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“Last Salute Of The Army Of Northern Virginia”

These men too are our ancestors and day  by day, little by little, there are fewer and fewer of us that are worthy of them.

True, they are not at rest yet,
but now that they are indeed
apart, winnowed from failures,
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested
hard energy, like the stars.

— My Sad Captains by Thom Gunn |

“Ah, but it was a most impressive sight, a most striking picture, to see that whole army in motion to lay down the symbols of war and strife, that army which had fought for four terrible years after a fashion but infrequently known in war.

“At such a time and under such conditions I thought it eminently fitting to show some token of our feeling, and I therefore instructed my subordinate officers to come to the position of ‘salute’ in the manual of arms as each body of the Confederates passed before us.

“It was not a ‘present arms,’ however, not a ‘present,’ which then as now was the highest possible honor to be paid even to a president. It was the ‘carry arms,’ as it was then known, with musket held by the right hand and perpendicular to the shoulder. I may best describe it as a marching salute in review.

“When General Gordon came opposite me I had the bugle blown and the entire line came to ‘attention,’ preparatory to executing this movement of the manual successively and by regiments as Gordon’s columns should pass before our front, each in turn.

“The General was riding in advance of his troops, his chin drooped to his breast, downhearted and dejected in appearance almost beyond description. At the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his swordpoint to his toe in salutation.

“By word of mouth General Gordon sent back orders to the rear that his own troops take the same position of the manual in the march past as did our line. That was done, and a truly imposing sight was the mutual salutation and farewell.

“At a distance of possibly twelve feet from our line, the Confederates halted and turned face towards us. Their lines were formed with the greatest care, with every officer in his appointed position, and thereupon began the formality of surrender.

“Bayonets were affixed to muskets, arms stacked, and cartridge boxes unslung and hung upon the stacks. Then, slowly and with a reluctance that was appealingly pathetic, the torn and tattered battleflags were either leaned against the stacks or laid upon the ground. The emotion of the conquered soldiery was really sad to witness. Some of the men who had carried and followed those ragged standards through the four long years of strife, rushed, regardless of all discipline, from the ranks, bent about their old flags, and pressed them to their lips with burning tears.

“And it can well be imagined, too, that there was no lack of emotion on our side, but the Union men were held steady in their lines, without the least show of demonstration by word or by motion. There was, though, a twitching of the muscles of their faces, and, be it said, their battle-bronzed cheeks were not altogether dry. Our men felt the import of the occasion, and realized fully how they would have been affected if defeat and surrender had been their lot after such a fearful struggle.”

Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXII, Richmond, Va., January -December. 1904.

Via The Feral Irishman: “Lest We Forget”

Confederate veteran reunion, Washington, 1917

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • TANSTAFL May 7, 2018, 4:55 AM

    20th Maine: Fix Bayonets! Right wheel forward. Charge!

  • Dan Patterson May 7, 2018, 6:05 AM

    Don’t start.

  • Casey Klahn May 7, 2018, 6:37 AM

    There are merely looks that suffice from one military man to another. Everything is in the eyes, yet in this journal I am treated to other fine and subtle signals; the kind of salute, the keeping of, and also the breaking of, ranks.

    No. Of course there are fewer who fit these ranks now than in the past. Legendary men grow in stature with time and do not diminish.

  • Donald Sensing May 7, 2018, 6:53 AM

    “What can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. … But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. …

    “When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime. That is why the true warrior cannot speak of battle save to his brothers who have been there with him. The truth is too holy, too sacred for words.”

    Former Marine and author Steven Pressfield in Gates of Fire

  • Vanderleun May 7, 2018, 9:44 AM

    A fine fine novel that I am currently reading.

  • Dan Patterson May 7, 2018, 12:16 PM

    Recommendations for warrior and historical context reading (though there are many others):
    “The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths” Leonard Scruggs
    “About Face” David Hackworth
    “I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition” Essays collected at Vanderbilt University
    “With the Old Breed” Eugene Sledge

  • Vanderleun May 7, 2018, 1:16 PM

    A strong, strong second for “With the Old Breed.” Best WWII memoir by a mile.

    Amazon.com: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa eBook: E.B. Sledge: Books

  • Casey Klahn May 7, 2018, 9:17 PM

    William Manchester. Goodbye Darkness.
    Philip Caputo. A Rumor of War.
    Charles MacDonald. Company Commander (MacDonald becomes the editor/compiler of the official US Army Green Books history of WWII).
    Robert Mason. Chickenhawk.
    Pat Conroy. The Boo. (Semi-fictional memoir).
    Bill Mauldin. The Brass Ring.
    Peter Neumann. The Black March.
    Heinz Guderian. Panzer Leader.

  • Daniel K Day May 8, 2018, 10:36 AM

    Many thanks for the book recommendations. Another second for With The Old Breed.

  • Richard G. May 8, 2018, 11:13 AM

    ‘Helmet for My Pillow’ by Robert Leckie, highly recommended.

  • Rick May 8, 2018, 5:05 PM

    I agree that ” With the Old Breed” is the best military memoir ever written. Amazingly it was the only book the author wrote.
    ‘The Boo” was my Tac officer at the Citadel. He terrified me my freshman year which was also Pat Conroys freshman year.