Who, after your best was spent and your Spring lay dead,
Yet held the intolerable lines of Petersburg
With deadly courage.
You too are a legend now
And the legend has made your fame and has dimmed that fame,
–The victor strikes and the beaten man goes down
But the years pass and the legend covers them both,
The beaten cause turns into the magic cause,
The victor has his victory for his pains–
So with you–and the legend has made a stainless host
Out of the dusty columns of footsore men
Who found life sweet and didn’t want to be killed,
Grumbled at officers, grumbled at Governments.
That stainless host you were not. You had your cowards,
Your bullies, your fakers, your sneaks, your savages.
You got tired of marching. You cursed the cold and the rain.
You cursed the war and the food–and went on till the end.
And yet, there was something in you that matched your fable.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
It was fitting that one of the great armies of American history would go out of that history with a salute from its commander, Robert E. Lee.
Against high odds Lee and his army had come close to creating a new nation. Always outnumbered, with troops often dressed in rags, ill-fed, ill-supplied, he led his men to magnificent victories in the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Fighting another great general, Grant, he achieved a stalemate in 1864 against an army that had more than a two-to-one advantage, and prolonged the life of his country by almost a year. A fighting general with a propensity for taking huge risks, he was also a humane man with unfailing courtesy for both friend and foe. In this final order he told the men who loved him, how much he loved them: