REUNION OF THE ARMY OF WEST VIRGINIA

 

August 25, 1887

Wheeling, West Virginia

 

Since we last met, a year ago, many of our comrades have gone on to their reward. I do not, even in the briefest way, to give sketches of the lives of our recent dead, or to make a catalogue of their names. Each had his own separate history and was the center of a circle which now mourns his loss. Our army reunions derive their chief interest from the opportunity they afford for the renewal of the social and friendly relations which grew up between comrades during the years of the war. But we have long since learned that as time passes our gladdest and heartiest greetings are more and more often tinged with sadness as the line of “the dead already” grows longer and longer. I therefore know full well, my comrades, that you will allow me to pause a moment on the threshold of this delightful reunion to lay a wreath on the bier of one who was widely known and loved as a shining and inspiring example of the typical American volunteer soldier.

 

General James Monroe Comly was identified, from the beginning to the end of the war, with the Army of West Virginia; His whole service was in “the old Kanawha division.” During almost three years he commanded as lieutenant-colonel and colonel one of the very conspicuous and fortunate regiments of the war – the Twenty-Third Ohio Infantry. He died less than a month ago, July 26, at his home in Toledo, with all the members of his family-his wife, two sons, and his daughter-at his bedside, and a city filled with admirers, friends, and comrades.

 

Knowing General Comly intimately more than twenty-five years, and especially having lived by his side, day and night, during the whole of the war, it would be strange, indeed, if I did not deem it a privilege and a labor of love to unite with his comrades in strewing flowers on the grave of one whose talents and achievements were so ample and so admirable, and whose life and character were rounded to a completeness rarely found among the best and most gifted of men.

 

General Comly’s profession was journalism. He was fond of it and proud of it. He had full faith in it. He believed that there was no other walk of peaceful life in which he could render such useful and honorable service to the world. In his judgment and heart, work on his newspaper was second only in opportunity and worth in life on the battle-field in the service of his country. During a large part of his years of activity he was the editor of a political daily newspaper and gave to it the full measure of his intellectual powers. How well he was equipped for this work! He was, in the best sense of the word, a scholar. Good books were his intimate friends. He knew thoroughly our country’s history. He was master of pure, wholesome English, His wit made him famous. Halstead, speaking of him, said, “His paragraphs and epithets are as sharp as a razor, and they stick like a fish hook. This dangerous faculty-often fatal to friendship-was in his case so controlled by the unerring instincts of the gentleman and tempered by his sincerity, large heartedness and manliness  that he constantly won the esteem and good will of his adversaries. Perhaps the fittest eulogium one can pronounce on our beloved comrade is to quote a few of the tributes to his character by his brethren, some of them opponents and rivals in the profession of his choice. Remember as I read them that General Comly was engaged sharply, and with a bold and combative spirit, in all the partisan conflicts of his time. What a noble and lovable nature he had to be able to leave on friends and foes alike such an impression as these sentences express!

 

I quote from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

 

“In the death of General James M. Comly, editor and proprietor of the Toledo Commercial, Ohio has lost another of her illustrious sons. The General’s war record was that of a brave and honorable soldier, beloved of his men. As a servant of the public he filled the various offices he was appointed to with honor and credit, while, as a journalist, he was recognized as one of the brightest and cleverest in the State.”

 

The Cleveland Plain Dealer said:

 

“During the rebellion he served in the army with bravery and fidelity. After the war he assumed the editorship of the Columbus Journal and became known for his short, witty editorial paragraphs. For several years we crossed pens with General Comly upon public questions and had some sharp controversies with him, but never of a personal nature, and in our frequent meetings the ‘shop’ was dropped and our relations were of a pleasant character. He was of a kindly and generous disposition, and while a strict partisan, would never do nay injustice to a political foe.”

 

Mr. Henry T. Niles, of Toledo, politically opposed to General Comly, but a personal friend, says:

 

“He was recognized by all as a true man, a good and valuable citizen, and an earnest and intelligent worker for the good and prosperity of this city of his adoption,

 

“General Comly was a strong partisan, and in his party warfare his weapons were well tempered steel wielded by a strong arm and with well-aimed blows, yet no tinge of party bitterness followed him to the grave

 

“Why? Because while having strong and honest convictions himself he recognized the fact that others with equally strong and honest convictions might differ from him, and while a partisan he remained a gentleman.”

 

Col. Donn Piatt writes:

 

“Such a combination as he possessed of gentleness and courage, wisdom and toleration, I never before encountered. With all his perfect manhood, that kept his life upon a higher plane of duty, he was yet so lovable, that we less perfect lost the sense of the rebuke of his purer life, in the affections his generous nature engendered.”

 

His political friends in the profession dwelt lovingly on the noble traits of his character.

