Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 40/The Character and Services of the Confederate Soldier

 

THE CHARACTER AND SERVICES OF THE
CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.

 

 

Address by Captain John Lamb before R. E. Lee Camp,
December 12, 1913.

 

 

A brave Confederate soldier said to me a few days ago that he was tired of hearing about the war. A well-educated young woman, to whom I offered a fine address on Gettysburg, from the Federal viewpoint, expressed the same view, but said she might read it when she had finished a certain piece of embroidery that was then occupying her time.

How far these two opinions find lodgment in the minds of our citizens we cannot well decide.

The members of this camp certainly deserve all praise for their noble efforts in preserving the true history of the unfortunate but heroic conflict of fifty years ago. The collection of these portraits of the distinguished actors in that struggle is a labor of love that will be appreciated more and more as the years come and go.

You may be certain that 100 years from now men will be studying these characters and the campaigns in which they figured. They will know more of the details of the battles in which these old soldiers were engaged than we know now. If some of the members of this camp will interest themselves in having the battlefields around Richmond properly marked they will be rendering good service to their State and city. So much by way of suggestion and for "the good of the camp."

For a short time permit me to invite your attention to the character and services of the Confederate soldier in war and peace.

The war was brought to our doors. We had to fight or "yield ourselves and all we were, cowering slaves forever." Permit me to remind you that as an honorable death in an individual is preferable to an ignoble life, so in nations we find that war is the foundation of many of the high virtues and faculties of men; while nations that practice too long the arts of peace become enfeebled and oftentimes corrupt. Peace and the virtues of civil life do not always flourish together. We, too, often find peace and selfishness; peace and corruption; peace and death. It can be clearly shown that the heroic periods in the world's history have been the fruits of war. We point you to Rome and Athens, in ancient times; to France, England and America in modern. What were the compensations to us of our own War Between the States?

It helped to educate a body of citizen soldiery, who were to teach mankind a needed lesson, that human endurance could equal human misfortune. Our people were thoroughly aroused and rushed into the army from all ranks of society. They were citizen soldiers; homogenious, united, patriotic to a degree. The army contained every class of believers, from the bishop to the neophite—students of divinity—Sunday School teachers, deacons, vestrymen, class leaders, exhorters, men from all denominations of Christians in the land. This constituted a tremendous moral force, supplying men brave enough to face the dangers nature shrinks from, and humane enough to treat with courtesy and kindness any foe temporarily in their power.

To the citizen of the Old World our conflict was a subject of intense interest and wonder. The transformation of citizens into soldiers surprised, if it did not alarm them. The skill displayed in the preparation of war material, the revolutionizing of naval warfare in Hampton Roads, the steady valor of many battlefields, convinced them that the American soldier of twelve months was not inferior to the European soldier of twelve years. The atrocities of one side shocked them immensely, while the patient endurance of hardship, and all manner of provocation by a people whom they had been taught to look upon as tyrannical and effeminate, by reasons of their peculiar institutions, filled them with the greatest admiration.

A leading public journal of the world thus describes the impression made on the European men touching the attitude of the Southern people:

"The people of the Confederate States have made themselves famous. If the renown of brilliant courage, stern devotion to a cause, and military achievements, almost without parallel, can compensate men for toil and privations, then the countrymen of Lee and Jackson may be consoled amid their sufferings." Again we read:

"The details of that extraordinary national effort which has led to the repulsion and almost to the destruction of an invading force of more than half a million men will then become known to the world."

Such were a few of the compliments which the Confederate soldier wrung from the press of Europe. They could be multiplied if the scope of this paper permitted. Only soldiers brave in battle and generous in victory could have provoked such praise from people who regarded them from the first with suspicion and prejudice.

The conduct of the war and the bravery and chivalry of the Southern soldier soon impressed the thoughtful men of the North as well as those of the Old World.

Rev. Dr. Bellows, of New York, at a Unitarian convention held in the midst of the war, said in part:

"How far race and climate, independent or servile institutions, may have produced the Southern chivalric spirit and manner I will not here consider, but one may as well deny the small feet and hands of that people as deny a certain inherited habit of command; a contempt of life in defense of honor or class; a talent for political life, and an easy control of inferiors." After declaring that this Southern spirit was not external and flashing heroism, but real, and had made itself felt in Congress, in the social life at Washington, and in England and France, this gifted divine said:

"This spirit shows itself in the war; in the orders and proclamation of the generals; in the messages of the rebel Congress, and the essential good breeding and humanity, contrary to a diligently encouraged public impression, with which it not seldom divides its medical stores, and gives our sick and wounded as favorable care as it is able to entend to its own. It exceeds at this moment in the possession of ambulance corps." Further on Dr. Bellows makes this significant observation:

"The war must have increased the respect felt by the North for the South, its miraculous resources, the bravery of its troops, their patience under hardship, and their unshrinking firmness in the desperate position they have assumed; the wonderful success with which they have extemporized manufactories and munitions of war, and kept themselves in relation with the world, in spite of our magnificent blockade. The elasticity with which they have risen from defeat and the courage they have shown in threatening again and again our capital, and soon our interior, cannot fail to stir an unwilling admiration and respect."

The home influences and academic training of the boys of the South, during these two wonderful decades of our history, 1840-1860, will furnish a key to the story of the Confederate soldier's wonderful achievements in war as well as his unexampled success when defeat challenged him to a greater degree of courage, patience and endurance.

To their everlasting honor stands the fact that in their march through the enemy's country they left behind them no ruined homes, no private houses burned, no families cruelly robbed. They were, with one solitary exception, and that perhaps a righteous reprisal, careful with fire, and they were never known to borrow jewels of gold and silver with no thought of returning the same. They divided their last morsel of food and the last drop of water with the hungry and thirsty prisoners that they captured by the thousand. With the rarest exception, they never cherished bitterness and ill feeling for the rank, and file of the men they met in deadly combat.

They were soldiers from necessity, not choice, and only fought, as their Revolutionary sires did, for home and liberty. They knew then, and know now, that they were absolutely right in their contentions. The last one will die with the proud satisfaction that impartial history will pronounce judgment in their favor, and rank them as the most heroic and least selfish of all who, in the tide of time, have fought for their homes and firesides.

Historians on two continents are giving the Confederate soldier full credit for the honesty of his convictions, and the courage with which he defended them.

In due time they will tell of his achievements in peace that were not surpassed by his exploits in war. Worn out by the victories he had won over superior numbers, he yielded to those and the resources of the world, that supplied the men and material that at last compassed his defeat.

The territory that he defended with unsurpassed valor, containing one-third of our population, has for years contributed 40 per cent, of our exports to foreign lands. But for the cotton crop, produced on his land and through his enterprise, there would be no balance of trade in our favor. Receiving no pension, save a pittance from the Commonwealth that has been despoiled by war and robbed by Reconstruction laws, he has, with the toil and enterprise of himself and the sons sprung from his loins, furnished from his taxable values fully one-third of the revenue that has gone to pension the survivors of the Federal army, and the widows of those who sleep in the well-kept cemeteries of the nation. The principles for which he contends are recognized everywhere as the underlying fundamental principles of government to-day.

He sees one of his own comrades, the Chief Justice of the United States, and one of his associates, an ex-Confederate. The legislative branch of government is in control of the men and their sons who are in sympathy with him. Under no other form of government could such a situation obtain. The safety of the nation is the safety of the States.

No summary, however brief, of the record and services of the Confederate would be complete without mention of the part he has played in helping shape the legislation of this country for the past forty years. In the Fifty-fifth, Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh Congresses there were thirty-two ex-Confederate soldiers in the House and sixteen in the Senate. The constructive legislation they initiated and enacted into law has been of incalculable benefit to the nation, while the undesirable legislation they prevented has gone far to preserve the equilibrium in our dual form of government.

When the Panama Canal is completed it will be no less a monument to the skill and genius of the American engineers than to the patient and untiring efforts of Senator Morgan, of Alabama. It would be a pleasant task to name many others in both houses, who through long and faithful service, have inscribed their names on the roll of fame, high among the civic heroes of this age. Your own State furnishes one whose memory is tenderly revered by every Confederate soldier, whose name will be for many years a household word in very many homes in Virginia. Major Daniel's fame as an orator will not rest primarily on the Confederate addresses he delivered, although more than one of these has long since taken rank as American classics.

His many able and eloquent speeches on constitutional questions, particularly those on the force bill and the anti-option bill, will ever rank him among the most profound lawyers and able statesmen of his day.

Senator Lodge, of Massachusetts, in closing his eulogy on Senator Daniel, said: "The Civil War brought many tragedies to North and South alike. None greater, certainly, than the division of Virginia. To a State with such a history, with such memories and traditions, there was a peculiar cruelty in such a fate. Virginia alone, among the States, has so suffered. Other wounds have healed. The land that was rent in twain is one again. The old friendships and affections are once more warm and strong as they were at the beginning. But the wound which the war dealt to Virginia can never be healed. There, and there alone, the past cannot be restored. One bows to the inevitable, but as a lover of my country and my country's past, I have felt a deep pride in the history of Virginia, in which I, as an American, had a right to share, and I have always sorrowed that an inexorable destiny had severed that land where so many brave and shining memories were garnered up. That thought was often in my mind as I looked at Senator Daniel in this chamber. Not only did he fitly and highly represent the great past with all its memories and traditions, but he also represented the tragedy, as great as the history, which had fallen upon Virginia. To the cause in which she believed she had given her all, even a part of herself, and the maimed soldier with scars which command the admiration of the world, finely typified his great State in her sorrows and her losses, as in her glories and her pride."

Confederate soldiers may well comfort themselves with the thought that each passing year sees the enmities of the past giving way for kinder feelings for them and more dispassionate judgments touching their great leaders in the War Between the States. This feeling has been voiced in Congress often during the past decade, notably in the Sixty-second Congress by two well-known representatives of great ability. The former Speaker of the House, Mr. Catnnon, speaking on the Lincoln Memorial, said in part: "There are certain great characters that will dwell in the history of the country: first, Washington; second, Lincoln; third, Lee, a great man, a great general, who did his duty from his patriotic standpoint; fourth, Jefferson Davis, a great man, performing a great service for a proposed new republic as he saw his duty."

