published. The author, who died in 1903 in the white flower of an expanding manhood, “so early lost, so hopelessly deplored,” had won assured fame by his “Life of Stonewall Jackson,” a work which leaped to the foremost file in the ranks of military biography. His more recent, and we regret to add his last achievement, is heralded by an introduction from the hand of Field Marshal Lord Roberts, which is marked in all its phases by the fine discernment and generous appreciation characteristic of the leading light among contemporary British strategists. The estimate of Lee's rank among the sovereigns of war presented in Henderson's crowning review must be studied in minute detail and assimilated in logical connection with the vast and complex theme it involves. No mere eulogium, however elaborate, would convey an adequate appreciation of its excellence, its far-reaching range, its grasp of facts, its mastery of historic evolution unfolding its energy in the development of modern war. To all these elements of attraction it adds the rare charm
of a finished literary execution. It is the work of a scholar as well as the achievement of a soldier. The subtle wisdom and flawless demonstration which are revealed in the final judgments of the author are embodied in pure and vigorous English, and the volume will win assured place among the military classics of our mother speech. The spell of Lee's name rests upon the writer, as it rests upon peoples other than our ancestral kindred.
Whenever the discerning eye of Old World oracles and expositors of war have been directed to our national conflict, it is to Lee they have turned to gain wisdom; it is to his campaigns, his incomparable struggle against overmastering fate that they address their energies, upon whom they concentrate their research. Notable as it is by reason of intrinsic merit and the fine grace of literary style, the work of Henderson is but a single illustration of this all-embracing truth. We are in the mere dawn of Lee's power as a center of study, a fount of inspiration for the critical and assiduous student of the science of war. As we move through the increasing ages there will develop a more rigorous and pervasive scrutiny of his strategic modes and ideals, his rare resourcefulness, his affluent originality in conception as well as execution, his amazing versatility which transformed disasters into triumphs, his seeming recklessness, his real gift of divination, which pierced the obscuring veil and discerned the end from the beginning. Each of those lofty and characteristic traits will broaden into a phase of special research with the application of the differentiating processes that distinguish the advances of the modern scientific spirit.
In the revelations of the coming age the school of Lee will attain in the sphere of strategic research an assured power. Oracles and interpreters, the captains of an unrisen future, who seek to resolve the mysteries of war, will study his campaigns—above all, that marvel of genius which, having its source in the mazes of the Wilderness, attained its climax in the tragedy of Appomattox.
From our English kinsman, the historian of Jackson and expounder of his art, echoes back to us this simple but resistless tribute (“Henderson's Science of War,” page 314):
At the head of the Confederate Army was General Lee, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, soldier who ever spoke the English tongue.
Then comes a voice, not from the dead, but from him who embodies and illustrates in their intensest form the dominant ideals of our living present (“Life of Thomas H. Benton,” by Theodore Roosevelt, page 38):
He [Lee] was without any exception the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth—and that although the last and chief of all his antagonists may claim to stand as the full equal of Marlborough and Wellington.
That Lee was endowed with a genius which was practical in its nature, and was not a masterful strategist alone, is evident from the published statement of a well-known officer of the Regular Army:
[“]Gen. Robert Edward Lee was the first man who discovered that all armies are improperly uniformed, and he was so strongly convinced that he was right that he abolished the blue uniform worn by the cadets at West Point and substituted the gray which has been worn ever since in its place. General Lee was in command of the Military Academy at West Point some years before the civil war—1852–1855—and it was there he put his ideas and reforms into practice. He was, according to the record, the first officer in any army who favored inconspicuous uniforms. The khakies, drab and blue, which are universally used by the armies of the world to-day as campaign uniforms, are the direct result of his original thought and consideration. Other officers may have been engaged in investigations along the same line, but Lee was the first to originate the movement. He naturally encountered violent opposition, for the soldier as a rule is fond of the greatest possible display, but Lee never relaxed his efforts for a moment. The first military organization to adopt his suggestion was tha famous New York Seventh Regiment, which has worn gray ever since, an example soon followed by the equally celebrated Fifth Regiment of Baltimore; and the precedent thus established was speedily adopted by others. Only recently in examining the reports on this subject on file in the War Department at Washington, I