Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/May/Address of General D. H. Hill before the Mecklenburg, North Carolina, Historical Society
Address before the Mecklenburg (N. C.) Historical Society.
By General D. H. Hill.
[The distinguished author has kindly furnished us the following address, which we cheerfully publish in full, as every way worthy of preservation, and appropriate to our columns. General Hill wields, in vindicating the truth of history, a pen as ready as his sword was keen in defending the right.]
Gentlemen of the Historical Society of Mecklenburg:
Our president has appropriately introduced the series of historical lectures with the inquiry, why so few have attempted to preserve the record of the great events in the history of North Carolina, and to embalm the memories of the illustrious actors therein. Perhaps, it may not be amiss in me to pursue the same line of thought. For, if the neglect of our past history be due to the lack of materials, then our organization is in vain, and our time and our labor will be thrown away. The truth, however, is that our materials have been rich and lustrous, and the causes which have led to the neglect of them can only be explained by an examination into the characteristics of our people and those surroundings which have moulded their thoughts and their actions.
We look for an explanation of this neglect, in part, to the influence exerted in the State by the Scotch-Irish population. These people have ever been God-fearing, law-loving, law-abiding, honest, truthful, energetic and courageous; but they are, to the last degree unpoetic and averse to hero-worship. They never canonize saints, nor idolize warriors and statesmen. This rugged race bore the brunt of the contest in North Carolina. They fought the battles of freedom for freedom's sake, and when that guerdon was won, they cared not to exalt the merits or the prowess of this or that leader, each conscious of his own equal worthiness. The Scotch-Irish disdained the laudations of heroes as much as their great religious leader, John Knox, disdained "to fear the face of mortal man." Such a people would be slow to build monuments, erect statues and write histories to commemorate deeds of high emprise. Perhaps, this self-reliant, self-asserting and unsentimental people would regard everything that looked like hero-worship as unmanly and contemptible.
This partial explanation of the neglect of history applies only to the two Carolinas, and in looking over the whole Southern field we must seek a more general explanation. Dr. Channing, of Boston, one of the ablest and fairest of the many gifted men of the North, said thirty-four years ago that the great passion of the South was for political power, while the great passion of the North was for money. We give his language in the contrast which he made between the North and the South: "The South," said he, "has abler politicians, and almost necessarily so, because its opulent class makes politics the business of life. * * * In the South an unnatural state of things turns men's thoughts to political ascendency, but in the free States men think little of it. Property is the good for which they toil perseveringly from morning to night. Even the political partisan among us has an eye to property, and seeks office as the best, perhaps only way of subsistence." This is a pretty frank confession from a Northern scholar that Northern politicians seek office mainly in order to make money thereby. It reads very much like prophecy in the revelations of the last few years of Credit Mobilier, Emma Mine Stock, Seneca Stone Contracts, Whisky-Ring Frauds, Pacific Mails Subsidies, and Sales of Sutlers' Posts, etc., etc. But while Dr. Channing gave the distinction in the characteristics of the two sections with great fairness, he did not give the philosophy of that distinction. We might still inquire, Why does the North covet money and the South political power? We think that the solution of the problem is to be found in the density of the population in the one section, and the sparseness of population in the other, with all the modifying influence brought in by this difference of population. The North has devoted itself, from necessity, to commerce and the mechanic arts; the South has devoted itself to a pure agriculture. In rural districts there may be great stinginess and meanness, but greed of money is not a prominent vice, and great wealth is almost unknown. The temptation is wanting, and therefore the vice is not found. Literature and the arts and the sciences are not cultivated to a high point among an agricultural people. These studies require debate, discussion and antagonism. It is true that the great thinkers of the world have generally been born and reared in the country, but it is equally true that they did not become distinguished until their minds had received the attrition of town life. Plodding, pains-taking historians, hard-working students of science, enthusiastic devotees to the arts are not found in the rural districts. The free, fresh air of the country is unfavorable to all that sort of thing. Literary and scientific men, if not born in great centres of trade and commerce, go there to meet congenial spirits, or to find the appliances of their art. The South has had no literature and no science, because she has always had a sparse population. The ambitious have had but two roads to fame; the one led, in time of peace, to legislative and congressional halls; the other led, in time of war, to the tented field and the battle-ground. There never has been a scientific monthly or weekly published in the South. The only well-sustained review ever attempted here dealt mainly in political questions. This, under the management of Hugh Swinton Legare, had almost the ability of the great English quarterlies, but its discussions were confined almost exclusively to matters of state-craft. After a time it shared the fate of all our Southern magazines—died for want of patronage.
To sneer at an agricultural people for deficiency in literature and science, is just as unfair as to sneer at a commercial people for lack of those qualities which are alone found in farming communities. In the thinly settled South, as has been said, the ambitious found but two high roads to distinction. The character of our people is to be judged, then, by the manner in which they acquitted themselves in the struggle for military and political fame, and not in the struggle for moneyed power or literary and scientific preeminence.
Has the South succeeded in furnishing brave soldiers and wise statesmen? This will be my investigation to-night.
The commander-in-chief in the first great rebellion, was the Southern-born Washington. In that contest, the South furnished troops out of all proportion to the numbers of her population. Northern soldiers never came to the relief of the South, but almost all the battle-fields of the North were drenched with Southern blood. At the battle of Brooklyn, a regiment of Marylanders fought so stoutly and checked the British advance so long, that it was virtually destroyed. Half the victors at Trenton and Princeton, who changed the wail of despair of the American people into shouts of victory, were from Virginia. Two future Presidents of the United States, of Southern birth, were in that battle, one of whom was wounded. The only general officer there slain, was from Fredericksburg, Virginia, and he was commanding Southern troops. The retreat at White Plains would have been a terrible disaster, but for the charge of Southern troops that drove back, for a time, the British, flushed with victory. At Germantown, a Southern brigade gained deathless honor, and the life-blood of a North Carolina general was poured out. After the massacre by the Indians in the valley of Wyoming, 1776, George Rogers Clark, of Virginia, with a brigade of his countrymen, penetrated to the upper Mississippi, chastised the savage butchers, captured the British Governor of Detroit and seized £10,000 sterling, a most seasonable addition to our scanty currency. The Virginia troops bore the brunt of the battle of Brandywine, and stood, while others ran. At Monmouth and on the plains of Saratoga, Southern blood mingled with Northern in the battles of freedom. Morgan's Virginia riflemen greatly distinguished themselves, and their deadly rifles slew the British General Fraser, the inspiring spirit of Burgoyne's army.
On our own soil we find the same heroism. When South Carolina was over-run, the guerrillas, under Sumter, Marion, Pickens, &c., drove the British back, step by step, to Charleston, where they were held in a state of siege until the end came. It is our deliberate opinion that no battles of the Revolution will compare in brilliancy with the defence of Fort Moultrie and the defeat of Ferguson at King's Mountain, fought solely by untrained Southern troops. Our own State had the honor of shedding the first blood in the sacred cause of freedom, of first proclaiming the great principles of independence, and of having on its soil that battle-ground where Cornwallis received from Southern troops the first check in his career of victory—a check which ultimately led to his surrender.
