April 29, 1891
Mr. President; Ladies and Gentlemen; Comrades of the Grand Army: - Our Chairman has just informed you that this programme has been badly demoralized, and I am now to inform you that I am part of the demoralization, I suppose that I may be excused for giving a little reference to personal conditions. Last night, at the Presbyterian Church, having been notified that I was to speak there, in ample time, I made suitable provision and accepted the appointment. After the acceptance I was seized with the prevailing disease, the grip, and as usual as I understand that complaint, it attacked me as it has others, the symptoms, I believe, having reference to the weakest part of the constitution of the victim. I found that my brain was affected, and that there was small probability that it would be possible for me to appear before the audience, trying to think upon my feet. So I resorted to the newspapers, in which there were former speeches, and called out parts of them, and adjusted together as well as I could, with the brain that was left me by the grip and read that to the audience. They endured it; and what was good about the whole affair, was, that thrown into a perspiration by the exercise of speaking, I found that I had lost the grip, and I thought I to-night I could risk it in the old-fashioned way. I therefore will scatter along for a few minutes.
I notice in soldier meetings differences. There is in this reunion, to which I will call attention, As this is to be our last meeting, I will say a word in commendation of our Comrades and of the good citizens of Steubenville. It is an admirable town. It has hard brick pavements; how charming it is, and in particular we have noticed, how charming it is for the men who go on these hills around. All the houses seem to be rejoicing to meet us. Scarcely a shop or a store that has not its welcoming flag or picture. They have provided us with the best of weather; how could they do it? And so our whole meeting has been an admirable one. And yet, in one particular, it is somewhat different from the usual meetings. I have stopped to reflect upon it, to consider how it is that a meeting, a reunion, so happy in all of its circumstances, should yet have so little of anecdote, so little of demonstration in the way of joy. Quietness reigns. I listened with care to the report of our Commander, He tells us that we have now 50,000 in Ohio; that during the last nine months 477 have passed from the seen to the unseen world-nearly 500 in nine months; 600 or 700 it would be in a year-20 per cent. greater, he told us, than in any preceding time for the same period-1 per cent. for Ohio with 50,000; our whole country, with 500,000 would be about ten times as many then, who have probably died in that period. In Ohio there are as many out of the Grand Army who were in the Union Army as are now in the Grand Army. There should have been then, according to this, in our good State of Ohio, 1,000 or 1,200 deaths. Ohio, one-tenth of the loyal army, furnishing that number that means for our whole country 10,000 or 12,000 passed from this world to the next, during the past year, We have come to the period when there is this increase in the number of the dead-an increase going on with, not an arithmetic progression but with a geometric progression growing more and more. We cannot possibly name the long list for Ohio. Each one of these soldiers, the center of a circle, with interests, and friends, and relatives, and companions. We cannot name them and yet of those we can name, that we have known, here, for example, Gov. Noyes died within that time; one of our Comrades, with that wonderful voice; that remarkable and elegant, and eloquent elocution; Gen. Fuller, of Toledo, a man of character and conscience and ability as a soldier, with a gallant record has left us; Gen. John C. Lee, an honored citizen of our State and a member of the Grand Army, only recently has departed; and, perhaps realized more than the departure of any other man that could have left, William Tecumseh Sherman has gone, no more to give life and enthusiasm and spirit to soldier reunions. No wonder, my Comrades, that there is something more even than quiet, almost sadness, in this his native State, at the first General Reunion of the State after he has left us. We shall recover. If he could have his wish, he would not have us to lose a particle of joy, the pleasure, the happiness of our meetings, because he is no longer with us. But we cannot but think of these things. In this off-hand way I have called your attention to sober and serious topics. I trust that those who are to come after me will not in the least degree confine themselves to sadness, I would wish, when our turn comes, and we are to go to the mysterious unseen world, that when our Comrades come together in their reunions, they shall be happy and as cheerful and as joyous as ever, when they come to think of us and our lives with them.
