Speech at Macon, Georgia
September 23, 1864
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Fellow-Citizens: --
It would have gladdened my heart to have met you in prosperity
instead of adversity - But friends are drawn together in adversity. The
son of a Georgian, who fought through the first Revolution, I would be
untrue to myself if I should forget the State in her day of peril.
What, though misfortune has befallen our arms from Decatur to
Jonesboro', our cause is not lost. Sherman cannot keep up his long line
of communication, and retreat sooner or later, he must. And when that
day comes, the fate that befel the army of the French Empire and its
retreat from Moscow will be reacted. Our cavalry and our people will
harass and destroy his army as did the Cossacks that of Napoleon, and
the Yankee General, like him will escape with only a body guard.
How can this be the most speedily effected? By the absentees of
Hood's army returning to their posts And will they not? Can they see
the banished exiles, can they hear the wail of their suffering
country-women and children, and not come. By what influences they are
made to stay away, it is not necessary to speak. If there is one who
will stay away at this hour, he is unworthy of the name of a Georgian.
To the women no appeal is necessary. They are like the Spartan mothers
of old. I know of one who had lost all her sons, except one of eight
years. She wrote me that she wanted me to reserve a place for him in
the ranks. The venerable Gen. Polk, to whom I read the letter, knew
that woman well, and said that it was characteristic of her. But I will
not weary you by turning aside to relate the various incidents of
giving up the last son to the cause of our country known to me.
Wherever we go we find the heart and hands of our noble women enlisted.
They are seen wherever the eye may fall, or step turn. They have one
duty to perform - to buoy up the hearts of our people.
I know the deep disgrace felt by Georgia at our army falling
back from Dalton to the interior of the State, but I was not of those
who considered Atlanta lost when our army crossed the Chattahoochee. I
resolved that it should not, and I then put a man in command who I knew
would strike an honest and manly blow for the city, and many a Yankee's
blood was made to nourish the soil before the prize was won.
It does not become us to revert to disaster. "Let the dead bury
the dead." Let us with one arm and one effort endeavor to crush
Sherman. I am going to the army to confer with our Generals. The end
must be the defeat of our enemy It has been said that I abandoned
Georgia to her fate. Shame upon such a falsehood. Where could the
author have been when Walker, when Polk, and when Gen. Stephen D. Lee
was sent to her assistance. Miserable man. The man who uttered this was
a scoundrel. He was not a man to save our country.
If I knew that a General did not possess the right qualities to
command, would I not be wrong if he was not removed? Why, when our army
was falling back from Northern Georgia, I even heard that I had sent
Bragg with pontoons to cross into Cuba. But we must be charitable.
The man who can speculate ought to be made to take up his musket When the war is over and our independence won, (and we will establish our independence,)
who will be our aristocracy? I hope the limping soldier. To the young
ladies I would say when choosing between an empty sleeve and the man
who had remained at home and grown rich, always take the empty sleeve.
Let the old men remain at home and make bread. But should they know of
any young men keeping away from the service who cannot be made to go any
other way, let them write to the Executive. I read all letters sent me
from the people, but have not the time to reply to them.
You have not many men between 18 and 45 left. The boys - God
bless the boys - are as rapidly as they become old enough going to the
field. The city of Macon is filled with stores, sick and wounded. It
must not be abandoned, when threatened, but when the enemy come, instead
of calling upon Hood's army for defence, the old men must fight, and
when the enemy is driven beyond Chattanooga, they too can join in the
Your prisoners are kept as a sort of Yankee capital. I have
heard that one of their Generals said that their exchange would defeat
Sherman. I have tried every means, conceded everything to effect an
exchange to no purpose. Butler the Beast, with whom no Commissioner of
Exchange, would hold intercourse, had published in the newspapers that:
that if we would consent to the exchange of negroes, all difficulties
might be removed. This is reported as an effort of his to get himself
whitewashed by holding intercourse with gentlemen. If an exchange could
be effected, I dont know but that I might be induced to recognise
Butler. But in the future every effort will be given as far as possible
to effect the end. We want our soldiers in the field, and we want the
sick and wounded to return home.
It is not proper for me to speak of the number of men in the
field. But this I will say, that two-thirds of our men are absent -
some sick, some wounded, but most of them absent without leave. The man
who repents and goes back to his commander voluntarily, at once appeals
strongly to executive clemency. But suppose he stays away until the
war is over and his comrades return home, when every man's history will
be told, where will he shield himself? It is upon these reflections
that I rely to make men return to their duty, but after conferring with
our Generals at headquarters, if there be any other remedy it shall be
I love my friends and I forgive my enemies. I have been asked
to send reinforcements from Virginia to Georgia. In Virginia the
disparity in numbers is just as great as it is in Georgia. Then I have
been asked why the army sent to the Shenandoah Valley was not sent
here? It was because an army of the enemy had penetrated that Valley to
the very gates of Lynchburg, and Gen. Early was sent to drive them
back. This he not only successfully did, but, crossing the Potomac,
came well-nigh capturing Washington itself, and forced Grant to send two
corps of his army to protect it. This the enemy denominated a raid.
If so, Sherman's march into Georgia is a raid. What would prevent them
now, if Early was withdrawn, penetrating down the valley and putting a
complete cordon of men around Richmond? I counselled with that great
and grave soldier, Gen. Lee, upon all these points. My mind roamed over
the whole field.
With this we can succeed. If one-half the men now absent
without leave will return to duty, we can defeat the enemy. With that
hope I am going to the front. I may not realize this hope, but I know
there are men there who have looked death in the face too often to
despond now. Let no one despond. Let no one distrust, and remember
that if genius is the beau ideal, hope is the reality.
The President then alluded to the objects for which the meeting
had assembled, and expressed the hope that the refugees and exiles would
be well provided for.
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 11, pp. 61-63. Transcribed from the Macon Telegraph, Sept. 24, 1864.