MY COMRADESCenturies ago a great explorer crossed an unknown sea, and traversed the hills and glens of a hitherto unexplored country. Ascending the tallest peak of the isthmus that connects the North with the South American Continent, the calm blue waters of the Pacific burst upon his view; when, beckoning his companions to come and see what he had seen, he joyfully pointed to a new ocean dazzling in the sunlight of Heaven. We are all explorers in this mundane sphere, passing over mountains and hills, through vales, down rivers, on and ever on to the great ocean of eternity. And while pausing this day in the contemplation of a grand discoverythe glorious spectacle of the reunion of my comrades of the Third Georgia RegimentI would that my voice could reach every veteran of the old Confederacy, aye, I would that it might ride on the wings of the wind and penetrate the confines the earth itself, and I would appeal to all mankind to come and see what I have seen and feel what I have felt.
Nine years ago that flag upon which the starry cross is now scarcely discernable ceased to wave over us. Darkened by smoke and torn by shot and shell, carried in triumph through every important battle of the historic Army of Northern Virginia, and never desecrated by the hands of an enemy, it went down in a blaze of glory at Appomattox. Through no fault of ours was it furled, and sorrowfully we parted for our homes, satisfied that the cause for which we had foughtthe cause of separate independencewas finally overthrown. We indulged in no mawkish grief, no unmanly tears, but we felt a deep, agonizing sorrow at the loss of the dear cause for which we had struggled so hard and so long.
We believed our defeat undeserved, that it was an outrage on suffering humanity, a crime against civilization, a wrong without a parallel so great a wrong that the earth should have been clothed in a sack cloth and ashes in unison with the thunders and lightnings of Heaven that knelled sympathizingly on that day on the demise of so sacred a cause.
Nine years, however, have passed since the storm of war rolled over this land, leaving sad desolation in its track and many lowering clouds behind. Nine long weary years have come and gone, filled with suffering and oppression, full of sorrow and unjust humiliation; and to-day, standing upon the soil and beneath the blue skies of our own loved Georgia, we are proud to recount the glorious history of the old organization and immortal career of our first commander, Gen. A. R. Wright.
But while scanning your ranks with pride and pleasure, a feeling of sadness comes over me to which I must first give vent. I miss some of the brightest jewels that adorned your crownsome of the choicest spirits that ever went upon a field of battle in this or any other age. Where are they? They rest upon the historic fields of their heroic fame. They have ferried over dark stream that separates time from eternity, and there, upon the opposite bank, the gentle Sturges, the generous Walker, the knightly Hamilton, the cool Hayes, courtly Luckie and a host of others, led on by the peerless Wright, who lately joined them, pass in review. To us, standing on this side of the river, they point to a career which, like the face of the sun, has nothing to blemish its beautya career that displays all that is noble and chivalric in mana career so bright in their blood as to dazzle even the stars in brilliancy. Though their brave hearts beat no more, though their lips are forever closed, there comes wafted hence, sweet and sad as the murmur of falling waters amid flowery groves at eventide, a silent yet thrilling appeal to guard and perpetuate their memories. It is an appeal that reaches the heart and touches a responsive chord in the bosom of every true son of Georgia. And I would that I possessed all the ability necessary to a proper response thereto; I wish that for one moment I possessed the golden chain of Mercurythe fabled god of Eloquencethat might tell what mortal heart feels, but what mortal tongue cannot adequately express. But this response can here be made: They left their impress so indellibly stamped on the sands of time that the tramp of succeeding ages can never obliterate. Through the historian may not properly record, and the muses may fail to weave in poesy an song all of their glorious deeds, yet the waters of our near Oconee, which pass through the centre of that State they died so nobly, ceasing to flow towards old ocean, may turn its course back to the mountains; the ocean itself in the circles of time may cease its rockings and its throbbings; but this generation and generations to come will never cease to remember their matchless valor.
In the early part of May, 1861, the following companies, constituting this regiment, assembled in the navy yard at Portsmouth for the purpose of organization: The Confederate Light Guards, commanded by Capt. E. J. Walker; the Wilkinson Rifles, by Capt. W. A. Bealle; the Brown Rifles, by Capt. R. B. Nisbet; the Athens Guards, by Capt. H. C. Billups; the Young Guards, by Capt. A. H. Lee; the Home Guards, by Capt. J. S. Reid; the Dawson Greys, by Capt. R. L. McWhorter; the Governors Guards, by Capt. J. R. Griffin; the Burke Guards, by Capt. W. C. Musgrove, and the Blodgett Volunteers, by Capt. Foster Blodgett.
