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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: Confederate Memorial Day and it’s relevance to now!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Confederate Memorial Day and it’s relevance to now!

Speech by Mark Vogl

15 APRIL 2012

Good afternoon. I deeply appreciate this opportunity to visit with you today. It was probably fifteen years ago when I decided I want to make a life goal of speaking in every state of the old Confederacy. It turned out to be a great decision. Over the past fifteen years I have had the opportunity to meet and visit with groups of people like yourself, spread over thirteen states who love the values, history and legacy of the South. There are qualities about this group of people which is evident and which has made me very proud to be a part of them

Christianity is at the heart of these groups. There is an evident belief in Christ which is at the core of the character of the Southern people. While other regions of this nation would shy away from the term Bible Belt, Southerners are proud of that reputation and do not turn away from their God.

I have come to believe that the armies of Robert E. Lee, the armies of Mississippi and Tennessee were armored in Christ. I believe it was their deep faith in God, the Christian revivals which swept through these armies which were the reason for their success, their devotion to the Cause, and their ability to endure indescribable hardships while serving the Confederacy.

We all think of Robert E. Lee as one of America’s greatest military commanders. General Lee commanded forces which inflicted over a quarter of million casualties on the Yankee invaders.

Robert E. Lee was much more than a general. He was a Christian who believed God must be a part of his life, and a part of his army.

In his book “Christ in Camp,” J. William Jones, the Chaplain for Longstreet’s First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia tells a story.

On the 17 of April, 1860, at Louisa Court House, a group of men and boys gathered.

There is a young mother standing silently, repressing her want to cry. But a tear is running down her cheek. Her son and the men of his newly formed company stand in formation, preparing to move out, and join others from around the state. Her son was only 16, and had just recovered from a serious illness. He stood in the ranks, fussin’ and fidgeting with his uniform, and trying to seem at ease with the hundred or so men around him. His cap sat atop his mop of dark hair as if it were just placed there for the moment.

Someone asks the woman; Why are you crying, aren’t you willing for your son to go and serve his state?

The woman replies; “Certainly I am! I wish him to go, and would be ashamed of him if he were unwilling to go.”

The woman went on to explain that her fear was that the army would be a place where the boy would be exposed to vice, and sin, and she feared for his soul.

Before we go further, let’s consider this incident.

Normally, I guess most folks would think of Confederate Memorial Day as concerning the boy, the men in the ranks; all those men who endured the fear, the terrible wounds, the exhaustion, and death of battle.

But for moment, let’s think about the mother; her love for her son, her patriotism in offering her son. Her belief that it was right for him to face death for the South.

What about her values? Can you imagine today, an attitude like she demonstrated? Maybe here in Alabama you can. But not in this America, not across the nation. Who would say they would be ashamed of their boy if he did not go off to war?

Her real fears being for the boy’s soul. The mother’s priorities were straight. She thought of her son, and eternity, not her son and tomorrow. She was concerned with his soul, not his mortality.

These values were not created in some Ivy League college and taught en masse in public school. These values came from the Bible, and were taught in far flung homes distant from any centralized education system. The boy and the other men were standing in ranks because of the values if their mothers and fathers. These values did not have to be contrived by some distant Ph.D. These values had a source well above Harvard or Yale.

I would assert that it is this faith in God, this willingness to live life, to make decisions, to be a family on the Word of the Bible which made America great, and allowed the South to endure against a much stronger foe for as long as we did.

Later in “Christ in Camp,” Chaplain Jones attributes the religious environment within the Army of Northern Virginia to Generals Lee, Jackson, Stuart and others who saw the need for Christian teachings in the army, and made time for it, and led by example by attending the services with the men. And, they showed their Christianity in their daily actions, and treatment of one another and the men. Lee and the others were evangelists as much as they were soldiers.

