Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 25.djvu/311

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of every enduring virtue, i^rrat quality, persistent courage which has distinguished soldiers since history emerged from fable.

The limitations imposed upon us by the proprieties of this occa- sion will not be overstepped if we say these soldiers rose to their highest and most honorable estate perhaps in the campaign which began in the tangled forest near the Rapidan in the early days of May, 1864. The sweet breath of the wind came up from the de- serted chambers of the South. The soldiers by their experience and sound sense penetrated through all disguise, all strategy they knew the supreme moment had come that supreme moment with all its agony and strain, and blood was drawn out full three months. Never was the peril of an army more constant, never marched nor fought nor slept nor hungered nor prayed men in arms to whom disaster might prove more irreparable. The private soldiers were conscious of all this while it was passing.

Never did the rank and file of an army hold a heavier share in the anxieties, the "fearful looking for" of their commanders.

There are occasions in the experience of regiments, brigades and armies, when they rise superior to themselves, when the enemy, astounded by their audacity, stand at attention and applaud the on- coming host. .

In that epic campaign, Gideon, Sampson, Barak and David were outdone.

Once in the supreme crisis of a great battle, when the earth trem- bled like a heated oven, and the battalion hesitated, a private soldier of well earned renown, appealed to them to go forward and strike home for their cause. Persisting in his appeal, he said: "They that love God go forward."

Every human virtue was repeated during that struggle.

The glimpse mercifully given us of the Chevalier Bayard constitu- ting the rear guard of his army, done to death by a great stone urging his squire to take care of his life for the morrow, receiving the last rites of our Holy Religion at the hands of his courier, was equalled and equalled again by ragged North Carolina privates.

The zeal which impelled the men of the Crusades in their mission to redeem the Holy Sepulchre, was not more fiery than the Divine intoxication which moved the spirits of our soldiery.

If in the midst of war these men wrought well, how shall we por- tray them since peace, troubled peace, came back to our distracted State.