Southern Historical Society. cn.

Southern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) online

. (page 52 of 61)
Online LibrarySouthern Historical Society. cnSouthern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) → online text (page 52 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

record, which may be found in every neighborhood, and which we
ought to gather up as far as we can. Rich men have been made
poor, proud men have been made humble, noble women have been
insulted, innocent men have been imprisoned, many, very many, have
been too weak to bear their sorrows and the sorrows of their country,
and kind death has brought them a refuge from grief And yet the
authors of all these wrongs boast of the great magnanimity and
generosity they have exhibited to a fallen foe ! They did not hang
and exile our leaders, nor confiscate our property ! What conqueror
was ever before so manly and liberal? But they made slaves of
masters, and masters of slaves, law makers of vagabonds, rulers of
strangers, and tax gatherers of robbers. They declined to take liie,
only that they might make life a lingering death. They did not drive
us from home, only that they might make home the abode ot sorrow
and poverty. They failed to confiscate our property by the usual
act of government, that it might remain to be taken by negroes,
thieves and strangers, as their own lawful spoil! Death, exile, confis-
cation, would end the punishment too soon. Such vengeance craved
longer revel and slower torture ! And if we, who have been the wit-
nesses to these horrors, and the victims of these wrongs, will only
gather up and preserve the unwritten outrages and ijnrecorded griefs
of the last seven years, all posterity will, with one voice, declare that
the punishments inflicted by our adversaries upon the Southern States
and people, under the name of reconvitruction, for vindictiveness ol

492 Southern Historical Society Papers.

hate, for meanness of oppression, for cool, prolonged relish of tor-
ture, and for insatiate extravagance of plunder, are without parallel
in precedent, civilized or heathen !

It must be admitted that our enemies were wisely wicked. They
well knew it would never do to admit Southern intellect into the
National Councils until their work was fully completed and had been
made part of the fundamental law. Even when reconstruction had
reached the point that the doors of Congress must be opened, they
were only allowed to be opened to such as were participants in, and
products of, the infamy. The caressing fathers took only to their
arms the dirty children their vengeance had begotten. In 1872,
alarmed by what seemed to be a returning sense of justice at the
North, aided by most remarkable concessions for peace and deliver-
ance at the South, Congress removed the illegal disabilities imposed
upon most of our leaders, though upon many even yet these dis
abilities remain. In the meantime most of our greatest men — who
were most familiar with the facts of the past, so essential to our vin-
dication — had passed away, or were rapidly passing away. A very
few of these were released from these bonds upon the use of their
intellects. But most manifestly a better opportunity had returned at
last to the Southern people, and it was expected by our enemies and
the world that this opportunity would be improved, and our very
ablest men everywhere chosen to Congress. And now comes the
most curious chapter in our history. It will puzzle the future histo
rian. Not a single man who was in full sympathy and accord with
the Confederate administration, and who was intimate in the coun-
cils, and, daily as it progressed, familiar with the policy of that
administration, has been called by our own people to a single
prominent position, State or National ! While many who gave aid
and encouagement to the enemy, by disaffecting our people to that
administration during the war of coercion, and refused to give coun-
sel, or counseled consent during the baser war of reconstruction,
have received high marks of confidence from our enemies, and high
positions of honor from our people ! Crowds of intellectual imbe-
ciles, like flocks of noisy blackbirds in harvest time, rush forward to
secure, by personal scramble and trade, those positions of heaviest
trust and res]>onsibility, and thus murder all hope of having any vin-
dication of our (Jead, or justice for our living in the Councils of the

When such a State as Virginia, in such a crisis as this, for such a
place as the Senate, repudiates such a statesman as Hunter — familiar