discovered the reports of Major—as he then was—R. E. Lee. His only fault in the matter was that like all pioneers, he was fifty years in advance of his time, a characteristic which has always been, and, I presume, always will be an unpardonable sin. In these reports Major Lee not only urged the abolition of conspicuous uniforms for campaigns, but he went farther in recommending that arms, accoutrements, cannon and all the things used in the business of war should be without polish or glisten. His ideas have been adopted by the armies of the world, and to-day it would be a violation of all rules for a soldier on campaign to have anything about him, even to a button on his clothing, which has the slightest polish or even susceptibility to polish. For play soldiers and dress parades fancy colors, polish and glisten will do well enough, but for active service in the field they are a thing of the past. Had the armies of Europe discovered this years before they did, their lists of killed and
wounded would have been essentially less than what they actually were. * * * Nine-tenths of the people of both North and South are under the impression that gray uniforms had some original or independent association with the South, never suspecting that gray was first worn in the North by the cadets at West Point, where it is still used as a dress uniform, and by the leading military organizations of the North, notably in New York and Boston. General Lee, when called upon to organize the army of the South, put into practical operation the ideas he had formed long before the coming of the civil war, and when it was not regarded by many as even a possibility. * * * The campaign uniform of to-day the world over was his ideal, and he exerted himself to the utmost to carry his plan into practical effect.” The testimony is a striking illustration of our hero's versatile power, his mastery of detail, the far-reaching range of his intellect. What he labored to accomplish more than half a century ago is now the recognized usage of the military world. Few know, however, that these salutary and admirable reforms trace their origin to the prescience, patience and comprehensive wisdom of an officer in the Regular Army of the United States who was destined ere another decade to spring into an unsought fame as the foremost of American generals. Lee's life is a series of surprises to him who explores it in detail. Some novel force is always revealing itself. None of these affluent and embracing gifts, however, asserts itself, or intrudes upon our consciousness. Each must be sought and drawn into the light, for his grace and delicacy at times almost veil from our eyes the real grandeur of which they are the reflection. Never in the records of war, or in the modest stillness and tranquillity of peace, has the universal world combined to render homage to the foremost champion of a fallen and hopeless cause. The attitude of the discerning mind toward our hero is unique. We are inclined to think that as the passions gendered by the supreme drama in which he was the foremost protagonist are lost in that broadening day toward which we trust the earth is moving, Lee will be accepted without regard to the prepossessions of creed or party, or the traditions of times that are dead, as the purest manifestation of the heroic ideal exhibited to our race since the beginning of authentic story. That which myth, legend, allegory, romance has sought to portray in the spirit of purest phantasy is here set before us in the concrete and illustrated in the life and record of a Southern general, who struggled “to the utterance” against obstacles that would have inspired only despair save in that rare and phenomenal order of mind upon which the divine spirit has descended in richest measure; who achieved such amazing triumphs in the face of foredoomed disaster that his all-embracing foes cried out for peace; who laid down his arms with the peerless dignity which marks a sovereign conqueror; who declared that he would never abandon his own people unless driven into exile by the decree of the Federal Government; who, a prisoner on parole till the coming of the end, suffered for the South and with the South until the strong man bowed himself and the world's foremost hero passed into the light. Yet with this halo of glory which sat upon him like a celestial grace, Lee's intellect was eminently endowed with the traits and faculties that assure success in the practical spheres of life. His surpassing intellectual power was not marred by a touch of idiosyncrasy or a suggestion of the abberrant or abnormal. This modest gentleman was a marvel of system, promptness in detail, was exact to the finest degree in every transaction of daily life, and in all the complex and manifold relations which he assumed, whether in war or in peace, in command of an army, in charge of a farm, or president of a college, was distinguished by his saving gift of common sense. The so-called “eccentricities of genius” derive no confirmation or support from his record; for genius in its purest and loftiest revelations in Shakespeare, in Washington, in Lee, is marked by an ever present moral sanity as its unfailing criterion. To these finer lights that move in light, the “last infirmity of noble mind” does not attach itself as a qualifying or even obscuring force which draws them nearer to the plane of our common day. For them, the “vision splendid” fades not.
