Oakwood Cemetery
Memorial Address, May 10, 1916
By Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman

 

“We have come for inspiration, not for tears. The brave arms that bore these bodies to the grave and the gentle hands that have tended these mounds through half a century of love have reared a monument we cannot grace. Their sobs and sighs and deep regrets through all these changing years have filled, as far as mankind may, the measure of our gratitude. We stand to-day and contemplate with grateful hearts a service made immortal, the lasting spirit of a living sacrifice. The ideals of our fathers, rather than their death; their glorified morrow and not their woeful yesterday, their gift to our day more than to their own- of these, it seems to me, our thoughts should be this solemn afternoon

 

We are wont to make of history a chronicle of obvious effect and not of vital cause. We write of battles fought and not battles forced. We tell the story of our great sires’ deeds and leave untold the reasons for their acts. We measure in the common scales success by what we see achieved and not by what right though unachieved. We think a cause lost with a field and see no victor but a Grant at every Appomattox.

 

From such a narrow view as this, these bones cry out. The men interred about us here had died in vain if death had been defeat. They live because defeat meant victory!…

 

What were those ideals consecrated at First Manassas, exalted at Chancellorsville, sealed and accepted at Appomattox? These ancient oaks whisper them; these gray coats attest them; these women who for fifty years have kept this sacred day bear witness to them; these children’s faces unwittingly reflect them:

 

That government is the choice of the governed, a sacred right that only tyranny can overrule;
That it is for the governed to change their government when its powers are misused;
That those who give may take again and shape to better use the creature of their hands;
That in defense of freedom, self may not be reckoned or sacrifice be counted;
That duty to righteous principle is duty to God!

 

Stands there one to-day in the shadow of these monuments to say that these things were lost? Breathes one of Southern stock who thinks the maintenance of the ideals not worth the blood wherewith they were sustained? Rather do we not now realize the setting sun of Appomattox was the promise of a coming day and that when the broken remnants of our Southern hosts gave up their bloody banners they kept to give again in days of need the same ideals they cherished in the rags of disaster and the dust of defeat…

 

Thank God the passing years in bringing peace have not exacted as the price the sacrifice of those ideals! Can we not, in truth, lift up our hands to-day to heaven and swear with one accord that with the blood of our fathers and from the breasts of our mothers we have drunk in their ideals and have sought, God helping us, to preserve them in their purity. You men in gray have kept the faith; your sons would follow you…

 

That which our fathers held and gave us- that which is the true American ideal- the nation needs as never since the the years that covered these green avenues with soldier’s graves. We are approaching another 1861. Strange voices are heard in the lands. Strange doctrines are being preached. For the first time since a great voice cried, “Let there be peace,” men threaten division. It is not a division between North and South, thank God, nor yet ‘twixt East and West. It is a division between Americanism and hydra-headed treason. Men who have eaten of our bread and shared of our acres are whispering against us. Some traitors even would sell their country to a foreign foe- and boast of their treason. Things have come to pass that five years ago we should have believed impossible.

 

What is the remedy for these ills the shrewdest merely see and cannot diagnose? The answer is graven on these sacred stones- love of country, sacrifice of self, the maintenance of principle, whether it be in Congress or on the high seas against every foe! And who can apply that remedy as can the South. We are the Americans longest seated, longest tested…

 

But it is not only this ideal of patriotism and duty that our dead have given us, a priceless heritage. From the spring that overflowed in the sacrifice of thousands there wells up now, please God, as then, those ideals of progress and of love that insure for us and our children and our children’s children a goodly heritage. Perhaps it is the warmth of the Southern skies; perhaps it is the peaceful product of a martial stock; perhaps it is the harvest of what brave men have sown. But whatever it is, let the sons of Virginians give thanks, here on God’s acre, that the mind and the spirit of the South are asserting themselves to-day. Our wilderness is blossoming; the waste-places are rejoicing; the pens of Southern writers are writing large across the page of American letters; the brains of Southern men have flung railroads athwart continents, have organized great industries, have won the battles of sanitation and have captained the hosts of industry. That great Southerner in whose loyal hands the destinies of America are safe is not the fruitage of a generation but the blossom.

 

I have spoken with humble heart of these things because could yonder tombs give up their dead and could our buried heroes speak, they would rejoice in all that has come to the South through loyalty to their ideals. They would see a pledge of victory in the staunch courage of a [President Woodrow] Wilson; they would see the laurel in every growing field; they would note, with keener vision than our own, that every achievement of our days was made possible only because we have been steadfast and immovable. They would see, those awakened soldiers of the sixties, a more glorious Second Manassas in our hard-won trade and a reversed Appomattox in the smiling farms of Southern States.

 

Let us, then, grateful to the association whose fiftieth anniversary of love we observe, not leave this sacred place in haste. Let us not think our duty done when flowers cover every grave and prayers are said in every avenue. Let us, rather, slowly wander through this grove and muse and meditate, and take our sermons from the stones, that when our call to arms may come, we of the South shall show the spirit of our sires and draw again the sword of Lee in all the might of his ideals.

 

We invoke you, spirits of heroes and martyrs! We bless you, shades of immortal valor! We pledge you, mighty company of invisible witnesses, that the cause for which you fought shall never perish and that the vision you caught in cannon’s mouth and battle smoke shall yet in greater glory be fulfilled!”

 

Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XLI, pp 14-19, September 1916.
Excerpts and transcriptions by Terry D. Jackson

 

Web Source: Virginia War Between The States Sesquicentennial, Facebook Page
Post: June 24, 2011