Mr Chairman, Gentlemen of the Committee, My Countrymen :
We are gathered together today to commemorate the deeds of some of the unknown heroes of our soil, unknown to the world at large; their memory circumscribed by the narrow circle of personal acquaintance and local tradition.
They belong to that grand army that sleeps in the bivouac of the dead throughout our State awaiting the universal reveille to answer at the final roll call for the deeds done in the body. This host cannot be enumerated or individualized, and standing upon consecrated ground, where the bones of thousands repose marked only by wooden slabs surmounted by numerals stamped in zinc for epitaphs, we must render our homage to them en masse, as we regard with awe and admiration the countless billows of the sea. Their resolute endurance and matchless valor have served to fill the trump of Fame with the few great names that resound throughout the world, and will go sounding down the ages, while they themselves have been content to discharge their duty to their country and their God, to die and be forgotten of men.
And so it has ever been. Leonidas won imperishable renown at Thermopole, but the names of his devoted Spartan band ‘ perished with themselves in that dread slaughter. When the Imperial eagles of France swept victorious over the battle fields of Europe, the World stood amazed and dazzled by the military genius of him who reflected glory on his satellite marshals, while his soldiers fell with the wild acclaim upon their dying lips? “Vive I’ Empreur! Vive la France!” and sank into nameless graves. You marble shaft that towers above our national Capital, piercing the empyrean, reminds us daily of that paragon of men, of whom a gifted eulogist of the North has aptly said — his mental and moral attributes were so justly poised, that his character reminded him of a perfect circle, all points of the ‘circumference being equi-distant from the centre;’ but where is the muster-roll of Valley Forge; who were the men of the line that shared his triumph at Yorktown?
Much as this is to be regretted is inevitable. The night is made glorious by the starry firmament on high, yet of the myriads of these planets we can but single out the most luminous to name them; they pale their ineffectual fires before the broad beams of the queen of night, while she in turn disappears in the effulgence of the morning sun. And so the modest efforts of the multitude fade before the inspiration of genius. It is then eminently commondablo to raise this cenotaph — to make this effort to rescue from oblivion the memory of these men, who consecrated their lives, their fortunes, and the worldly interests of those nearest and dearest to them to tho most sacred cause that can animate the human breast; save and except tho salvation of the immortal soul — the cause whose principles will survive until free government proves to be a failure, until the Republic is subverted and superseded by despotism. They died in defence of “their altars and their fires,” and the right of their people to self-appointed constitutional government; they engaged in no war of conquest, they sought to ravish no foreign homes, they desired to depart in peace. They were incited by the same spirit that inspired Washington, Jefferson, Henry, Hamilton, Hancock, and their confreres to guide to a successful issue the great rebellion of the last century, and to crown it as a revolution. And only those who are blinded by passion and sectional prejudice will fail to perceive the analogy. The independence of the colonies being thus established it was deemed wise and prudent to form a compact for mutual defence and support: and we all know in what throes and convulsions that government was born, and with what protracted reluctance some of the colonies contributed to it, at all. The prophetic ken of the wisest discerned the elements of strife that ultimately rent the Union asunder. Virginia ratified the Constitution with hesitating pen in one hand, and in the other the Bill of Rights, reserving to herself all powers not expressly delegated to the Federal Government. And I challenge today the indication of a single line of that instrument inhibiting the Southern States from the course and the measures they in their majesty thought proper to adopt.
Nevertheless, it is safe to affirm that in 1861, when the dim cloud of war loomed up in the North and came sweeping towards the South, there was no section of this broad continent more ardently attached to the Federal Government than Virginia. With generous heart and lavish hand she dedicated an empire of territory to its uses, her statesmen and philosophers had shaped the thought and legislation of the country, her military commanders had shed upon the brief page of its history a lustre that shewn throughout tho world, the pride and traditions of the present generation were bound up in the Union.
