Skip to comments.Remarks of James Webb at the Confederate Memorial
Posted on 11/21/2006 1:14:33 AM PST by BnBlFlag
Remarks of James Webb at the Confederate Memorial June 3, 1990
This is by no means my first visit to this spot.
The Confederate Memorial has had a special place in my life for many years. During the bitter turbulence of the early and mid1970's I used to come here quite often. I had recently left the Marine Corps and was struggling to come to grips with my service in Vietnam, and with the misperceptions that seemed rampant about the people with whom I had served and what, exactly we had attempted to accomplish. And there were many, many times that I found myself drawn to this deeply inspiring memorial, to contemplate the sacrifices of others, several of whom were my ancestors, whose enormous suffering and collective gallantry are to this day still misunderstood by most Americans.
I used to walk the perimeter of this monument, itself designed by a man who had fought for the Confederacy and who, despite international fame as a sculptor, decided to be buried beneath it, and I would comprehend that worldwide praise can never substitute for loyalties learned and tested under the tribulations of the battlefield. I would study the inscription: NOT FOR FAME OR REWARD, NOT FOR PLACE OR FOR RANK, NOT LURED BY AMBITION OR GOADED BY NECESSITY, BUT IN SIMPLE OBEDIENCE TO DUTY AS THEY UNDERSTOOD IT, THESE MEN SUFFERED ALL, SACRIFICED ALL, DARED ALL, AND DIED -- words written by a Confederate veteran who had later become a minister, and knew that this simple sentence spoke for all soldiers in all wars, men who must always trust their lives to the judgment of their leaders, and whose bond thus goes to individuals rather than to stark ideology, and who, at the end of the day that is their lives, desire more than anything to sleep with the satisfaction that when all the rhetoric was stripped away, they had fulfilled their duty -- as they understood it. To their community. To their nation. To their individual consciences. To their family. And to their progeny, who in the end must not only judge their acts, but be judged as their inheritors.
And so I am here, with you today, to remember. And to honor an army that rose like a sudden wind out of the little towns and scattered farms of a yet unconquered wilderness. That drew 750,000 soldiers from a population base of only five million-less than the current population of Virginia alone. That fought with squirrel rifles and cold steel against a much larger and more modern force. That saw 60 percent of its soldiers become casualties, some 256,000 of them dead. That gave every ounce of courage and loyalty to a leadership it trusted and respected, and then laid down its arms in an instant when that leadership decided that enough was enough. That returned to a devastated land and a military occupation. That endured the bitter humiliation of Reconstruction and an economic alienation from the rest of this nation which continued for fully a century, affecting white and black alike.
I am not here to apologize f or why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war -- just as overt patriotism is today -- but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that "the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves."
Four years and six hundred thousand dead men later the twin issues of sovereignty and slavery were resolved. A hundred years after that, the bitterness had vented itself to the point that we can fairly say the emotional scars have healed. We are a stronger, more diverse, and genuinely free nation. We are also a different people. As we gather here to commemorate the most turbulent crisis our country has ever undergone, it's interesting to note that a majority of those now in this country are descended from immigrants who arrived after the war was fought.
And so those of us who carry in our veins the living legacy of those times have also inherited a special burden. These men, like all soldiers, made painful choices and often paid for their loyalty with their lives. It is up to us to ensure that this ever-changing nation remembers the complexity of the issues they faced, and the incredible conditions under which they performed their duty, as they understood it.
I'm pleased that many friends and members of my own family are here with me today, including my wife, whose family was in Eastern Europe during the War between the States but who herself served in Vietnam and whose father fought on Iwo Jima. And I would also like to say a special thanks to my good friend Nelson Jones for sharing this day with us. Nelson is a fellow Marine, a fellow alumnus of both the Naval Academy and the Georgetown Law Center, and like so many others here a child of the South. The last twenty five years in this country have shown again and again that, despite the regrettable and well-publicized turmoil of the Civil Rights years, those Americans of African ancestry are the people with whom our history in this country most closely intertwines, whose struggles in an odd but compelling way most resemble our own, and whose rights as full citizens we above all should celebrate and insist upon.