 

The Bucyrus Journal says:

 

“But bright as his professional talents, his military record, and his official services were, they were as nothing beside his character as a man. Genial, charitable in his judgments, kindly disposed to all, an invaluable friend, a generous adversary, a manly man with a womanly grace and tenderness, he was pre-eminently a loveable Christian gentleman. In his death, at his prime, only 56 years old, the press of the State loses its brightest ornament and many of its members an admired profoundly respected, and invaluable friend.”

 

Comrade McElroy, of the National Tribune says;

 

“He had in a high degree all the good qualities of our race. Brilliant in intellect brave of soul, true of heart, loyal, unselfish and steadfast, he was man whom all that knew him admired as well as loved. He was a character unusually well rounded. When many men seem only at their best when viewed from certain standpoints, he seemed at his best from whatever point he was viewed. He was a brilliant journalist, a competent business man, a successful diplomat, and a devoted husband and father.”

 

The Toledo Blade says:

 

“General Comly’s reputation is by no means a purely local one. For more than a quarter of a century, he has taken a prominent position in the State and country. First as a brave soldier, winning laurels upon the battle-field, and then as a fearless journalist, who not only had a keen understanding of the questions of the hour, but always expressed his convictions boldly, and maintained them in the face of all opposers. As a diplomat during the time he represented the country in Honolulu he won marked distinction and was officially complimented for the ability which he displayed.

 

“Yet it was in his chosen profession of journalism that he made his greatest and most lasting reputation, and during his connection with the Ohio State Journal, of which he was at the head for many years. During that period after the war, which was one of the opportunities in which talent and energy guiding the pen made marked impression, he succeeded in maintaining the standing of loyalty and patriotism that had been established by his conduct as a soldier. His mistakes were rare, but when he made them, he stood by the consequences manfully.

 

“Of his public career no more need be said. Elsewhere the details are given in full. Of his private life, its beauty and integrity, much might be written. He was a gentleman of the old school, loyal in his friendships, outspoken and open in his enmities, but always and everywhere a gentleman, His brilliant social qualities were tempered by a shrinking reserve that carried with it, to those that did not know him well, a suggestion of haughtiness but no man was further from aught of that kind.

 

“He has gone – a man able, honest, gallant, generous and true, the loving husband and father, the useful citizen, gone in the prime of his manhood, but leaving behind an unfading memory behind him of honorable, upright living, that will rest as a benison upon those who sadly mourn his departure.”

 

The following dispatch to Mrs. Comly- one out of a large number from men of every honorable walk in life – is selected because it calls significantly to mind the sterling gold in General Comly’s character:

 

DETROIT, MICH., July 27, 1881

 

“MRS. GEN. COMLY: Your bereavement is shared by everyone who worked for General Comly. He possessed the rare quality of being at once employer and friend.

 

Those of us who saw him in many a trying scene, when he was tested by weariness and sickness, by discouragement and defeat by responsibility and deadly peril; who knew him as men know each other who for years have been comrades in war, do not need to be told of his merits as a soldier. His comrades in the Army of West Virginia remember him at Antietam when he strengthened the weakened line by seizing the flag, which had fallen to the earth from the hands of the dying color bearer and holding it “still full high advanced: against the exulting columns that vainly tried to capture it and pull it down. We recall him in the very pinch of Sheridan’s victory of Winchester gallantly leading his regiment against the sanguinary slough that protected the left of Early’s army. We know how he loved his regiment; how proud he was of “the old Kanawha Division;” and with what satisfaction he wore the badge of the Army of West Virginia. With many of us, General Comly will always be a brilliant and conspicuous figure in the most precious recollections of the most interesting period of our lives.

 

As he drew near the end, we rejoice to know that “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” Calmly, bravely, and with an unfaltering trust he approached and met the great change. His last sickness was long and full of suffering. But his courage, cheerfulness and sweetness of temper never for a moment failed. He was accustomed to dwell on the deepest questions that arise in sober minds near the close of life.

 

Speaking of human suffering to a friend he said:

 

“I think bodily suffering to the thoughtful person, is not an unmixed evil. It broadens and deepens our sympathies, makes us more charitable, and strengthens every better element of our nature. We come out of such sufferings stronger and better if we take the right view of things and regard these afflictions as the ‘chastening rod.”

 

Touching his faith to the future he wrote:

 

“Atheism leaves no hope. All is evil, and evil continually-evil eternally. It leaves no hereafter, where all things may be made even. It abandons reason as well as hope.

 

“Reason teaches us that the whole universe is subject to law; that there can be no law without a supreme power ordaining it. And faith teaches us that this supreme power must be infinite intelligence, goodness and truth, it cannot create merely to destroy. It cannot inflict pain and suffering and death in sheer wantonness and power. Every birth is consummated with pain and agony-every birth is a severance of the ties of life-which bind to a former state of existence, and the letting go is abhorrent to the law of being. Yet the new birth is a resurrection into a higher form of life. Death is birth – death can only be a resurrection into a new life, higher, better, and more glorious.”

 

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