The convention that assembled to deliberate upon the impending crisis revealed an overwhelming Union sentiment; the debato was long and earnest, calm and dignified. And not until a President installed by a sectional minority commanded her to supply a quota of 75,000 troops to aid in subjugating her sister State of the South with whom she was in perfect sympathy, and proclaimed the determination to march through her territory for that purpose, did Virginia annul the Federal compact. Then, and not until then, her bugle sounded from the Atlantic to the Alleghanies, echoing in every clime where her people sojourned, and her sons afar and near sprung to arms with unexampled alacrity and devotion. Students and artists in Europe, pioneers in the far West, merchants abroad for pleasure or profit, soldiers in the United States Army, and sailors in its Navy, dropped their present occupations and harkened to the summons. Raphael Semmes of the navy, J. E. B Stuart, that preux chevalier of cavalry, Joseph E.Johnston, high in Federal command, bound by every tie of interest and life-long association to the government, casting a lingering look of affection to the star spangled banner hastened to place themselves side by side with many others similarly situated under the stars and bars, the emblem of a nation newly born in the panoply of war, like Minerva springing full armed from tho head of Jove. Thomas J. Jackson walked from the lecture room at the Virginia Military Institute, where he looked to pass the remainder of his life in the education of youth, took down the sword which, under the victorious folds of the star and stripes, had flashed in the face of the Mexican foe, and brought it to his mother Virginia. Robert E. Lee, putting aside the proffer of supreme command of the confident and imperious invader turned to walk the path of duty and defeat, and to achieve fame that, blazons through the world, compelling respect and admiration from the bitterest foe.
Then a nation of freemen surged to the front, and the most splendid army that ever marched to victory, unsullied by levy or conscription, stood, to arms upon their native soil. It is needless to i rehearse the long and desperate struggle that ensued. It is familiar to us all. But this has been stigmatized as “rebellion.”
“Rebellion! foul dishonoring word,
Whose wrongful blight so oft hath stained
The holiest cause that tongue or sword
Of mortals ever lost or gained.
How many a spirit born to bless
Hath sunk beneath that withering name,
Whom but a day’s? — an hour’s success
Had wafted to eternal fame!”
But what manner of rebellion was this? Rebellion by whom, and against whom? Rebellion of the Creator against creature? A nation living under a written constitution, with all the autonomy of organized governments and an army in the field to defend it, may be defeated but cannot rebel. Poland was wiped from the roll of nations by the mailed hand of power, but freedom did not die with Kosciusko. Treason that was “to be made odious.
My friends, the cause cannot be made odious, for which a million Christian women suffered famine for four long years, and gave up their dear ones to slaughter, while their constant prayers ascended like incense to Almighty God for its success, the cause whose exponents and exemplars were such men as Stuart, and Johnston and Jackson, and Lee, and cx-President Jefferson Davis. Clarum et venerabile women!
It is a moral and mental contradiction to charge that these men of unquestioned purity and ability, could confederate iu a heinous crime. Nor do those who make the charge believe it, and I want no stronger evidence that these injurious terms are merely employcd as a shibboleth of hatred and vituperation than the fact that when the Southern cause was overwhelmed by unlimited resources and countless numbers, and these representative men were in the absolute power of the victor, he did not dare to execute them as traitors, because it would have shocked the moral sense of the civilized world, and history would have recorded the names of the perpetrators of the outrage upon the roll of infamy and upon the same page with Carnot, Marat, and Robespierre.
I have deemed it meet and appropriate to the occasion to reiterate these sentiments, so often expressed before, in vindication of our dead comrades and in justification of the survivors, who have no apologies or retractions to make for the part they played in that bloody drama, which had a continent for a stage and the world for an audience. But the contest can never be revived by force of arms. The civil and political questions involved were submitted to the arbitrament of the sword, with disastrous result to us, and we are content to let the dead past bury its dead, and turn our faces towards the living duties of the present and the future. And it is a matter o! general congratulation that as time wears on and the passions engendered by the war subside into cooler judgment, as social and commercial intercourse between sections of the country are cultivated more than ever before, the motives on either side are better understood and more generally appreciated; that the aspersions and imprecations cast upon the southern people are confined to a narrowing circle of self-seeking politicians and rabid enthusiasts, most of whom are citizens in time of war aud warriors in time of peace. And let me say here that it remains for the people of the North to mako this a homogenous and harmonious nation. Let us hope then that in the near future impertinent intermedling of one section with the domestic affairs of another will cease — that all vindictive legisiatiou will be wiped from the statute book until not one individual will remain disfranchised — not one will stand an alien in the land of his birth — not one who may not greet the emblem of his country with the fond acclaim —
Forever float that standard sheet!
Where stands the foe but falls before us,
With freedom’s soil beneath our feet
And freedom’s banner waving o’er us!
I will not further trench upon the province of the gifted orator and soldier who is to succeed me, and who is the high priest of these ceremonies. He will enlarge upon this theme with his characteristic eloquence and enthusiasm. But I could not pass the shrine of my devotion without casting my votive offering.
I have the honor to be the spokesman of the two, distinguished artists, whose combined genius has produced the work of art we are here to dedicate. I was selected by them for no aptitude that I possess for the pleasing task assigned me, but because of my ardent sympathy with the subject and our personal friendship of many years.
