Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12

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Author: William Cowper Brann

Blue and Gray.

AN ADDRESS TO THE OLD VETERANS.

[The following is a summary of Mr. Brann’s address to the United American Veterans, San Antonio, Feb. 22, 1894.]

It occurs to me that the time is not an appropriate one for lengthy speeches. This is a love-feast, and I have noticed that when people are much in love they are little inclined to talk. Perhaps I have been called upon because I’m a professional peacemaker, an expert harmony promoter. Were I not as meek as Moses and patient as Job I certainly would weary in well-doing—become discouraged and give o’er the attempt to inaugurate an era of universal peace and general good will; for when I go North I am denounced by the partisan press as an unreconstructed rebel seeking to rip the federal government up by the roots, and when I come South I’m pointed out as a dangerous Yankee importation with the bluest of equators. The Democrats insist that I’m a Republican, but that party declines the responsibility; the infidels call me a religious crank, the clergy an Atheist, and even the Mugwumps regard me with suspicion. But let me tell you right here that whatever I may or may not be, I am an American from the ground up—from Alpha to Omega, world-withoutend. I may be a man without a party and without a creed; but so long as Old Glory blazes in God’s blue firmament I will never be a man without a country.

I can no more imagine a man loving only the north or south half of his country than I can imagine him loving only the right or left side of his wife. If I had to love my country on the instalment plan I’d move out of it. The man who is really a patriot loves his country in a lump. There’s room in his heart for every acre of its sunny soil, its every hill upon which the morning breaks, its every vale that cradles the evening shadows, its every stream that laughs back the image of the sun.

When a man feels that way you can safely trust him with an office—and most of us are perfectly willing to be trusted.

As an American citizen I am proud of every man, of whatever section, who, by the nobility of his nature or the majesty of his intellect, has added one jot or tittle to the fame of his fair land, has increased the credit of our common country, has contributed new power to the car of human progress. They are my countrymen, friends and brethren. Are you of the North? Then I claim with you a joint interest in your entire galaxy of intellectual gods. At the shrine of Lincoln’s broad humanity, of Webster’s matchless power, of the cunning genius of your Menlo wizard I humbly bow. Are you of the South? Your Jefferson, Jackson and Lee are mine as well as thine, for they too were Americans—lords in that mighty aristocracy of intellect that has, in four generations, made the New World the wonder of the Old with its cumulative greatness of forty centuries.

I have watched the progress of the United American Veterans’ Association with uncommon interest, because it is distinctively a national organization, in which shriveled sectionalism and party prejudice find no place. Its cornerstone is American manhood, its object fraternity, its principles broad as the continent upon which falls the shadow of our flag. Do you know what that association means? —had you thought of its significance? It means that when brave men sheathe the sword the quarrel’s done. It means that peace hath its triumphs no less than war. The world’s annals furnish forth no parallel to that association whose guests we are to-night. Men have fought ere this and patched up a peace; but where, in all the cycles of human history, have they waged war more relentless than did Rome and Carthage, then, without a murmur, accepted the arbitrament of the sword and swung into line, shoulder to shoulder, a band of brothers, one flag, one country, one destiny and that the highest goal of human endeavor?

