On Sunday June 7,2015, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, District of Columbia Division, welcomed us to their 101st Memorial Service in Honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ 207th Birthday (6/3/1808) and the Confederate Soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Their speaker was camp member McKim Symington who spoke about his ancestor: Randolph Harrison McKim. The following is his address to us that fine morning.
Good morning and thanks to you all for being here today. I would like to tender special thanks to the ladies of the UDC. Over the years so many patriots have worked to realize this memorial, but none more dedicated than those of the UDC.
I want to tell you about my First Cousin, six generations removed, Randolph Harrison McKim. He lived from 1842 until 1920. If one remembers nothing else about this remarkable man, it should be that no one has better articulated why the South fought: He wrote “They did not suffer, they did not fight, they did not die for the privilege of holding their fellow men in bondage! No, it was for the sacred right of self-government that they fought. It was in defense of their homes and firesides. It was to repel the invader, to resist a war of subjugation.” Please note that McKim referred to the slaves as “fellow men,” a term that is utterly without condescension or affront to the dignity and humanity of the South’s slaves. McKim, like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee amongst other Southern Christians, believed the African was a creature of God with all attendant strengths and virtues.
Randolph McKim was a Baltimore boy whose parents were divided over the War of Secession, with his mother favoring Southern independence and his father supporting the Union. Two sad conditions grew out of these facts. The first was that McKim was never able to take leave at home in Baltimore for the duration of the War. And the second was that his father died before the War ended. Father and son were never to resolve their differences face to face. On a happier note, correspondence between McKim and his mother sustained both son and mother throughout the War.
We are fortunate to know so much about McKim’s life and times because like so many educated men and women of the 19th century, he was a prolific and gifted writer. His poem to the Confederate dead on the reverse side of Sir Moses Ezekiel’s wonderful monument is proof of McKim’s love of the English language as well as the clarity of his Christian mind on the justice of the South’s cause. When he was Rector of Christ Church, Alexandria the 1870 eulogy he gave in mourning for Robert E. Lee seems as fresh as today. In 1910, he wrote his autobiography, “A Soldier’s Recollections.” We are lucky to have this book: it is a good read and it tells how things were 150 years ago. The book will reward the reader with hours of pleasure. It would be impossible to tell this great man’s story in the time available to us today, but I’d like to try to hit the highlights.
When South Carolina seceded, McKim was an student at the University of Virginia. He reported that the Old Dominion did not favor secession initially, but only made that choice when Washington asked the Virginians to take up arms against the South Carolinians. The Union’s fratricidal demand was unacceptable and Virginia’s secession soon followed.
Seven young undergraduates at the University, McKim among them, had procured bunting and arranged for “some young lady friends” to sew a flag of secession, emblazoned with seven stars and three bars. These young Confederates—McKim wasn’t 19 yet— sawed their way through five doors to summit at the top of Mr. Jefferson’s classical Rotunda and raised their flag. Within months of this prankish rebellion, Private McKim was in the real thing. He was a First Maryland Regiment infantryman, double timing six miles through the dust and going into the Confederate line on the afternoon of First Manassas. He had enlisted on 11 July 1861, ten days before Manassas. When the First Maryland entered the fray, six-hundred strong, the Yankees panicked, fearing that they had been decisively flanked. Thus began the “Great Yankee Skedaddle” back to Washington in headlong disarray.
When I first read McKim’s account of his part at First Manassas, I experienced a frisson of recognition. My Great-great-grandfather, William H. Harris, West Point Class of 1861, commanded a section of Yankee artillery in this fight. I’d like to think the arrival of my cousin and the First Maryland contributed to my Great-great-grand’s doubtless hasty departure from the field of battle.
McKim’s description of camp life in bivouac is unusual only for the education level of these grey clad Private soldiers. There were active discussions of English poetry, particularly Spenser, Theology, and other topics more suited to college than camp. McKim’s first cousin, William Duncan McKim had gone to Harvard and had been president of the Hasty Pudding Club. Duncan McKim would die a tragic hero’s death at Chancellorsville. Suffering from incompletely healed leg wounds that he had received at Sharpsburg the year before, he chose to charge the enemy on horseback rather than sit it out the charge due to his lameness. He could not walk and, like Garnett at Pickett’s charge, he rode. When he was inevitably hit, he died instantly of a Minnie Ball to the forehead.
As the First Maryland camped in the winter of 1861-1862, soldier’s enlistments expired and they were offered home leave as an incentive to re-up. And here McKim showed a slice of Southern Civil War history that I have never seen before. He detailed the Southern home front in the heady, optimistic days after First Manassas and before the War turned into an increasingly voracious meat grinder the following spring. In ’62 and beyond that war would target the foodstuffs, shelter, and lives of the people on the home front. Of course, McKim re-enlisted and was granted home leave. Unable to visit his family in Baltimore, he spent the Advent Season of 1861 with relatives all over Virginia.
The description of his leave is elegiac in its bitter sweetness as he recalled a South now gone. He received universal welcome from all and sundry simply as a soldier of the South. Virginians were especially welcoming because they knew the Marylanders were exiled from their homes. McKim remembered how all Southern soldiers were welcomed by the Virginians, but he was especially welcomed because of his kinship with the Virginia Harrison family through his mother. McKim enumerated that he had twenty-four first cousins serving in the Confederate Army, most of them bearing the name Harrison.
He returned from leave in Spring of 1862 for Jackson’s Valley Campaign. The First Maryland Regiment was proud to fight under the direct command of Stonewall Jackson in the latter’s famous campaign in the Shenandoah.