Although acting as their mouthpiece I shall take the liberty to refer to them in terms that may shock their modesty, but fall far beneath their merits.
The name of John A. Elder will fall familiarly upon the ears of many of this audience. Born and reared in the historic town of Fredericksburg, he early evinced that bent of genius which in maturer years has made him the great battle painter of the South. When but a youth he repaired to Dusseldorf, at that time one of the most renowned schools of art in Europe, and there he became the favorite pupil and intimate friend of that eminent artist Leutze. Returning to his native State after perfecting himself in his profession he shared the fortunes of his people during the civil war, and has employed his pencil to illustrate their valor, and to portray their leaders, and history will associate him with Robert E. Lee as David with Napoleon,and Stewart with Washington. His identification with his people’s cause, his participation in all their hopes and disappointment, suggested the picture, ‘ Appomattox,” which adorns the library of our State capitol. It represents in one typical figure the South in its overthrow — not in the persons of its leaders, but in one of that ‘honored fire” who in thousands returned to their ruined homes to face the future with no ray from the past to inspire or guide them. The imposing figure stands alone on a desolate field — cast down, but not destroyed. In the resolute face, in the firm pose of the foot, the tense grasp of the hand, which closes on no weapon save his own right arm, there is vigor yet. And in this image of defeat there is all the life and purpose which have restored the overturned civilization of our country, and from the ruins of war have raised a structure of which we are justly proud. This is the idea which Elder has embodied in this picture, and by a happy accident he was in the act of modelling this subject in the clay, when the scheme was inaugurated of erecting a memorial to the Confederate dead of Alexandria. He submitted his design to your committee who adopted it without hesitation, and ordered its reproduction in bronze and of heroic size. Being less of a sculptor than a painter he called to his aid his friend, Casper Buberl.
Buberl, a Bohemian by birth, came to our shores a poor and unknown youth, not even understanding the language of the country, but conscious of the power within him, and imbued with that indomitable spirit, which commands recognition and reward. Modest and retiring, but patient and diligent, he has at length forged ahead to the front rank of his profession. Apart from the pecuniary gain, it has been his earnest desire for many years to have an cxample of his work within the limits of the Old Dominion, and he seized this opportunity with avidity. With the adaptibility of genius, he caught the motive of Elder’s conception and made it his own.
The result of this collaboration is a masterpiece of the plastic art, original in design, perfect in execution, which will be an enduring object of pride aud admiration, not only to the City of Alexandria, but to the entire Commonwealth. As the youth of the present and future generations shall gaze upon this noble effigy, their bosoms will swell with emotion to reflect that it stands here to commemorate the heroic deeds of their own people, who, though they sleep in nameless graves, live still in our grateful memories.
Go, strew his ashes to the wind
Whose heart and voice have served mankind,
And is he dead, whose glorious mind
Lifts thine on high?
To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die!
And when such battle-scarred veterans as Corse and Marye and Herbert and Hooe and McKnight and Bryant and Sergeant Murray and Zimmerman repair to this sacred spot, I see their faces kindle with the gaudium certaminis of old, their eyes flash, then soften, and then glisten with the tears of affection as they read the names inscribed upon this pedestal. The Sangster brothers, boys in years, but men in character and courage. One was the first of his command to yield up his young life at Bull Run a willing sacrifice for his native State.The other fell at Second Manassas in sight of the spot where his brother had fallen.
Wm. T. Morrill, gentle, modest and brave, color sergeant of the old Seventeenth Virginia, riddled with bullets at Seven Pines, while bearing the Southern standard far to the front of his line of battle.
A. J. Humphreys, a model citizen and soldier, Captain of the Alexandria Riflemen, who fell at Williamsburg while cheering his comrades on to victory with conspicuous gallantry, where all were brave.
I would like to call this roll of honor through, W. E Gray, John F. Addison, and Samuel B.Paul, all killed in the momentous battle of Seven Pines and buried by their comrades in a captured redoubt while the bursting shells and rattling musketry made appropriate requiem for the gallant dead, and their mortal remains still repose in that soil, hallowed by the blood of patriot heroes:
How sleep the the brave who sink to rest
By all their country’s wishes bless!
When spring with dewy fingers cold
Returns to deck their hallowed mold
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy’s feet hath ever trod.
By fairy bands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung.
There Honor comes, a pilgrim gray
To bless the turf that wraps their clay,
Ami Freedom shall awhile repair
To dwell a weeping hermit there.
And now Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the Committee, in the name and on behalf of John A. Elder and Casper Buberl I formally tender, and consign to your charge and keeping this work, feeling confident that these artists have fulfilled their promise in its execution to your entire satisfaction.