Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 06.djvu/174

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
Southern Historical Society Papers.

preserve the memories and cherished brotherhoods of your soldier life, and cannot be objectionable to any, unless it be to one who holds your services to have been in an unworthy cause and your conduct such as called for repentance and forgiveness. The weary march, the picket, the ill-supplied camp, the heart-depressing hospital, as well as the battle field, afford numerous occasions to call forth the generosity and fidelity of soldier friends, and of all the tenderest memories and closest and strongest ties these are perhaps the most enduring. But to sanctify these friendships there must be pride as well in the cause as in the conduct. The veteran who shoulders his crutch to show how fields were won must not be ashamed of the battle in which he was wounded. To higher natures success is not the only test of merit; and you, my friends, though you were finally unsuccessful, have the least possible cause to regret the flag under which you marched or the manner in which you upheld it. Under provocation the bitterest and oft-repeated, yours was never the policy of retaliation. While your homes were laid waste and your families often left destitute, the peaceful home of an enemy suffered not at your hands; nor had the non-combatants cause to tremble at your coming, either in their body or estate. There were some who were not with our marching armies that advocated raising the black flag, but you preferred to share your canteen with the wounded enemy and your half ration with a hungry prisoner. In the heat of the conflict, I commended this exhibition of magnanimity on the part of our soldiers in a general order, and remember with pride the chivalry which called it forth. It were needless to recall the instances of cruel and unmanly conduct of the enemy towards the aged men and helpless women and children of our land; if it were possible to forget, it were well such acts were forgotten. The noblest have most power to forgive, and the meanest are most revengeful. The first is best able to return good for evil; that is your part, and your past conduct shows how well you were able to meet the requirement.

As an original question, the propriety of exercising the State right of secession in 1861 was at least debatable, but the course pursued by the Federal Government, after the war had ceased, vindicates the judgment of those who held separation to be necessary for the safety and freedom of the Southern States. The unsuccessful attempt to separate left those in power to work their will, as it had been manifested when they first got control of the Government. The events are too recent to require recapitulation, and the ruin they have wrought, the depravity they have developed, require no other memorial than the material and moral wreck which the country presents.

Permit me to say of the controverted question of secession by a State from the Union, of which it was a member by compact, voluntarily made, that my faith in that right as an inherent attribute of State sovereignty, was adopted early in life, was confirmed by the study and observation of later years, and has passed, unchanged