The election resulted in the choice of Ambrose R. Wright, for Colonel, James S. Reid, Lieutenant-Colonel, and Augustus H. Lee, major. W. W. Turner was selected as Adjutant.
C. H. Andrews was elected Captain of the Home Guards, vice Capt. Reid, promoted; and John F. Jones, Captain of the Young Guards, vice Capt. Lee, promoted.
In a short time the Blodgett Volunteers were transferred from the regiment and the Clark County Rifles, commanded by Capt. Herndon, substituted in their place.
As thus constituted this was the first organized regiment of Georgians that stood upon the soil of Virginia to hurl back the threatened invasion of that noble old Commonwealth. They arrived upon the banks of the beautiful Elizabeth river before the secession of the State, and organized amid the smouldering fires and crumbling walls of Gosport Navy Yard. They were no band of adventurers, there were neither soldiers of fortune or of pleasure, but the very flower of our youth, at the bidding of whose State they enlisted and cheerily went forth to meet the shock of battle, carrying with them their great hearts, every impulse of the soul and all the energies of their nature.
A few months thereafter the regiment, under the command of the lamented Wright, was sent up the Elizabeth river, and through the canal connecting the river with Albemarle sound, to reinforce Fort Hatteras, that was besieged by sea and by land. While in transitu, and when only four companies had arrived in Pamlico sound, the unwelcome tidings were received of the fall of the fort to which they were proceeding as a reinforcement. Hence they landed on Roanoke Island, which, in a narrow strait between Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, guards the entrance to the latter, through which Norfolk and the whole of Northeastern North Carolina can be assailed. Here one day after the surrender of Fort Hatteras, and within two hours sail of the enemy, solitary and unaided they planted the Confederate flag, and worked continuously for monthsworking by day, and the moon shining on or the darkness of night still enveloping them at workbuilding entrenchments and batteries at this and adjacent points for the protection of the inland coast of North Carolina.
On the 1st day of October, 1861, receiving information that a Federal steamer had been seen just south of the Island, Col. Wright at once determined to intercept and capture her; displaying at the very commencement that acuteness of forethought, wisdom in contriving and decision in acting which rendered his subsequent career so brilliant. He improvised three small steamers, placed guns upon them and crews from the regiment to work them, took with him three companies armed with Enfield riflesthe Dawson Greys, the Governors Guards and the Athens Guardsand with this force moved down the sound to attack the enemy. In less than two hours the object of the cruise was plainly seen; and when within range a brisk fire was opened, which was promptly responded to. Advancing rapidly, with the intention of grappling and boarding the foe that exhibited so much spirit in her responsive fire, when immediately her colors were struck, and then up to the mast-head went the Confederate flag amid deafining shouts of the victors. A crew of forty-nine men were captured, besides army stores including one thousand new overcoats, with which you decked yourselves on your triumphant return to Portsmouth. This was the first naval success in North Carolina, the first capture made by our arms of an armed vessel; and more than all, it was a naval victory achieved by infantry marines.
By the capture of this steamer, Fannie, it was ascertained that the enemy had established a camp at Chicamacomico, on Hatteras Island, forty miles from Fort Hatteras, and near the Southern extremity of Roanoke Island. The Twentieth Indiana regiment had there gone into camp, whither the Fannie, when captured, was proceeding with commissary and quartermaster supplies; and it was evident the enemy intended the new position as a base of operations against Roanoke Island.
Col. Wright seeing a crisis at hand, and appreciating the danger of being isolated and attacked at a disadvantage, promptly determined to move forward and strike the first blow. Passing with his regiment down Pamlico sound, he arrived off Chicamacomico and about three miles therefrom, on the 6th day of October. Nearer to the shore they could not get because of the deep draft of the vessels, except the Cotton Plant, upon which Col. Wright, with three companies and two howitzers, commanded by Lieut. Sturges, proceeded two miles nearer, and then leaping out in the water advanced, wading a portion of the way up to their waists, and opening fire upon the enemy who stood in line of battle upon the beach twelve hundred strong, according to their muster roll.They retreated hastily and in great disorder in the direction of Fort Hatteras.
