Address of Colonel Edward McCrady, Jr. before Company a (Gregg’s regiment), First S. C. Volunteers, at the Reunion at Williston, Barnwell county, S. C, 14th July, 1882.
It is with divided feelings, my comrades, that we meet upon this occasion. It is indeed doubtful which emotion is the stronger, that of pleasure in once more grasping the hands of those of us who survive, or of sadness in missing those who are not here to answer to our roll-call. And so it must be with us on all such reunions as this. Our bands are daily becoming smaller and smaller. No volunteers nor recruits can now be enrolled in our ranks; nor any conscripts sent, unwillingly, to join us. In a few short years the coming generation will look with curiosity, at least, if we may not bespeak reverence, upon any one who may live to say that he fought at Manassas or Gettysburg, who can tell how he marched with Jackson to victory, and perchance how at last he laid down his arms with Lee at Appomattox. Is it not natural, then, that we should draw closer together while we live, and that we should sometimes meet, as we have done to-day, to recall the times when together we offered our lives and shed our blood for our State, and suffered cold and hunger and thirst and sickness for the faith in which we were reared, and for the cause which we still maintain to have been righteous—even though lost?
For what, then did we fight? It is well, my comrades, that we who survive should take such occasions as this to tell to those who are growing up around us what were the great causes which impelled the young and the old of that time, the rich and the poor, the learned and ignorant, to take up arms and risk their lives in battle.
It has been said by a great historian that ‘a man who risked and lost his life for a cause he believed a just one, though he was mistaken in so believing, is not among those whose fate deserves the most compassion, or whose career is least to be envied.’ But we were not mistaken in the cause for which we fought. We did not fight for slavery—slavery, a burden imposed upon us by former generations of the world, a burden increased upon us by the falsely-pretended philanthropic legislation of Northern States, which legislation did not emancipate their slaves, but forced them to be sent to the South and sold here—was not the cause of the war, but the incidents upon which the differences between the North and the South, and from which differences the war was inevitable from the foundation of our government, did but turn.
That it was not slavery in itself for which we fought, is shown by the thousands and thousands of volunteers who owned no slaves, and yet who were the first to hasten into our ranks. Take the instance of our own State. The census of 1860 shows that there were but 26,701 slaveholders in South Carolina, and yet she gave 44,000 volunteers during the first eighteen months of the war. Supposing, then, that every slaveholder went into the service, we would have over 17,000 volunteers from the State who owned no slaves. But as you and I, my comrades, well know, the slaveholders, as a class, were by no means more prompt in offering their services than those who did not own slaves; and, you recollect, there was a provision in the Conscript Act actually exempting from service those who owned and worked a certain number of slaves. I think we may safely assume that two-thirds of the volunteers owned no slaves.
I say it was not for slavery for which we fought, but that it was for the sovereignty of our State and for the supremacy of our race. The instinct of our people felt that the one was involved in the other.
We fought for State’s rights and State’s sovereignty as a political principle. We fought for the State of South Carolina, with a loyal love that no personal sovereign has ever aroused. But more, you and I, my comrades, whether owning slaves or not, could not but foresee, with the conviction of certainty, the calamities that would, that must follow, that have followed the emancipation of the negro by the fanatical party which, by a mere minority of votes, obtained possession of the government in 1860. We of this generation had no part in the establishment of slavery in this country—as early as 1741 South Carolina unsuccessfully endeavored to check the importation of slaves with which the mother country was crowding the province; but we were born to the question: what was to be done with an institution which we had inherited from England, which had been augmented by the casting off the slaves of the North upon the South? Northern philanthropists who had sent and sold their slaves to the South might safely, if not honestly, advocate their emancipation. But with us the question was not only as to the positive good or evil of the institution, but what would the negro be, and what would we do with him, and what would he do to us if freed?
Had slavery never existed, I believe the war between the two sections of this country was inevitable, and, as we know, had all but commenced in 1832 while on the other hand its existence rendered the political principle of State sovereignty more than a sentiment and a theory, and made it a practical question, essential to the South, in dealing with that institution.
We were so unfortunate as to permit the great underlying question at issue between the North and the South to turn, apparently, solely upon a matter on which the fanaticism of the world had been aroused. But I maintain, with Mr. Stephens, that while ‘slavery, so-called, that legal subordination of the black race to the white, which existed in all but one of the States when the Union was formed, and in fifteen of them when the war began, was unquestionably the occasion of the war—the main exciting proximate cause on both sides—on the one as well as on the other, it was not the real, ultimate cause, the casa causans of it.’ (Volume I, p. 28.) Further, I believe and maintain that from the origin of our government the war was inevitable, had slavery never existed.
