"Reminiscences Of The Civil War"
Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, CSA"
When the proud and sensitive sons of Dixie came to a full realization of the truth that the Confederacy was overthrown and their leader had been compelled to surrender his once invincible army, they could no longer control their emotions, and tears ran like water down their shrunken faces. The flags which they still carried were objects of undisguised affection. These Southern banners had gone down before overwhelming numbers; and torn by shells, riddled by bullets, and laden with the powder and smoke of battle, they aroused intense emotion in the men who had so often followed them to victory. Yielding to overpowering sentiment, these high-mettled men began to tear the flags from the staffs and hide them in their bosoms, as they wet them with burning tears.
The Confederate officers faithfully endeavored to check this exhibition of loyalty and love for the old flags. A great majority of them were duly surrendered; but many were secretly carried by devoted veterans to their homes, and will be cherished forever as honored heirlooms.
There was nothing unnatural or censurable in all this. The Confederates who clung to those pieces of battered bunting knew they would never again wave as martial ensigns above embattled hosts; but they wanted to keep them, just as they wanted to keep the old canteen with a bullet-hole through it, or the rusty gray jacket that had been torn by canister. They loved those flags, and will love them forever, as mementoes of the unparalleled struggle. They cherish them because they represent the consecration and courage not only of Lee's army but of all the Southern armies, because they symbolize the bloodshed and the glory of nearly a thousand battles.
Some narrow but very good and patriotic people object to this expression of Southern sentiment. It was not so, however, with William McKinley, that typical American, who, while living and while dying, exhibited in their fulness and strength the virtues of a true and lofty manhood. That chivalric Union soldier, far-seeing statesman, and truly great President saw in this Southern fidelity to past memories the surest pledge of loyalty to future duties. William McKinley fought as bravely as the bravest on the Union side; but he was broad enough to recognize in his Southern countrymen a loyal adherence to the great fundamental truths to which both sides were devoted. He was too wise and too just to doubt the South's fealty to the Constitution or to the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence; for Madison was father of the one and Jefferson of the other. He was great enough to trust implicitly the South's renewed allegiance to the Union and its flag; for hers was the most liberal hand in studding its field with stars. He did not hesitate to trust Southern pluck and patriotism to uphold the honor of the country and give liberty to Cuba; for he remembered Washington and his rebels in the Revolution, Jackson and his Southern volunteers at New Orleans; Zachary Taylor and his Louisianians, Clay and his Kentuckians, Butler and his South Carolinians, and Davis and his Mississippians in Mexico.
The heartstrings of the mother, woven around the grave of her lost child, will never be severed while she lives; but does that hinder the continued flow of maternal devotion to those who are left her? The South's affections are bound, with links that cannot be broken, around the graves of her sons who fell in her defence, and to the mementoes and memories of the great struggle; but does that fact lessen her loyalty to the proud emblem of a reunited country? Does her unparalleled defence of the now dead Confederacy argue less readiness to battle for this ever-living Republic, in the making and the administering of which she bore so conspicuous a part?
If those unhappy patriots who find a scarecrow in every faded, riddled Confederate flag would delve deeper into the philosophy of human nature, or rise higher,--say to the plane on which McKinley stood,--they would be better satisfied with their Southern countrymen, with Southern sentiment, with the breadth and strength of the unobtrusive but sincere Southern patriotism. They would see that man is so constituted--the immutable laws of our being are such that to stifle the sentiment and extinguish the hallowed memories of a people is to destroy their manhood.