The most of our regiment effected a landing in the same way as the three preceding companies, when there commenced a chase which has been properly styled the Chicamacomico racesthe enemy running pell-mell for twenty miles, and pursued with a loss to them of eight killed and forty-two captured. At one time Col. Wright, being in advance of the command, overtook the rear guard, who fired upon him, bringing down his horse; but with one hand seizing a small drummer boy that he held in front as a shield, and with pistol in the other hand, he advanced, capturing the Sergeant-Major and four others of his regiment. The daring and skill displayed by Col. Wright throughout the whole affair won the implicit confidence of his men, which he retained during the entire war.
This brilliant victory, achieved with the loss of one man, established at once the character of the regiment, and at the same time exploded the fallacious idea that the Western were superior to the Northern men of the Federal army. The truth is, there was no real difference between them, nor between them and us, except our personel as a body was somewhat better. We were one people, animated by the spirit of liberty and fighting for separate independence, possessing the dash, impetuosity and macurial temperament peculiar to all Southerners of the Caucassian race. They had the coolness, steadiness and perseverance common to all Northern climes, and inspired with the cry of the old flag and the Union, were fighting for our subjugation, and made drafts upon Europe, Asia and Africa to accomplish the result. That was all the difference. Major General Huger, the department commander, appreciating the self-sacrificing devotion and arduous labors of men hitherto little accustomed to manual work, and withal the signal gallantryapproaching moral sublimitylately displayed at Chicamacomico and in the capture of the steamer Fannie, ordered them back to Portsmouth, which they entered, welcomed by waving handkerchiefs, by martial strains and by roaring cannon. Rome, in her palmiest days, never gave her conquering legions a grander triumph than was awarded the Third Georgia Regiment on that day by the sons and daughters of Virginia.
After the departure of the Third Georgia Regiment, Roanoke Island fell a prey to Burnside, who attacked it with overwhelming land and naval forces; and thus the whole of Northeastern North Carolina, and even Portsmouth by way of Dismal Swamp Canal, was thrown open to the attacks of the enemy. Hence this regiment was sent to the head of the canal, and was scattered in companies from Elizabeth river to South Mills, to watch and resist any invasion that might be made. Your commander here engaged in an expedition which more than any feat of arms attested his devotion to country and his willingness to die if need be an ignominious death in her service. A large force of the enemy occupied Elizabeth City, and it was of the utmost importance to ascertain their numbers and intentions. In the emergency, Col. Wright, accompanied by Major Lee, went forth to perform the dangerous duty. Eluding the enemys pickets, they entered the city disguised as citizens, where they remained for several hours conversing with Federal soldiers, from whom the desired information was obtained. In the silent vigils of the night they made their way out of the lines, and at once prepared to anticipate the coming storm, destined in a few days to culminate in a glorious victory to our arms at Sawyers Lane.
It will be borne in mind that Pasquotank river is at the head of Dismal Swamp Canal, and runs into Albermarle sound at Elizabeth City.The Third Georgia Regiment, with a battery of Western Virginians, under the command of Capt. McComas, were on the southern side of the river, scattered, as I said before, at a distance of fourteen miles. The enemy, shelling Elizabeth City and the banks on the southern side as a feint, moved up the river in transports, landing a brigade of six regiments and a battery, under command of Gen. Reno, on the northern side, near Camden Court House, on the 19th of April, 1862, with the intention of coming up to and crossing at South Millsthus to cut us entirely off, for there is no other outlet through Dismal Swamp.
But Col. Wright, no way disconcerted, with the battery of artillery, supported by the Dawson Greys, the Home Guards, the Brown Rifles and Burke Guards, boldly advanced out two miles from South Mills to meet the foe. With the military perceptions of a true soldier, he selected for the battle field Sawyers lane, which runs perpendicular to the Camden Court House road, up which the enemy were advancing, dens woods being in the rear and with open fields in front. And so that the enemy might have no protection in their advance, some houses were burned in front, and fences after being torn down were thrown into ditches, running parallel to our lines, and fired. Sending hurriedly Major Lee for the Young Guards and Athens Guards that were left to burn Pasquotank bridge, and for the other companies that had to march several miles to reach the field, calmly he went before that small band, and disguising nothing, truthfully told them of the numbers of the enemy and the dangers which environed them. There he stood like a god of war, inspiring them with his own intrepid spirit and unflinching courage, as his voice rang out along the line clear as the notes of a bugle: Though you may fight ten times your number, nothing is impossible with men like you determined to conquer or die.