The record of Lee in the Regular Army of the United States is such as to assure his rank in the foremost range of American military leaders. The perfect symmetry of his physical nature which far outshone all the loftiest aspirations and purest idealizations of the chivalric imagination, was the seeming parable and prophecy of the higher harmony that revealed its power in every expression and in every attribute of his moral and spiritual character. The rhythmic perfection of the natural man was the prelude to the loftier harmony which reigns in immortal souls. The power of such a man as an educative influence can scarcely be expressed in terms that represent or symbolize its real significance. “Literature,” to adopt the language of an eminent diviner of the subject, “is spiritualized history.” If history is the essence of innumerable biographies, the spiritual power reveals itself concretely in the individual life. God is manifest in the flesh not as incarnate in the person of His divine Son alone, but as set forth in all the children of men upon whom His gifts and graces have been bestowed in most affluent measure. All saintly types and consecrated lives in their degree have wrought with “human hands the creed of creeds.” Character is ever more effective in its appeals than intellect; the “loveliness of perfect deeds” strikes home more intenselv to the human heart than the rhythmic charm of poetic thought. If Lee had never “set a squadron in the tented field,” and had lived his days on earth as a simple gentleman of the ancient South, the graces that flowered his consummate character would have placed him in the foremost files of the age as a resistless moral force. The world's records conserve the names of other men, who as masters of war are his peers, though none in all the long and eventful annals of the English-speaking races can claim precedence of him. Still, it was not his creative and resourceful intellect that so many times wrested laurels from the very front of despair which has drawn all nations and languages and phases of thought to render homage to the champion of a cause which everywhere is the synonym and the symbol of vanishing ideals, hopes that are dead, tender graces of days that have faded. From the bosom of disaster, from the dark shadow of Appomattox, there rises the matchless figure of Lee. His fame broadened as the climax was attained; and the lands beyond the seas that had never looked upon his face and knew him only by report, recognized in him the long-sought ideal and manifestation of the heroic temper. That which Spenser strove to portray in the Fairy Queen through the veil of allegory with all the richness of Elizabethan art-setting, is embodied in the life and nature of our hero with a perfection of detail, and comprehensiveness of aim that far outgoes all the purest dreams and reveries which marked the chivalric imagination in the spacious times when Sidney and Raleigh were the inspiration of the poets and the models of the artist. Spenser sought to illustrate in his preeminent type the figure of a perfect gentleman. In an age just emerging from the crudeness and coarseness of the medieval world, the conception was dowered with all the fascination of novelty and called into exercise the subtlest resources of the poet's craftsmanship. A true gentleman estimated from the viewpoint of Lee was in Elizabethan contemplation “Something rich and strange,” a vision of phantasy, not capable of realization by any process within the range of the empirical understanding. To us of the South who are the heirs of his glory, Lee is the steadily expanding symbol of the graces and virtues that blend into harmony in the conception of a gentleman. The “light that never was on sea or land” to the dreamers and prophets of days that are dead, which they could only seek after if haply they might find it is set before us in the story of his life and grows in lustre and radiance. The future of the South must be conditioned upon the fidelity with which she walks in the light reflected in the character of her sovereign hero. A civilization which has produced a Lee need never despair. The standard is fixed. He constitutes, as it were, a center of moral gravity for the race of whose culture and development he is the purest achievement and the most perfect expression. It is in these masterful figures of which Lee is the flower that the fine and ethereal traits exhibited in the “race mind” of literary critics are conserved and transmitted with the advance of the centuries. All the baser elements may fade, even the characteristic features of a national life pass into shadow. God fulfils Himself in many ways, old order yields place to new, our little systems have their day and cease to be, character alone abides the assault of the speeding cycles. No power could buy the man. His only reply was, “My name is everything that is left me, and that is not for sale.” It is a notable feature of our
Confederate history that, despite its errors of judgment or defects of policy, no charge of personal or pecuniary corruption was ever alleged against its chiefs. They fell at least pure of crime, even as contemplated from the standpoint of their enemies. Not the wealth of the universe could have tempted Lee from his integrity for a single moment. His character is marked by a height of moral grandeur almost unique in this regard, that he seems to have been inaccessible to the suggestion of evil or the possibility of its power over him. Men may resist the overtures of the prince of darkness by the aid of divine strength and come off conquerors after a struggle; but the nature of Lee was apparently free from the assaults of temptation even in its most insidious and fascinating modes of approach. For him Satan was never transformed into an angel of light. Not all the malice of his foes, the rancor of sectional strife, the exultant malignity of triumphant power, have ever insinuated a charge against the purity of his life, the stainlessness of his record, whether as commander of an army, or the sacred relations of his family life.
An anthology of no slight value might be easily gathered from the discerning tributes of those who had confronted him on the field, or whose political standards and ideals stood at the pole of contrast to his own. It would be no impossible task to the historian or the biographer to exhibit Lee in a most attractive light as seen by his enemies, and estimated by those who had consecrated their skill and their resources to the overthrow of the cause of which he was the purest expression. As we recede with the fading years into the future, the strange power of fascination, exercised alike over friend and foe, will assert its energy with increasing vigor, until the land, regardless of geographical range or sectional limitation, has yielded to the sway of his name. The Southern child of to-day by no violent assault upon the faculty of imagination may see Lee recognized as our supreme national hero. Strange as the prophecy may appear to those who fail to discern the signs of the times it is not more strange than the accomplished historical reality that a vanquished Southern general who never set foot on European soil has taken captive the whole world of culture, all phases of faith, all forms of sentiment, all types of character. Truly, “None but himself can be his parallel.”
Return to Life of Robert E. Lee as General in the Confederate Army