FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
BEFORE closing, a few words as to the result of the contest and in advocacy of the cause of the men engaged in it on the side of the government will not be out of place. The All-Wise Creator has a way of directing human affairs that is wonderful to reflect upon, sometimes using the very means men employ for the purpose of advancing their destruction. There being abundant food for reflection found in this contest will, it is thought, be sufficient apology for directing the thoughts of the reader from the actual contest to one of the results secured. It has been often said by the unreflecting that it is a question which side won in the contest. Perhaps what has been gained for humanity is not thought sufficient compensation for the sacrifices made. This may be so in the estimation of some, but in the affairs of the world great changes for the better are not secured without great sacrifices, and history has been read to little purpose if this is not considered a truism.
The Southern people would never have entered into the contest and tried the arbitrament of the sword had the result been known to them. They first became mad, and determined on a separation from the New England, Middle, and Western States, because it was plainly shown that slavery would be confined to its (then) limits. The result of the contest in 1861, followed by that of 1862, being to the advantage of the South, prepared the way for the President's emancipation proclamation. No one conversant with the sentiments and feelings of the volunteers at the commencement of the war can say that the contest would have been entered into by them had emancipation been the object of the war. It was only after drinking of the cup of adversity filled with defeat and disaster that opened the way for its reception by the army. Had the government been successful in the three months' campaign, or even in the campaign of 1862, slavery, in all probability, so far as the war was concerned, would have remained a blot on the country. it follows, then that the wisdom of Providence so ordered events that they would prepare the people for the elevation of the sown-trodden not as an object, but as a consequence, of the war. This followed, and there are very few in this land who wish for its restoration, hard as its retention was fought for. The firing on Fort Sumpter, designed to lengthen and widen the area of slavery, was its death-knell. When a contest is entered upon which has for its object the oppression of mankind, that cause usually fails in the end, and its supporters are the sufferers. Having this result in view without reference to any other, can there be a question as to which side won?
There are many at this late day far removed from the war and its alarms who are disposed to look upon the surviving soldiers of the late war as an element of society poor and improvident, constant applicants for assistance from the public, and chiefly engaged in attempting to secure pensions. to the citizen who lived in peace at home during this contest, his person and property in safety, it should hardly be necessary to remind him that these same men were his bulwark of defence, standing as a wall between him and the enemy, fronting the tide of would-be invaders; charging at the word of command the ranks arrayed against him, the rifle-pits or the fortifications, his comrades falling around him, joining in the struggle to the bitter end. He will recollect, perhaps distinctly, or the impression still remains, of picking up the morning paper and reading of these conflicts, and while doing so feeling secure in having these defenders at the front fighting his battles for him, his family, and his property, and when winter came with its cold blasts, its rains, sleet, snow, and ice, how comfortable he was in his home surrounded by all he held dear on earth. All protected by these men on the picket-line, in the mountains, exposed to it all, oftentimes without shelter and without fire, ever on the alert, and always facing the danger. Then he fully appreciated these services, how much he was indebted to the soldier, and was ready to admit that nothing the people or the government could do for him was an adequate return for the hardships undergone and the services rendered. As is to be expected, these feelings of gratitude have become blunted, as they usually do after the danger is passed, but it is not unjust to charge these men with placing themselves in a position that, in the opinion of their fellows, they merit the name of "paupers," as has been charged, at the price of securing a small monthly allowance from the government in the form of a pension, as an acknowledgment of their services and impairment of their health? What is desired by the mass of thee men is that the feeble and those unable to earn a livelihood should be assisted in this way, but not that this assistance be given to the strong or those who should be independent of such help. The qualities that supported the soldier in the war will enable him to battle with the world for a living provided he has health and strength. As time passes and the numbers decrease, the proportion of those remaining needing assistance may be increased on account of age and its attendant infirmities, but the aggregate of such will probably never again attain the present number.
There certainly can be no question as to the duty of the government in this matter, regardless of what party may be in power, and as the ranks thin by the lapse of time the opportunity to do these men simple justice will be furnished additional proof that "republics are ungrateful," only made the stronger by desire to do justice to the few that may remain to share, it may be, in the too late spasm of generosity. All the others being more respected for what they had undergone in their graves than when in being. In 1840, when the remains of the great Napoleon were taken from St. Helena, the scenes of the last days of his wonderful life, quiet death, and burial, to France, and in Paris, where the ceremony of placing them in their final resting-place was in progress, Paris was there, France was there; in short, such a concourse of people as never before had been present on a like occasion was there assembled. Among them were the dignitaries of almost every kingdom and state of Europe, - princes, dukes, lords, and other titled men, men of science, noted throughout the world, church officials, generals, admirals, etc., celebrated in their respective professions, clothed in the most magnificent robes and blazing with the insignia of rank, but among them all, bent by age, hardships, and wounds, a little band of Napoleon's guard was the object upon which the multitude gazed, and upon which were bestowed the marks of respect and admiration to the neglect of the great. Is this to be the compensation the little band - the last of the survivors of the war of the rebellion - may expect from their countrymen or are their feelings to be expressed in a more substantial manner, - more in accord with the way of doing such things in this practical age and country? is the question to be denied. The feelings of the men or the teachings of the political party that classes these men paupers are not to be envied.
A few words to the men of the First to close this chapter. Since the events here narrated more than twenty years have placed their marks on your brows, tinged the hair with gray, cooled your ardor, and tempered your energies. Long ago you ceased to be young, and when you meet year after year this fact strikes you forcibly, and however fresh the events here mentioned may appear, your term of life has been shortened more than a score of years, and at every return of these gatherings the familiar face of one or more will be absent. Have these twenty years made you better men? have the good resolutions you may have formed when musing by the camp-fire, addressing the dear ones at home, or when on the eve of meeting the foe in deadly combat, been forgotten, or are they bearing good fruit? All are now on the down grade of life, fast being gathered to the majority on the other side. And you have not been a careful reader of this life if you do not feel that there is one in the hereafter attainable by all, more fitting your efforts to secure than all this world affords. Farewell, boys (old ones now), and may God in his infinite mercy have you in his keeping is the heartfelt wish of your whilom comrade. Of you - every one - may it be recorded, -