At mid-day the enemy made their appearance, marching by the flank in files of four at a route step, when Captain McComas opened with his artillery, firing richochet shots down the road. Immediately deploying into line, they moved forward in columns of regiments to take the battery. First one regiment and then another was put forward until three separate and distinct charges were made and as many times they were driven back in great confusion. Finally, the last charge was being made by the Hawkins Zonave Regiment of New York. Dressed in crimson uniforms, they steadily moved on in splendid order, with heads erect, carrying their arms at a trail and firing not a gun. They come within one hundred yards of the battery, which seems to be lost.
Well do I remember that memorable moment as the gallant Lieut. Col. Reid directed the company I had the honor to command (the Confederate Light Guards) to their position, who in fact led all the rest of the reserves to their posts. Just before reaching the lines the pulseless form of the chivalric McComas met our gaze as it was being carried off the field, and the agonizing cry of his men pierced our ears, "Boys, save our battery," as they were trying to limber up the guns to prevent capture: Col. Wright, in his shirt sleeves, throwing up his cap high away in the air, cried out, "Hurrah boys, give them."
Gathering strength for one supreme effort, this regiment heroically hurled back an entire brigade, killing and wounding over one hundred. Our loss was twelve wounded and five killedthe latter I here record, for their names deserve to be written in letters of gold: Private Mallory, of the Burke Guards; private Lowrey, of the Clark County Rifles; and privates May and Widener, of the Confederate Light Guards; and Private Deas, of the Wilkinson Rifles.
These brave comrades fell upon a battle field where victory perched upon our banner, notwithstanding the most fearful odds and under the most galling fire. In proportion to the numbers and personel respectively engaged on each side, it is unsurpassed by any engagement of the war. It is unexcelled by any of the conflicts of man ranging back even to the morning of time.
The regiment again reorganized by the election of the following commanding officers of companies: Confederate Light Guards, Captain Walker; Wilkinson Rifles, Captain Waters; Carswell Guards, Captain Carswell; Brown Rifles, Captain Nisbet; Athens Guards, Captain Billups; Young Guards, Captain Jones; Home Guards, Captain Andrews; Dawson Grays, Captain Grier; Governors Guards, Captain Hamilton; Burke Guards, Captain Corker; and the Clarke County Rifles, Captain McCrea. Ambrose R. Wright was elected Colonel; James S. Reid, Lieutenant Colonel, and John R. Sturges, Major.
Many changes and mutations in rank subsequently occurred from disease and from death and wounds in battle; line officers being promoted to field offices, and privates rising to the rank of Lieutenants, Captains and to the position of Adjutant of the regiment. Heretofore I have given a detailed history of its operations while an independent command in the Department of Norfolk; but now I shall be more general, for upon the evacuation of that department our commander was soon promoted to a Brigadier General, and we became a part of Wrights celebrated brigade, merging our individuality into that of the grand army of the sainted Lee. Your fame henceforth became theirs, and their glory yours. You gained still greater renown by your gallantry, as well as by the increased lustre reflected from the union of the whole patriot band, which from that time till the end was like the waters of the great oceanbut one.
Passing over the fight at Fraziers Farm, in front of Richmondwhere you drove back for more than a mile the 16th Massachusetts Regiment, killing eighteen and capturing a score or more, mourning yourselves the loss of five, I come to a general engagement, the first in which you participated, but one that severely tried the souls of all.
The division to which we were attached (Hugers), after marching and countermarching on the Williamsburg and Charles City roads, and vice versa, numberless times for one day, and on the next going through the same provoking and bootless task in the jungles of White Oak swamp, thus letting McClellan slip through the net work contrived by the genius of Lee for his capture, on the afternoon of the third daythe memorable 1st of July, 1862you reached the deep and woody ravine at the foot of Malvern Hill. The winds moving to and fro these giant oaks were soon destined to whisper sad requiems to departed heroes, while the rippling rivulet, meandering there through, was to change color as it commingled its waters with some of the best blood of Georgia. Except Holmes division, in isolated woods two miles and a half off, Wrights brigade was on the extreme right of the army, and for some reason unexplained found itself subject to the orders of Maj. Gen. Magruder, who immediately gave the order"Charge!" Not a single gun up to this moment had been fired on either side. To this order Gen. Wright protested that it meant simply destruction, for it was not within the power of man with his little brigade to stand much less to assail to any advantage the infantry and artillery of McClellan on the heights beyond, which he had reconnoitered. But no, the order must be obeyed. Up the hill side and through the intervening trees you moved to the open spacea wide clover plain with no risings or undulations as far as the eye could discern, and dotted with neither tree nor shrubrunning up to the crest of the hill studded over with fifty pieces of artillery, when immediately a lurid flame burst forth, causing the very earth to tremble beneath your feet, and knelling the departure of souls for eternity.