My attention has been especially attracted to this association because it is a practical illustration of what I have so often urged in print: That the pitiful sectional prejudices which we see here and there coming to the surface both north and south; that the petty hatreds, which appear to transform some hearts into bitter little pools in which Justice perishes and divine Reason is quite overthrown, have no lot or part among the soldiers who made the civil war the grandest event in modern history—one from which the world will mark time for centuries yet to be. I have yet to hear an ex-federal who met Lee’s veterans at the Wilderness or Gettysburg, speak disrespectfully of the man who wore the gray. I have yet to hear an ex-confederate who mixed it with "Old Pap" Thomas at Chickamauga, or Joe Hooker above the clouds, speak disparagingly of those who wore the blue. It is those who stayed at home to sing, "We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree," and those who damned "Old Abe" Lincoln at long range who are doing all the tremendous fighting now. They didn’t get started for the front until after Appomattox; but having once sailed in for slaughter all Hades can’t head ’em off! If a merciful Providence doesn’t soon interpose, these mighty post-bellum warriors will either break a lung or wreck the majestic world. They are more dreadful in their destructive awfulness than the farmer’s two he-goats, that "fit an’ fit" until there was nothing left of ’em but a splotch o’ blood and two belligerent tails. Those who exchanged compliments at Corinth and Cold Harbor; those who received informal calls from Kilpatrick’s cavalry, who we are told "rode like centaurs and fought like devils"; those who saw Grant’s intrepid Westerners hurl themselves against Vicksburg’s impregnable heights; those who were slammed up against Jackson’s "Stone wall" or picnicked with Johnston’s cartridge-biters on grapeshot pie and deviled minnie balls, now treat each other with the studied respect which the Kansas farmer paid the cyclone. He felt sure that the Lord was on his side and that with such help he could more than hold his own; still he was in no wise anxious to steer his theory against a condition that was making a million revolutions a minute and hadn’t yet brought up its reserves.

In commingling thus in a common brotherhood, those who followed the fortunes of the confederacy until human fortitude could no further go, and those who, with the sword’s keen point, held every gleaming star in Old Glory’s field of blue, are furnishing a commendable example to all our countrymen, to all humanity. It is an echo, nay, an incarnation of those words of Grant, the grandest that ever fell from victorious warrior’s lips: "Let us have peace." The battlefield was sown long since with kindlier seed than dragon’s teeth, has blossomed and borne the fruits of Life where Death reigned paramount. The flowers of our Southern fields are no longer dyed with the blood of the contending brave, but drip with heaven’s own dews; the sullen battery has gone silent on our purple hills and the crash of steel resounds no more amid our pleasant valleys. No longer the Northern child waits and watches for the soldier sire whose lips have felt the touch of God’s own hand; no longer the Southern woman wanders with bursting heart amid the wreck and wraith of the fierce simoon, brushing the battle grime from cold brows, seeking among the mangled dead for all that life held dear. The curse has passed: "Let us have peace."

The civil war was a national necessity. It was the fiery furnace in which Almighty God welded the discordant elements of the New World into one homogeneous people. For generations the Puritan hated the Cavalier, and the latter gave back scorn for scorn and added compound interest. This mutual dislike was a rank, infectious weed that first took root across the sea and ripened into that revolution which sent Charles the First to the block and invested Cromwell with more than regal power. Some of this virus, distilled in stubborn hearts by religious and political intolerance, was carried by the Puritan to Plymouth and by the Cavalier to the banks of the James, and it survived even the fires of patriotism and the frosts of Valley Forge. Bone of the same bone and flesh of the same flesh, the religio-political doctrinaires had succeeded in casting our forefathers in different molds—each colossal, masculine, heroic, but radically antagonistic. Together they followed Washington through those eight long years of blood and tears of which human liberty was born. Together they laid broad and deep the foundation of the Republic and reared thereon that wondrous superstructure which—please God—shall endure forever, and together they poured their blood in one unstinted tide upon its sacred shrine. But the Puritan was still a Cromwell and the Cavalier a lord. That people so widely divergent in customs and character could long dwell at peace as one political household were preposterous. The one had his "convictions," the other his "institutions," and neither would yield the right-o’-way. When such opposing trains of thought try to pass on a single track there’s going to be trouble sure. The friction, evident even in the early day of the Republic, grew and gathered fire until the nation burst forth in that mighty conflagration whose pathetic ashes repose in a million sepulchers. It had to come. Let us thank God that the fierce baptism of fire is in the past and not yet to be; that the bitter cup can never be pressed to our children’s lips; that never again while the world stands and the heavens endure will Americans meet in battleshock! that never again will our rivers run red with the blood of Columbia’s brave, poured forth by her own keen blade—that the last stumbling-block hath been removed from our path of progress; that we can now move forward with a giant’s stride to that high destiny for which the chastening hand of God hath fitted us, the greatest nation and the grandest people in all the mighty tide of Time!