The war was not commenced in December, 1860, when this State seceded, nor in April, 1861, when we fired into Fort Sumter. Its seeds were in the Constitution, and it was declared in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in 1798. The Convention which framed the Constitution was itself divided into the two parties which, after seventy years of discussion in the Senate chamber, adjourned the debate to the battlefields of our late war. The one as the ‘National party,’ under the leadership of General Hamilton and the elder Adams, and the other as the ‘Federal party,’ under Jefferson, at that early day organized the forces for strife, and warred over the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the Alien and Sedition Laws with a bitterness not exceeded in 1860.
As it is so often said that whatever may have been the nice theoretical distinctions as to the forms of government, the North became in favor of a strong consolidated central government, because its interests were in manufactures and protection, while the South was State’s Rights in the defense of slavery, and that thus the real cause of the war was the antagonism between free labor and slave labor, I would call attention to the fact that as early as 1796, a year before the first slave had been freed in the United States, when slavery still existed in every State in the Union, North as well as South, even then the different political theories of the government had already found for themselves more decidedly ‘local habitations’ than names. Washington, in his farewell address, observes:
‘In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as a matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical distinctions —Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western—whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views.’
Curiously enough, and may we not add pitifully, too, we read in his original drafts of this address a passage stricken out and on the margin, opposite the words, ‘not important enough,’ which, when we come to examine, we find still more strongly indicated his apprehension for the Union from this very cause, i. e., the geographical location of parties.
It is well-known that Mr. Jefferson, the author of the Kentucky Resolutions, was opposed to slavery; while on the other hand the only vote in the First Congress against the exclusion of slavery in the great Northwestern Territory—the munificent, or rather we should say under all the circumstances, looking now at it in the light of subsequent history, the prodigal and extravagant contribution of Virginia to the Union—came from the State of New York. As Mr. Davis, in his work on The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, observes, ‘it was for climatic, industrial and economical, not moral or sentimental, reasons that slavery was abolished in the Northern, while it continued to exist in the Southern States.’ It was the climate and the soil that forbade African slavery there and not philanthropy. Let us look at the facts.
Vermont claims the honor of having first proposed to exclude slavery by her Bill of Rights in 1777, in anticipation of her separation from New York, but the census of 1790, the year before the separation took effect, shows that her frosts and snows had effectually done the work before, as there were, in fact, but seventeen slaves in the State to be emancipated.
Slavery was introduced into Massachusetts soon after its first settlement, and was so ‘tolerated’ there that as late as 1833 her Supreme Court could not say by what act, particularly, her institution was abolished. (Winchendon v. Hatfield, 4 Mass. 123; Commonwealth v. Aves, 18 Pick. 209.)
New Hampshire did not think it worth her while to pass an act to free the hundred and fifty-eight slaves which only remained in that State in 1790, and so one of them lived a slave in that free State as late as 1840.
In the plantations of Rhode Island slaves were more numerous than in the other New England States, as, indeed, they well might be, when the merchants and sailors of this little State were the greatest traffickers in the slave trade; but as the negro could not live in her latitude, the Rhode Islanders—the great negro traders—provided a scheme of emancipation, which took a lifetime to work out, leaving in 1840 five slaves still in that State.
Connecticut was too much interested to indulge her philanthropy at the expense of a sudden emancipation. In 1790 there were 2,750 slaves, and so, like Rhode Island, she adopted a gradual plan of emancipation, by the slow and prudent workings of which, seventeen only of her slaves remained as such in 1840.
Pennsylvania was in the same situation, having 3,737 slaves in 1790, and she, too, provided for gradual emancipation. The census of 1840 showed sixty-five negroes still in slavery; and in this State of Brotherly Love, as late as 1823, a negro woman was sold by the sheriff to pay the debts of her master.
In New York, in which in 1790 there were 21,324 slaves, a similar act of gradual emancipation was passed (1799), by the operations of which, in 1840, all but four slaves had been gotten rid of, whether by emancipation, death, or shipment for sale at the South, can only be conjectured.
New Jersey, though adopting the same scheme, was slower in getting rid of her slaves, 674 still remaining in 1840.
