Fears of Beguiled Posterity
The writer below, knowingly suspicious of the muse of written history, reminds the reader that “The best schools of history are around the hearth-stone. The best lessons of patriotism, of veneration for the past, of true and laudable appreciation of noble deeds, are received at the lips of a mother. Her unerring instincts teach her to select with wonderful skill the best exemplars to kindle the aspirations of youth. They keep alive the traditions of a land and suffer nothing of enduring value to perish.”
The following is excerpted from Rev. H. Melville Jackson’s address to the Richmond Howitzers banquet at Richmond, December 13, 1882.
Fears of Beguiled Posterity
“It has been said of General Robert E. Lee that he often expressed the fear lest posterity should not know the odds against which he fought.
No solicitude respecting his future fame disturbed the serenity of a mind lifted above the petty ambitions of personal reputation; but, the daily witness of incredible heroism, daily spectator of the dauntless courage with which a decimated army faced undismayed an overwhelming foe, [Lee] . . . feared lest the examples of knightly valor and splendid fortitude, which you have exhibited to the ages, might, through the incapacity or incredulity, or venal mendacity of the historian, be finally lost to the human race.
Soldiers, you cannot bear to think that your children’s children shall have forgotten the fields on which you have shed your blood. You cannot think with equanimity that a day will come when Virginia shall have suffered the fame of her heroes to be lost in obscurity, and the valorous achievements of her sons to fade from memory.
And if you thought, to-night, that the muse of history would turn traitor to your cause, misrepresent the principles for which you fought, and to deny to you those attributes of valor, fortitude and heroic devotion you have grandly won, your souls would rise up within you in immediate and bitter and protesting indignation.
The North, it is said, is making the literature of these times, has secured the ear of the age and will not fail to make the impression, unfavorable to you, which time will deepen rather than obliterate.
Diligent fingers are carving the statues of the heroes of the Northern armies, writing partisan and distorted versions of their achievements, altering, even in this generation, the perspective of history, until, at no distant day, they shall have succeeded in crowding out every other aspirant of fame and beguiled posterity into believing that the laurels of honor should rest, alone and undisturbed, upon the brows of your adversaries.”
(Our Cause in History, Rev. H. Melville Jackson, Southern Historical Society Papers, Rev. J. William Jones, editor, Volume XI, 1883excerpts pp. 27-28)