100th Anniversary Birthday
Gen'1 Robert E. Lee
MEMORIAL ADDRESS BY
HON. HAMILTON DOUGLAS
'Delivered January 19. 1907
GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE
The following Address on the 100th Jlnnicersary of
Gen/. Lees Birthday
Was delivered before Atlanta Camp Xo. 159, U. C. V., and the Atlanta Chap ter United Daughters of the Confederacy, Jan 19, 1907 in the Hall of the House of Representatives, Atlanta, Georgia,
by Hon. Hamilton Douglas.
Published for Distribution by Atlanta Camp No. 159, that this just tribute to the World's Greatest Soldier may not be lost.
By HON. HAMILTON DOUGLAS
Mr. Chairman, Confederate Veterans and Friends'. This meeting is held under the auspices of Atlanta Camp,
number 159 of the Confederate Veterans of Georgia, and under the auspices of The United Daughters of the Confederacy, who have invited as their guests veterans from other camps and other friends. This occasion is honored by the presence of that gallant soldier, William A. Wright, its presiding officer, "who was the first commander of this Association, and for whom the people of Georgia have, for many years, most properly given substantial evidence of high appreciation and regard.
We are met to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the birthday of General Robert E. Lee. ~So greater honor has ever come to me, one of the generation that are sons of the Con federate veterans, than the pleasant task I am now attempting.
The laws of this Camp define the scope of my remarks. Among the objects of this Association, as declared by its Con stitution, are "the conservation of Confederate memories;" "the promotion of fellowship among all kindred organizations who wore the gray;" and the "encouragement and practice of manly virtues." To attain this end, this Camp has declared that, among other meetings, memorial exercises shall be annu ally held in celebration of the birthday of General Robert E. Lee; and these grizzled veterans hope, as their Constitution further declares, that through such annual exercises, our young men may be moved more earnestly to emulate the life and char acter of him who was not only the first soldier of the age but the highest and rarest type of the patriotic, Christian gentleman.
Since the organization of this Camp, out of its members who have held high office, there have passed "Over the river to rest under the shade of the trees," Lieut.-Generals James Longstreet
and John B. Gordon; Maj.-General Pierce M. B. Young; Brig.Generals Phillip Cook, Alfred H. Colquitt, William S. Walker and Robert Henderson; any one of whom would have made a worthy hero of some grand epic; our dearly beloved Maj.-Gen eral Clement A. Evans being the only living general now on its roster; also there have gone scores of officers of lesser rank but equal bravery. Also hundreds of your comrades; the boys, who, wearing no insignia of authority, carried the guns, did picket duty on the lonely nights; who stormed the entrench ments and carved success out of the brilliant plans of your lead ers; comrades, who, ragged and hungry, lost all in undying de votion to our cause save honor and glory. In the last seven years more than two hundred of your number have died. Out of 1500 who have first and last belonged to this organization scant 400 are now living. Verily,
''Time rolls his ceaseless course. The race of yore, . Who danced our infancy upon their knee,
And told our marveling boyhood legends store, Of their strange ventures happ'd by land and sea, How they are blotted from the things that be;
How few all weak and withered of their force, Wait on the verge of dark eternity,
Like stranded wrecks, the tide returning hoarse, To sweep them from our sight! Time rolls his ceaseless
Truly, but few are left to us, but so long as a gray-headed one of you remains, we will honor the heroism of your enlistment and the fortitude of your service, and cheer your declining days with recollections of your glorious past.
And when the last Confederate veteran shall have been raid away to rest, think not that you or the cause for which' you. fought, will be forgotten. Generations following in your foot steps will not be unmindful of the past. No; so long aa we love truth, admire men moved to action by earnest conviction
and worship at the shrine of heroes, so long will the memory of the Confederate veteran remain dearer to Georgia's heart than her old red hills and sunny skies.
When your last loiterer shall have pitched his tent on "fame's eternal camping-ground," we believe your posterity will continue to gather in these halls, in the fuller and more truthful light that will then come, of the history that you made, to honor your mem ories and espouse the cause for which you fought.
Beside the "stars and stripes" we will forever hang out the "stars and bars" that you fought for so bravely and so welL Perhaps the flag of the Confederacy is only an heirloom; yet we prize it dearly and on fitting occasions we will fling out its tattered fragments to be kissed by the breezes of loving huzzas as the banner of uncompromising conviction, dauntless courage and unparalleled heroism. The nation is represented, born in pain and travail, baptized in blood and fire, died young in years but full of honor. The principles it represented, of unfalter ing, self-sacrificing devotion to duty, live to-day; and will con tinue forever to live in the "hearts of all true men, South and North.
The same exalted devotion to duty that animated you in the unequal contest for secession has won success for us in the strife of trade, in the conflicts of commerce and in the forum of de bate; and, in the eternal conflict that is constantly waged be tween our higher and better selves and what is ignoble and base, those principles will win victories of tenfold more value than those nobly gained on field of battle.
It is the heroism of Lee and his veterans, inspiring us, their children, that has made our Southern land, so desolated and wasted by war, to bloom and blossom as a very Eden. So long as our passions are stirred by the mute eloquence of that old flag's never-to-be-told story of sacrifice, fortitude and bravery, so long as our hearts move at the sight of you gray-haired, bat tle-scarred veterans, so long may we hope to show to the world noble attainments for Southern manhood; but when, through motives of policy, greed or gain, the smoke-begrimed ensign
of the Confederacy awakens no responsive chord in our bosoms, and the old Confederate story falls on deaf ears, God save the State, for human help availeth not!
Looking backward through the past years of the Republic, we people of the South glory in calling to mind the memory of Washington as the "father of his country;" Madison and Mar shall, makers and expounders of its laws; Jefferson, who moved its Western boundary back from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean; Jackson, who humbled the victors of Waterloo and made the name of the young Republic feared and respected throughout the whole world; Houston and Taylor who added the "Lone Star State" to its ample domains; Francis Scott Key who gave us the nation's rallying cry, the "Star Spangled Ban ner," the battle hymn of the Republic; all Southern men. But second to none of these do we love the memory and example of our great military chieftain, Robert Edward Lee I As Southern men, we know that by good title we are part and parcel of our great country which, but for our forefathers, had never existed; though, perhaps happily, we failed to dissolve, we did make the union; and the effort to dissolve it will in the end work to the greater glory and value of American citizen ship. Improvement is God's law. The divine law of evolu tion will make as its servant the secession of '61 as it did the Revolution of '76. As the Briton cares little whether his an cestors wore the "white" or the "red" rose, but exults in their bravery and fidelity in the wars between Lancaster and York, so the day will corne when posterity will glory in the brave deeds of their ancestors done at Gettysburg or Shiloh, at Fredericksburg or Chicamauga, at Franklin or Cold Harbor, little caring whether they wore the blue or the gray, conscious that a braver, higher, manlier type of citizenship was born of the great Civil War; and when that time shall come, Robert E. Lee will take his place, in all the nation, second to none in the love, admiration and respect of a grateful posterity.
In 1870 Georgia set apart the twenty-second day of Febru ary to commemorate the virtues of a rebel Virginian; in 1889,
passing over the long list of her own illustrious sons, she honored herself by being first of all the States to add the name of another such Virginian to that of the immortal Wash ington, one whose natal day should be celebrated in equal honor and with equal thanksgiving.
It was the prophetic soul of Georgia that first discerned that the patriot Lee should ride, with the rebel Washington. "Down the years, twin rebels side by side." That
"Those two shall ride immortal, And shall ride abreast of time, Shall light up stately history, And blaze in epic rhyme. Both patriots, both Virginians true, Both 'rebels,' both sublime."
So by express sanction of the sovereign voice of Georgia, we are met again in these legislative halls to extol the character and emulate the virtues of the patriot Lee. We are met as Georgians; perhaps better, as citizens of the great Republic, under its honored and beloved flag, to celebrate this centennial birthday of the greatest military chieftain of modern times; one who never drew his sword without cause or ever sheathed it in dishonor. He was the hero of Appomattox, matchless in strategy, temperate in victory and divine in defeat.
In that last terrible campaign, involving such awful sacrifice of human life, that began in the spring of 1864 and was termi nated at Appomattox court-house, Lee was opposed by the Gen eral-in-Chief of the Federal forces, aided by a well-tried staff of generals; among them were Meade, Hancock, Sedgwick, Custis, Wilson, Warren, Wright, Burnside, Barlow, Gibben, Humphries, Sheridan, Upton, and a score of other able and brilliant Generals. His opponent was backed by unlimited re sources, and supported in the beginning by an army of 136,000 tried veterans, constantly re-inforced, until over 200,000 men were marshalled under its banners in this campaign. Behind
Lee's long lines were scant 60,000 men, who were never to be re-enforced; whose resources were practically exhausted. Yet in a few weeks he had disabled more of his opponents than he counted men; and up until the very last, up until April 1, 1865, when "the long thin line in gray" was first broken at Five Forks, he never was beaten in battle. At the end he waa literally worn out in beating his enemy.
Was he ever outgeneraled in strategy; was he ever deceived; did he ever miscalculate toward the end in the game of war as the great Napoleon was deceived and did miscalculate? No.
Was he ever outflanked, as was Hooker at Ohancellorsville, when Jackson, at the command of his great chieftain, marched 20,000 men, some of whom with their horses had not been fed for forty-eight hours, nineteen miles in little over half a day, through the tangled thickets of the wilderness, to fall as a thunderbolt from a clear sky on the rear of the splendid army of the Potomac which was rolled up as a scroll and hurled back in utter confusion and defeat? No. With forces reduced to 35,000 men in the early months of '65, defending nearly forty miles of entrenchments, opposing an army of nearly a quarter of a million of men, he was simply overwhelmed by numbers as a great tidal wave sometimes beats down the most gallant ship that ever sailed the seas.
Time forbids speaking further of the campaigns of General Lee. The bright particular star of his military genius has risen to be seen of all men, and shines undimmed in resplend ent glory.
Great as was Lee in battle, in all other relations that he bore to man and God, he was infinitely greater. He stands uniquely out in history as combining magnificent military genius, with utmost courtesy and tenderness; as possessing incorruptible integrity and every trait that marks the ideal moral hero, the superb Christian gentleman.
In these present days, an inordinate love of money seems sometimes to be stealing the heart and mind of the whole na tion, destroying the nobler impulses of the soul, as some loath-
some disease spreading over an entire community destroys the body. Too often, nowadays, do men sacrifice love and honor, chastity and truth, fidelity and friendship, everything that makes for nobility of character, for gold. Great fortunes are wickedly accumulated until they are big beyond human compre hension, and success in life is measured not by character and brotherly helpfulness, but by the number of dollars a man has hoarded.
It will be cheering and ennobling to us, therefore, living in such times, to consider the character of Lee. It is not in my power to describe its greatness; but let me recall a few inci dents, from the hundreds of well-authenticated stories told of him, that show something of his mind and heart and purpose.
When President Lincoln called for troops to invade Virginia, General Lee refused the supreme command of the United States army, resigned his commission, abandoned his splendid home, turned his back on wealth and forsook the associations of a life time, to assume command of the State troops of Virginia. Of this decision, in June, 1868, he said to Gen. Wade Hampton, "I only did what my duty demanded; I could have taken no other course without dishonor. And if all were to be done over again, I should act in precisely the same manner." When the day of the surrender came, when one of his officers said to him, "Oh, General, what will history say of the surrender of the army in the field ?" He replied, "That is not the question; the question is, is it right to surrender this army. If it is right, then I will take all the responsibility."
During the hours of agony and suspense just previous to the surrender, which were in truth a veritable Gethsemane to him, one of his officers says he exclaimed from the depths of a full heart, 'How easily I could get rid of this and be at rest; I have only to ride along the lines and all will be over." "But," he quietly added, "it is our duty to live, for what will become of the women and children of the South if we are not here to sup port and protect them."
After the war, refusing to desert his State and native land,
as others did, refusing all offers of high place and preferment, refusing to sell the use of his name, refusing to receive chari table gifts that first'and last aggregated hundreds of thousands of dollars, he accepted at a small salary, the presidency of a college which then seemed ruined by the calamities of war. At Lexington, a little village up in the mountains, far removed from the larger activities of life, he quietly and faithfully did the work of a humble college president. He attended to every little and seemingly humdrum affair, with all the patient and assiduous care for detail with which he planned his mightiest campaign. And there, doing each day's work thoroughly and well, he died at his post a prisoner of war to the United States, on parole! Surely such actions and example speak louder than any words; and are of more value than any victory won on field of battle.
If ever there be excuse for a proud and haughty spirit, Gen eral Lee could have framed it. Descended from a long line of illustrious ancestors, he had married into the family of George Washington. Of splendid physique, he possessed manly beauty rarely equalled. Honors in his life "constantly clustered round his brow until his fame was co-extensive with two continents;" but modesty and humility, simplicity and gentleness, were con spicuous traits of his character. He never wore the gold lace and feathers of military office. When one of his brigadiers asked him why it was that he always wore the simple gray coat of the Confederate colonel with its three stars, he replied, "I do not care for display; and the truth is that the rank of colonel is about as high as I ought ever to have gotten; or perhaps, I might manage a good cavalry brigade, if I had the right kind of subordinates."
When he received Gen. Jackson's message of congratulation upon the victory of Chancellorsville, not then knowing of Stonewall's wound, with a broken voice, he bade the courier say to General Jackson that the "victory was his and the congratula tions belonged to him." Unselfishness unparalleled I
One time the fire of the enemy was temporarily concentrated
upon a point in the lines he was visiting south of Richmond. Turning to the men about him, he said in a very quiet tone and manner, "Men, you had better go back; they are firing up here, and you are exposing yourselves to unnecessary danger." As the men obeyed, they saw their beloved general, entirely uncon scious of personal danger, walk across the track of the bullets and tenderly pick up a small object and place it gently in a tree over his head, and then rejoin the men. It was afterwards ascertained that he was putting back in its nest an unfledged sparrow that had fallen to the ground!
A little three-year-old girl pushed her way to the front of the platform during commencement exercises at Washington Col lege. She wandered over by the General, whom she knew, and, making a place for herself beside him on the floor, fell asleep, propped up by his knees! All through the warm summer after noon he tenderly and patiently supported the little child asleep!
In a crowded car an old woman, dusty and travel-worn, en tered. General Lee was standing near at the rear of the car. Some one sprang to his feet and said "Here's a seat for you, General." "No" said General Lee, "there's a seat for the lady."
In a small party of men, among whom was General Lee, anecdotes were being told that bordered on the questionable. A member of the parly said, "I'll tell you something funny." Looking round, he said, "There are no ladies present ?" "No," said General Lee, "but there are gentlemen." The story was not told.
No wonder, then, that the London Standard, at his death, speaking for the British nation, said of him: "A country which has given birth to men like him, and those who followed him, may look the chivalry of Europe in the face without shame; for the fatherlands of Sidney and Bayard never produced a nobler soldier, gentleman, and Christian than General Bx>bert E. Lee."
Such splendid qualities of heart and mind, combined with his great military genius, commanded worship almost from his
soldiers. They idolized him. When "Old Stonewall," or some other favorite officer rode down the line, hats were thrown in the air and he was followed by a rebel yell that made one continuous volley from end of line to end. When Lee rode down the line, heads were uncovered in reverence and the great soldier passed in silence.
One day, some years after the war, General Lee was riding his war-horse "Traveller" out from Lexington through the mountains. He met an old man alone in a deep woods, one of his veterans. "Ain't this General Lee?" said the soldier. "Yes," responded the general. The old man insisted that he dismount. As he did so, the veteran in tears flung his arms about his general and once more gave the old rebel yell in joy till it echoed again and again through the solitary mountains.
In the trying campaign of 1863 he contracted a severe cold. It resulted in a rheumatic inflammation of the sac enclosing the heart, from which thereafter he always suffered. The horrors of the war grieved him to the quick. The responsibility for directing the closing campaign weighed heavily upon him. In his physical condition, the thought, always with him, of the suffering of his people and their unhappy condition after the war brought the keenest anguish to his soul. The burden was heavier than his great heart could bear; it gradually gave way. Though he performed every duty that came to him to the end, happily and bravely in voice and manner, he died of a broken heart, only little past threescore years of age, October 12, 1870.
Such, Confederate Veterans, was your great chieftain. And if souls do ever return to their former abode to comfort and sustain; or ever send a message from the great unknown to poor mortals struggling here below, "Marse Robert" says to his old soldiers, "Marse Robert" says to all: "Character counts; not riches. Do your duty; do it bravely and well. Never de spair. Look up. Let the line move forward. And a victory greater than your General ever planned is yours, for you have captured Heaven itself!"