It is this Christian faith which is now being tested and rejected within our nation. We have a President who publicly denied the Christian nature of the United States. No matter your politics, it’s time to sit down and consider what a denial of Christ means, a national denial.

Confederate Memorial Day provides an opportunity to consider this. In the Confederate Constitution, in the Preamble, the Southern founders called on Providence for His guidance and protection. Our Southern nation was founded on a belief in God, and said so right in the opening statement of its Constitution!

I believe Confederate Memorial Day has a second message, one that demonstrates how important just one seemingly average person can be in changing history.

Coming to you from East Texas, I would like to take a moment to share a story with you which you may not have heard. I want to tell you about a little known battle which meant nothing to the people of Alabama, at first.

It was a battle in Texas and occurred in the fall of 1863.

Texas was way out on the western flank of the Confederacy, and was only half settled when the South left the Union. Sam Houston and some others in Texas, travelled the state speaking against secession.

Unlike all the other Southern states Texas held a referendum on the question. The people would vote. Stay or leave. In the county I live in, Upshur County, the vote was 94% for secession. Across Texas it was about 75% for secession! And so Texas was the seventh state to secede.

Now Texas had a relatively small population, no rail roads to speak of, no manufacturing, and was far from the strategic centers of the war. So at first glance it would seem there should be no reason Abe Lincoln would have no serious desire to use resources in Texas. But, that’s not how it was.

Old Abe Lincoln could read a map. He saw that Texas was the only seceded state with a border on a foreign land, Mexico. And he knew the history of Texas and that Mexico would love to recapture Texas and the other lands in the southwest.

So from the very beginning of the war Lincoln put pressure on his generals to plant a flag in Texas. Lincoln wanted to warn off Mexico, that should Mexico attack Texas there would be a comeuppance to pay when the Union came to re-occupy Texas.

Though they had a whole war to fight, the Yankee generals were poked enough by the president to take measures to place a flag in Texas. The Gulf of Mexico and Yankee naval strength provided the means to plant the flag on the coast. And in October, 1862 they captured the City of Galveston.

At the time, Galveston was the largest city in Texas and the largest port west of the Mississippi River. Taking Galveston was a real victory for the north in the fight for the Trans Mississippi.

However, the Yankees applied the principle of Economy of Force in their operations around Galveston. In other words, they did not place a large occupying force in the City. They counted on a Yankee naval squadron of five ships to be the real force in holding Galveston and the bay. After all, there was no Confederate Navy out this far.

Henry Halleck, Chief of Staff for the Yankees, could relax, the President wanted Old Glory in Texas, and it was flying over Galveston. Now on to bigger things…thought Halleck.

But, an event occurred in Virginia which would change everything. General Lee had decided that Major General John McGruder had to go. And so, McGruder was sent to command the Department of Texas!

When he arrived, McGruder was bombarded with complaints from the Texas governor about the Yankees occupying Galveston, something must be done!

McGruder would focus on that problem, develop a plan, create a makeshift navy of sorts, made of cottonclads, and on New Year’s Eve, begin the movements intended to retake the city early on the morning of New Year’s Day. The fight was over before lunch, and the city was retaken. The Yankee flag was thrown out of Texas.

Lincoln was not happy. He told his generals you have lost Galveston, and I want Old Glory in Texas! Fix it.

Meanwhile in Texas, a small company of men, the Davis Guard was sent to a rough dirt fort which sat astride Sabine Pass. This group was from the Houston area and were all Irish Catholics. Fort Griffin at Sabine Pass had six canon and it was their job to hold the fort and defend the pass. The pass was a waterway from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Sabine.

Meanwhile, in Washington and New Orleans the Yankee general staff had concocted a new plan for Texas. They would assemble a force of 5,000 soldiers at New Orleans, and move them by ship through Sabine Pass to Lake Sabine and occupy Port Neches. From there, they would march down the railroad to Beaumont, then on to Houston. Taking Houston would cut off Galveston from the rest of the state. In one move they would capture all of the south eastern coast of Texas.

