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May 27, 2002 Cummings Speech
Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association

Address delivered by John F. Cummings III at the Confederate Cemetery

May 27, 2002

"What a glorious day the Lord has given us.

Last year, I had the great honor of recognizing the military service of one of our Confederate Veterans. John Henry Myer served honorably in the Southern Army and after the war went on to serve the people of Fredericksburg. 30 years of public service on the Town Common Council. Myer was one of those chosen citizens who saw to the rebirth of a war torn community. His story and that of his family is one of sheer endurance. Trials and tribulations followed them throughout their lives, yet within them, we see the perseverance and tenacity that epitomized the citizenry of this town and reflected the strength of the South itself. A citizenry who endured when the cruel hand of war was turned against them.

It is this perseverance that I intend to honor here today. It is the story of the Confederate Ordeal.

Just as we have all borne witness to the unifying national perseverance after September 11th - those who surround us here - in eternal sleep - soldier and civilian - they extoled the virtues which sustained them in those cruel times.

140 years now removed from those days of uncertainty and suffering, we endeavor to realize the true sacrifice that was called upon them. We can walk the fields of battle and note the healed scars on the landscape. Those are the gentle reminders of the tragedy that was the War Between the States. Beneath this soil lie the mortal remains of those who lived Americas defining drama.

Jefferson Davis knew the odds his newborn nation faced as he wrote, "We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by a powerful opposition; but I do not despond, and will not shrink from the task imposed upon me." These words reflected the Southern Will.

When evacuation of the town of Fredericksburg loomed upon the shoulders of these brave people, the strength of their faith carried them through. That faith carries us today - Sons and Daughters of these honorable people. This is a cherished burden - one we bear with devotion to cause. It is for us to ensure the endurance of our Southern Heritage. It is for us to ensure our tradition is carried on by future generations, when so many will seek to oppress them. We have many detractors but we persevere and our children shall do the same. It is for us to ensure that history is justly told.

We do not call for a separation of North and South - that is a day long gone - but we do ask the world to recognize the noble ideals and our passion for those ideals - for the virtues that sustained them - for the devotion to the cause.

Just as the patriots of Lexington and Concord put forth their determination to dissolve the political bands which had connected them to a tyrannical power - so too was the Confederate resolve.

Here and now, we gather to embrace the Lost Cause. We are blessed to live in a nation that allows such freedom to remember - not to be swept under a carpet of political correctness - but to be exalted to the place of honor such memories deserve.

In July of 1872 amidst the years of occupation, a writer in the Southern Review penned this encouragement to its readership,

"The South is covered all over with vestiges of romance, which even the tread of the warrior, with garments dyed in blood, cannot obliterate. While the storm-cloud darkens the political heavens we may turn to the past for consolation, for agreeable and heroic reminiscences. If we are mortified with the changes that have come over the face of American society; if we despair of reform, when the flood tide of corruption is sweeping over the land with a continually accumulating force; if the present terrifies and alarms us with its prognostications and omens of worse times to come, we may still turn with pride and pleasure to the past. People who feel that they have been deeply wronged never remain stationary. They gather strength from their afflictions. Their intellectual power is quickened by the passions that agitate and the griefs that assail them, and the mind, in its efforts to extricate itself from impending difficulties, strains every nerve, and strikes out new paths to distinction. So the deepest darkness precedes the dawn, and the blackest cloud covers the sun that shines behind it. The simile is an old one, but it inculcates a great lesson. Genius never sleeps when it sheds tears, but plumes itself for some lofty flight."

This is the belief that carried a defeated South through reconstruction.

Let us not walk from here today and forget the obligation we have, to those that have gone before us and to those yet to come.

Some years after the war, an Englishman wrote a poem in response to a song called the Conquered Banner. His words should remind us of our duty."

"Gallant nation, foiled by numbers

Say not that your hopes are fled

One day to avenge your dead

Keep it, widowed, sonless mothers,

Keep it, sisters, mourning brothers

Furl it with an iron will

Furl it now, but - keep it still

Think not that its work is done

Keep it till your children take it

Once again to hail and make it

All their sires have bled and fought for,

All their noble hearts have sought for,

Bled and fought for all alone.

Treat it gently, for tis holy:

Then once more unfurl it gladly -

Conquered banner- keep it still

Sir Henry Houghton"

Copyright 2002, all rights reserved.

Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association, PO Box 1964, Spotsylvania, VA  22553