But more than anything else, I am compelled today to remember a number of ancestors who lie in graves far away from Arlington. Two died fighting for the Confederacy -- one in Virginia and the other in a prisoner camp in Illinois, after having been captured in Tennessee. Another served three years in the Virginia cavalry and survived, naming the next child to spring from his loins Robert E. Lee Webb, a name that my grandfather also held and which has passed along in bits and pieces through many others, such as my cousin, Roger Lee Webb, present today, and my son, James Robert, also present. And another, who fought for the Arkansas infantry and then the Tennessee Cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest. And, to be fully ecumenical, another, who had moved from Tennessee to Kentucky in the 1850's, and who fought well and hard as an infantry Sergeant in the Union army.
We often are inclined to speak in grand terms of the human cost of war, but seldom do we take the time to view it in an understandable microcosm. Today I would like to offer one: The "Davis Rifles" of the 37th Regiment, Virginia infantry, who served under Stonewall Jackson. one of my ancestors, William John Jewell, served in this regiment, which was drawn from Scott, Lee, Russell and Washington counties in the southwest corner of the state. The mountaineers were not slaveholders. Many of them were not even property owners. Few of them had a desire to leave the Union. But when Virginia seceded, the mountaineers followed Robert E. Lee into the Confederate Army.
1,490 men volunteered to join the 37th regiment. By the end of the war, 39 were left. Company D, which was drawn from Scott county, began with 112 men. The records of eight of these cannot be found. 5 others deserted over the years, taking the oath of allegiance to the Union. 2 were transferred to other units. of the 97 remaining men, 29 were killed, 48 were wounded, 11 were discharged due to disease, and 31 were captured by the enemy on the battlefield, becoming prisoners of war. If you add those numbers up they come to more than 97, because many of those taken prisoner were already wounded, and a few were wounded more than once, including William Jewell, who was wounded at Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862, wounded again at Sharpsburg (Antietam) on September 17, 1862, and finally killed in action at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863.
The end result of all this was that, of the 39 men who stood in the ranks of the 37th Regiment when General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, none belonged to Company D, which had no soldiers left.
The Davis Rifles were not unique in this fate. Such tragedies were played out across the landscape of the South. To my knowledge, no modern army has exceeded the percentage of losses the Confederate army endured, and only the Scottish regiments in World War One, and the Germans in World War Two, come close. A generation of young men was destroyed. one is reminded of the inscriptions so often present on the graves of that era: "How many dreams died here?"
There are at least two lessons for us to take away from such a day of remembrance. The first is one our leaders should carry next to their breasts, and contemplate every time they f ace a crisis, however small, which puts our military at risk. it should echo in their consciences, from the power of a million graves . It is simply this: You hold our soldiers' lives in sacred trust. When a citizen has sworn to obey you, and follow your judgment, and walk onto a battlefield to defend the interests you define as worthy of his blood, do not abuse that awesome power through careless policy, unclear objectives, or inflexible leadership.
The second lesson regards those who have taken such an oath, and who have honored the judgment of their leaders, often at great cost. Intellectual analyses of national policy are subject to constant re-evaluation by historians as the decades roll by, but duty is a constant, frozen in the context of the moment it was performed. Duty is action, taken after listening to one's leaders, and weighing risk and fear against the powerful draw of obligation to family, community, nation, and the unknown future.
We, the progeny who live in that future, were among the intended beneficiaries of those frightful decisions made so long ago. As such, we are also the caretakers of the memory, and the reputation, of those who performed their duty -- as they understood it -- under circumstances too difficult for us ever to fully comprehend.
James Webb was an Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration.
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Now that's what I call a near-perfect post. You not only hit the nail on the head but drove it right through the board!
Interesting! Course, it's not really my name. I poached it from "Breakfast at Tiffany's", cuz it went well with my first name.
More of the tomato soup type (although immigrants bring trappings of their old cultures, there is a base stock which remains, the tomato, or core American culture, largely, but not exactly, English).
There seems little doubt but that James Webb will be a maverick. Southern Democrats are few and far between in the US Senate these days and virtually all of them buck the national party at least somewhat. This is particularly heartening when you think that the Demoniacs have the narrowest majority possible, not just being 51-49, but also that the switch of just one seat returns the chamber to GOP control.