Now, my comrades, what did this scheme of gradual or future emancipation mean? You will at once see that if our Northern brethren had been earnest in freeing these people, in accordance with their righteous abhorrence of the institution of slavery and with their zealous love of universal freedom, they would all have been as philanthropic and disinterested as Vermont with her seventeen slaves, and would have emancipated their negroes as suddenly and more immediately than Mr. Lincoln did ours by his famous proclamation. But such a course would have cost their citizens just the market value of their slaves. What, then, could they do with these negroes? The negroes came from a warmer climate, and could not live and thrive and be profitable with them. It was expedient, therefore, as an economical measure, to get rid of the burden of their support, and the plan of emancipation, at a given time in the future, would accomplish the purpose. How? Mark you, it was the negroes their slave traders had landed upon their shores they wished to get rid of— not slavery. A provision of the law, then, that at a given day in the future all slaves would be free, would accomplish the purpose, because under such a law the owners of slaves did not lose the value of their slaves, but were only required by a given time to send them to the South and to sell them there. This was the result of all the emancipation acts of the Northern States. The Northern people, as usual, beat us in the bargain. They sold their slaves to us, took our money for them, then freed them without paying for them, and then took credit for their philanthropy in freeing the negroes they had sold to us.
Let us look at the conduct of our Northern brethren in another connection, and that in the worst feature with regard to slavery, and in doing so let us bear in mind that the superior morality and love of freedom in the North is supposed to have been peculiarly evinced in the suppression of this institution. If the Northern people were so zealous in freeing the negroes from slavery, had they not been as active in putting them into slavery?
There is an old proverb, that the receiver is as bad as the thief. Unless history very much belies them, the righteous New Englanders, notwithstanding their pious abhorrence of slavery, have given a new reading to this old saw, i. e., that the receiver is worse than the thief. They thought it no sin to fit out ships to steal negroes to sell to Southerners, but their righteous souls were vexed at the idea that we should keep them in slavery after purchasing them.
During the four years that the ports of this State were opened for the slave trade (1804-1807), of the 202 vessels that arrived in Charleston harbor with slaves, 61 claimed to belong to Charleston, and exactly the same number avowedly belonged to New England (i. e., Rhode Island 59, Boston 1, Connecticut 1); 70 belonged to Britain. Of the other 10, 3 belonged to Baltimore, 4 to Norfolk, 2 to Sweden, 1 to France.
I say the same number (61) claimed to belong to Charleston as avowedly belonged to New England, and, in using this expression, I, of course, mean to express my doubt if they did. I mean to say that a great number of these vessels which were claimed to belong to Charleston did not belong to Charleston, but were in fact owned by New Englanders or Old Englanders. If we look at the list of consignees we will see that I am not probably mistaken in this supposition. Of the 202 vessels which brought in slaves, but 13 consignees were natives of Charleston, while 88 were natives of Rhode Island, 91 of Boston, and 10 of France. We may be very sure that every vessel really owned in Charleston was consigned to a Charlestonian, and we will not be very far wrong if we assume that all the 88 vessels bringing slaves to Charleston, consigned to natives of Rhode Island, in fact belonged to Rhode Islanders, or at least to New Englanders. But there is further evidence that I am not mistaken in charging that Rhode Island had much more to do with this negro importation than the people of this State, for it appears that but 2,006 of 39,075 slaves brought into Charleston were imported by our merchants and planters, while Rhode Islanders imported for us 8,338. (See Judge Smith’s Statistics—Year Book City of Charleston, 1880.)
Again. More than fifty years after this, in 1858, the London Times charged that New York had become ‘the greatest slave-trading mart in the world’; and Vice-President Wilson, in his work upon the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, quotes from the New York daily papers that there were ‘eighty-five vessels fitted out from New York, from February, 1859, to July, 1860,’ for the slave trade; that ‘an average of two vessels each week clear out of our harbor, bound for Africa and a human cargo;’ ‘that from thirty to sixty thousand (negroes) a year are taken from Africa to Cuba by vessels from the single port of New York.’ （Rise and Fall of Slave Trade in America, Volume II, page 618.)
Is it not absurd, with these historical facts upon record, for the Northern people, especially the New Englanders, to charge us with the ‘moral offence’ of slavery?
