Fourth Dedication Speech for the Unveiling of the South Carolina Monument on the Chickamauga Battlefield
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May 27, 1901
Dedication speech of Col. J. Harvey Wilson, for the dedication of the South Carolina Monument at Chickamauga:
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and My Fellow-Country men: Surrounded by monuments that testify to the valor and heroism of the soldiers of many of her sister States, South Carolina comes to-day to unveil her tribute to her dead. A vast majority of that marshaled host, who nearly thirty-eight years ago met on this heroic field to join the battle have passed into the great unknown, and those who are left bear the indications that ere long they must cross the river and rest on the other side. Cheeks that then wore the bloom of youth, now wear the furrowed marks of time. The elastic step has been changed to the slow gait of age, the locks that were golden brown, or jet have assumed a uniform color, they all wear the silver gray. But notwithstanding the fact, that the evidence of change is stamped on almost everything earthly, we rejoice to know that the love and the reverence that the true soldier has always evinced for his dead comrades, has not been affected by the changes of circumstances, or the ravages of time and that no hearts in this assembly rejoice more in paying honor to the heroic dead than do the hearts of these old veterans, who on their journey to their annual reunion have stopped by the wayside to participate in these ceremonies. For next to the love they cheerish [sic] for those endeared to them by the ties of consanguinity, is the love they cherished for those who shared their trials and their dangers; and next to the reverence they feel for their own sainted dead, is the reverence they feel for the men who fell by their side.
Standing on soil made sacred by the blood of many of the brightest, best and bravest of America's sons, and in the presence of some who wore the blue, and others who wore the gray, and (34) perhaps in the presence of some whose loved ones wore both the blue and the gray, I would not utter a word calculated to rekindle the animosity of the past, or provoke the jealousy of the present. I would rather come in that spirit that breathes—
Peace in the quiet dales,
Made rankly fertile by the blood of men,
Peace in the woodland, and the lonely glen,
Peace in the peopled vales.
Peace on the crowded towns,
Peace in the thousand fields of wavin' grain,
Peace on the highway and the flowery lane,
Peace on the wind-swept lawn.
Peace on the whirring marts,
Peace where the scholar thinks the hunter roams.
Peace God of peace, peace, peace, in all our homes,
And peace in all our hearts.
While we rejoice that peace with all of its attendant blessings broods over this fair land of ours, and that the time has come when those who once met on this historic field in deadly strife can now meet in a spirit fraternal and join with each other in honoring the memory of their dead heroes, regardless of the uniform they wore, or the flag beneath which they marched. It is not expected that either the North or South should come with hypocritical apologies on their lips for the part they acted on a field made sacred by blood that was precious alike to both sections. Were we to offer such apologies we would be false to every instinct of our nature; false to the memory of those we have come to honor, and false to truth. We have simply come to honor those who believed they were right and had the courage to die for their convictions. Leaving it to God and the future to determine whether they were right or wrong. Carolinians, you are here on a holy mission, you are here to honor the memory of your precious dead; all civilized people honor their dead by erecting monuments to their memory. Emulating a custom as beautiful as it is old, and as sacred as it is beautiful, you come with granite from your own loved hills, and surrounding it with the proud emblem of your State you declare to all the world that your sons who fell on the battlefield of Chickamauga are worthy of every honor that gratitude can pay to valor, or affection bestow upon those whose memories are enshrined in your hearts. They are your sons "to the manner born." They came from every section of your State, from your rugged mountain heights to where the magnolia blossoms by the sea. They died to uphold the flag you raised. They died to defend the cause (35) you espoused; with their life's blood they sealed their devotion to the State, and by their death they illustrated your patriotism and vindicated your manhood.
I would like to speak of many of the gallant Carolinians who took part in the engagement here, especially of the knightly Kershaw, who wore with equal credit the uniform and the ermine of his State, of the chivalric Manigault, and the dashing Gist and others who led our battalions in the fight. I would like to speak of the brave Elbert Bland of Houle, and Hard, and others who went to their death charging against "the rock of Chickamauga." They have all passed within the veil. Their names add lustre to the history of their State, and they can justly claim as their monumental beds, the bitterest tears their country sheds. "But I realize the fact, that it is especially fitting, that one who forty years ago volunteered as a private in the ranks, should pay his humble tribute to those who stood behind the guns and whose names "save by some fond few" have been forgotten. History has preserved, and rightly preserved, the names and the fame of those who directed the battle, but of the private soldier —
"No grateful page shall farther tell,
Than that so many bravely fell,
And we can only dimly guess,
What worlds, of all this world's distress,
What utter woe, despair and death,
Their fate has brought to many a heart."
It is true their history has been written in blood across hearts of loving mothers and faithful wives, but these loving mothers and faithful wives are fast passing away. Most of them, e'en now, wear jeweled crowns in that land whose streets are gold and whose gates are pearls. Let the memory of these men be cherished by their country. They are the heroes of a fallen cause. The cause for which they fought is lost, and perhaps lost forever. The flag beneath which they marched has been furled, and furled forever. Some of those who fell on this field carried that flag from your City by the Sea to the rocky heights of Gettysburg and brought it back here, to die beneath its folds. Sometimes that flag waved amid the shouts of victory, sometimes it was shrouded in the gloom of defeat. It was tattered and torn, smoke begimed [sic] and battle scarred, but, thank God, in their hands it was never permitted to trail in the dust of dishonor. The shaft we unveil today may not be as imposing as some that surround it, bat we have done what we could; it is the loving gift of loving hearts, and shall stand here as a sentinel proclaiming to all the living and to the (36) generations yet to come, that in life, South Carolina's sons were faithful; in death glorious.