(Stuart-Mosby Historical Society-January 21, 2017) — As we drove through the heart of Richmond, Virginia, headed for the state house, I could not contain my emotions. My mind wandered to the time when Robert Edward Lee boarded a train from his home in Arlington, Virginia, to Richmond, Virginia, to accept command of Virginia’s military and naval forces. I thought of how he was dressed in civilian clothes and had just resigned his commission in the Federal army after serving over thirty-five years in service to that government. I imagined how he lamented about making a decision to remain with the union or to secede with Virginia.
In my mind’s eye, I heard his voice speaking to Francis Preston Blair, a top adviser to the newly elected president by the name of Lincoln, and declining complete command of the Army of the Potomac. I became keenly aware of his knowledge that his holdings and the possessions of his wife, Mary Randolph Custis Lee, would be confiscated. I also thought that if he stayed with the union, maybe others would follow his decision and just possibly lead him to the White House. But Lee’s character of loyalty to his state, values and honor above all things would lead him to his final decision on that April morning in 1861.
Now, here I was, ascending the stairs leading to the House of Delegates chamber. As I meandered up the stairs, I thought of how unworthy I was to be speaking in Virginia’s state building. I looked and to the left of the building was a huge monument to George Washington. Chills ran through my body as I realized that the father of our country had walked the path that I was currently walking. I seemed to have heard the voices of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other founding fathers as I entered the building.
Upon entering the rotunda, my eyes glazed over with tears of gratitude for the patriots who gave their lives or were willing to do so for our country. I stared in awe at the grand statue of George Washington that is housed in the rotunda’s center. I looked and read each bust of patriots who founded this country and felt such pride in America as I did so.
Then I stopped at the entrance of the room in which I would be addressing the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society. I was standing in the room where our American heritage came alive! As I entered the room, a life-size monument to Robert E. Lee greeted me. I looked around the room and was in wonder of the busts of American forefathers greeting me. It was then that it truly hit me. I was about to interpret Lee’s decision in resigning his commission and accepting the position of Major General in defense of Virginia. The last person to do so with such pomp and circumstance was Robert Duvall.
The personas — General Stuart, Jackson, Pendleton (Ken Creswell), Lee and a common soldier known as Butternut (Roger Kelley) — were warmly received by the 44th Virginia Volunteer Regiment Color Guard, along with a couple of members from the 12th Virginia. Several others greeted us as we awaited the opening ceremonies. General Stuart (as personified by Wayne Jones) and I talked to Rt. Rev. R. Dennis Campbell and requested that he prayed for us and our delivery. He did so in the house of delegates hallway and at that juncture, all the stress and worry fell from my shoulders. I knew what I had to do.
Unexpectedly but divinely timed, a large group of Boy Scouts entered the room and the guide asked if they could be afforded a few words from the generals. To this fielder, that was a sign that the rising generation would hear the voice of yesterday. Each general spoke and shared their love of country and why it was so important to remember those who founded this great nation. Pictures were taken and appreciation was voiced from each side; those who listened and those who spoke. The order of service began with Ben Trittipoe, President of the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society opening remarks, followed by the invocation offered by Reverend Dennis Campbell. The presentation of the Colors was perfectly executed and was under the command of Pete Amico. The Pledge of Allegiance, salute to the Virginia Flag and salute to the Confederate flag was given. The colors were posted by the 44th Virginia Vol. Regiment, as the personas of General Lee, Stuart, and Jackson (Danny Buckner) saluted. Ben Trittipoe welcomed everyone, recognized the donors for the recent restoration of the Stuart Monument in Richmond, and introduced the persona of General Stuart, who in turn presented the persona of Robert E. Lee. For over fifteen minutes General Lee shared the personal agony of the decision. He talked about his service for over thirty-five years. He talked about his family. He talked about the personal anguish as he left the army or what his daughter, Mary called, ‘his home and family’. There were tears and a sense of pride in our ancestors’ sacrifices felt by all.
His speech ended with the following words, as he accepted command of Virginia’s forces. “Mr. President, Gentlemen of the convention, profoundly impressed by the solemnity of the occasion for which, I must say, I was not prepared. I accept the position assigned me by your partiality. I would have much preferred had your choice fallen on an abler man. But trusting to Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.”
The ceremony ended with presentation of Memorial Wreaths, retirement of the Colors and Benediction. The generals talked with the guests and pictures were taken. Then they were taken to Jefferson Lakeside Country Club for a luncheon in their honor.
After eating, General Lee (David Chaltas) opened the presentation known as ‘Faith in the Army of Northern Virginia’ (A forthcoming book by the presenters will soon be available) and introduced General Stuart and Jackson. General Jackson (Danny Buckner) spoke passionately about his love of Virginia as did General Stuart (Wayne Jones). All three interacted as if they were on at Moss Neck in the winter of 1862, and showed the love and respect each general held for the other. General Jackson and Stuart shared with the audience their willingness to sacrifice their lives for love of country: their mother Virginia.
After the stirring presentation, pictures were taken and numerous appreciations were offered to the presenters. Everyone went away satisfied. Each persona was given a rare Stuart-Mosby lapel pin along with a year honorary memberships to their society. A special thank you goes out to the Color Guard (From left to right in the pictures: Mike Barnes, Patrick Fetta, Pete Amico, Dennis Thacker, Scott Ratliff, and Troy Gaines. Troy is a member of the 12th Virginia; the rest are members of Company H, 44th Virginia – “The Amelia Minutemen” For more information about the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society, http://www.stuart-mosby.com/ or contact Ben Trittipoe, President firstname.lastname@example.org.
-By Dave Chaltas