I was looking at Bob Casey's credentials last night and it's clear that he, too, is no typical Democrat. And, yes, you can add Jon Tester to the same list. Then there's Joe Lieberman (who was elected only because 70% of Connecticut Republicans voted for him compared to only 1/3 of CT Dems). It's clear that the Senate Dems will get nowhere without GOP co-operation. Lincoln Chafee is no longer part of the GOP caucus, either. Claire McCaskill, believe it or not, has a few conservative wrinkles, too, especially on illegal immigration. From the sound of her website, it almost appears as if she wants to ship them all back across the border!
We have to work with these folks, so let's make the best of it.
"There should only be one American ethnicity: American."
I disagree. We can all be "American" but I mourn the loss of various distinctive so called ethnic 'traits'. The irish story telling, the italian passion, the german industriousness, the spanish intensity, the proper english, the robust scot, and so forth! I also love the ethinic and regional cuisines, the distinct regional accents in speech...etc.
I cherish the differences which add flavor and character to a people. This can exist with a core love of being an american and a love for America.
I am a polyglot of many ethnicities as quite a number of my ancestors were early colonials. I can get a sense of who they were by an awareness of the nature of their various native origins. I am proud of all and sundry, and will not deny them. What they were made of ethnically gave them the strength to forge their way across the nation as it was expanded and settled.
Appreciate your polite disagreement, too.
I have no problem with ethinicities and people's awareness and cherishing of them, as long as it is subjugated to being an American.
Like you, I am a mutt. I am Italian, Armenian, French, Irish and Scottish. It is interesting and fun to be able to say that. But I am an American first.
People who are citizens of this country should be American before they are anything else, and should consider themselves as such.
The problem is, people are encouraged by some to immigrate to this country and be Brazilian, Mexican, Portugese, Saudi Arabian or what have you, BEFORE considering themselves American.
And that is not good.
That the South tried for a defensive war was noble and could even be viewed as pragmatic at the time (they would have had difficulty with logistics because of their marginal railroad system and the naval blockades), but they should have marched on Washington when they had the chance (it might not have knocked the North out of the war, but it could have impressed the Europeans enough that one or more of them could have given direct military aid), along with an offensive to the North at an earlier stage.
"People who are citizens of this country should be American before they are anything else, and should consider themselves as such"
Well since you seem to enjoy the experience of being snookered may I suggest you visit your nearest used car lot.
My bet is that you will be.
I have a very uneasy feeling about all of them. Joe Lieberman gladly accepted the nomination of the democrat party to run for vice president and he always supported that party. He has stated that he will caucus with the democrats even after his shoddy treatment at the hands of the democrats. I don't care how much kool aid Sean Hannity drinks on his behalf, the man was/is/will always be a democrat.
Casey's father got royally and publically bitc# slapped at the first Clinton convention because he wouldn't kneel at the barbaric vile altar of abortion. The Casey's remain democrat.
I read James Webb's book "Born Fighting, the Scots-Irish in America". I'm married into a Scots-Irish family; I love my wife dearly. Things that have made me uneasy about her extended family and some people I have met when traveling to West Virginia with her became clear in Webb's book. I don't mean to paint all of them with a broad brush. Patton, Reagan, Audie Murphy, my wife, to name a few, were/are great patriotic Americans of Scots-Irish descent. Webb's book supports my long held feeling that there a fair number of Scots-Irish who will turn on our country because it isn't about what is best for the country, its what is best for the family. I think this man is a selfish individual who was given great opportunity by Republicans, most notably Reagan. I honor his heroic service to our country, just as I honor my father's service in two wars, and my USMC son's service during the war on terror. Webb couldn't find a way to remain true to the party and advance the conservative agenda. In the final analysis, its all about James Webb, not about the party or ultimately what's best for the country. I think that if some africanhyphenamerican loud mouths complain about his address at the Confederate Memorial, he will immediately blow in a different directon to appease them.
I think that conservatives need to work diligently, just like the democraps did this time, to defeat every single one of these people (no prisoners) and install people in office who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. Looking to people like Webb, McCaskill et al to build a majority will cost too much in the end, we've been damaged enough.
Actually, the Scots Irish moved back and forth from Ireland to Scotland over several generations in the 17th and 18th century in some cases and didn't just live in Northern Ireland.