confederate museum

A speech delivered in Richmond, VA, February 22, 1896 at the opening of the Museum of the Confederacy.

Ladies of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, Friends, and Fellow-Confederates, Men and Women:

To-day commemorates the thirty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the last rebel President and the birthday of the first. It commemorates an epoch in the grandest struggle for liberty and right that has ever been made by man. It celebrates the baptism of a new nation born thirty-five years ago to-day. And this commemoration is in the capital city of the Old Dominion and of the Confederacy.

More than a generation after the utter failure of the attempt, it is by the statesmen of Virginia, by her public authorities, by the government of the city of Richmond, who honor themselves in honoring this occasion, and by the free sentiment of this great and noble people.

There is nothing like it in history. No Greek general, no Roman consul, was ever welcomed with a triumph after a defeat. Nowhere, at no time, has a defeated side ever been so honored or the unsuccessful apotheosized.

A success in A sense.

Success is worshiped, failure is forgotten. That is the universal experience and the unvarying law of nature. Therefore, it would seem that the fall of the Confederacy was in some sense a success and a triumph, for it cannot by that universal law have been set aside, for this sole exception, the glorification of the Lost Confederacy, its heroines, and its heroes.

I shall endeavor to make clear in what respects there was success and triumph. I believe our first and most sacred duty is to our holy dead, to ourselves, and to our posterity.

It is our highest obligation to satisfy the world of the righteousness of our cause and the sound judgment with which we defended it. And we injure ourselves, we impair the moral of our side, by incessant protestations of loyalty to the victor and continual assertions of respect for his motives of forgiveness, for his conduct, and of belief in the nobility of his faith.

There never can be two rights, nor two wrongs—one side must be right, and, therefore, the other is, of course, wrong. This is so of every question of morals and of conduct, and it must be pre-eminently so of a question which divided millions of people, and which cost a million of lives.

The world is surely coming to the conclusion that the cause of the Confederacy was right. Every lover of liberty, constitutional liberty, controlled by law, all over the world begins to understand that the past was not a war waged by the South in defense of slavery, but was a war to protect liberty, won and bequeathed by free ancestors.

Principle of the Revolution.

They now know that the fundamental basic principle of the Revolution of 1775 upon which the governments of the States united, were all founded, Massachusetts and Virginia, Rhode Island and North Carolina, was that ‘all government of right rests upon the consent of the governed,’ and that they, therefore, at all times, must have the right to change and alter their form of government whenever changed circumstances require changed laws.

They now know that the English settlements in America were made in separate communities at different times, by different societies; that they grew and prospered until an attempt was made to deprive them of an infinitely small portion of their property without their consent. The whole tea tax would not have produced £ 1,500— less than $7,500. That they resisted this attack on their rights as distinct colonies; that as separate States they made treaties with France and the continental powers in 1778; that their independence as separate States, by name, was acknowledged by Great Britain in 1783; that Maryland fought through that whole war until 1781 as an independent and separate State, and never joined the confederation until the last-named year; that North Carolina and Rhode Island refused to enter the union created by the constitution of 1789, after the dissolution of the confederation, and for two years remained as independent of the States united, and of each other as France and England are to-day; and, therefore, they know that these independent States, when they entered into the compact of the Constitution of 1789, never did (for a State never can, by the very nature of its being, commit suicide), consent and agree forever to give up the right of self-government, and of the people of a State to make governments to suit themselves.

There can be no such thing as irrepealable laws in free society.

Society is immortal. Its atoms arrange and crystallize themselves from generation to generation, according to their necessities, but society grow and expands, and constant changes are required in its organization.

Cannot abandon the right.

Therefore, a State never can abandon its right to change—it is the law of nature, which neither compacts nor treaties, constitutions nor congresses can change.

When the Constitution of the United States was formed, the institution of slavery existed in every one of the States, though emancipation had begun in New England. Found to be unprofitable as an economical organization, it was rapidly eliminated from the northern society, which was and is based on the idea of profit and loss. In the South it developed and prospered.

It produced an enormous expansion of material and consequently political power. It developed a society, which for intelligence, culture, chivalry, justice, honor, and truth, has never been excelled in this world, and it produced a race of negroes the most civilized since the building of the Pyramid of Cheops and the most Christianized since the crucifixion of our Lord.

The Southern race ruled the continent from 1775 to 1860, and it became evident that it would rule it forever as long as the same conditions existed. The free mobocracy of the North could never cope with the slave democracy of the South, and it became the deliberate intent of the North to break up an institution so controlling and producing such dominating influences.

Moral question subordinate.

Slavery was the source of political power and the inspiration of political institutions, and it was selected as the point of attack. The moral question was subordinate to the political and social one. The point of the right or wrong of slavery agitated but a few weak-minded and feeble men. The real great, dominating, and controlling idea was the political and social one, the influence of the institution on character and institutions.

