Skip to main content
DR. C. ALPHONSO SMITH
An address delivered at the unveiling of a monument
to the Muse of History at the Guilford Battle
Ground, Greensboro, N. C, July
third, nineteen hundred
The Guilford Battle Ground Company
The North Carolina Historical Commission
A People Who Have Not the PRroE to Record Their
History Will Not Long Have the Virtue to Make History
That is Worth Recording.
CLIO. MUSE OF HISTORY
Monument Unveiled at Guilford Battle Ground, near Greensboro. N. C.
July 3. 1909
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HISTORY IN
C ALPHONSO SMITH
PROFESSOR OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA
THE NORTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL COMMISSION
J. Bkyan (Jrimes. ClKiii'HKiii.
W. J. I'EELE, I). II. II ILL,
TiioJLvs \V. Blount, M. C. S. Noble.
R. I). \V. Connor, Secretary, Ralei<<h, X. C.
The Significance of History in
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:
There is a day famous in the creed and practice of Chris-
tendom known as All Saints' Day. On this day honor and
reverence are paid Avithout distinction to all the saints and
martyrs who have gone before. At other times individual
saints and individual martyrs have their individual days;
but on this great democratic day all saints and all martyrs,
wherever their loyal dust may lie, receive their merited
guerdon of praise and gratitude. It is a homage as honor-
able to those that render it as to those that receive it, for it
is a homage paid not so much to saints themselves as to the
universal spirit of saintliness, not so much to martyrs as to
the inner meaning of martyrdom. All Saints' Day has its
secular counterpart in the day and in the occasion that have
brought us together. The Fourth of July is for us and our
posterity All Heroes' Day. And the monument which we
have met to dedicate is a monument not to this hero or to
that hero, but to the spirit of heroism which made them w^hat
they were. It symbolizes no detached date or occurrence in
history. It is itself the august spirit of history.
There is to my mind something peculiarly beautiful and
suggestive in the thought that this Greek figure is henceforth
to keep watch and ward over this historic field. Beneath the
shadow of this figure Socrates talked and Plato dreamed and
Aristotle reasoned. Into those eyes Sappho looked as she
sang herself into the heart-history of the world. Around the
base of this figure, in Athenian portico or in Attic grove,
Greek boys and girls gathered to hear again the story of Helen
and Paris and Ulvsses. From its pedestal outward Pericles
.spread the splciulor of a (Iciiiocrac-y which lias served as bea-
con light foi- all (Icinoeracics. The l'ai--()f'r Queen of Sweden
cherishes as an mipui'chasahlc hcritauc one of these (Jreek
figures which the mutations of histoi'v have transferrnl I'roin
Athens to Stoekliohn.
This historic figure, ladies and genth men. could not have
played the part that it lias jilayed in huiium thought ami in
national progress uides^s it symbolized some universal truth.
The other eight muses have had their day, but this figure
lives on. Receding nations catch glimpses of it and are
stirred to renewed effort. Youthful nations interpret it in
tei-ms of ])i'actical patriotism and of constructive idealism.
It beckons to poets and philosoi)hers. to statesmen and his-
torians, giving a wider hori/on to their thought and a liner
unity to their conce[)ts. Hvery discovery of an liistoi'ical
tiaith, every refutation of an liistoi'ical ei-ror. every contribu-
tion by word or deed to a nation s stoi'y is a leaf added to the
laurel ehaplet around the lirow of the Muse of Ilistoi-y. Jef-
ferson .saw this figure when he wrote the l)e;'l:iration of
Independence. It was shield and buck'lei' to the great Wash-
ington. It was \\ith Cornelius Harnett when he defied the
power of Tryon. It stood at Charlotte and at llalifa.x. It
was by the side of William R. Davie when he laid the foun-
dations of th(^ Cniversity of North Carolina. Aiul 1 i)ray
God that when the things of sense grew dim to the fading
eyes of the patriots who fell here, this immortal tiuure may
have passed befoi-e theii* vision as a hei-ald of th • time wIkmi
tlieii- memory sliould be i)edestaled in triumph and their
exam|)le become a nation's heritage.