Address of Hon. B. H. Rill. 493

with every fact of the Federal history, intimately familiar with every
fact. in Confederate councils, trained in debate, learned in coivstitu-
tional law, courteous in manner, accurate in statement, powerful in
logic, and respected even by our enemies — I think it is time to des-
pair of doing anything in this generation to lift the South to her for-
mer position of influence and power in the Congress of the United
States. To feed our people on frothy declamation now, however
blown by procured newspaper puffs, is like feeding a starving multi-
tude on unsubstantial snow-^akes, however piled up by capricious
winds ! There was never such a field for real, profound, patriotic
statesmanship. The very inferiority of Northern representatives, as
compared with those they sent to Congress before the war, but in-
creased the chances for Southern statesmen to remove, by proper
debate in the national councils, the false theories and impressions
which have been crowded into the minds of the Northern people, and
thus return the general government to its constitutional limita-
tions, restore to the States the free exercise of their reserved rights,
and rescue from destruction for our enemies, as well as for ourselves,
those great principles of constitutional government, which every pur-
pose of the Confederates sought to maintain, and which every fea-
ture of coercion must logically tend to destroy.

Thus, denied by our enemies the opportunity of silencing by the
solemn judgments of their own courts, the fierce accusations of
criminality in secession, and denied by our enemies, and the follies
of our own people, the glorious chance of vindicating our cause in
high debate, and face to face with the chosen champions of our ac-
cusers, we have but one resource left us for defence or vindication.
That resource is history— impartial and unpassioned, un-office-seek-
ing history ! It is to secure a fair trial before this august tribunal
that this Society has been organized to collect, prepare and perpet-
uate the evidence. Our enemies are exceedingly active in their efforts
to get a false presentation of the testimony for the judgment of his-
tory. They are seeking to monopolize the possession of our own
records. They readily pay more money for disjointed portions of
Confederate archives than they did for the Madison papers, giving
an account of the proceedings of the Convention that framed the
Constitution. It is shameful to see how much assistance they are re
ceiving in their efforts to pervert and falsify our history from those
malcontents who kept up such restless assaults on the Confederate
administration. The men who quarrelled more with their own side,
than with the enemy during the struggle, are among the first after the

494 Southern Historical Society Papers.

war to rush to writino- books, to give their account of the government
they did so much to break down. We owe it therefore to our dead,
to our living, and to our children, to be active in the work of pre-
serving the truth and repelling the falsehoods, so that we may secure
for them and for us just judgment from the only tribunal before which
we can be fully and fairly heard.

If the full truth can be secured and preserved, we shall have
nothing to fear in the comparison with our enemy which history will
make. The courage of our. troops is beyond perversion. The fact
that we killed, wounded and captured a greater number of the enemy
than we had soldiers in our armies, is a tribute to our gallantry and
skill which the records of no civilized war can surpass. With infe-
rior arms and limited resources, shut up from supplies from the out-
side world, and with unfortunate and fatal divisions between the
Southern States and among ourselves, we made a fight for indepen-
dence which no people on earth ever yet equalled

Equally wonderful were the achievements of our statesmanship.
In the beginning we had neither government, nor army, nor navy,
nor treasury. All these we had to improvise in the very hearing of
an arming foe, who had an established government, an organized
army, a powerful navy, and all the sinews and appliances of war in
extravagant abundance. And yet, when the enactments and mea-
sures of the Confederate Government shall be critically examined,
they will be found to have sprung into existence with a wisdom, a
vigor, an aptitude for the crisis and a strict conformity to all the
principles of free institutions, which must challenge the admiration of
publicists and statesmen for all time.

No people, ancient or modern, can look with more pride to the
verdict which history will be compelled to render upon the merits
and characters of our two chief leaders — the one in the military and
the other in the civil service. Most other leaders are great because
of fortunate results, and heroes because of success. Davis and Lee,
because of qualities in themselves, are great in the face of fortune,
and heroes in spite of defeat.

When the future historian shall come to survey the character of
Lee, he will find it rising like a huge mountain above the undulating
plain of humanity, and he must lift his eyes high towards Heaven to
catch its summit. He possessed every virtue of other great com-
manders without their vices. He was a foe without hate ; a friend
without treachery ; a soldier without cruelty ; a victor without oppres-
sion, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without

Address of Hon. B. H. Hill. 495

vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach;
a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was
Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napo-
leon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward.
He was obedient to authority as a servant, and royal in authority as
a true king. He was gentle as a woman in life; modest and pure as
a virgin in thought ; watchful as a Roman vestal in duty ; submissive
to law as Socrates, and grand in battle as Achilles!