There was forming in the South a military democracy, aggressive, ambitious, intellectual, and brave, such as led Athens in her brightest epoch and controlled Rome in her most glorious days.

If that was not destroyed the industrial society of the North would be dominated by it. So the entire social force, the press, the pulpit, the public schools, was put in operation to make distinctive war on Southern institutions and Southern character, and for thirty years attack, vituperation, and abuse were incessant.

It was clear to the States of the South that there could be no peace with them, and there grew up a general desire to get away from them and to live separate.

The Gulf States urged instant separation when this hostile Northern sentiment elected a President and Congress in 1860. But Virginia, who had given five States to the Union, Virginia, whose blood and whose brain had constructed the union of the States, Virginia absolutely refused to be party to the breaking of that which was so dear to her. She never seceded from the Union, but, standing serene in her dignity with the halo of her glorious history around her, she commanded peace. The only reply vouchsafed was the calling out of 75,000 troops and the tramp of hostile footsteps on her sacred soil.

Like the flash from Heaven her sword leaped from its scabbard, and her war cry, ‘Sic semper tyrannis,’ echoed round the world, and her sons circled the earth with the blaze of their enthusiasm as they marched to the call of the old mother. Student from Gottingen, trapper from the Rockies, soldier and sailor, army and navy, men and women, staked life and fortune to stand by the mother of us all. And Virginians stood in line to guard their homes from invasion, her altars from desecration, her institutions from destruction.

She resisted invasion. It cannot be too often repeated or too plainly stated.

Only resisted invasion.

Virginia never seceded from the Union. She resisted invasion of rights, as her free ancestors for 800 years had done with arms and force. Before the ordinance of secession was voted on Virginia was at war with the Northern States, and all legal connection had been broken with them by their own act in the unlawful invasion of her soil. God bless her and hers forever and forever. She bared her breath and drew her sword to protect her sisters behind her, and took upon herself the hazard of the die. And I will presume to record my claim here for her kinsmen who flocked to her flag from beyond the Potomac, and who died for her on every battle-field from Shepherdstown to Appomattox, that the survivors love her now with the devotion of children adopted in blood.

It is this constant and growing consciousness of the nobleness and justice and chivalry of the Confederate cause which constitutes the success and illuminates the triumph we commemorate to-day. Evil dies; good lives; and the time will come when all the world will realize that the failure of the Confederacy was a great misfortune to humanity, and will be the source of unnumbered woes to liberty. Washington might have failed; Kosciusko and Robert E. Lee did fail; but I believe history will award a higher place to them, unsuccessful, than to Suwarrow and to Grant, victorious. This great and noble cause, the principles of which I have attempted to formulate for you, was defended with a genius and a chivalry of men and women never equalled by any race. My heart melts now at the memory of those days.

What our women stood.

Just realize it: There is not a hearth and home in Virginia that has not heard the sound of hostile cannon; there is not a family which has not buried kin slain in battle. Of all the examples of that heroic time; of all figures that will live in the music of the poet or the pictures of the painter, the one that stands in the foreground, the one that will be glorified with the halo of the heroine, is the woman, mother, sister, lover—who gave her life and heart to the cause. And the woman who attracts my sympathy most and to whom my heart melts hottest, is the plain, simple, country woman and girl, remote from cities and towns, back in the woods, away from railways or telegraph.

Thomas Nelson Page has given us a picture of her in his story of ‘Darby.’ I thank him for ‘Darby Stanly.’ I knew the boy and loved him well, for I have seen him and his cousins on the march, in camp, and on the battle-field, lying in ranks, stark, with his face to the foe and his musket grasped in his cold hands. I can recall what talk there was at ‘meetina’ about the ‘Black Republicans’ coming down here to interfere with us, and how we warn’t goina to ‘’low it,’ and how the boys would square their shoulders to see if the girls were looking at ’em, and how the girls would preen their new muslins and calicoes, and see if the boys were ‘noticen,’ and how by Tuesday news came that Captain Thornton was forming his company at the court-house, and how the mother packed up his little ‘duds’ in her boy’s school satchel and tied it on his back, and kissed him and bade him good-by, and watched him, as well as she could see, as he went down the walk to the front gate, and as he turned into the ‘big road,’ and as he got to the corner, turned round and took off his hat and swung it around his head, and then disappeared out of her life forever. For, after Cold Harbor, his body could never be found nor his grave identified, though a dozen saw him die.

And then, for days and for weeks and for months, alone, the mother lived this lonely life, waiting for news. The war had taken her only son, and she was a widow; but from that day to this, no human being has ever heard a word of repining from her lips. Those who suffer most complain least.

