Miss Vicki Heilig, Chairman of the Confederate Memorial Committee of the District of Columbia, Ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Children of the Confederacy, members of the Southern Relief Society and Sons of Confederate Veterans, I am honored to have been asked to speak at this annual Confederate Memorial Ceremony. We are gathered here to commemorate the 191st birth anniversary of President Jefferson Davis and the 85th anniversary of the dedication of the Arlington Confederate Monument.
We are gathered here this afternoon in front of, what I believe to be, the most profoundly wise execution of a work of art that I have seen in my lifetime. What I mean by “profoundly wise execution” is that this monumentreflects the intellectual power of a great sculptor, creating through his highest and noblest personal, religious and moral nature, a truly great work of art. This is not the most exquisite monument I have ever seen, though I think it is strikingly handsome. It is, as I said, a most profoundly wise work of art. It reveals and concentrates in beautiful, rugged bronze nearly every idea that a true Southern historian, theologian, statesman and patriotic citizen could present about the religion, history, culture, morals, economics and politics of a civilization from out of which the Confederate States of America evolved. This monument captures ideals and accomplishments that still existed at the end of the War for Southern Independence. Thank God it does not depict the beginning of the Reconstruction Era, the most disgusting, disgraceful and destructive period in United States history from which the South has never fully recovered.
Only a man of extraordinary creative gifts – a true genius – could have conceived and executed a monument like this one, which enshrines all of what Southern people believed about themselves and their Cause. That man was Sir Moses Ezekiel, the first great American Jewish sculptor. He was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1844. He was one of fourteen children born to Sephardic Jewish emigrants from the Netherlands. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and fought alongside his fellow cadets at VMI in the Battle of New Market where less than a battalion of boys forced the retreat of seasoned Federal troops who vastly outnumbered them in men and weapons. Moses Ezekiel loved his native South and was intensely proud of his fighting in the war which he believed was fought for Constitutional Rights. Many years after the war, when he had already been knighted by both the Italian and German governments for his artistic skill, the Italian revolutionary leader, Garabaldi, accused him of fighting for slavery. He replied defiantly, “None of us had ever fought for slavery, and, in fact, were opposed to it. The South's struggle was simply a Constitutional one, based on the Doctrine of States' Rights and especially on free trade and no tariffs.”
Sir Moses Ezekiel has executed more than fifty statues of bronze and marble in the United States and in Europe but he considered this one to be his greatest achievement. When he died in 1917, he left instructions in his will that he was to be buried next to the monument he loved and honored the most. His grave is to my left and is marked simply: ‘Moses J. Ezekiel, Sergeant of Company C. Battalion of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute'. This monument is the largest and most imposing one in Arlington Cemetery. It was commissioned, paid for, and has always been maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Until this very day the U.S. Federal Government, regrettably, and I believe disgracefully, refuses to maintain it. The United Daughters must raise the funds to maintain and preserve its beauty. Even the tour buses that traverse the cemetery do not stop to look at it as they do before other cemetery monuments. Yet surrounding it are the graves of over 450 Confederate soldiers, Southern civilians and some of their wives. Some of these soldiers and civilians who rest here took the oath of allegiance to the United States after the war. And some of them later even served in the United States Armed Forces.
What I want to do this afternoon is to explain in words what Sir Moses Ezekiel has created in bronze. He wanted to reveal the South's religious faith, her culture and morals, and how they effected the lives and politics of her people. He achieved this goal. My words will not match his brilliant artistic skill but for the sake of our beloved Southland I will try to do my best. When you look at the top of this monument which is over thirty-two feet in height you see the graceful heroic-sized allegorical figure of a woman who represents the South. Her face is serene and compassionate. Her head is crowned with olive leaves, a symbol of peace. Her left hand holds a laurel wreath representing a moral victory and the honor which she bestows upon her fallen sons and daughters. Her right hand holds both a plow and a pruning-hook which symbolically replaces the sword and spear of her desperate struggle for freedom and independence. This lovely female figure stands on a pedestal whose circumference is embossed with four cinery urns which represent the ashes to ashes and dust to dust of the Southern dead for each of the four years of that war. Immediately below the urns the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah are engraved around the circumference of the monument. They describe the noble intentions of the Southern people just after the war. “They shall beat their swords into plow-shares and their spears into pruning-hooks.” So far we have traversed vertically a third of the monument from the heroic female figure of the South to the inspiring Biblical words just below the cinery urns. This section expresses what I call the theological meaning of the monument. Theology is at the summit where God's Holy Word and the moral victory of the Southern people are lifted up. This part of the monument expresses the great importance of traditional Judeo-Christian religion in the lives of the Southern people. It also calls to mind for us today so sadly the end of the last real Christian civilization on earth. To establish this intimate connection between the bronze of the monument with the true history of the South I will summarize what Southerners believed about God and their society. I will also state what most Southerners believed about the religious beliefs of their Northern cousins.
The religious faith and practice of the Southern people wove into their society the belief that the One God revealed in the Holy Trinity is the Creator of all and everything. They believed that God's Law was revealed completely in the Holy Bible the word of God. They believed that the Natural Law and the Revealed Law through Jesus Christ defined and motivated the nature of their culture and community. They believed that the Holy Spirit of the One Triune God welded into a unified society all the Southern people: the planter the small business man the tenant farmer the small dirt farmer, the frontiersman and the slave. This unity was not politically socialist or egalitarian. It was Biblical and spiritual and brought into being a mutual social and charitable responsibility and generosity among the people whatever their station in life might be. This unity in Southern society was also marked by Christian and religious “noblesse-oblige” on the part of the cultivated and affluent toward those less fortunate. The Biblical faith of the Southern people made them self-conscious and self-confident. It made them anti-elitist but still aristocratic and chivalrous. Richard Weaver in his essay “The Older Religiousness in the South” has written that the South's attitude toward religion was “a simple acceptance of a body of belief; an innocence of protest and schism by which religion was one of the unquestioned and unquestionable supports of the general settlement under which men live.”
In the North these values were disappearing among the political, social and religious leadership. Most Southerners believed quite correctly that most Northerners had rejected much of the Christian Doctrine which both of them had originally inherited from their Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors. From the end of the Napoleonic Wars until the beginning of the War between the States, Europe was undergoing violent political and social unrest. Europe was the scene of radical new ideas about religion, politics and social order. During those years a steady stream of New England intellectuals went to Europe and drank deeply from the wells of the radical social philosophers. These New England intellectuals were really elitists who returned to America convinced that Southern Biblical Christianity ought to be suppressed because it was a stumbling block to the progress of mankind. They declared that virtue and salvation were attainable through education and social reform. They advocated unrestrained freedom and permissiveness which would be maintained by the man made laws of the State instead of the Biblical Laws of God. Many New England clergy accepted the radical ideas of the European theologians and preached the new doctrine about the scientific analysis of the Bible. This new doctrine made them reject the Divine Inspiration of the Bible. It made them reject the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ and made them deny that men and women are miserable sinners who needed a Savior. They began to believe that they could save themselves through more education and a greater trust in their own reason, intuition and feelings. Richard Weaver, in the same essay I just mentioned, said this about these New England intellectuals, many of whom, incidentally were Abolitionists:
In New England… the right to criticize and even reject the dogmas of Christianity came at length to overshadow the will to believe them… Such troubles arise only when egotistical and self-willed people make assent (faith) a matter of intellectual conviction… New England, acting out of that intellectual pride which has always characterized her people, allowed religion to become primarily a matter for analysis and debate.
There was indeed a profound difference in theology between the North and the South in ante-bellum America. The Northern intellectual leadership preached a heretical and socialist Gospel. The South held on to a robust, traditional, Trinitarian Christianity. The North experimented with a philosophy of ethical culture under the guise of Christianity. The South held to an Apostolic Faith which dealt with the Biblical realities of life, death, judgment, Heaven and Hell. This no-nonsense Faith produced a culture from out of which came a people like your ancestors and mine who were willing to die in trying to preserve it.