To the (ii'e( k miiul statuary was not onl\- a thing of beauty
and a .)o\' I'orever: it was the outward and visible sign of an
inward and abiding truth. A study of this statue will show
that there are two uiulerlying conceptions which have served
to vital i/.i' aiul pei-petuate it through all the eeutui'ie-;.
Till' (irst great tiaith that the (ireek artist wrought iiit i the
pose ami gi-oupiie^' of this fiuui-e is the vital relationship that
should evei' exist be|\\c(ii the pi-iseiil aiul the past. When-
ever a Creek looked upon this figure he obsei-ved that the
single scroll in the uplifted hand had been taken from the
sheaf of scrolls in the casket behind. The single scroll, the
scroll that the J\Iuse of History is reading, represents present
time; the scrolls in the casket represent past time. The
present, therefore, is included in the past, for it is the
product of the past ; and out of the treasures of the past a
progressive nation nuist seek the meaning and conduct of the
It was this unbroken continuity of history, this duty of
the present to recognize its filial obligation to the past, that
drew from Tennyson one of his most characteristic messages:
"Love thou thy land, with love far-bronght
From out tlie storied past, and used
Within the present, but transfused
Through future time by power of thought."
In his great essay on The Meaning of History Frederic
Harrison defines the past as "that power which to understand
is strength, which to repudiate is weakness." The motto of
our efficient State Historical Commission will henceforth find
an eloquent advocate on this field :
"The roots of the present lie deep in the past, and nothing
in the past is dead to the man who would learn how the
present came to be what it is."
A democracy, fellow-citizens, can not afford to be ungrate-
ful. Built as it is on loyal service and patriotic sacrifice,
the day of its forgetting will be the day of its undermining.
Other nations trace their origin back through a long series of
successful and unsuccessful wars. We find our national
genesis in a single war; and the measure of our greatness and
stability will be the measure of our gratitude to the men who
made Yorktown possible.
I wish also to enter my protest here against the lifeless
and mechanical way in which our Revolutionary history is
so frequently taught. The purely scientific method of cause
and effect has its rightful place in colleges and universities,
but whenever the Revolutionary War is interpreted to youth-
ful minds in terms merely of great industrial or social or
policital movements and not in terms also of personal heroism
and individual initiative, the actors in the st i'uui;lt' seem
inci-c puppets. They ai-c hut the |)Iaylliin^x of iiTcsist ihlc
e.xti'rnal forces. TIum-c is no chaini oi- personal appeal in
the story thus t(thl. 'i'liei-e is infoi-niation, it may l)e. l)ut
no inspiration. No great literature of stiuiuhmt s.tnu' and
stoiy will ever spring from oui- Kevohitionarx" histoi-y uidess
that history is taught in terms of individual heroism on the
one side and individual gi-atilude on the other.
There are those, however, who say — or who used to say —
that the lesson of relatedness to the past and of eonsequent in-
deiitedness can not ai)i)ropi-iately he taught by the liattle of
(iuilfortl (Jourt House. It is not my purpose to go into his-
toi-ical details, hut the Xorth Carolinian who accurately in-
foiins himseir of what took place here on .Mai-ch lo. 17S1.
and who does not thi'ill with i)ri(le aiul gratitude, is unworthy
of his citizenship. One hundi-cii and twenty-eight years ago
there was a rail fence yonder and in front of it an open Held.
On this side of th.e fence lay the Xoi'th Carolina iiiiliti.i
inuler i^aton and Butler. Across the open field, advancini;
from west to east, charged the tlowei- of the Knglish army.
There are elements of pathos ;is well as of ghn-x' in the -ceiie.
These foemen spoke the same language-, they knew by lu-art
the same prayers: their institutions wei'e the same; Shake-
speare and the iMiglish J-Jible were the conniKUi lu'ritage of
both: and both were e(pially proud of their .\nglo-S;ixon
blood ;ind of what it had accoiuplished. Uut these \oi1h
Cai'olina militiamen had never seen an English soldier be-
fore, noi- had they been present at a battle. They liiid sh;)t
rabbits, s(piiri'els. and an occasional fox. but no largei- game.
If they succeed gloriously there will be no |»romolion. for
they are not professional soldiers. If tluy fall, the onl.\" note
taken of it will be the widowed cry of some desolate woman
as she fi'onts the futuie alone.