Though the order must be obeyed, yet General Wright, seeing that it was impossible to pursue it literally in that direction, ordered the brigade back to the woods, where amid bursting shell and falling trees he filed to the right for some distance, coming out again into the open plain in a hollow, unobserved, and three hundred yards nearer the enemy.
The command being again given to charge, your commander, Maj. Sturges, remarked to a captain: "I have a presentment that I shall not survive this charge, but I am willing to die for my country." The accomplished Hamilton conversing with me, said: "This is murder, but nevertheless I will stand it," at the same time buttoning up his coat and putting on his gloves as if to prepare for interment. At the very commencement of the charge the former fell pierced through the brain, while the latter, fearlessly entering the fiery ordeal, was consumed by it. Closing up the gaps as fast as they were made you still moved on, nearing the guns of the enemy, when they limbered up and then suddenly there arose out of a hollow in front a long line of infantry that poured in a destructive fire. There the conflict raged for a full half hour, when finally they were rolled back and you occupied the ground from which they were driven. About this time, far on our left, Cobbs Brigade, Toombs Brigade and brigade after brigade were seen deploying into line, and the firing became general along the front of McClellans position. The sun went down and the moon rose upon you in possession of the field you had so gallantly won, every other brigade except Mahones having retired to some convenient position to renew the fight next morning. Major-General Magruder, in an official letter of the 6th of July, after alluding particularly to "the military skill and intrepidity" of General Wright, says this and Mahones Brigade "occupied and slept upon the field of battle which was won from the enemy." But more than the testimony of one man or a dozen commanders, the detailed list of causalities143 killed and woundedmade out by Adjutant Walter Perry, speak in thunder tones of the gallantry and sacrifices of the Third Georgia on that eventful day.
In less than two months you were on the historic field of Manassas, fighting nearly over the same ground where the lamented Bartow fell the year previous.Oh, that our entire people had been animated with the unconquerable spirit of the noble martyr who uttered the parting sentiment, "Never give it up. I am dying. I look over this to distant fields where the brave will tremble and the pious even doubt the favor of God.Never give up this battle, and never tire in succeeding conflicts till the cause is finally won."
Several brigades having been repulsed and driven out of the woods at the point where Gen. Wright with his brigade was ordered in, you not only held your position, but actually drove the enemy through the woods and over a field in the rear. Your loss in killed and wounded was thirty-two. Maj. A. B. Montgomery, your commander, after being shot in the thigh, remained on the field the entire day and following night displaying great coolness and fortitude.
Rapidly followed Sharpsburgthe third general battlein less than three months.
Before becoming actually engaged you moved forward under artillery fire more than a mile, when coming to a picket fence in an apple orchard, immediately to the left of Sharpsburg, it was torn down in less time than it consumes to tell it, and you were brought to close quarters with the foe. Gen. Wright, while fearlessly leading the brigade under a shower of grape on the right flank and musketry in front, was shot in the breast and thigh, and forced by his men in a litter from the field. Yet a further charge was made, causing the enemy to break and run, in which Lieut. Col. Nisbet and Adjutant Perry fell at the head of the regiment; the former seriously wounded, and the latter mortally, being riddled by seven balls.
From recent excessive marches through Virginia and Maryland and (immediately previous to the fight) during the entire night from Harpers Ferry to Shepardstown and in the morning, without scarcely a halt, this regiment was reduced to one hundred and thirty-eight men, seventy-two of whom were killed and wounded. It was by far the most sanguinary battle of the war, in proportion to the numbers engaged, and was a decided victory, as the object for which it was fought was accomplishedto draw the army and its trains safely from Maryland.
In the order of succession the next battle was that of Chancellorsville, commencing on the 2d of May, 1863, and continuing for several days.