One more thing needs to he said about the theological section of this monument. All Americans, and especially we Southerners, should remember and appreciate the significance of what happened during the war. What happened? God brought forth among the Southern armies the greatest revival of religious faith in the history of the United States. As a naval officer aboard ship in the Pacific in combat in World War II and also as an Army chaplain with the 25th Infantry Division in combat in Vietnam, I discovered as many of you have who are here this afternoon, as well as our own ancestors that there are no atheists in foxholes. It was our ancestors faith expressed through those revivals that enabled them to face unimaginable suffering and to live through the war and later to rebuild their shattered lives and society.
I ask you to look now at the central section of this monument. What do we see? We see Sir Moses creating in bronze statuary and bas-relief his impression of Southern culture. While I call the top section of this monument the religious or theological section, I call the middle third the cultural section. Just below the words of the prophet Isaiah is a frieze of fourteen shields with the coats-of-arms of the thirteen states of the Confederacy and the state of Maryland. Maryland would have seceded but President Lincoln prevented this from happening by ordering Federal armies to occupy Maryland, declared martial law and arrested her legislature. The shields of these thirteen states call to mind the thirteen original colonies which banded together to protect their life and liberty from a tyrannical British government. The shields of so many Southern states signify that this was not a rebellion of a few disgruntled people. It was an entire culture and vast section of the country binding itself together to protect its heritage, culture and way of life.
Sir Moses depicted Southern culture in a powerful way. He sculpted in bronze thirty-two life-sized figures and several more in bas-relief to represent the sacrifice and heroism of the Southern people. In the center of the front of the monument is the figure of the war-goddess Athena. She holds up with her left arm the right arm of a female figure representing the South who is collapsing in military defeat. The female figure depicting the South, while still staggering forward still holds on to her shield upon which is inscribed the word “Constitution”. Around the circumference of the monument and beginning on both sides of the goddess Athena and the woman depicting the South you can see members of the Confederate army and navy marching into battle. Then proceeding clockwise as viewed from the top looking down you will see six very emotionally-moving vignettes depicting Southern soldiers and their families as they face the separation, sacrifice and danger of war. The first family grouping is a Confederate army officer being embraced by his wife as he prepares to leave home. Next we see a minister consoling his weeping wife as she holds the hand of her teenage son who is leaving home with his rifle on his shoulder. The minister, who is his father, places his hand in blessing on the lad's head. Next we see a blacksmith, who having forged his own sword, is preparing to gird it on his side while his wife looks up anxiously into her husbands stern and stoic face. Next is the very moving scene of a young soldier kissing his baby good-bye. The child is held up to the father's face by a negro mammy who looks sorrowfully into his face. At the same time another of the soldier's children holds on tightly to the negro mammy's dress and buries his little sobbing face into her dress. As you approach the front of the monument again you will see another negro next to the group of Confederate soldiers. This negro is also a soldier and carries a rifle over his shoulder. Most Americans do not know that there were thousands upon thousands of black soldiers who fought in the Confederate army and navy. These black soldiers were integrated into the ranks of the army with the white soldiers. This was not the case in the Northern armies which segregated the black soldiers into colored units with only white commanders.
What do these poignantly conceived vignettes say about Southern culture? They portray what Sir Moses believed about Southern life and culture which he loved so deeply. Here is depicted the Southerner's great reverence for God and the Bible. Southerners believed that no one was really educated unless he or she knew the contents and meaning of the Bible. Every Southerner would have known by heart the verse of Isaiah inscribed on this monument. Most Southerners believed that their highest responsibility was the keeping of the Marriage Bond between man and wife and the care of their family. Alexis DeTocqueville, the French social philosopher who visited the United States in the early 1830s to study American culture said this about marriage and the family in the South. “Certainly of all countries in the world, America is the one where the highest and truest conception of conjugal happiness has been conceived…” Sir Moses captures this feeling for marriage and family magnificently. Southerners demonstrated generosity and hospitality. The Bible taught them the virtues of tolerance and civility to all people of good will no matter what church or political party to which they belonged or what ideas they held. This Southern cultural characteristic was so different than that of the officious, intolerant, busy-body, reformist attitude that developed in New England in the decades before the war. Southerners demonstrated personal responsibility. They did not expect other people to take care of them. The Bible taught them to be self-reliant. They believed that honesty and integrity defined the soul of a man. They believed what the Bible said that God created mankind in His own Image and therefore courtesy and civility should be shown to all people just as it must be shown to God. Southerners had a deep respect for law and order. They believed in the Common Law which they inherited from their English ancestors and which they believed was established for them by God. Southerners were a people of Holy Memory. They remembered how their ancestors, before coming to the New World, were tortured and persecuted by their former governments of kings and despots; it must not happen again here where they lived.
