“It is a shame that a brave man should be exposed to die by a miserable pop-gun, against the effect of which he cannot defend himself.” Chevalier de Bayard (c. 1500)
The Chevalier de Bayard was the last true knight of France, and so he abominated firearms, in his day a newfangled weapon. As a warrior of the old school, he saw the “miserable pop-gun” as the tool of skulking villains, as thus as an affront to everything that was honorable and valorous in the noble art of combat. Alas, a skulking villain with an arquebus unhorsed this chevalier sans peur et sans reproche (as was his epithet) at the Battle of Sesia in 1524, and the wound from that ball finished Bayard off.*
Bayard’s attendants dragged him from the fray and propped him against a tree, where he is said to have held the hilt of his sword “before him like a cross,” while calmly awaiting death. It came within the hour, and when he died the age of chivalry died with him.
The age died, but not the memory of the age, so Bayard was long venerated as a model of chivalric virtue, and a man who lived “without fear or reproach” was long said to be a man in the mold of the Chevalier Bayard.
Such was in fact said of General Lawrence Sullivan Ross, who had fought the Comanche as a Captain of Texas Rangers, and then fought the Union as commander of the Third Texas Regiment of Cavalry. Largely on the strength of these achievements, he was elected governor of Texas in 1887, and appointed President of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas in 1890.
The dedication to the history of the Third Texas Regiment of Cavalry, informally known as Ross’s Brigade, says:
“To the Hero Patriot General L. S. Ross, the Chevalier Bayard of the Western Armies of the Confederate States of American . . .”**
In calling Ross the Chevalier Bayard of the Western Armies, the regimental historian was not simply registering the fact that Ross had fought bravely and on horseback. Bayard died defending France against the arrogance of Charles V and the aggression of the Holy Roman Empire, and the regimental historian clearly meant to imply that Ross had followed in Bayard’s footsteps by standing up to Lincoln and the Yankee Leviathan. What is more, when he was propped against that tree awaiting his end, Bayard famously rebuked the turncoat nobles who had switched to the side of the Empire when the cause of France seemed lost. The Duke of Bourbon was one of the turncoat noblemen, but as an old friend of Bayard, he rushed to the side the dying knight. When Bourbon expressed pity for his mortal wound, Bayard answered:
“Sir, pity me not, for I die a man of honor. But I pity you, who fight against your king, your country and your oath.”***
The regimental historian almost certainly knew this line, as did many of his readers. They thus knew that to liken Ross to the Chevalier Bayard was to say he had never truckled to the imperious Yankee, and he had never broken faith with Texas.
Sans reproche means without reproach. Not even once and not even a little.
When Ross was elected governor, Confederate veterans were the General’s biggest supporters, and when he was named President of the Agricultural and Mechanical College, the tiny institution began to grow because his military reputation inspired confidence in parents and respect in students. Since its founding twenty years earlier, the college had struggled to attract students, and to control the tumultuous few that it did attract, so state legislators had begun to talk about closing the institution and converting its buildings to a State Lunatic Asylum. Ross was able to stop them from doing this because he was, in the eyes of most Texans, sans reproche. Not even once and not even a little.
The old general is today honored by a prominent statue at the center of the Texas A&M campus.
* * * * *
It was only a matter of time before the statue known as “Sully” would become, as they say, problematic, and the first “miserable pop guns” of political correctness were fired at it just the other week. The memory of General Ross is not yet expiring beneath a tree, but these were simply ranging shots and the next volley will, no doubt, draw blood. For as Bayard said, these are shots “against the effect of which he cannot defend himself.”
It has long been the custom of our senior class to process through the campus in November of their final year, stopping at various landmarks to bid the university a ritual adieu. When they stop at Sully, they salute the general while a herald reads the names of any classmates who have died in the course of their studies. The solemn moment was, however, this year omitted because, as you may have guessed, “some students had expressed discomfort with . . . Ross’s background as a Confederate general during the Civil War.”†
These students are, it seems, too ignorant to add discomfort over the fact that Ross was “for many years preeminent as a leader against the implacable savages.”**
Although many other students were angered by this snub of Sully, and we are told that the chambers of the Student Senate have been ringing with speeches on both sides of the question, I believe Sully’s defenders have already lost. He cannot defend himself against the effect of these miserable pop-guns, and neither can they—he because he is dead, they because they concede that there is, indeed, a great deal to reproach in the life of Lawrence Sullivan Ross.
And so this is how they defend poor old Sully:
“Think of this not as a monument to the Chevalier Bayard of the Western Armies of the Confederate States of American, nor as a monument to a man who was for many years preeminent as a leader against the implacable savages. Think of it, rather, as a monument to a capable college administrator and effective government lobbyist, to a man who, despite his many misdeeds on horseback, redeemed himself behind a desk.”
This is a rotten defense. Ross is not a hero because he was President of the College. He was President of the College because he was a hero. And if his defenders will not stand by this simple statement of fact, we might as well lease the crane and call the scrapyard, because sooner or later, Sully’s going to go.
Sans reproche means without reproach. Not even once and not even a little.
Meanwhile the miserable pop-guns pop. One Student Senator, for instance, blames Sully for “the lack of diversity on campus, with 63 percent of the undergraduate population classified as white.” She tells us that she has friends from high school who “didn’t want to come to A&M University because they felt it was uninclusive,” and that “memorializing a Confederate general” was surely one cause for their repugnance. Another Student Senator by the name of Iman Ahmed suggests that any tradition should be junked “if some Aggies feel excluded.”†
Complaining about feelings of exclusion is the tool of skulking villains, just like the “miserable pop-guns” that killed the age of chivalry. It is, of course, a shame that the reputation of this brave man should be exposed to die by these pusillanimous insinuations, but Ross cannot defend himself against this villainous violence, and neither, it seems, can we. So, let us all crawl into the shade of a convenient tree, and there contemplate the hilts of our swords while awaiting the end. But in the unlikely event that a turncoat minion of the Empire should express pity over our plight, let us at least not forget to say:
“Sir, pity me not, for I die a man of honor. But I pity you, who fight against your king, your country and your oath.”
*) Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard(1473 – 1524) is most often remembered as the Chavalier de Bayard. His epithet, chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, means knight without fear or reproach. See John Mitchell, Biographies of Eminent Soldiers (London: William Blackwood and Son, 1865).
**) Victor M. Rose, Ross’s Texas Brigade: Being a Narrative of Events Connected with its Service in the Late War Between the States (Louisville: Courier Journal, 1881).
***) Jules Michelet, Modern History (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1855).
†) Bryan-College Station Eagle, December 2, 2018.