HIS WORDS LIVE AFTER HIM.
The late Gen. R. E. Colston went abroad and was long among the Egyptians after our great war, whereby he had the advantage of broadening his views; and yet to a Virginia Ladies’ Memorial Association made an address from which the following is taken:
Those who fall in the arms of victory and success need no monuments to preserve their memories. The continued existence and prosperity of their country are sufficient epitaphs, and their names can never be forgotten. But how shall those be remembered who failed? It is their enemies who write their history, painting it with their own colors, distorting it with their calumnies, their prejudices, and their passions; and it is this one-sided version of the conquerors that the world at large accepts as truth, for in history as in the present, vae victis (woe to the conquered).
It is true that when we, the actors in the last contest, shall be sleeping in our graves little will it matter to us what the world may think of us or our motives. But methinks that we could hardly rest in peace, even in the tomb, should our descendants misjudge or condemn us. And yet, is there impossibility of this? They will be told that their fathers were oligarchs, aristocrats, slave-drivers, rebels, traitors, who, to perpetuate the monstrous sin of human slavery, tried to throttle out the life of the nation and to rend asunder the government founded by Washington; that they raised parricidal hands against the sacred ark of the Constitution; that they were the unprovoked aggressors, and struck the first sacrilegious "blow against the Union and the flag of their country.
What if this be but false cant and calumny? Constant repetition will give it something of the authority of truth. We cannot doubt it. Our descendants will see these slanders repeated in Northern and probably in European publications; perhaps even in the very text-books of their schools (for, unfortunately, we Southerners, write too little, and they may be compelled, like ourselves, to look abroad for their intellectual nutriment). It is true that our own immediate sons and daughters will not believe these falsifications of history, but perchance their children or grandchildren may believe them. And those who are still our enemies after five years of peace rely confidently upon this result. A so-called minister of the Prince of Peace, but whose early and persistent advocacy of war and bloodshed prove that he obtained his commission from a very opposite quarter, has dared to say that "in a few years the relatives of those Southern men who fell in our struggle will be ashamed to be seen standing by the side of their dishonored graves." And he who said this, mark you, is no obscure driveler, but, on the contrary, one of the highest representative men of the North, one whom they delight to honor–no less a personage than the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.
Fellow Southerners, whose teachings and influence can accomplish more than all other agencies combined to hurl back this foul slander in the teeth of that reverend liar? Who can best guard our posterity from the corrupting odium of falsehood? Who can so implant the right and justice of our lost cause into their souls as to prevail over all the calumnies of our detractors?
Your hearts reply, like mine: "It is the noble, patriotic, unwavering women of the South." Yes, let me repeat this last epithet, for it belongs peculiarly to them, unwavering, true to the right, true to the South, in the past and in the present, and they will be in the future. We would be baser than the brutes that perish could we forget what the women of the South did to promote the success of our efforts. By night and by day they labored with diligent hands to supply the deficiencies of the government. They nursed the sick and wounded, they bore sorrows and privations of every kind without a murmur. What they suffered no tongue, no pen, can ever express. Yet they never faltered, they never gave up, and they continued to cheer the sinking hearts of their defenders and to hope against all hope, even when an was over. And see how nobly they have kept us in faith! While some men who once did gallant service in the Southern armies have, alas! turned false for filthy lucre, where are the renegades among Southern women? Even we who have preserved our faith unstained, have we not grown colder and more forgetful? Had it depended upon us alone, is there not much reason to fear that our brothers’ bones would still lie unheeded where they fell? Not that we have grown indifferent or estranged, but the claims of the living and the anxieties of misfortune have absorbed our attention. It is these blessed Southern women, whose tender hearts never forget, that deserve the credit of all that has been done among us to preserve from destruction the remains of our brave comrades. Unwearied by all their labors and self-sacrifice during four years of war, they were, like Mary, the first at the graves of their beloved dead. Therefore to them we may safely intrust the holy ark of our Southern faith. Yes, it is for you-wives, mothers, daughters, of the South-it is for you, far more than for us, to fashion the hearts and thoughts of our children. We have neither the time nor the aptitude that you possess for training the infant mind from the beginning and inclining the twig the way the tree should grow. You are now, or will be some day, the mothers of future generations. See that you transmit to them the traditions and memories of our cause and of our glorious, if unsuccessful, struggle, that they may in their turn transmit them unchanged to those who succeed them. And let them learn from you that, although the same inscrutable Providence that once permitted the Grecian cross to go down before the Moslem crescent, has decreed that we should yield to Northern supremacy, and that we should fail in our endeavor; yet, for all that, we were right.
It is for you, Southern matrons, to guard your cherished ones against this foul idolatry, and to teach them a nobler and a higher moral. It is for you to bring the youth of our land to these consecrated mounds and to engrave in their candid souls the true story of our wrongs, our motives, and our deeds. Tell them in tender and eloquent words that those who lie here entombed were neither traitors nor rebels, and that those absurd epithets are but the ravings of malignant folly when applied to men who claimed nothing but their right under the Constitution of their fathers-the right of self-government. Tell them how we exhausted every honorable means to avoid the terrible arbitrament of war, asking only to be let alone, and tendering alliance, friendship, free navigation- everything reasonable and magnanimous-to obtain an amicable settlement. Tell them how, when driven to draw the sword, we fought the mercenaries of all the world until, overpowered by tenfold numbers, we fell; but, like Leonidas and his Spartans of old, fell so heroically that our defeat was more glorious than victory.
Then from so sublime a theme teach our children a no less sublime lesson. Bid them honor the right, just because it is right; honor it when its defenders have gained the rich prize of success, honor it still more when they are languishing in the dungeons of oppression or lying in bloody graves, like the martyrs we celebrate today. And bid them remember that no triumph, however brilliant, can ever change the wrong into the right. Next to their duty to God, teach your offspring to love their native Southern land all the more tenderly for its calamities, and to cherish the memories of their fathers all the more preciously because they battled for the right and went down in the unequal strife. And should their youthful hearts wonder at the triumph of force over justice, teach them that the ways of Providence are mysterious and not like our ways. For a time the wicked may flourish like a green bay-tree, but he shall not endure forever, and far better it is to suffer with the righteous than to rejoice with the unjust. Sooner or later, in some mysterious way that we cannot now perceive-in their own day, perhaps, if not in ours-the truth of our principles will be recognized. Meanwhile, bid them scorn "to crook the pregnant hinges of the knee, that thrift may follow fawning." Yet, while clinging to our principles and vindicating the righteousness of our motives, let our children learn also the Christian lesson of forgiveness. God forbid that the bitterness of our times should be perpetuated from generation to generation!
God forbid, above all, that this land should ever be drenched again with the blood of contending armies speaking the same language and springing from a kindred race! On the contrary, may he grant that the causes of strife, being at last all extinct, peace and harmony may prevail and make this land in truth, and not merely in name, the asylum of human liberty!