Gen. Wright, under the immediate supervision of Stonewall Jackson, moved his brigade on the left of the plank road leading from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, with his right resting thereonthe Third Georgia Regiment being deployed in front as skirmishers, pushed forward, driving the enemy a mile and a half to their outer line of works. Carrying the rest of the brigade two miles on the west to "the Furnace," which was threatened, this regiment was left in their advanced position in the woods, where it contended with a whole brigade till sunset brought relief, holding its ground even against one attack made in column of regiments.
The next day Jacksons men moved in a long, steady stream by the left flank to gain the enemys right and rear. The sight of the Southern Achilles, as he sat on his charger, with India rubber coat, and cap drawn down on his face, quickly moving those thin lips and flashing a piercing eye as he gave his directions, awakened the unbounded admiration of all, to whom the very presence of Jackson was a precursor of victory. On the morning of the third day, amid the booming of guns on the distant left, coming slowly but gradually nearer, General Wright moved the brigade forward on the line of breastworks that had an abattis of fallen timbers in front, while behind was a large force with heavy batteries to protect them by direct and flanking fires.
This was one of the severest fights for an hour, the enemy pouring in a terrific fire of grape, canister and schrapnel. But the roaring of Jacksons cannon coming still nearer and louder on the enemys right, you charged the breastworks, driving them back to their second line of trenchesrifle pits in the field around the Chancellorsville House. From these you were momentarily repulsed in endeavoring to enter; but just here Jackson, having opened fire on our immediate left with a strong battery of long range guns, the brigade moved forward in column of regimentswith the Third Georgia in frontleaped the rifle pits and drove the enemy from the field. Here our commander, Major Jones, had an arm shot off just at the time when the Seventeenth Connecticut, with its Colonel, Lieutenant-Colonel and Adjutant, were captured by two companies of this regiment.
While the army was victorious around Chancellorsville, Sedgwicks Corp, fourteen miles below, had captured Maryes Heights, and were advancing in our rear. But General Lee turned upon him with two of his victorious divisions, and attacked him on the high range of bills along the plank road above Fredericksburg.
Wrights Brigade being formed round the base of the hill leading up to Dowmans house, made a decisive charge under the eyes of General Lee, which was highly complimented by him. The loss of this regiment in all, killed and wounded, was ninety-two.
This was the most glorious victory of the war. Fought upon a field of the enemys own choosing and against odds of at least three to one, it shed undying lustre upon the immortal Lee. Attacked in front and rear by overwhelming numbers, but rising to the height of the occasion, like a tiger at bay, he first springs on one and then on the other, until finally there he stands,
Passing through Virginia and Maryland into Pennsylvania, on the 3rd of July, 1863, we come to the field of Gettysburgthe Barodino of the war. Like that dread field in Russia which lost to Napoleon his magnificent empire, this caused our fortunes to wane and our arms to gradually fall.
Standing on a ridge, we could see a long range of hills, running parallel to our position, occupied by masses of infantry and artillery, with an intervening space of what seemed to be a level plain. At 5:30 oclock General Wright ordered in advance down through the woods into the open fields below. Rushing down the hill-side into a valley broken into small ridges and hollows, we were greeted by a sheet of fire rolling out row the opposite side, the smoke extending and ascending until it darkened the rays of the sun. But on we moved, scarcely seeing one hundred yards ahead, across the Emmetsburg road, until you came to a rock fence, from behind which a fire of musketry riddled your seried ranks. Leaping over it, seizing artillery horses, shooting down the riders and cutting the traces from the casons, you press on over these guns up to the crest of the hill, where thirteen other pieces of artillery are capturedthus cutting entirely in twain the army of Mead. If the same advance had been made on our left a different history might have been written wherein Gettysburg, instead of being "the Illiad of our woes," would have been the Salamis and Marathon of our independence. But without help and having penetrated too far, assailed on the right, on the left, in front and partly in our rear, we were pushed back down the hillthis regiment losing in killed, wounded and captured at least one half of its number.
Papers in Virginia about the time and since have lauded Pickets, Division as having made the charge, going farther over this very ground than any other body of men. And while I would not, if I could, detract one iota from that grand division or pluck one leaf from its well earned crown, yet it is due to the vindication of the truth of history to say that they did not even get to the rock fence much less to the heights beyond, over which Wrights Brigade passed on the preceding day. If there is any doubt, here is the testimony of one who knew, and who dealt out impartial justice to his followers:
General Lee, in his official report, says: "Wilcox and Wrights Brigades advanced with great gallantry, breaking successive lines of infantry, and compelling him (the enemy) to abandon much of his artillery. Wilcox reached the foot, and Wright gained the crest of the ridge itself, driving the enemy down the opposite side."