A hundred years from now the ordinary reader will recast this period, and there will be in the mouths of the school children the names of Washington, Lincoln, Grant, Lee and Jefferson Davis, but you will have to search the Congressional Record and the encyclopedias to find out about the balance of us, who have been Speakers, ex-Speakers, members of Congress, etc. Take Mr. Cannon, for instance, they will say: "It does appear that there was a man from Illinois by the name of Cannon, but I don't know much about him. There was another member by the name of Cannon in Congress from Utah, and it was said that he had seven wives."

On the same subject, Mr. Mann, of Illinois, said: "Mr. Speaker: It is now nearly half a century since the Civil War closed and Abraham Lincoln passed beyond. There has been a lapse of time which ought to permit us to survey the situation with little bias, and little passion. I have put the Civil War behind me, a great conflict that was probably inevitable. There were patriots on both sides, gallant men in opposition. but the question of the Union was settled with the end of the war, and no one now would re-open the controverted question so bitterly contested before and during the war. I think we can well afford to do that which shows that the country is again a reunited country with the passions of war passed by, if not forgotten. I would erect a memorial to Abraham Lincoln on the father side of the Potomac River, across the river from the home of R. E. Lee, and the burial place of both Union and Confederate soldiers, and then I would erect a memorial bridge across the Potomac River, joining the ten Confederate States with the Union; aye, Mr. Speaker, joining the memory of Abraham Lincoln with the memories and respect for Lee; aye, Mr. Speaker, I would go farther in the course of years, not far distant. I would construct a roadway from Washington to Mt. Vernon, and from Mt. Vernon to Richmond, and at the other end of that roadway have the government of the United States construct a memorial to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States."

A Virginia Representative in Congress congratulated these two distinguished statesmen on their remarks, and suggested that, most likely, had they made them ten years before the result would have been their retirement to private life.

There was one striking characteristic of the Confederate soldiers that some day will furnish a theme for song and story. Time will not permit its discussion to-night, nor is your speaker the man to do the subject full justice.

Let some able divine consult the books of Drs. Bennett and Doggett; the letters of John A. Broaddus and other chaplains of the Confederate States of America. He will find facts from which to draw a picture of faith and trust and loyalty, such as the world has not seen since Cromwell's army established the English Commonwealth.

This faith was the result of the teachings and prayers of the noblest women who ever graced God's green earth. Their unshaken faith in the Confederate cause, upheld, sustained and prolonged the unequal conflict, while their patient waiting and watching at their homes, providing for and teaching their children, and praying for the absent fathers and brothers, furnishes the most striking example of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty this world has ever seen.

Were these women praying against the fiat of the Almighty? If America had to suffer the penalty of violated law, were their husbands and brothers sinners above all others? Can't we learn to discard the old superstition that heaven is revealed in the immediate results of trial by combat." The Christian civilization of the first three centuries went down in the darkness of medieval times. Paul was beheaded and Nero crowned, and Christ crucified. Turn the pages of history, and you will find "truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne."

The cheerfulness of the Confederate soldier stood out in bold relief, almost to the close of the unequal conflict. No wonder that it abated, to a degree, around Petersburg. No wonder at the desertions there, greater perhaps than in all the years before. The plainest man in the ranks could see that the end had come. The letters from home telling of suffering and want were heart-rending. A Northern lady, during the reunion at Gettysburg, remarked on the cheerfulness of the men in gray, saying their step was more elastic and their manner so different from the men in blue. One of the most cheerful men in this city can be seen any day on the grounds of the Soldiers' Home, with a book under his arm and humming a favorite tune. Another, totally blind, walks steadily through the grounds with a pleasant word for all he meets.

The game of "setback," that many apparently enjoy, must be a constant reminder of the setbacks they have received both in war and peace. Surely the representatives of the people of this Commonwealth in the Legislature this winter will follow the suggestions of the Norfolk camp, seconded by Petersburg and this camp, and contribute to the further comfort of these men, as well as many of their comrades scattered through Virginia, from her ocean-laved shores to her mountain tops, the aged and invalid and helpless survivors of the hosts that made the name and fame of the Army of Northern Virginia, whose deeds of valor will live in song and story while the sky has a star or the ocean a tide. There cannot be over 18,000 of these soldiers in the State. There are only 1,400 in the cities and counties that form this congressional district. Largely over half of these do not need and would not accept any assistance.

If need be, other appropriations can be delayed. These men are falling more rapidly than their comrades fell in battle. They will not need human assistance long, for soon they will be with the angels, and walking the streets of the new Jerusalem. While building monuments to the dead and strewing their graves each springtime with flowers let us give comfort and cheer to those who still linger in this vale of tears.

You may be sure that the noble women of the South

"Shall love to teach their children
Of our heroes who are dead.
Of the battle scars they carried,
Marching to a soldier's tread;
Of their loyal hearts so tender.
All aglow in truth's array.
And the many recollections
Of the boys who wore the gray."