There was one more remarkable characteristic of Southerners and their culture. Southerners were a people of great courage. They had fought the Spanish, the French, the Indians and the English on this continent. They remembered the founders of the Republic who risked everything for these unalienable Rights… of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and they were willing to risk everything again in war against the North whom they believed was destroying these Rights. If I was asked to find one quotation which summed up Southern culture depicted so wisely and graphically in this monument, I have found it in the words of R. L. Dabney, a great and learned Southern theologian and preacher. He said this during the war:
“A brave people may for a time be over-powered by brute force and yet be neither dishonored or destroyed. But if the spirit of independence and honor be lost among a people this will be the death of the commonwealth. Dread then this degradation of spirit as worse than defeat, as worse than subjugation, as worse than poverty, than hardship, than death.”
I ask you to look now at the lower third section of this great monument. I call this the political section. What do we see sculpted in bronze in front of us? We see the circular Seal of the Confederate States of America and below it the Dedication Statement which reads: “To our Dead Heroes by the United Daughters of the
Confederacy.” Then below the dedication we see an historical political statement cast in Latin which gives us the ultimate meaning of this profoundly wise and most handsome and glorious monument. I will say more about this Latin inscription later but let's turn our attention to the Great Seal of the Confederacy we see before us. It depicts General George Washington on horseback with the Latin inscription DEO VINDICE, which means “God vindicates”. Southerners believed that under the Constitution they had the right to secede if they were being harmed by a tyrannical government. They remembered these words in the Declaration of Independence that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government… (which) to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” Southerners identified completely with George Washington and saw their war with the invading Northern armies as a second War for Independence. The war sweeping over them was not a civil war. By definition, a civil war is a war between two opposing political factions of the same country which are fighting for complete control and domination of the entire country's government. The Russian Revolution of 1917 between the Czarist monarchy and the Communist Bolsheviks as well as the 17th century war between the Stuart Monarchy and the English Parliament are examples of true civil wars. The Confederate States merely wanted to leave the Federal Union peacefully. They had no intention whatsoever of conquering the North and controlling the entire country from Washington. If we Southerners continue to allow people to refer to this war as the Civil War we will be participating in the subversion of the noble reasons for which our ancestors took up arms to defend their lives, homes and culture from Northern aggression. If we continue to use the term Civil War we are encouraging the general public to believe that the war was fought only because of the South's obsession with maintaining slavery which is a bald-faced lie. I believe that the term Civil War was a Yankee euphemism for Northern aggression leading to the destruction of the South and her culture.
The opinions I have about calling the war a Civil War, I also have about calling Southerners “rebels”. It was the Northern historians and politicians who wrote the history of this war. They were determined to block the writing of the true history of the war by Southerners and they succeeded. It was they who first called us “rebels” and referred to this war as “the War of Rebellion”. Our ancestors were not rebels; they were loyalists and patriots. They were loyal to the Constitution of the United States. We must not forget the words of Alexander Stephens the Vice President of the Confederate States of America who wrote:
The real object of those who resorted to secession was not to overthrow the government of the United States but instead to perpetuate the principles of law upon which it was founded.
On the opposite side of this monument at the base you will read some of the most powerful and descriptive words about how Southern soldiers felt about the war and their political responsibility as citizens. Sir Moses Ezekiel was so wise and perceptive in casting in bronze these words of the Reverend Randolph McKim. Dr. McKim was a Confederate army chaplain and later the Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany here in Washington. He wrote:
“Not for fame or reward, nor for place or 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.”
