February 10, 1888
The third annual festival of the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion is suddenly and sadly changed. A meeting which was to have been a joyous, social, and fraternal union of old comrades of the war has become the memorial service in honor of the beloved Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. In the presence of many who served in most intimate terms with General Hancock during long years of severe and trying duty, I shall not attempt an adequate sketch of his life, services and character, I had not in the army the privilege of an acquaintance with him that was either extensive or intimate. He was my commander only during the last few weeks of the active work of the war. My relations with him from 1877 to 1881 were, however, in some interesting matters necessarily close, and confidential. I cannot be mistaken as to the substantial and sterling elements of his character. If, when we make up or estimate of a public man both conspicuous as a soldier and in affairs, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.
His death is so recent and such a shock to us all that I hesitate on this occasion enter at large on the facts of his life. During many years he was the head of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. His presence, his prestige, his name, have given to this soldiers’ organization we not know how much of its prosperity, its interest, and its influence. His commanding figure and features- so impressive, so inspiring, so dignified – were the outward symbol of character and of achievements which left nothing for the most exacting imagination to desire when seeking the ideal American soldier, patriot, and gentlemen. One reference to his record as a soldier is enough for my present purpose. The single battle which, lost or won, humanely speaking, seemed destined to decide the great conflict, was Hancock’s opportunity. He was equal to the occasion. Henceforth Hancock and Gettysburg – Gettysburg and Hancock – are forever linked together in adamant. The name of our Commander-in-Chief will live in our annals as long as American history is known among men. Brave soldier-noble gentlemen-beloved Companion-hail and farewell!
The welcome to this annual festival which the Companions of the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion extend to their brethren of other Commanderies, and to all present, who, during the civil war sustained the cause of the Republic-and to their wives, their children, and their friends—our welcome to one and all, comes from hearts and minds better satisfied and more grateful than ever before that our lives were so ordered that it was permitted to us to serve in the grand army that saved America to Union, to Liberty, to Peace, and gave to our Republic the power to be a blessing to all mankind.
Since our last annual meeting, three of our companions, known of all men, -- General Grant, General McClellan, and General Hancock – have left us. Very sad and very touching as these dispensations are, yet upon a large and general survey of the march of events, we see clearly enough that whatever hinges on the war of the rebellion grows more interesting, more inspiring, and more affecting as the stream of time flows on. The sure test of deeds and character is time. That which is sublime in nature, in art, or in achievement, is not lost by age. Byron, addressing the ocean, says:
“Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow—
Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.”
Homer and Shakespeare are a delight and an inspiration to more minds in this century than they were in any former age.
The twenty-first year is drawing to a close since the rebellion was ended by the final victory of Union arms. In no other year have the great conflict and its principles, its results, and its real heroes gained so much in the estimation of their countrymen. Never since the grand review so fitly celebrated our triumph has that triumph been understood and valued as it is to-day. Under the allotment of Providence, the final judgment is not pronounced in behalf of the living. The most fortunate of men must wait for death to affix the seal and to award the crown. Happily for America, and for the world, Providence placed Abraham Lincoln in chief authority, civil and military, and the momentous crisis of the Nation’s fate. It was his task to watch the whole field. With unshaken faith his sad, prophetic, and anxious eyes swept over the North and the South—over this continent, and all the continents--for the dangers that threatened were in every wind of the whole heavens. It fared with Lincoln as long as he lived as it always fares with those who bear the burdens of their fellow men. But heaven was gracious—death came, and in the sight of all the world, by the consenting judgment of all mankind, Abraham Lincoln at one bound took his place to hold it forever by the side of Washington. For more than twenty years afterwards the leaders of our armies—our comrade of the Grand Army of the Republic--our companion of the Loyal Legion—remained and shared with us the good and ill that awaits the living. He, too, like Lincoln, in spite of his splendid, unmatched and unquestioned service, was misunderstood, undervalued, and tortured until life itself almost seemed a doubtful blessing. But, more fortunate than Lincoln, Grant lived long enough to see the mists around him melt in the presence of his patience, his heroic fortitude, and his boundless charity and forgiveness. Those long weeks of suffering were signalized and glorified by labors of such rare quality that they all but proved the pen of our illustrious soldier was mightier than his sword. Instead of opposition and enmity, his last days were cheered by honor, love, troops of friends, and by admiration and gratitude among all classes and sections, and absolutely without limit. It was to Grant moiré fully, perhaps, than to any other man in all history to see and enjoy the place he was to hold during ages to come in the esteem and affection of mankind. When he passed to his reward, the trinity of American patriots and heroes was complete – Washington, Lincoln, Grant.
We need not pause to inquire why the heroes of our warm when dead, find their high place in history so promptly, and with such infallible certainty. With faculty and character given the occasion, the opportunity was in the greatness and goodness of their cause. The strange thing is that we do not think of this while the hero is living. It is for the army societies of every man to see that justice is done before it is too late.
Happily here to-night no effort is needed to reach the desired result. In Grant’s capital book—in that volume that every soldier reads, already published—you will find on how I know not how many different pages that there was one man he knew like a book, and that he leaned upon and loved and trusted like a brother. His name, before I speak it, is in the minds and on the tongue of every soldier present- General William T. Sherman.