In this connection, I will state from my own personal knowledge, received from the lips of Gen. Lee, that he knew and recognized as well merited your fame as a regiment. In passing through Augusta to Florida a short time before his death, whither he was going with the vain hope of recruiting a shattered constitution and a broken heart, I remarked to him: "General, all Georgians feel attached to you, and so far as the regiment is concerned which I once had the honor to commandthe Third Georgiatheir attachment simply amounts to worship." "Ah (he replied, the tears gathering in his eyes), I remember them well, they were a part of Wrights Brigade. Say to them that I shall never cease to love them."
Here I bid farewell to our friend and lamented first commander, for, being a captive myself for several months, during which time he became a Major-General and was sent to the South Atlantic coast, I never again in saw him in the heat and smoke of battle. With no wish to disturb him, I leave him in his glory, among our other comrades, free from the pains and trials and troubles of this transitory life. "Take him, for all, I shall not look upon his like again."
Passing through Manassas Gap, where Walker fell; over the Wilderness, Cold Harbor and other battles around Petersburg, where Luckie, McCrea and others left us forever, down to Farmville where, on the day before the surrender at Appomattox, under my command you charged, seized and dragged from the very lines of the enemy a regiment of PennsylvaniansI have reached the end of my story. But one thing more is necessary to close the record upa special reference to the privates and non-commissioned officers who, for four long years, fearlessly trod the path of duty with a devotion and fidelity equal to that of the Imperial Guards of Napoleon or the Tenth Legion of Cæsar.
Days of romance are filled with incidents where knights have performed "deeds of emprise," or crossed lances beneath the smiles of some fair lady, who stood with wreath in hand to deck the victors brow, while with no less of the romantic but more of the terrible Napoleon in all his majesty, stood at Jena, at Ulm and at Austerlitz, to reward with his Imperial Eagle and the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the most daring of his battalions; but where on earths green surface can be found a brighter spectacle than that of the private or non-commissioned officer who, in many instances, without the chances of promotion or honors of office, rushed onward with a sheet of fire blazing in his face, keeping only in view the banner of the army to which he was attached and the liberties of his country. Such fidelity not only deserves the praise of man, but merits that of angels and of God. Life is but a fleeting span, and I know not whether mine will be brief or extended, but whether long or short, I ask for no higher honor than the continued friendship of such men. In the language of Ruth to Naomi: Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
A few words as to the future and I have done.
The past we cannot recall, our destiny we cannot change; then as reasonable men let us make the most we can of the situation. This is a great country as it is. With a national story so brief in existence as scarcely to reach the name of history, with forty millions of people spread over an immense territory, with boundless resources wooing the attention of enterprise, the world of mind and matter moving on as it has never moved; this country is destined at some future day to eclipse the glories of the Grecian and Roman Empires. It is our property, for we have a fee simple title as tenants in common with the people of all the States. We have a full share in the common heritage of Yorktown and Saratoga, of Eutaw and Bunker Hill, of New Orleans and Lundays Lane, of Buena Vista and Churubusco. If one section proudly points to their esteemed statesmen, Webster and Douglas, with equal pride we can point to our Clay and Calhoun; and if they will lift the veil of our late civil war, and refer in terms of admiration to the greatest living soldier, U. S. Grant, with a holy pride we can refer to a peer, whose purity was like the snow flake, while his genius flashed as the sunbeam, Robert E. Lee.
Grave differences we have arising out of the late civil war, but, having an abiding confidence in the integrity of purpose of mankind in general, when the passions subside and reason resumes her sway, I believe all the differences will be finally settled upon principles of equity and justice. Such is the history of Spain after the junction of the houses of Castile and Arragon; such of England after her war of the roses; such of France after Robespierre and the carnival of the Septembrisers; and such of Austria after the subjugation of Hungary.
We can not constitute an exception to all people of all ages, and remain forever the victims of continuous wrong and oppression. No! my comrades, justice, acting under the inspiration of Divinity that doeth all things well, will again resume her throne; and while greeting her in a genuine spirit of conciliation, coupled with a firm adherence to principle, I would invoke that.