Slavery as an institution was doubtless the incident upon which the differences between the people of the North and the South settled and concentrated, but the moral offence of it that so aroused the fanaticism of the world was not the cause of the war. When slavery was prohibited in the Northwestern Territory in 1787, with the unanimous consent of the Southern delegates in Congress, but three of the Northern States had determined to put an end to slavery within their own borders, and of these three Rhode Island and Pennsylvania freed no slaves then living, but only provided that those born after a certain time should be free; Vermont alone emancipated her seventeen slaves. Franklin, it is true, had organized an Abolition Society in 1787, but for many years, during which the ‘Federal’ and ‘National’ parties continued their controversies as to the form of government, it was only proposed to bring to bear upon the institution of slavery the sentiment of the people of the States. The power of the Federal Government to interfere in the matter was not even thought of.
The admission of Missouri, in 1820, no doubt was strenuously resisted because her Constitution permitted slavery, and was only passed by Congress upon the compromise that slavery should not be introduced in the territories belonging then to the United States lying north of 36° 30′. But a moment’s reflection will show that ‘the moral offence’ of slavery could not have entered into the consideration of this compromise. For if slavery was wrong north of 36° 30′, was it not wrong also south of it? The opposition to the admission of more slave States arose from the fact that such States, by the Constitution, had representatives in Congress and in the Electoral College, not only for the white freemen, but for three-fifths of their slaves also, which greatly added to their representation and power. That compromise was nothing more than the adjustment of the balance of political power between the States. The admission of new States upon one condition or another, however affecting the interests of the slave States, was a fair subject of discussion. There was nothing in principle why a strict State’s Rights Federalist might not have resisted the admission of another slave State, nor that one of the National party should not have advocated it. From other considerations, the Northern people were for the most part Consolidationists and Nationalists; while the Southern people were strict constructionists of the State’s Rights school, and upheld slavery. This was a coincidence of momentous consequence, but philosophically speaking, as regards slavery, it was nothing more.
And so it happened that for fifty years after the adoption of the Constitution, while the ‘National party’ and the Whig party on the one hand, and the Federal party and the Democratic party on the other, warred over the principles of the government, the opponents of the institution of slavery increased in numbers and energy, but without connection with the politics of the country. But during this time this party in favor of a strong centralized National Government had, under one name or another, gathered much strength. As early as 1789 it had procured the passage of the famous 25th Section of the Judiciary Act, which allows an appeal from the final judgment of a State court to the Supreme Court of the United States in cases involving the construction of a law or treaty of the United States, thus asserting for the Federal Government the judicial construction of its measures as against the judicial views of the State. At the same session another point was gained by the National party. Under the provision of the Constitution that makes it the duty of the President ‘to take care that the laws be carefully executed,’ the National party carried the point that the President, without the sanction of Congress, had the power to remove an officer of the government, the tenure of whose office was not fixed by the Constitution; and about the same time General Hamilton opened the question of the right of Congress to impose duties to encourage manufactures. Here, then, were three distinct issues—the real grounds of difference which culminated in our war.
Next followed the contest over the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the Alien and Sedition Laws, which resulted in the election of Mr. Jefferson over Mr. Adams as President, and the temporary check to the rapid strides of the government to consolidation. But it was only a check—Mr. Jefferson could recover no lost ground for the State’s Rights party. Then, unfortunately, came the war of 1812 with Great Britain, absorbing the attention of his successor, Mr. Madison, arresting all efforts to carry out the doctrines and policy which had brought the party into power, and giving a strong impulse to centralization.
It is difficult to keep up with all the changes of names and organization of the parties during the fifteen years succeeding the war of 1812, but a study will show that under whatever name or disguise assumed, the great struggle still was between the State’s Rights, or local government, and National, or centralized government. The first measure of the old National party, then calling themselves ‘The National Republican Party,’ in 1828 was the act known at the time as the ‘Bill of Abominations,’ which, throwing aside the pretense of revenue, openly imposed a tax for protection—a measure which forms a prominent chapter in the history of this State.
As you all know, upon the passage of this act Mr. Calhoun counselled resistance. Whether our great statesman contemplated, by the resistance he advised, a forcible resistance or a resistance through the courts, it is useless now to discuss; its discussion would only revive the domestic dissension of the Nullification and Union parties of 1832. It is enough that a large party in the State understood his advice to be resistance by force, and acted upon it; and that the State took measures to maintain by arms its denial of the right of Congress to impose upon it duties not authorized by its construction of the Constitution, and that in doing so it had the support of many of the ablest statesmen of the country and the volunteered aid from the people of other States; while on the other hand General Jackson, as President, openly marshalled the forces of the Union to war upon the State, and upon those who upheld her.