I rejoice to see the veterans setting the example of reconciliation, for they, more than all others, have most to forgive and forget. I am doubly gratified that the good work should have begun in Texas, which has such cause to entertain the kindliest feeling toward every section of our common country, for each and all contributed to her past glory and present greatness. Among those who cast their lot in Texas when every step was a challenge to destiny and every hour was darkened by a danger; who faced unflinchingly the trials of frontier life and carved out an independent republic with the sword, were men from every State of the American union. One instance will suffice (though scores might be cited) to illustrate the cosmopolitan character of that band of heroes who made the early history of Texas one of the noblest cantos in the mighty Anglo-Saxon epic. The New Orleans Grays was the first military company to come from the States to the aid of the struggling Texans. It got its first baptism of fire in this city, being a part of that band of 300 Spartans who followed Old Ben Milam to attack General Cos and his 1,500 veterans. From the roster of the Grays I learn that the company numbered but sixtyfour men, yet represented sixteen sovereign States and six foreign countries! Think of it! Twenty-five came from north of the Ohio, twenty-four from the Southern States, fourteen across far seas to fight for Texas liberty, while one brave lad came from God knows where, but he got there just the same! General Cos never inquired where Milam’s men were born. He knew where his own were dying, decided that San Antonio had been overrated as a health resort and took to the chaparral.

As most of those daring spirits who flocked hither to fight for Texas remained, and ever since a steady human tide has poured in from all parts of the Union, and every country of Western Europe, we have become a mixed people, scarce daring to throw a rock in any direction lest we hit our relatives. And the cosmopolitan character of our people—the fact that the Puritan and the Cavalier have blended here as nowhere else—will be found a powerful factor in the attainment of a glorious future.

It is particularly appropriate that the Blue and the Gray should unite in observing the day that marks the birth of Washington, that soldier-statesman who marshalled our fathers under one flag and led them forth to the defense of human liberty. Whatever may have since mischanced, the trials and the triumphs of the Revolution are our common heritage. As the Greeks of old, divided among themselves, united to face a foreign foe, so did the American, North and South, unite beneath the banner of Washington and hurl down the gage of battle to Britain’s mighty power, and no historian has yet presumed to say which was the better soldier. Washington belongs to no section. He was truly an American, pre-eminently a patriot. The nobility of his character was his very own; the dazzling splendor of his undying fame is the brightest jewel in Columbia’s crown of glory, for it was born of the dauntless valor and nurtured with the priceless blood of a people whom kings could not conquer nor sophists deceive.

A husband and wife, long estranged, met at the grave of their firstborn, the child of their youthful strength. Their strife had been bitter, their love had turned to hate, and they elected to tread life’s path apart. They stood, one on either side, and looked coldly upon each other. Then they looked down upon the little mound that held the broken link with which God had bound their hearts. They knelt and bowed their faces upon the cold sod that covered the sacred dust of their dead. They stretched forth their hands across the little grave, each to the other, and the Angel of God washed all the bitterness of the years from their hearts with a rain of penitential tears, and sent them down life’s pathway hand-in-hand, as in the old days when Love was lord of their two lives and the lost babe was cradled upon its mother’s breast.

This day the North and the South kneel at the grave of Washington, their best beloved. The estrangement is forgotten, the bitterness of the years passes like an uneasy dream, they reach their hands each to the other across the tomb, and the benediction of God falls upon a reunited people.

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Chicago: William Cowper Brann, "Blue and Gray.," Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12 in Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 12 (New York: The Century Co., 1899), Original Sources, accessed January 31, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=957Y1MBE7RGP4IH.

MLA: Brann, William Cowper. "Blue and Gray." Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12, in Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 12, New York, The Century Co., 1899, Original Sources. 31 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=957Y1MBE7RGP4IH.

Harvard: Brann, WC, 'Blue and Gray.' in Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 12. cited in 1899, Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 12, The Century Co., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 31 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=957Y1MBE7RGP4IH.