Preparations were made and in September of 1863, a fleet of 22 ships left New Orleans for Sabine Pass.

Meanwhile, at Sabine Pass the Davis Guards under the leadership of Richard Dowling, a Lt., had done much. First, they had prepared the pass for a fight by placing colored aiming stakes in the water. These stakes would help them range and hit an enemy force.

Second, they developed a plan should the enemy attempt to come down the pass. Because there were less than fifty men, and their guns were inferior to the Yankees, Dowling realized he had to preserve his men’s lives long enough to inflict damage. So, in an unconventional step he told his men to load the guns aim them at the most distant stake, and then abandon the guns for the protection of the caves below the wall, where the powder and ball was stored. Dowling and one other man would stay on the walls, watching the enemies as they approached, endure the initial bombardment, and then call on the men when the Yankees were in range.

On the morning of September 7th a Yankee ship came into view in the Gulf of Mexico and the alarm was sounded in Fort Griffin. The guns were loaded and the Confederates waited to see what would happen.

The Yankee ship was the advance of the Union fleet. But the fleet sailed by the Yankee advance without seeing her, and when they arrived at Galveston realized they had gone too far, and turned around.

They arrived on the 8th. Now, the sea filled with a forrest of white masts.

A message arrived from the District headquarters. Dowling and his men were ordered to abandon the fort if they so choose. District was aware of the overwhelming strength of the Yankee fleet and proposed to fight the battle inland.

Dowling and the forty eight Irish Catholics refused to abandon the fort, and a donnybrook was set. Should the Yankees sail into Sabine pass, a fight would ensure.

Now Sabine Pass was about two miles wide, and eight miles long. Fort Griffen was set back, maybe five miles from the Gulf.

While the pass was two miles wide, only the center, about a half mile in width was deep enough to allow passage of the large Yankee ships. So the Yankees decided to form in two columns, with four warships upfront, followed by 18 transports.

The attack commenced, as the Yankee warships, two by two, entered the pass, and began their bombardment of the fort once they were in range. The Confederates did not respond.

Firing continued from the Yankees, but when the Confederates did not respond, the commanders came to believe the fort might be abandoned, and so slowed their firing while they sailed straight up the Pass.

When the ships finally came into range, Dowling called up his men, and all six guns fired in unison at the lead ship…striking it six times, once in the rudder. That ship careened off, and drove itself into the far bank.

Reloading the Irishmen focused on the second ship, firing another salvo, striking this ship six times. Again hitting the rudder, but also the steam engine, which exploded, burning and scolding a number of Union sailors. The screams were horrible as the ship lost control and drove into the bank right in front of the fort. The Irishmen pounded unmercifully.

The remainder of the fleet, seeing the carnage attempted to reverse course and panic ensued as the Irish peppered them with shot in melee of turning about!

In forty minutes, the Davis Guard of 48 men captured two Yankee warships, more than three hundred prisoners and drove the rest of the fleet back into the Gulf where they turned and headed back to New Orleans!

Texas was saved. But more than that, 48 men had defeated and run off an invasion of 5000 Yankee soldiers in 22 ships!

After the losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the South seemed in a hopeless situation and then news came in from Texas of this unbelievable victory. Spirits were raised across the whole South as the story spread.

In Richmond, the Congress is reputed to have decided to cast the only medal ever awarded during the war, to the Davis Guard!

Today’s talk is intended first to remind us of a set a values long gone, but which are right to live by. We must place our trust in the Almighty God, and we must re-establish a Christian foundation for life.

Second, a few with the help of God can do miraculous things, as was accomplished at Sabine Pass by less than fifty men who would not leave their post, even when ordered to do so.

As Stonewall Jackson said, “Duty is ours, the consequences are God’s.” There is much to do if we are going to save America, but if we look to our ancestors we have been given the path to follow. Will we live to that path?


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