The issue, which was so imminent, was avoided by mutual concessions of the United States and State Governments. But I desire to call your attention, my comrades, to the fact that the late war in which we took part had all but commenced in 1832, and that the real question then was the same, the incident only different. The question in 1832 and in 1860 was as to the sovereignty of the State. The incident in 1832 was the tariff; the incident in 1860 was slavery. Well would it have been for us had the question in 1860 turned upon the same incident as that in 1832. Would that we might have fought and shed our blood upon the dry question of the tariff and taxation, instead of one upon which the world had gone mad.
I cannot but think that our Convention of 1860 made a great mistake in the declaration of the causes which induced the secession of the State, in resting our justification alone upon the conduct of the Northern people in regard to slavery, however gross a violation of the Constitution such conduct was; and it is a matter of satisfaction to us, my comrades, that our first and beloved commander, General Gregg, as a member of that Convention, opposed the adoption of the declaration on this very ground. I cannot but agree with him, and think that the justification of the secession of the State was much more satisfactorily set out, and rested upon much better grounds in the address to the people of the other Southern States, in which was so ably and well shown that the issue was the same as that in the Revolution of 1776, and like that turned upon the one great principle, self-government, and self-taxation, the criterion of self-government.
This latter address went on to show that the Southern States stood exactly in the same position toward the Northern States that the Colonies did towards Great Britain. The Northern States having the majority in Congress, claimed the same power of omnipotence in legislation as the British Parliament. That the ‘general welfare’ was the only limitation of either, and the majority in Congress, as in the British Parliament, were the sole judges of the expediency of the legislation this ‘general welfare’ required. That thus the government of the United States had become a consolidated government, and the people of the Southern States were compelled to meet the very despotism their fathers threw off in 1776.
If, then, my comrades, our cause was just, as just as that of our forefathers in 1776, and one for which we might well indeed have endured hardship and risked our lives and shed our blood, need we be ashamed of the fight we made for it?
It is said that when the war commenced we vaunted that ‘a single Southern soldier could whip three Yankees.’ Well, it was a very foolish boast, if made; as foolish as that of General Grant, about which I shall speak, and one which you, my comrades, will agree with me, was not heard among the men who had the whipping to do We who did meet ‘the three Yankees,’ know well that we met men as brave as ourselves, if differing with us in temperament and in the manner of their warfare. But we did meet ‘the three Yankees,’ and it did take, if not three, at least two and a half to one to destroy our armies at last. The total number of men called under arms by the Government of the United States, between April, 1861, and April, 1865, amounted to 2,759,049, of whom 2,656,053, were actually embodied in the Federal armies. Foreign military authorities have put down the number of men embodied in the Confederate armies as 1,100,000. But this we know to be a great exaggeration, taken from Northern sources; for even ‘robbing the cradle and the grave,’ there was scarcely a million of men able to bear arms in the Confederate States, nor did we have arms to put in their hands had we so many.
Let me give you here, my comrades, my version of General Grant’s famous unfulfilled boast, that ‘he would fight it out on this line if it took all the summer.’ I refer to this often quoted saying as a boast, because it has been generally so understood; but I have always rather regarded it as a pledge or promise demanded of him alike by the manhood of the North as by the timidity of the officials at Washington.
