Through the harsh winter of 1865, General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered a steady stream of desertions. At its worst, hundreds of men chose to put the war behind them. Execution waited for those caught in the act, but Lee’s greatest hope was to slow it down at best, and even try to stop it.
After the Hampton Roads peace conference failed, it became clear to many Southerners that the Federals were more than willing to fight to the bitter end. The North would accept only their full and unconditional surrender. As far as their new country was concerned, there was nothing left to lose.
It seemed to the men was that the differences between North and South were irreconcilable, with no hope of peace as one country. But if they fought and held out long enough, just as their grandfathers before them had done against England, they would emerge victorious. They could not accept the idea of surrendering to Northerners.
Soon entire regiments were resolving to pledge themselves again to the cause, and desertions declined. Their greatest hope and prayer was that the Yankees would be defeated with the summer campaign. Despite setbacks, they felt God was still on their side.
On February 28th, the Richmond Daily Dispatch published these words of renewal – a proclamation of the South’s determination to conquer or die:
“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.”
These men were determined that their labors, and suffering will not be for nothing. Voices of their fallen comrades will not cry out vain from the ground. They are heroes of the Confederacy and noble men, unlike anything the world had ever seen.