Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/346

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340 Southern Historical Society Papers.

the hero's choice where the sacrifice was all that was certain. The forlorn hope had ever been his hope. He forsook the assured emi- nence for the earthquake of revolution; to stand or fall with the soil it rocked. It was the peril of everything, only to be justified if principle was at stake. Johnston's justification can be given in no words better than his own. " I believed," he says, "that apart from any right of secession, the revolution begun was justified by the maxims so often repeated by Americans, that free government is founded on the consent of the governed; and that every community strong enough to establish and maintain its independence has a right to assert it. Having been educated in such opinions, I naturally de- termined to return to the State of which I was a native, join the peo- ple among whom I was born, and live with my kindred, and, if nec- essary, fight in their defense."

It was but little more than a decade since Johnston had freely shed his blood in a war, which grew out of our very willing vindication of the right of Texas to secede from Mexico, and accede to the Union. The United States, somewhat loudly, proclaimed to the world that this was right. A President had been elected for triumphing in that cause. It was natural for Johnston to believe, that a right, which had been so exultingly attributed to a province of Mexico, colonized under her laws, was necessarily annexed to that commonwealth of Virginia, which was the first free State of this New World. Indeed, it will be always difficult to explain why Texas herself did not have at least as much legal right to go as to come.

But for Johnston, as for destiny, there was but one tribunal to which the issue was referred, and that was visibly confronting him. It was for the sword to write the record. The gage of battle was thrown down, and by Johnston lifted with a knight's good conscience. What followed is written in letters of flame, and in this crude sum- mary is only referred to as illustrative of character. For the first word and act of Johnston when he drew his sword, on the side he so unreservedly espoused, prefigures his quality the judgment as un- swerving as it was intrepid, the faculty to be bold or cautious as the emergency demanded. His sure eye quickly saw that the triangle, formed by the Potomac, the Shenandoah, and Furnace Ridge, was untenable by any force not strong enough to hold Maryland Heights, which swept every part of it by enfilade and reverse fires ; and that, moreover, it was twenty miles out of position to defend against Pat- terson's expected advance, or to prevent McClellan's junction with