If we come to the war of 1812, Harrison and Jackson, beyond all question, gained the most laurels, as shown by the elevation of both of them to the Presidency for their military prowess. All concede that the brilliant land-fights of that war were in the defences of New Orleans, Mobile, Craney Island and Baltimore, and in these, on the American side, none but Southern troops were engaged. This war was unpopular at the North, and the defection of New England amounted almost to overt treason. Hence, the South furnished again more than her proportion of troops. Again, the Southern volunteers flocked North, while no Northern troops came South. If we read of the bloody battles in Canada, we are struck with the number of Southern officers there engaged, mostly general officers—Wilkinson, Izzard, Winder, Drayton, Hampton, Scott, Towson, Brooke, Gaines, &c. Kentucky, I believe, furnished more troops than any State for the invasion of Canada. On the authority of the Southern Review, I state, without investigating the truth of it, that Maryland furnished more of the naval heroes of the war of 1812 than did any other State in the Union. It is very certain that the South contributed more than her quota of land troops. Not only was the war popular at the South, but the laboring class being slaves, more of the citizen soldiery were able to take up arms. For the same reason, the supplies in the Revolution and in the war of 1812 came largely from the South. Botta's history shows how dependent the army under Washington was for supplies from Virginia and the South.
In the Mexican war the commanders of both American armies were Virginians, one of whom became President and the other an unsuccessful candidate for the Presidency. Two-thirds of the volunteer troops for that war were from the South, and not a single Southern regiment ever behaved badly in action. Two-thirds of the first brevet appointments given for gallantry on the field were bestowed upon Southern-born officers. I allude to those first given, and not to the second or third batch, procured through political influence. The volunteer brigadier most distinguished in that war was Lane, of North Carolina. The volunteer regiments that won most eclat were Davis' Mississippi and Butler's South Carolina. The naval officers who performed the most dashing feats were Tatnall, of Georgia, and Hunter, of Virginia. In that wonderful campaign from Vera Cruz to the city of Mexico the engineer officers most relied upon by General Scott were Alexander Swift, of North Carolina, and Robert E. Lee, of Virginia. That volunteer brigade that was most relied upon in an emergency was the Mississippi brigade under Quitman. But I need not go on. It is a fact that none will controvert, that the South won the laurels of that war.
If we come down to the second rebellion, the President of the so-called United States who conquered the so-called Confederate States was a Southern-born man, and all admit that he conducted the contest with great ability. The commander-in-chief of his army who first organized victory for the Union was a Virginian. Next to Grant and Sherman, the most successful Federal generals, who struck us the heaviest blows, were born at the South—viz: Thomas, Canby, Blair, Sykes, Ord, Getty, Anderson, Alexander, Nelson, etc., etc. General Grant was beaten the first day at Shiloh and driven back to the river, cowering under the protection of the gun-boats. A Kentucky brigade, under General Nelson, checked the shouting, exulting rebels, and saved Grant from destruction. A Kentucky colonel greatly distinguished himself that day. He is now Secretary of the Interior, hated by Grant, whom he then helped to save, and hated by all the whiskey thieves.
At Chickamauga the Federal commander-in-chief gave up all as lost, and abandoned the field early in the afternoon. General Thomas, of Virginia, in the Yankee service, planted his corps on a hill, and there stood, like a rock in the ocean, resisting all assaults until nightfall, when he retired to Chattanooga. His stubbornness on the battle-field, and his persistent holding of the town after defeat, saved East Tennessee to the Union and gave a death-blow to the Confederacy.
Andy Johnson refused to give up Nashville, as Buell directed, when Bragg advanced into Kentucky. The abandonment of Nashville then would have given the whole State over to the Confederacy. These two men—Thomas and Johnson—dug the grave of the Confederacy.
Farragut, of Tennessee, rose to the highest rank in the Federal navy, for his triumphs over his native land. The naval forces at Hatteras were under command of Goldsborough, of Maryland. It is a singular fact that the Southern men in the Federal service were remarkably successful, while the Northern men in our service, though brave and true, brought disaster to our arms. Lovel lost us New Orleans, Pemberton lost us Vicksburg, and Gardner lost us Port Hudson. Through the failure of these three officers the command of the Mississippi was lost, the Confederacy was cut in twain, and the conquest of the South became only a question of time.