If the Xoi'th ('ai'oliiui militia, with thoiinjits like these
stirring at their hearts, can hold theii' gi%»unil .-iiid resei've
their fire till the English army, disciplined on a hnndi'ed
battlelields. lias come within easy shooting I'aULjc. if lliey can
stand the oi'deal of uuMH'ly waiting and then i>ull their trig-
gers witli steady aim, — they will have done the bravest deed
that either army on that eventful field can boast. Let his-
tory answer. Captain Dugald Stewart, of Scotland, who led
his men across the open field, says :'
"In the advance w^e received a very deadly fire from the
Irish line [he means the Scotch-Irish North Carolinians] of
the American Army. One half of the Highlanders dropped
on that spot." Brown, in his History of the Highland Clans.
says: "The Americans [the untrained North Carolina mili-
tia], covered by the fence in their front, reserved their fire
until the British were within thirty or forty paces, at which
distance they opened a most destructive fire, which annihi-
lated nearly one third of Colonel Webster's Brigade.'"
The following letter was written by an American soldier
shortly after the battle and published in the New Jersey
State Gazette of April 11, 1781 :
"The enemy were so beaten that we should have disputed
the victory could we have saved our artillery, but the Gen-
eral thought that it was a necessary sacrifice. The spirits of
the soldiers would have been affected if the cannon had been
sent oif the field, and in this woody country cannon can not
always be sent off at a critical moment.
"The General, by his abilities and good conduct and by his
activity and bravery in the field, has gained the confidence
and respect of the army and the country to an amazing degree.
You would, from the countenances of our men, believe they
had been de(iidedly victorious. They are in the highest
spirits, and appear most ardently to wish to engage the enemy
again. The enemy are much embarrassed by their wounded.
When we consider the nakedness of our troops and of course
their want of disci|)]ine. their numbers, and the loose, irregu-
lar manner in which we came into the field, I think we have
done wonders. I rejoice at our success, and were our exer-
tions and sacrifices published to the world as some command-
1 See Caruthers's Lrfe of Caldivell, p. 287.
2 Both of these citations may be found in A Memorial Volume of the Guilford Battle
Ground Company, prepared by Judge David Schenck and published in 1893 by Keece
& Elam, Greensboro, N. C.
ing officers \v()uld liavo ])ul)lislic(l tlioiii. wo should have re-
ceived more a])j)hinsc than our modesty claims.'"
These letters t'i'om actual partici])aTits in the battle tell
their own story. They dn iiioi'f. They make it plain that
for a quarter of a century the most unseltish form of prac-
tical pati'iotism exhibited in North Cai'olina has l)een ex-
hibitt'd by the (inillni'd IJattlc (irouiid ( Niitii)aii\'. With b\it
one mea.ti'er appropriation fi'om the National Government,
with an inadecpiate a])pi-o]iriation from the State Govern-
iiiciil. Ihcy have exlniiiicd the bodies of <iui' heroic dead, they
have redeemed their mcmoi'ies. they have made the name of
(iuilford Court House hnown and honored where it was un-
known before, and the>' have brought to the historic past of
North Carolina a new meaning and an add('(l fcmnvn. Surely
there is no place in this State where a monument, whose
design is to invest the ])ast with new significance and the
present with a larger sense of resi)onsibility, could be so fitly
dedicated as on this spot and by this company.
There is a clause in th(» letter last cited that suggests the
second teaching of this monument. The writer says :
"Were our exertions and sacrifices ]Miblished to the woi-ld
as some commanding officers would have ])ublislie(l them, we
should have received more ap))lause than our modesty claims."
Tn other words, there had come to the writer of this letter
a dim realization of the fact that the writinu- of history is
part of the making of history, that the deed of an individual
or of an ai'my or of a iiation is comparatively incomplete and
ineffective unless j)erpetna1ed in writing. This gi-e;it truth
the Greeks were also the first to apply in a national wa\'.
History, as represented by Greek genius in the desii:'ii of this
statue, is a recorded histoi'v. a history written down on leg-
ible and accessible scrolls, to ])e read of all men. The writ-
ten scrolls in the casket and tlie written scroll in the hand
are evidence that to the Greek consciousness Clio was the
tutelary deity not of history enacted but of history recorded.
Other deities presided over the events that went to the mak-
■1 I am indebted for this letter to my friend, Mr. P. C. Gregory, Superiiiteiideiit of
the Public Schools of Chelsea, Mass.
ing of a nation's history. To the Muse of History was as-
signed the honor of garnering in written form the example
of the past for the emulation or avoidance of the present.
No such conception could have originated among a people who
had not themselves attained a rare degree of civilization,
who had not themselves realized their grateful indebtedness
to the past, or who did not feel at the same time a sense of
trusteeship for the future.
The lines written by the President of the Guilford Battb
Ground Company' express with accuracy and beauty the sec-
ond teaching of this monument :
"As sinking silently to night,
Noon fades insensibly,
So truth -'s fair phase assumes the haze
And hush of history.
But lesser lights relieve the dark.
Dumb dreariness of night,
And 'er the past historians cast
At least a stellar light. ' '
It is this great truth that we dedicate afresh today. The
darkness that has rested upon this field shall be dispelled
and the starlight of history shall irradiate it with imperish-
able splendor. If I were to call the roll of the nations fore-
most in history and ask how their historic past escaped the
thralldom of the tyrannous years and why it lives on in un-
diminished youth and beauty, the jMuse of History would
answer that these nations have themselves realized the duty of
preserving their past for the guidance and enrichment of
their future. By history and biography, by song and story,
by epitaph and monument, they have made of their past an
ever living present.
The glory of Greece lives forever in the Iliad and Odyssey
and is inscribed on a thousand marble memorials. Rome
immortalized her past in the ^Eneid. England's greatest
historian was Shakespeare, and Westminster Abbey is today
her most eloquent spokesman. United Germany points to
-t Major Joseph M. Morehead, to whom alone belongs the credit for this monument
and who for seventeen years has labored unselfishly and unceasingly to establish the
truth of North Carolina history.
h(*r SirLicsMllcc. Seotlaiid tniiiHl lice world-iiitci-iirclci- in
the stories ;uul poems of Walter Seott.
Ainei-iea has made a l)euiniiin<i\ hut only a heoiniiiii<;-. Xo
writer has yet realized the possibilities of world-apjieal that
lie in our Revolutionary War as Shakespeare realized the
possibilities in the far less sio-nifieant Wars of the Roses, or
Seott in the border skiiinishes between Lowlander and High-
lander, or Sehiller in the tragedy of the Thirty Years War,
or Victor Hugo in the single battle of Waterloo. One great
Revolutionary novel or di'ania in which the eontri])utions of
both the South and the North — of South Carolina, North
Carolina, and Virginia as well as ^lassaehusetts. New York,
and Pennsylvania — should be pi'oti-ayed with etpial insight
and with compelling power, would bind this luition together
in the indissolulile bonds of a common sympathy and a com-
mon histoi'ic pi'ide. Such a woi'l< will never l)e written, nor
would it be acclaimed if written, until each State recognizes
the value of its own historic material. No writer can be just
to a State until that State is just to itself.
National unity and stability must be built upon a founda-
tion of connnon symi)athies. saei'ifiees. and triumphs. F^very
battlefield of the Revolution, wlu-rc .\iiici'ii-an valor was tested
and not found wanting, will yet become a link in the golden
chain of national ])rotherhood. The men who fought here
and the men who have since wrought here are luition builders:
Slowly but surely the truth of history is widcMiing its domain,
and a heroic past is returning to make a heroic and united
present. This Battlefield, already a Mecca of jiatriotism. will
yet become in the expanding life of this connnonwealth a
stepping-stone to a larger national consciousness aiul a cluipter
in the epic of a nation's birth. I dedicate this monument,
therefoi-e. to the spirit of a just and impartial liistorv-. In
gratitude and love I dedicate it to the splendor of tlie past
and to the ever widening service of the future.
No Man is Fit to Be Entrusted With Control op the
Present Who is Ignorant of the Past; and No People
Who Are Indifferent to Their Past Need Hope to Make
Their Future Great.
NOV 9 ,909
, TBRftRV OF CONGRESS
011 712 451
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
011 712 451 4