There were many peculiarities in the habits and character of Lee,
which are but little known, and which may be studied with profit.
He studiously avoided giving opinions upon subjects which it had
not been his calling or training to investigate ; and sometimes I
thought he carried this great virtue too far. Neither the President,
nor Congress, nor friends could get his views upon any public ques-
tion not strictly military, and no man had as much quiet, unobtrusive
contempt for what he called " military statesmen and political gen-
erals." Meeting him once in the streets of Richmond, as I was
going out and he going in the executive office, I said to him, " Gen-
eral, I wish you would give us your opinion as to the propriety of
changing the seat of government, and going further South."

"That is a political question, Mr. Hill, and you politicians must
determine it. I shall endeavor to take care of the army and you
must make the laws and control the Government."

"Ah, General," I said, "but you will have to change that rule,
and iorm and express political opinions ; for, if we establish our in-
dependence, the people will make you Mr. Davis's successor."

" Never, sir!" he replied with a firm dignity that belonged only
to Lee. "That I will never permit. Whatever talents I may pos-
sess (and they are but limited), are military talents. My education
and training are military. I think the military and civil talents are
distinct, if not different, and full duty in either sphere is about as
much as one man can qualify himself to perform I shall not do the
people the injustice to accept high civil office, with whose questions
it has not been my business to become familiar."

".Well, but General," I insisted, "history does not sustain your
view. Caesar, and Frederick of Prussia, and Bonaparte, were all
great statesmen, as well as great generals."

" And all great tyrants," he promptly rejoined. " I speak of the
proper rule in republics, where, I think, we should have neither mili-
tary statesmen, nor political generals."

"But Washington was both, and yet not a tyrant," I repeated.

496 Southern Historical Society Papers.

And with a beautiful smile, he said: " Washington was an excep
tion to all rule, and there was none like him."

I could find no words to answer, but instantly I said in thought:
Surely Washington is no longer the only exception, for one like him,
if not even greater, is here.

Lee sometimes indulged in satire, to which his greatness gave
point and power. He was especially severe on newspaper criticisms
of military movements — subjects about which the writers knew

" We made a great mistake, Mr. Hill, in the beginning of our
struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove t» be a
fatal mistake," he said to me, after General Bragg ceased to com-
mand the Army of Tennessee, an event Lee deplored.

" What mistake is that, General ?"

"Why, sir, in the beginning, we appointed all our worst generals
to command the armies, and all our best generals to edit the news-
papers. As you know. I have planned some campaigns and quite a
number of battles. I have given the work all the care and thought
I could, and sometimes when my plans were completed, as far as I
could see, they seemed to be perfect. But, when I have fought
them through, I have discovered defects, and occasionally wondered
I did not see some of the defects in advance. When it was all over,
I found, by reading a newspaper, that these best editor generals saw
all the defects plainly from the start. Unfortunately, they did not
communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late !" Then,
after a pause, he added, with a beautiful, grave expression I can
never forget: " I have no ambition but to serve the Confederacy, and
do all I can to win our independence. I am willing to serve in any
capacity to which the authorities ma}' assign me. I have done the
best I could in the field, and have not succeeded as I could wish I
am willing to yield mv place to these best generals, and I will do my
best for the cause editing a newspaper."*

Jefferson Davis was as great in the cabinet as was Lee in the field.
He was more resentful in temper, and more aggressive in his nature
than Lee. His position, too, more exposed him to assaults from our
own people. He had to make all appointments, and though often
upon the recommendation of others, all the blame of mistake was
charged to him, and mistakes were often charged by disappointed

* Since making this address, I find that I repeated this same anecdote in
the speech at La Grange in March, 1865.

