The Unchangeable Determination to Conquer or Die

February 28, 1865 (Tuesday)

Through the harsh winter, General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had experienced a hemorrhage of desertions. At its peak, scores, even hundreds of men were putting the war behind them. While Lee prescribed more executions for those caught in the act, he also hoped to stem the tide.

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Following the failure of the Hampton Roads peace conference, it became clear to many Southerners that the Federals were more than willing to see this to the bitterest of ends; that only full and unconditional surrender would be accepted. As far as their new country was concerned, there was nothing left to lose.

There came then a new movement of reaffirmation, with entire regiments pledging themselves once more to the cause. The tide of deserters was never stopped, but perhaps these pledges, these resolutions and oaths resworn, were enough to keep those who remained fast in the trenches.

Often the thought handed down to the men was that the differences between North and South were irreconcilable. There could never be hope of peace as one country. But if they fought and held out long enough, just as their grandfathers before them against England, they would emerge victorious. With no recognition of the ironic, they would rail and insist that they would not become the slaves of the North, forced into political shackles, and whipped by the Federal government.

At meetings with the airs of spiritual revivals, senators took the pulpit and preached the gospel of the Southern Cause. They promised the unlikely and prayed for the impossible – that the Northern armies would be defeated come the summer campaign. They were just, and, despite countless setbacks and defeats, and even though they had not a port to their name, God was still on their side.

And though this sentiment was unsustainable and even by now the fervor was waning, it was on this day that the Richmond Daily Dispatch held aloft this banner of renewal.

The resolutions which have been passed by the various regiments of the Confederate army, and which they have published to the world, ring like inspiring trumpet tones on the air. Wherever else the paralyzing suggestions of despondency and doubt are heard, they cannot affect the iron nerves of those heroes who have borne the brunt of this war; who have endured the winter’s frosts and the summer’s heart; who have slept on the bare ground, have lived on the coarsest food, marched weary miles in bare feet, poured out their blood like summer rain, and stood like a living wall between their country and its enemies. These are the men who send forth words of hope and cheer and high resolve, and whose heroic souls, like the Aeolian harp, give forth stronger strains as the tempest increases.

Whatever others may dream, subjugation is a word which is not found in their vocabulary, and which it would not be safe for friend or foe to utter in their presence. They proclaim their fixed and unchangeable determination to conquer or die; and it is the army which is the country. They have no thought of permitting all their labors, privations, perils, to go for naught, nor of suffering the blood of their fallen comrades to cry in vain from the ground. Whatever others may do, the heroes of the Confederacy neither intend nor desire to survive their country. They love her, and they believe in her also; their faith and hope are equal to their valor and devotion, and their trust in God is firm and unwavering. Noble men!–The world has never seen their like. 1



  1. Sources: Lee’s Miserables by J. Tracy Power; Richmond Daily Dispatch, February 28, 1865. []

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