Rifleman McKim was in five battles at or near Winchester and it was said that the town changed hands eighty times during the war. It was at this time that McKim learned of the death of his young cousin, Robert Breckenridge McKim of the Rockbridge Artillery. On Sunday morning, 8 June 1862 McKim, now a Color Sergeant, was called into the tent of Brigadier General George H. Steuart who asked McKim to serve as his aide-de-camp as a First Lieutenant. The same day, 8 June, saw the fierce engagement of Cross Keys in the Valley, which McKim was lucky enough to survive although his horse did not, being shot out from under him.
BG Steuart was not so lucky. Wounded in the upper chest and shoulder by grape at Cross Keys he was invalided to a hospital at the University of Virginia where McKim helped care for his recovering senior officer. As Steuart mended, the General dispatched McKim to Winchester whereas ADC, he helped stand down the First Maryland Regiment and stand up the Maryland Battalion of Infantry, which became known as the Second Maryland Regiment. In June of 1863, the Second would become part of the Maryland Line, which was commanded by a newly-recovered General Steuart. McKim would distinguish himself at Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg, but the meeting engagement which he would fight at Stephenson’s Depot would later be called the Thermopylae of the entire Gettysburg Campaign by none other than General Lee.
As the Army of Northern Virginia moved north down the Shenandoah Valley toward Maryland and ultimately Pennsylvania, they were screened by the mountains that formed the Valley. This early in the Campaign, Lee looked to culminate at Harrisburg and Gettysburg would develop as an objective almost by happenstance. Entire forests have been cut down to make the paper consumed in writing about Gettysburg. I will not try to add to this.
As Union General Robert Milroy withdrew from Winchester, seeking relative safety for his 9,600 men in Harper’s Ferry, elements of his force collided with unexpected Confederate forces. Milroy had no idea of the strength of the Confederates who hemmed him in as night fell on 14 June 1863. For their part the Rebs expected Milroy to try a break out. At 3:30 A.M. on the morning of the 15th of June the Rebels halted at a wooden bridge at Stephenson’s Depot. The bridge spanned a railroad cut some 400 yards from the Martinsville Pike. Confederate division commander, General Edward “Alleghany” Johnson crossed the bridge on horseback reconning with beginning of daylight. McKim rode just ahead of the General and saw a column of Yankee cavalry coming their way. The Yankees fired and wheeled with the future Episcopal chaplain returning fire. General Milroy had his entire army—9,600 strong with him. All Alleghany Johnson had was one brigade, to whit the Maryland Line of 2,000 with a single artillery battery and no cavalry. Despite being so outnumbered, the Maryland Line captured Milroy’s wagon train in its entirety and captured 2,300 Yankee POWs. When Lee crossed the Potomac in Maryland, he took with him 23 cannon captured at Stephenson’s Depot along with all the captured Yankee supplies.
While the Maryland Line fought from the cover of the railroad cut, the two cannon of the First Maryland Battery volleyed into the onrushing Yankees from the bridge. The men serving these guns were totally exposed to Union rifle fire and thirteen of the sixteen men who served the cannon so resolutely died that day. Among the three that served the guns and lived, one was Lieutenant Randolph McKim. Those artillerists and timely reinforcements saved the day at Stephenson’s Depot.
I am reminded of a quote from the great writer, William Manchester, who fought as a Marine rifleman in the islands of the Pacific Theater in the Second World War. Although separated by many years, Manchester could have been talking about my cousin and his mates at the Depot when he wrote, “Any man in combat who lacks comrades who will die for him, or for whom he is willing to die is not a man at all. He is truly damned.” The sixteen that served those two Confederate cannon that day truly were men.
After the subsequent battle at Gettysburg, McKim requested that he be allowed to resign to become an Episcopal priest and then return to the Army as a chaplain. He was torn about leaving those with whom he had served, but he had a vocation and wanted to serve his fellow soldiers as a priest, bringing whatever hope and solace he could to his Southern comrades. His resignation was gratefully endorsed by General Steuart, who cited McKim’s gallantry at Cross Keys, Winchester, and Culp’s Hill. The request was routed through General Alleghany Johnson, General Ewell, General Lee, and finally to Jeff Davis. All concurred.
McKim was consecrated a Deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1864 and would spend the rest of the War, indeed, the rest of his life as a priest. He would die in 1920 after playing a round of golf in Pennsylvania. When I reflect on his life and celebrate his heroism and compassion, I am reminded of an article written by Matthew Bogdanos, Colonel, USMC published in the Washington “Post” on 16 August 2009. The article was entitled “Till Death Do Us Part.” He writes of the Spartans at Thermopylae, but he just as easily could be talking about the soldiers of the South or the Texans at the Alamo: “Their spirit lives whenever wounded soldiers ask to return to their unit rather than rotate home or sentries rest their chins on the point of a bayonet to stay awake so others sleep safely… We are humbled to follow, yet hopeful to live up to those who have gone before…Although some will die, those who follow will keep the faith by keeping our memory…”
As George Orwell wrote of these heroes and our debt to their memory in the dark days of World War II, “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
And finally, let me conclude with the words McKim wrote, which appear on the north-facing surface of this beautiful memorial:
NOT FOR FAME OR REWARD
NOT FOR PLACE OR FOR RANK NOT LURED BY AMBITION OR GOADED BY NECESSITY BUT IN SIMPLE OBEDIENCE TO DUTY AS THEY UNDERSTOOD IT THESE MEN SUFFERED ALL SACRIFICED ALL DARED ALL — AND DIED
R.E. Lee Camp #726 SCV and General Samuel Cooper Chapter #105 MOS&B
P.S. a link to “A Soldiers’ Recollections: Leaves from the Diary of a Young Confederate with an Oration on the Motives and Aims of the Soldiers of the South” can be viewed at: http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/mckim/mckim.html