Address of Hon. B. H. Hill. 497

seekers and their friends which were not made. He also made re-
commendations for enactments, and though these measures, espe-
cially the military portion, invariably had the concurrence of, and,
often originated with Lee, the opposition of malcontents was directed
at Davis. It is astonishing how men in high position, and supposed
to be great, would make war on the whole administration for the most
trivial personal disappointment. Failures to get places, for favorites
of very ordinary character, has inspired long harangues against the
most important measures, and they were continued and repeated
even after those measures became laws. " Can you believe," he said
to me once, " that men — statesmen — in a struggle like this, would
hazard an injury to the cause because of their personal grievances,
even if they were well founded ? " " Certainly," I replied, " 1 not only
believe it but know it. There are men who regard themselves with
more devotion than they do the cause. If such rrlen offer you coun-
sel you do not take, or ask appointments you do not make, however
you may be sustained in such action by Lee and all the Cabinet, and
even the Congress, they accept your refusal as questioning their
wisdom, and as personal war on them." " I cannot conceive of such
a feeling," he said. " I have but one enemy to fight, and that is our
common enemy. I may make mistakes, and doubtless I do, but I
do the best I can with all the lights at the time before me. God
knows I would^'sacrifice most willingly my life, much more, my opin-
ions, to defeat that enemy."

We all remember the fierce war which was made in Georgia,
against certain war measures of the Congress, and against Mr. Davis
f)r recommending them. Conscription and impressment, especially
were denounced as unconstitutional and void, and not binding on
soldiers or people. And then, the limited suspension of habeas cor-
pus was made the occasion for a concerted movement on the Legis-
lature, assembled in extra session, to array the State in hostility to
the Confederate administration. It failed. This was in the dark
days of 1864. On returning to Richmond after this, I made the
usual call of courtesy— no, of duty and ot pleasure — on the Presi-
dent. As I arose to leave him I said : " Mr. President, I am happy
to say to you, that, notwithstanding some indications to the contrary,
the people of Georgia will cordially sustain you in all your efforts to
achieve our independence." "And I thank you, sir, for that infor-
mation, and I have never doubted the fidelity of Georgia." " The
people of Georgia sustain you," I added, "not only because they
have confidence in you, but chiefly because it is the only way to sus-

498 Southern Historical Society Papers.

tain the cause." Ar.d with an expression of sincerity glowing all over
his countenance, and with a reverential pathos I can never forget, he
said : "And God knows my heart, I ask all, all for the cause ; noth-
ing, nothing for myself. " Truer words never fell from nobler lips,
nor warmed from the heart of a more devoted patriot. These words
express in language the soul, the mind, the purpose, aye, the ambi-
tion of Jefferson Davis. It was his misfortune, and the misfortune
of the Confederacy, that this was not true of all who were in au-
thority. It was his fault, perhaps, that he did not use his authority
to deprive such of their power to do evil.

I am speaking in Atlanta, and it is all the more proper, therefore,
that I should speak for the first time in public of the removal of Gen-
eral Johnston from the command of the army of Tennessee.

I have heard it said that I advised that removal. This is not true.
I gave no advice on the subject, because I was not a military man.
You have all heard it said that Mr. Davis was moved by personal
hostility to General Johnston in making this removal. This is not
only not true, but is exceedingly false. I do know much on the subject
of this removal. I was the bearer of messages from General John-
ston to the President, and was in Richmond, and sometimes present,
during the discussions on the subject. I never saw as much agony in
Mr. Davis's face as actually distorted it, when the possible necessity
for his removal was at first suggested to him. I never heard a eulogy
pronounced upon General Johnston by his best friends as a fighter, if
he would fight, equal to that which I heard from Mr. Davis during
these discussions. I know he consulted with General Lee fully, ear-
nestly, and anxiously before this removal. I know that those who
pressed the removal, first and most earnestly, in the Cabinet, were
those who had been most earnest for General Johnston's original
appointment to that command. All these things I do personally
know. I was not present when the order for removal was determined
upon, but I received it immediately after from a member of the Cabinet,
and do not doubt its truth, that Mr. Davis was the very last man
who gave his assent to that removal, and he only gave the order
when fully satisfied it was necessary to prevent the surrender of
Atlanta without a fight.