When the Confederate Government determined to subordinate military considerations to political, it required no greater strategical skill than was possessed by us of the line to perceive that we had offered to our enemy a most vulnerable point, which, unlike that of Achilles, was not only the most vulnerable, but the most vital point of the Confederacy, that its throat all through the war was bared to the knife whenever the Federal generals should be allowed to destroy rather than attempt to whip us; that the James river was the sure, if not easy, road to the Confederate capital. McClellan was too professional a soldier to be willing to strike anywhere else while that was open to him; so, in the spring of 1862, he essayed the task with a force of 153.000 men, against which General Johnston had present for duty but 53,688—just about one to three. After a month’s resistance McClellan approached Richmond on June 20, 1862, with a force of 115,102, against which General Lee, in the Seven Days battle, had but 80,762, scarcely more than one to two. Yet, with this force, McClellan was driven back to his gunboats. But, notwithstanding this reverse, the manhood of the North demanded again a fair fight on an open field, and an answer to this boast that we would fight three to one. No victory by mere strategical skill, aided by gunboats, would appease the Northern desire that the Army of Northern Virginia should be whipped on a fair field. So Pope was tried; and you recollect, my comrades, that after a march of sixty miles in two days, on three ears of green corn apiece for rations, we broke our fast on Westphalia hams, Mocha coffee, and sherry wine out of his stores, and sent him back to Washington to tell that he was mistaken in telegraphing that he had captured Jackson and his corps. During those two terrible days (August 28-29), before Longstreet came up, our corps of 17,309 men withstood Pope’s army of 74,578—you recollect with what terrible sacrifice to our brigade; and in the great battle of the 30th, after Longstreet had joined us, we had but 49,077 of all arms, and yet we gained a second victory on Manassas plains. At Sharpsburg you fought 35,255 under Lee against 87,164, which McClellan states in his official report that he had in action. At Fredericksburg, in which our brigade again suffered so severely, and where we lost our beloved leader, General Gregg, we fought 78,000 under Lee against 100,000 under Burnside, and at Chancellorsville 57,000 under Lee and Jackson defeated 132,000 under Hooker. At Gettysburg 62,000 under Lee made a drawn battle against 105,000 under Meade.
When, then, Grant came, he found himself required to promise that he would not repeat the Vicksburg strategy, but would march straight to meet us in the open field. He might have all the men he wanted, provided only he would undertake to move straight on and crush us without the adventitious aid of the naval forces striking us where we were unable to resist. Such, I suppose, was somewhat the occasion of his promise to ‘fight it out on this line if it took all the summer.’ Did he fulfill his promise?
On the 1st of May, 1864, General Grant had 120,380 men of all arms, to which was added, before he commenced active operations, 20,780, giving him a total of 141,160 men at the opening of the campaign, against which Lee had present for duty but 63,984. With these enormous odds in his favor he ‘fought it out’ but a single month, during which time—to quote from our old friend, the Adjutant-General of the Army of Northern Virginia, Colonel Taylor, from whom I have taken most of these figures—there had been an almost daily encounter of hostile arms, and the Army of Northern Virginia had placed hors de combat of the number under General Grant a number equal to its entire numerical strength at the commencement of the campaign; and notwithstanding its own heavy losses and the reinforcements received by the enemy, still presented an impregnable front to its opponent, and constituted an insuperable barrier to General Grant’s ‘On to Richmond.’
Let me use the language of a foreign writer to describe the scenes of the second great battle of Cold Harbor, which brought to an end Grant’s promise to fight it out on that line:
But the June of 1864,
says Colonel Chesney, ‘found Grant almost in sight of the city, upon the very ground which McClellan had held on the banks of the Chickahominy two years before. Four times he had changed the line of operation chosen in obedience to Lincoln’s strong desire, on which he had declared his intention to “fight it out all the summer.” Four times he had recoiled from the attempt to force his way direct to the rebel capital, for his indomitable and watchful adversary ever barred the way. Once more, on the morning of June 3d, he flung his masses fiercely against the line held by Lee, which ran across the very field of battle where that General had won his first triumph over McClellan. The result was so fearful and useless a slaughter that, according to the chief Union historian, when “later in the day orders were issued to renew the assault,” the whole army correctly appreciating what the inevitable result must be, silently disobeyed.’
Again, the same writer says:
‘The most eulogistic biographer of the great Federal general speaks as though it were under his breath when he tells the story of the battle of Cold Harbor. “There was a rush,” says such an one; “a bitter struggle, a rapid interchange of deadly fire and the (Federal) army became conscious that the task was more than it could do.” The testimony of Swinton, himself an eye-witness, is more emphatic and complete: “It took hardly more than ten minutes to decide the battle. There was along the whole line a rush—the spectacle of impregnable works, a bloody loss, a sullen falling back, and the action was decided.” ’
What an ignominious end to a boast, or what a failure in the fulfillment of a promise that he would fight his way to Richmond over the land route if it took him all the summer! By the first of June Grant had not only failed in this boastful promise, but he had so lost the confidence and command of his grand army that it absolutely refused his order to advance again.
The summer had thus scarcely begun when Grant was obliged to abandon the idea of fighting it out on the line he had been so ready to undertake. But abandon it he must, for he had learnt by bitter experience, as Colonel Chesney observes, that the ‘continuous hammering’ in which he had trusted, might break the instrument while its work was yet unfinished. Not even the vast resources on which he had power to draw could long spare 20,000 men a week for the continuance of the experiment. He had lost in the first three weeks of battle with Lee 60,000 men; and as Lee had only commenced the campaign with 63,000, Grant could not but reflect that had their armies been equal Lee would not have left him a vestige of his with which to retreat.