It was my good fortune to hear the great statesman of New York, in public speech, but once. Mr. Seward, speaking at the meeting held in memory of Gov. Thomas Corwin, spoke of his talents, his genius, his dramatic eloquence - that wonderful power, unmatched, unequaled in this country from the beginning of time until our present day. He said, “We have to take something beside a man’s talents, his gifts, his genius, his eloquence. The true test, when a public man leaves us, by which we are to decide upon the worth or value of his life and his deeds, is not merely his gifts, but what did he do, what did he accomplish, by reason of the circumstances? What did he try to accomplish for the good of his country, for the welfare of his fellowmen?” This is the true test; and my Comrades, in the few minutes I am to talk to you, the only impression I would be glad to leave is the impression that in my deepest soul I cherish, that the work done from 1861 to 1865, by those of us who were permitted to fight under the banner of glory, was a work so good, so pure, so sacred, that through life, at the end of life, and in whatever there may be for us beyond, that service at least will always be counted to our credit. We value the value in deeds or in service by those two lines of thought: First, was it an easy service, was it a friendly service, was it something that we delighted in, was it a hard service, a difficult service-a service that tried the manhood of all who engaged in it? That is one line, and the other is the plain old-fashioned test: the tree is known by its fruits, the results of the work, the results achieved. Now look at the two, just for a moment, and will it not tend to deepen the impression we all have to-night of the value, the worth of the service in which we were engaged from 1861 to 1865? Was it an easy job? Was it a matter of course that we were to be successful? There was not a military officer in a civilized nation on the face of the globe; there was not a military officer whose opinion was worth a rush, in any foreign country that didn’t say that the work we were undertaking was an impossible work. The grand old man, the statesman who of all the men now living in the world, perhaps, has a larger share of favorable opinion of America than any other-largely, of course, by reason of his 50 or 60 years of wonderful and successful public life- William E. Gladstone, standing at the head of the statesmen of the world; and yet he, with his wisdom and his sagacity, looking on, a friend of America always-yet he could say in 1862 that “it must be admitted that Jefferson Davis had established in America an independent republic.” And in the parliament of Great Britain, with frantic and ringing cheers, it was heard the Republic was bursted. Everywhere the privileged classes, the ruling classes, the royal and the lordly sovereigns of Europe, predicted and believed that our effort to restore the Union would be a failure. There was among the masses of men, the hope-for we were fighting the battle of freedom for all mankind-that we would succeed. They hoped, and therefore many of them expressed the belief, that we would succeed. But there was but one noted voice that I can recall in the civilized world, that pronounced the prospect of success in the war we were engaged in, as in any degree one having hope, It is true, and I am glad to mention it, that the most eloquent voice in all England, the voice of John Bright, from the beginning to the end, was on the side of Union and Liberty in America. Eight millions of people, in their own homes, to be conquered utterly, and the Union restored! No wonder that men thought we should fail. It was a difficult work, but under the God-given leadership of Abraham Lincoln-and if ever the finger of Providence was visible in human affairs, it was when Abraham Lincoln was elected to lead us in that great struggle-under that leadership we went on; hoping against hope, fighting against chances, until at last victory perched upon our banners.
And then what came? What was the value of that victory? Has any man been able to measure it? Has any man been able to collect into a single, or a dozen pages, merely a catalogue of them by name; half, or any considerable portion of the elements and items of gain for this country and for the world, which has come to America and the world by reason of our victory? I read with pleasure, in the admirable speeches Gen. Harrison is making this sort of sentences. I can’t quote exactly, but in Texas the other day, he says: “The victors and vanquished, alike and equally share in the blessings of the nation’s triumph.” Why, it is true, my comrades and friends, that all the world sees that the vanquished in that war gained more than the victors ever gained in any other war fought on earth. How? They were in a condition to need more gain than we. They had slavery, and needed to get rid of it; and when the war ended, slavery was gone forever, They needed free, universal education; and when the war was over, the chance for education was given them and gradually it has been obtained. And so we might go on. The gain of that war, to every cause of progress, to mankind and country, and of humanity, is something that can’t be estimated. There have been from the beginning of civilized time hosts of men and women talking in behalf of the perpetuity of peace throughout the world; the necessity of settling by arbitration between nations instead of by war. My Comrades, has it occurred to you that the victory we gained in ’65 was a triumph in behalf of the cause of peace in the world? Greater progress, greater than has been made by all the peace societies and all the pulpits in the world, from the beginning of the Christian era until to-day, was made by the success of our arms. Our victory decided the vital question. That was, whether European in situations and European ways were to carve out the two continents of America into separate and warring nations, as Europe is carved out with kings and lords and privileged classes. That was the case when our war ended. It was settled, and settled forever, that the two Americas were given up to free Government; to unity-one nation, and with that a free nation, Why, my friends, I think it is within the last year--it is very lately--the last king has taken his throne across the Atlantic, back to Europe, leaving these two continents without a king or a lord, except the Lord that rules over all, and rules beneficently. But I am taking more than my share of time.
[Voices: “Go on! Go on!”]
No, my friends, it is not right that I should. I just simply wish to leave you with the feeling which I enjoy: whatever may be the vicissitudes of life and fortune, painful or agreeable, both the serious and the painful and the happy-whatever may occur to us, there is one thing which I feel sure, that while we live, we shall have the confidence and the consolation of knowing that during four years, when the most vital struggle ever fought on earth was going on, you and I were fighting on the Lord’s side. And this confidence and this consolation will be with us through this life; it will be with us at its close; and while I cannot tear aside the veil that hides from us what is beyond I know that that service will there also be put to our credit and for our hope and our comfort in the world beyond.