The full history of the Hampton Roads commission and confer-
ence has never been written. I will not give that history now.
Much has been said and published on the subject which is not true.
I know why each member of that commission, on our part, was se-
lected. I received from Mr. Davi.s's own lips a full account of the

Address of Hon. B. H. Hill. 499

conversation between himself and the commissioners b<-loie
departure from Richmond.

You have heard it said that the President embarrassed the com-
missioners by giving them positive instructions to make the recogni-
tion of independence an ultimatum — a ccmdition precedent to any
negotiations. This is not true. Mr. Davis gave the commissioners
no written instructions and no ultimatum. He gave them, in conver-
sation, his views, but leaving much to their discretion. They could
best judge how to conduct the conference when they met. His own
opinion was, that it would be most i)roper and wise, so to conduct it.
if they could, as to receive rather than make propositions. While
he did not feel authorized to yield our independence in advance, and
should not do so, and while he did not desire them to deceive Mr.
Lincoln, or be responsible for any false impressions Mr. Lmcoln
might have, yet, he was willing for them to secure an armistice, al-
though they might be satisfied that Mr. Lincoln, in agreeing to it,
did so under the belief that re union must, as a result, follow. I may
add that Mr. Davis had no hope of success, or of securing an armis-
tice, after he learned that Mr. Seward was to accompany Mr. Lincoln.
" Mr. Lincoln," he said, " is an honest, well-meaning man, but Sew-
ard is wily and treacherous."

I could detain you all night correcting false impressions which have
been industriously made against this great and good man. I know
Jefferson Davis as I know few men. I have been near him in his
public duties ; I have seen him by his private fireside ; I have wit-
nessed his humble Christian devotions ; and I challenge the judgment
of history when I say, no people were ever led through the fiery
struggle for liberty by a nobler, truer patriot ; while the carnage of
war and the trials of public life never revealed a purer and more
beautiful Christian character.

Those who, during the struggle, prostituted public office for private
gain ; or used position to promote favorites ; or forgot public duty to
avenge private griefs ; or were derelict or faithless in any form to our
cause, are they who condemn and abuse Mr. Davis. And well they
may, for of all such he was the contrast, the rebuke and the enemy.
Those who were willing to sacrifice self for the cause ; who were
willing to bear trials lor its success ; who were willing tu reap sor-
row and poverty that victory might be won, will ever cherish the
name of Jefferson Davis, for, to all such he was a glorious peer, and
a most worthy leader.

I would be ashamed of my own unworthiness if I did not venerate

500 Southern Historical Society Papers.

Lee. I would scorn my own nature if I did not love Davis. I would
question my own integrity and patriotism if 1 did not honor and ad-
mire both. There are some who affect to praise Lee and condemn
Davis, But, of all such, Lee himself would be ashamed. No two
leaders ever leaned, each on the other, in such beautiful trust and
absolute confidence. Hand in hand and heart to heart, they moved
in the front of the dire struggle of their people for independence — a
noble pair of brothers. And if fidelity to right, endurance to trials,
and sacrifice of self for others, can win title to a place with the good
in the great hereafter, then Davis and Lee will meet where wars are
not waged, and slanderers are not heard ; and as heart in heart, and
wing to wing they fly through the courts of heaven, admiring angels
will say, What a noble pair of brothers !

The saddest chapter in Confederate history which the future histo-
rian will be called to write, will be that one in which he shall under-
take to define the real cause of our failure. For the truth must be

Five millions of people, in such a country as we possess, were not
conquered because our resources were inferior, or our enemies were
so powerful. All physical disadvantages are insufficient to account
for our failure. The truth is, we failed because too many of our own
people were not determined to win. Malcontents at home and in
high places, took more men from Lee's army than did Grant's guns.
The same agencies created dissensions among our people, and we

Online LibrarySouthern Historical Society. cnSouthern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) → online text (page 52 of 61)