But with the abandonment of his boast or promise came the beginning of the end to us. From this time forth Grant contented himself with resuming the work from which McClellan had been called in disgrace, but unlike McClellan he was furnished with all the men and material a siege required. Butler had joined him, and he now had 150,000 men with which to commence the slow but sure if not glorious work of wearing out the remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia.
In speaking of that last terrible struggle of nearly a year, let me use the language of the distinguished English soldier and essayist rather than my own: ‘Not in the first flush of triumph when his army cheered his victory over McClellan,’ writes Colonel Chesney, ‘not when hurling back Federal masses three times the weight of his own on the banks of the Rappahannock, nor even when advancing the commander of victorious legions to carry the war away from his loved Virginia into the North had Lee seemed so great, or won the love of his soldiers so closely as through the dark winter that followed. Overworked his men were sadly, with forty miles of entrenchments for that weakened army to guard. Their prospects were increasingly gloomy as month passed by after month bringing them no reinforcements, while their enemy became visibly stronger. Their rations grew scantier and poorer, while the jocund merriment of the investing lines told of abundance, often raised to luxury by voluntary tribute from the wealth of the North.’ ‘But the confidence of the men in their beloved chief,’ says Colonel Chesney, ‘never faltered, their sufferings were never laid on “Uncle Robert.” The simple piety which all knew to be the rule of his life acted upon thousands of those under him with a power which those can hardly understand who know not how community of hope, suffering and danger fairly shared amid the vicissitudes of war quickens the sympathies of the roughest and lowest, as well as those above them.’
In Lee’s own language the line of defence ‘stretched so long as to break,’ at last gave way, and the end came. A single Southern soldier had not in the long run been able to whip three Yankees, however gloriously he had fought. Numbers, material and discipline at last triumphed over individual heroism. I need not recall the agony of those last days. Let me rather quote again from Colonel Chesney’s memoir of General Lee. He says: ‘The day will come when the evil passions of the great civil strife will sleep in oblivion, and North and South do justice to each other’s motives and forget each other’s wrongs. Then history will speak with clear voice of the deeds done on either side, and the citizens of the whole Union do justice to the memories of the dead, and place above all others the name of the great chief of whom we have written. In strategy mighty, in battle terrible, in adversity as in prosperity a hero indeed. With the simple devotion to duty and the rare purity of the ideal Christian knight he joined all the kingly qualities of a leader of men.’
It was in one of these last terrible days, my comrades, that your first captain and your last colonel fell, mortally wounded. In the fight at Hatcher’s Run, on the 30th March, 1864, Colonel C. W. McCreary was shot through the lungs and died as he was carried to the breastworks. I need not remind you how admirable a soldier he was, how brave in battle, how skilfully he could handle a regiment in action, and how gentle he was to all around him. Educated in the State Military Academy, he was fully prepared for the command of the regiment to which he succeeded and which he led so gallantly and successfully in many engagements. I can still hear his voice ringing through the din of battle as he aligned the regiment for some desperate work. You had reason to be proud of him while he lived, and to mourn him when he died, and should now revere his memory.
It is, my comrades, one of the greatest misfortunes of our defeat that not even the names of those who fought and bled and died in our glorious struggle have been preserved, and that unless collected and enrolled by us now will soon be forgotten and their memory lost with the cause for which they warred. Let it be the sacred duty, then, of those of us who survive to gather up the names of our fellow-soldiers, and let these lines, from the pen of one who served his State from the first to the last of the war, be the epitaph of those who, like him, have passed away:
That they fought, for Principle against Power,
For Religion against Fanaticism,,
For Man’s Right against Man’s Might,
These Men were Martyrs of their Creed;
And their Justification
Is in the holy keeping of the God of History.
But, for as much
As alike in the heat of Battle,
In the weariness of the Hospital,
And in the gloom of hostile Prisons,
They were faithful unto death,
Theirs is the Crown
Of a loving, a glorious, and an immortal
In the Hearts, and in the Holiest Memories
Of the Daughters of their People;
Of the Sons of their State;
Of the Heirs Unborn of their Example;
And of all for whom
they dared to die.