Another pathetic story.

Or, I recall that story of Bishop-General Polk about the woman in the mountains of Tennessee, with six sons. Five of them were in the army, and when it was announced to her that her eldest born had been killed in battle, the mother simply said: ‘The Lord’s will be done. Eddie (her baby) will be fourteen next spring, and he can take Billy’s place.’

The hero of this great epoch is the son I have described, as his mother and sister will be the heroines. For years, day and night, winter and summer, without pay, with no hope of promotion nor of winning a name or making a mark, the Confederate boy-soldier trod the straight and thorny path of duty. Half-clothed, whole-starved, he tramps night after night, his solitary post on picket. No one can see him. Five minutes walk down the road will put him beyond recall, and twenty minutes further and he will be in Yankee lines, where pay, food, clothes, quiet, and safety all await him. Think of the tens of thousands of boys subjected to this temptation, and how few yielded. Think of how many never dreamed of such a relief from danger and hardship! But, while I glorify the chivalry, the fortitude, and the fidelity of the private soldier, I do not intend to minimize the valor, the endurance, or the gallantry of those who led them.

Memories outlast time.

I know that the knights of Arthur’s Round Table, nor the Paladins and Peers, roused by the blast of that Font-Arabian horn from Roland at Ronces Valley, did not equal in many traits, or nobility of character, in purity of soul, in gallant, dashing courage the men who led the rank and file of the Confederate armies from lieutenant up to lieutenant-general. There were more rebel brigadiers killed in battle for the Confederacy than in any war that was ever fought. When such men and women have lived such lives, and died such deaths in such a cause, their memories will outlast time. Martyrs must be glorified, and when the world knows and posterity appreciates that the war was fought for the preservation and perpetuation of the right of self-government, of government by the people, for the people, and to resist government by force against the will of the people, then the Confederacy will be revered like the memories of Leonidas at Thermopylae, and Kosciusko, and Kossuth, and all the glorious army of martyrs.

The Confederate Memorial.

It is to commemorate these principles, and this heroic conduct, this patriotic sacrifice of men and women, that we propose to erect here a memorial hall of the Confederacy.

When William, the Norman, had destroyed the English nation at Hastings, so the inscription read, he erected a grand memorial in the sight of the thickest fray, and placed the high altar of the Abbey over the very spot where Harold fell. This memorial he called Battle-Abbey. He dedicated it to the Norman, St. Peter, and placed it in charge of an order of Norman monks. The banner and the shields of those who died on that stricken field were hung up in the chapel, and the roll of their names and dignities inscribed on its record. Here for four centuries daily prayers were offered for the repose of their souls, and matins and even-song celebrated their devotion and their death. But the Abbey of Battle has long ago passed to profane uses, and the flags of the conqueror and his knights have faded into dust. It cannot be so with the memorial of the Confederacy. The Battle-Abbey commemorated a ruthless raid of robbers, who took by the strong hand and lived with disregard of blood. There was not a principle of honor, of chivalry, of justice, or right in that attack upon a nation and in that overthrow of a race. With the power that established it, Battle-Abbey fell and disintegrated.

No ‘lost cause.’

Our memorial will be here in Richmond, the heart and grave of the Confederacy, and around it hovers the immortal soul of love and of memory, which for all times will sanctify it to all true men and women. They will know that it is a memorial of no ‘Lost Cause.’ They will never believe that ‘we thought we were right,’ they will know, as we knew, that we were right, immortally right, and that the conquerer was wrong, eternally wrong. The great army of the dead is here, the sentiment of the living is here, the memories of the past are here, the monuments of the future will be here. As all roads lead to Rome, so in the ages to come all ties of memory, of sentiment, of heart, and of feeling, will vibrate from Richmond. As every follower of the prophet at sunset turns his face to Mecca, and sends up a prayer for the dead and the living, so everywhere in this great South Land, which was the Confederacy, whenever the trumpet call of duty sounds, when the call to do right without regard to consequence rings over the woods and the meadows, the mountains and the valleys, the spirit of the Confederacy will rise, the dead of Hollywood and of Oakwood will stand in ranks, and their eternal memory will inspire their descendants to do right whatever it cost of life or fortune, of danger and disaster. Lee will ride his bronze horse, Hill (A. P.) will be by his side, Stonewall will be there, Stuart’s plume will float again, and the battle-line of the Confederacy will move forward to do duty, justice, and right. The memorial of the Confederacy is here, not built by hands—made by memory and devotion! What else could it be?

Bradley Tyler Johnson

Bradley Tyler Johnson (1829-1903) was a native of Maryland, a lawyer, and a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. His Maryland Line was famous for its valor and bravery during the War.

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