In conclusion, I ask you to look again at the Latin inscription on the base of the monument. It is intimately linked with the Great Seal of the Confederacy just above it. The text in Latin reads, “victrix causa diis placuit sed victa catoni”. It translates this way: “The winning cause pleased the gods, but the losing cause pleased Cato.” To understand what this inscription means, we have to take a very short course in Roman history. Sir Moses was a classical scholar as well as a great sculptor and artist. He knew ancient history and Latin and Greek and Hebrew and his casting this quotation from history is a brilliant insight into the ultimate meaning of the War between the States. Here is the history that Sir Moses knew so well. The quotation was written by the Roman poet and historian Lucan. He wrote a poetic history or what is known as an epic poem called “Pharasalia”. It was a history of the civil war between Julius Caesar and the Roman Senator Pompey. The work is a powerful condemnation of civil war and emphasizes the stark, dark horror of the catastrophes which the Roman state inflicted upon itself. You may remember that Julius Caesar made himself dictator of the Roman Empire for life and he marched against Pompey and the republican forces who resisted Caesar's military and political garb for absolute control and power. Pompey was an admirer of Cato the Younger, who lived one hundred years earlier and was devoted to the principles and virtues of the early Roman Republic. Cato had one of the greatest reputations for honesty and incorruptibility of any man in ancient times, and his Stoicism put him above the graft, bribery and mad despotic ambition so prevalent in Roman politics of his day. Pompey's army, however, was defeated by Caesar's legions at the Battle of Pharsalia in the Balkans, and Caesar went on to become what we can call the first of the Roman Emperors.
The Latin text I quoted earlier illustrates the truth of an historical and political continuum from the time of this ancient war to that of the War for Southern Independence. “Victrix causa,” “the winning cause (or side)”, referring to Julius Caesar's inordinate ambition and his lust for total power and control, is compared with
President Lincoln and the Federal Government's desire and power to crush and destroy the South. Next we read “diss placuit” which translates “pleased the gods”. In this context, gods are with a small “g” and refer to the gods of mythology; the gods of money, power, war and domination, greed, hate, lust and ambition. Next we come to the noble climax of this quotation, “sed victa catoni” which translates “but the losing side (or cause) pleased Cato”. Here Lucan, the poet, refers to Pompey's fight to retain the old conservative, traditional republican government of Rome. Even though Pompey was defeated by Caesar's greater military power, his defeat, nevertheless, pleased the noble Cato. And here, of course, Cato represents the noble aims of the Southern Confederacy. The South fought politically to maintain the Constitution which had guided her safely for eighty-seven years. She merely wanted to be left alone and be governed by it. The aggression-minded, totalitarian Northern government would not permit that and so she pleased the gods of abolitionism, transcendentalism, utopianism, state centralism, universalism, rationalism and a host of other “isms”.
Today we commemorate the sacrifice of our ancestral Confederate dead. Today we also celebrate the 191st birthday anniversary of our first and only Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. When he was inaugurated as President, he said:
“Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations… It illustrates the American idea that governments rest upon the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established… Reverently let us invoke the God of our Fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles they were able to vindicate, establish and transmit to posterity.”
Finally my friends, we must not think of the term “The Lost Cause” in terms of military defeat, or the destruction of Southern culture, or the destruction of Southern political statesmanship through the demonic horror of the Reconstruction Era. We must think historically that the South, with all her inherited institutions and her embracing of religious and ethical values, was a continuation of the finest gifts and practices of European culture; and that the North had tragically deviated from that heritage. Today, however, it is not just the North that has deviated, but the entire country including much of the South. The anti-Southern and anti-Confederate demagoguery we witness today among bigoted people can be traced directly to our entire nation's abandonment of moral standards. We are degenerating into pantheism, hedonism, moral relativism, narcissism and worst of all, into socialism leading into nihilism and totalitarianism. This brilliantly conceived and executed monument by a devoted Southern compatriot should encourage us to change the defeatist idea of a Lost Cause into the “Just Cause” or “Righteous Cause” of our Southern ancestors. That cause is the only cause which can stop not only the South, but also the whole country from disintegrating into a chaotic paganism of divisive and bitter self-aggrandizement. God help us; God save the South; God save the United States of America.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard