Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/344
338 Southern Historical Society Papers.
As one who wore this armor against fate and walked erect beneath it till forescore had been passed ; as one who in all relations evinced the enduring fibre which sets the seal on every excellence Joseph E. Johnston is our theme. We are to consider the example of a life which by birth was martial. To the son of one of Lee's Legion, nourished by the breath of heroes in the heroic prime, a soldier's life seemed the natural office of a soldier's son. A cadetship at West Point was the signal that the parade-ground of his life was chosen, the tuition of his destiny begun, the Olympian battle joined. "Better," sings an ancient bard, "better is the grave than the life of him who sighs when the horns summon him to the squares of battle." So, sighed not the young second lieutenant, who, gradu- ating with honor in 1829, first won his spurs in the Florida war.
The war itself must be acknowledged to be a part of that sad chapter which registers the uncontained avidity of a victor race. When, in July, 1821, Spain ceded the Floridas to the United States, the Indians were roaming unmolested over the peninsula, and were the recognized possessors of broad and fertile acres in the heart of the country. The white man's remedy for this is the tangle of trea- ties, from whose net work the Indian emerges a desolating savage. It is ever a perilous moment when weakness is the guard of fertility and rapacity is strong. But it is when, in the sequel, devastation and havoc have been loosed, and tottering age, and infantile weak- ness, and woman's sorrow are alike devoured by infuriated murder, that the army appears upon the scene. Whatever was the primary right or wrong, our young second lieutenant was in the field, not for outrage, but to quell it. He was there to act a soldier's part in the school of a soldier's strife and duty. Right worthily he did it. For it fell to him to extricate from jeopardy the command in which he was himself but a subordinate a jeopardy so great that it left him with the marks of five bullets on his person and clothing. On the anvil of an indomitable will he was already beating into polished brightness the fearlesss mettle of his soul. Henceforth, his "bap- tism of fire" stands sponsor for him. His knighthood has been laid upon his shoulder.
It is the track of the accomplished knight which we follow in the war with Mexico that ardent nurse of heroes where our second lieutenant has grown to be captain of the engineers on the staff of Winfield Scott. When Vera Cruz yielded to bombardment, Cap- tains Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, of the General's staff,