Had the South been united, our independence could easily have been established, but unfortunately, the South furnished, probably, as many native troops to the Federal army, as did the vast and populous North. Missouri gave 108,773 soldiers to that army, Kentucky 92,000, Maryland 49,730. Every Southern State contributed in greater or less degree, and in all there were 400,000 native-born Southerners in the Yankee service. In this enumeration, I do not include the 250,000 negro troops, who fought nobly then, as they vote nobly now, and without whom E. M. Stanton, the Yankee Secretary of War, said that "the life of the nation" could not have been saved. Without enlarging farther upon this subject, I have sufficiently established the claim of the Southern people to excellence in the field. They have succeeded in one of the two departments, in which they have sought prominence. Let us look at the other. Have they succeeded in the department of politics?
From Washington's inauguration to Grant's, the Republic had lasted (after a fashion) eighty years. Then a new element of voting power was introduced not known to the framers of the Constitution, and I therefore only estimate the time up to this Radical change. Of these eighty years, fifty-seven were passed under the Presidencies of Southern-born men, and but twenty-three under Northern Presidents. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Jackson, served each eight years, forty years in all, just one-half the life of the nation. Tyler, Polk, Lincoln and Johnson, served each four years, and Taylor one. Of the twenty-three years under Northern Presidents, John, and John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Pierce and Buchanan, served each four years, and Fillmore three. The second Adams was not the choice of the people, and was elected by the House of Representatives. Mr. Fillmore was elevated by the death of President Taylor. So up to the period of the new kind of voting, the people had really never elected but four Northern men to the Presidency. It is remarkable, too, that the people have repudiated the administration of every Northern President, not one of them being reelected, and a different political party always succeeding them in power, save in the case of Mr. Pierce, a Democrat, who was succeeded by Mr. Buchanan, also a Democrat. On the other hand, five-Southern Presidents were re-elected, and all of them were succeeded by Presidents of the same political faith, except perhaps Mr. Polk, who was succeeded by General Taylor, running upon a no party platform. The country endorsed Polk's administration and did not repudiate him, as he declined a renomination. Another curious fact is this, that every Northern President had associated with him a Southern man as Vice-President. Thus John Adams had Thomas Jefferson; John Quincy Adams had J. C. Calhoun; Martin Van Buren had R. M. Johnson; Pierce had Wm. R. King; Buchanan had J. C. Breckinridge. On the other hand, Jackson served one term with J. C. Calhoun. Harrison and Tyler, his associates, were both from Virginia, and Lincoln and Johnson were both from the South. Of these same eighty years, the South had a Chief Justice on the Supreme Court Bench for sixty-three years, or more than three-fourths of the time. The purity and wisdom of these Southern Justices made them the pride of the nation.
All the wars, foreign and domestic, have been under the conduct and control of Southern-born Presidents; the war of 1812; the Algerine war; the Black Hawk war; the Seminole war; the Mexican war; the war of the second rebellion.
All the acquisitions of territory have been under Southern dents, by which the size of the United States has been doubled—Louisiana, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, California, and Alaska. The New England States resisted all these acquisitions except the last.
The political studies of the South all led to freedom, and Southern statesmen have always been on the side of popular rights. Christopher Gadsden, of South Carolina, in a public address at Charleston in 1766, advocated separation from Great Britain, and he was the first man in the American Colonies to propose the establishment of American Independence. The first American Congress met in Philadelphia on the 7th of September, 1774. Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, was chosen President, because of his familiarity with all those questions of state-policy and state-craft that might arise. On the 20th of May, the next year, the Scotch-Irish of this county made the first Declaration of Independence, and on the 12th of April, of the following year, the Provincial Congress of North Carolina took the lead of all the States in passing resolutions of Independence. And when the Congress of all the States met in Philadelphia, it was a Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, who first moved that the States should be Free and Independent States. It was a Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the National Declaration of Independence. And when our independence had been won under the leadership of a Southern General, and a Convention was held in order to form a Federal Constitution, the Draft of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina, was accepted by that body. So one Southern statesman had the honor of writing the Declaration of Independence, and another Southern statesman had the honor of writing the Federal Constitution.
I hope that this brief and imperfect sketch has established the point I made at the outset, that the South has excelled in the two departments, war and politics, in which she sought pre-eminence—the only two in which an agricultural people have ever gained renown. The world has never seen finer fighting material than our own ragged rebels. They united the elan of the Frenchman with the dogged obstinacy of the Englishman, the careless gaiety of the Italian with the uncomplaining fortitude of the Russian. How cheerfully they bore hunger, thirst, heat, cold and all wretchedness, and how magnificently they moved forward under the storm of shot and shell! An English officer, who had been on Longstreet's staff, witnessed the battle of Sadowa, and gave it as his opinion that 70,000 of Lee's ragged, barefoot veterans could have swept the 200,000 victors off the field. I have compared, so far as I could, the losses sustained in the great battles of the world since the introduction of fire-arms, and I find only in rare cases have they been so much as a fourth of the troops engaged, and they range from that up to a twentieth. The Confederates thought that battle almost a skirmish in which their losses did not exceed a fourth. The British at Waterloo were pounded for hours by the French artillery, but their loss was but 10,686 out of the 70,000 engaged, or not quite a sixth. At Magenta, the Austrians, out of 125,000, lost but 9,713, or but one-thirteenth; the French, the victors, lost but 6,000 out of 120,000, or one-twentieth. At Sadowa, the Prussians lost but 10,000 out of 200,000 in the battle, or one-twentieth. The Austrians, with an equal number engaged, lost much more heavily, but they were flanked and suffered severely after they were routed. And here I would remark, that to make a comparison fair between the losses in different battles, it should be between the victors and not the vanquished. The loss of the defeated, where cavalry is efficient, or where a flank movement has decided the battle, is always greater after defeat than before it. The true test of the obstinacy of a battle is the loss up to the moment when the shouts of victory rend the sky. Tried by that test, European fighting has been child's play in comparison with Confederate. "I am ashamed for strangers to see my barefoot, ragged boys in camp," said General Lee to an English visitor, "but I would be glad for all the world to see them on the field of battle." This tribute from the great commander is alone sufficient to establish my first point, and I consider it established therefore.
Under the second head, I have shown that Southern statesmen were the first to proclaim the great principles of independence; that Southern-born men have held the Presidential office for nearly three-fourths of the life of the nation; that Southern policy has doubled the area of the United States, and that Southern men have always had, up to the introduction of the new voting element unknown to our ancestors, a controlling influence in the councils of the nation. I will only add now that, up to that time, there never was a stain upon a Southerner, whether as a President, Cabinet officer, Foreign Minister, Congressman, or other employee of the Government. Our Southern statesmen were often rash, hot-headed and intemperate in language, but they would not steal, and they could not be bought by a Ring. This Southern leaven leavened the whole lump. The Supreme Court was incorruptible, and not, as now, a partisan body. The Senate was more dignified than the English House of Lords. Schemes of public plunder were not devised and executed in the House of Representatives. No one was ever charged with selling his vote for money. No Foreign Minister prostituted his office to sell Emma Mine stock or Sally Mine stock. So far as I can remember, only one fraudulent claim on a large scale was ever attempted, and upon its exposure by Colonel Payne, of North Carolina, the fraudulent claimant killed himself with Prussic acid.
The South is gradually getting rid of the ruffian scum, who have so long plundered and disgraced her. The voices of some of her true sons are being heard in the Halls of Congress. We trust that the time may not be far distant when the influence of Southern statesmanship will be felt in the councils of the nation, rebuking bribery and roguery, elevating the public morals and purifying the Government. To effect these great objects, we must send forward our best-men, not fire-eaters and braggarts. We confess that we had a few of that class, but hot shot and shell reversing the order of nature cooled their fiery temperaments. We want not Gascons, but Southern gentlemen, honorable, high-toned men of strict integrity and straight hair.