July 7, 1875
We are glad to see that the people of Hancock County have done this wise and patriotic work. A monument in honor of the brave men of Hancock County who in that four-years’ conflict for union and liberty fell, is erected in this town, - a monument of which all the people of the county will be proud, and wish to have remain here, we trust, forever. And why not erect a monument to those brave men? In every age it has been the general judgment of mankind, that all men who freely and bravely gave their lives on the right side of a great and good cause should be forever remembered with gratitude. Is not this the fact with the men who went out from your county to gladden their homes no more by their safe return? Did they not give their lives in a great and good cause? We cannot indicate, even by words, all the facts that entitle us to claim for them what I have stated as a great and a good cause.
I hear that my friend Gov. Allen, and those with him traveling from Dayton, perhaps a hundred miles distant from here, passing through such towns as Troy, Wapakoneta, and Lima, and the smaller towns, were everywhere met by the American people celebrating the Fourth of July, that most illustrious date in the secular annals of our race. Now think, my friends. Suppose that the men who went from this country in 1861 to 1865, - the men who fought at Stone River, Chickamauga, Vicksburg, and all the other twelve hundred battles and skirmishes of that war, - suppose that in the result they had failed, where would have been the Fourth of July? What would have been our feelings? Instead of our gratitude and happiness, and this outpouring of the people to celebrate it, it would have been a day of sorrow and shame and mortification. I am behind no man in doing honor to the fathers who founded the Republic; but I must not forget, I do not forget, the comrades who perished in the war to save the Republic. What a task they had! Do you remember when Abraham Lincoln bade farewell to his neighbors and friends at Springfield, - that last farewell to his old friends, - he said to them, “The task which devolves upon me is greater than that which has devolved upon any man since Washington; and I ask that you will pray that I may have that divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, and with which I cannot fail.” It was to perform that task that Mr. Lincoln felt devolved so greatly upon him, that the brave men of Hancock County flocked to their country’s standard in 1861 and in 1862; and along a line of frontier operations two thousand miles in length, extending from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and stretching over every square mile of all those Southern States, these men marched and fought, and suffered and fell.
I know not how many of them have been gathered into the cemeteries near their home; I know not how many others have been gathered into the beautiful national cemeteries near the great battlefields; I know not how many are lying in swamps, along the mountain-sides, in nameless graves, the unknown heroes of the Union: but wherever they are, and however many there may be, you people of Hancock County have erected your monument to all who fell, who left your county. All soldiers, I am sure, feel like thanking you for this. I remember well that one of the saddest days of my life was after one of our great battles in the early period of the war. Recovering from wounds, with other comrades who had been wounded there, we passed near the battlefield, as soon as we felt able to do so; and, when we came there, what did we learn? Passing up the mountain, charging the line of the enemy, they fell; and everywhere were the shallow graves in which were deposited the remains of our seven hundred companions who had fallen. And how were they buried? And how was their last resting-place marked? Hastily, tenderly, no doubt, the parties detailed to bury them had gathered up their remains. You soldiers know how it was done. They placed upon the face of each man who died, wherever they could ascertain his name, a piece of an envelope, or a scrap of a letter, or something of the kind, containing his name, his company, his regiment, fastening it there, hoping, that some day his friends might come and find him, and learn who it was there buried. And then, you remember, there were no coffins, nothing of the sort; but they took the blue overcoat, and placed it around the man, and took the cape, and bringing it over the face, fastened it down. This was his shroud; this was his coffin: and he was placed away to rest until the resurrection morn. That was the manner of his burial. And strange I may say was the result of that woolen material over the face: saturated with water, and covered with the earth, it did so protect them from decay, that months afterwards many were recognized by their friends, preserved as they were by the overcoat cape. And how was the grave marked? With a pencil they scratched upon a piece of pine board – a thin piece of cracker-box – the name and company, which was placed at the grave. This was all then; and we did not know what the result would be. We did not know what friends would do, what monuments would be reared.
As we left that field, talking to each other, we said there must be a soldiers’ monument for the soldiers of our regiment. I would not claim that this was the first regiment that built a monument; but I will say it was the first I heard of. After the famous Antietam campaign was fought, we called the men together, - four hundred and fifty or five hundred men, - and from the scanty pay which was to support the men, and to some extent their families, the majority of the remainder subscribed at least one dollar, and others more, according to their ability, and raised in the regiment two thousand dollars to build a monument, on which, it was agreed, should be inscribed the name of every man in the regiment who had fallen, and every man who should fall during the continuance of the war. We had it placed in the cemetery at Cleveland, where more of our number came from than from any other place. Many a monument has been built since, far grander than that, taller, and finer, and more expensive; but that, so far as I know, was the first soldiers’ monument.
We are glad to know that you of Hancock County have not neglected your duty in that regard. You mean that those men shall have their monument, and be remembered forever. It will be a monument that will have its value to you and your children: it will be an instructor, a teacher of lessons to all who look on it. What is it? Why did these men perish? Why was this monument built? Here is a great nation: here is a country stretching from ocean to ocean, over the finest part of the best continent on the globe. On the day that they volunteered, the only enemy that the American nation could know, could fear, could dread, was in war against us. We cared nothing for foreign nations; they were too far, too distant; and anyway, with the North and South united, as I believe they now are, in feeling, we can meet the world in arms against us. A house divided against itself – there was the danger; and that was the danger that these men went out to meet. And now, how is it to-day? How stands the matter now? We know every acre of that beautiful land belongs only to the stars and stripes, and belongs to the flag forever.
And not only that lesson does it teach; but it teaches, also, that this Union is dedicated to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. I hardly know what others may think about that; but I believe, that, in fifty years past, there never was a time when there was that prospect of complete and enduring harmony among all classes of people, in all sections of this country, that there is to-day. Why, think of it! On the 17th of June, the hundredth anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill, we had Maryland Confederate regiments and soldiers saluting – in the streets of Boston, and on Boston Common and Bunker Hill – the men of Massachusetts: we had South Carolina and Massachusetts shoulder to shoulder, as in the days when their fathers beat the British a hundred years ago. All this, I think, is due, in a great measure, to the success of our men to whom this monument is erected, and their comrades in other States and other organizations, living and dead. Think of the men themselves who were there, - citizen soldiers, not one, perhaps, of whom, was ever acquainted with war, or ever bred to war. Here and there one had been in the Mexican war; here and there one had been in some Indian war; but, as a rule, they all came from civil life: they all came from where they were sovereigns, to be, for three years, obedient to men who were not better than themselves.
Why, they tell us our bayonets could think. Yes, and often and often it was the glory, in my judgment, of the private soldier, that the bayonet thought more truly, more wisely, more accurately, than the sword. A celebrated English statesman said, “I can understand why these Americans, to the number of millions, rushed to arms to defend the government they had made. There is no mystery in that. Now, I do not understand how it was, that, at the end of that war, a million of men quietly disbanded, and returned to the walks of peaceful life, and went back about their old occupations, and became again good citizens.” There was one great advantage we had, - a people so educated, and so intelligent in all classes, that we could raise an army of that sort.
Our monument, then, stands and teaches us of the importance of the Union, the importance of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and the importance of universal education. My friends, what is a monument, however costly and beautiful, if it does not teach us some of the duties of practical life, how the living shall deal with the living? When you shall see the widows of the soldiers, the parents and orphans of the soldiers, every man whose heart is in the right place feels his sympathies warmed towards them. There is no doubt as to that, I am sure, in any Christian community. But there is another lesson. The men who fell, the men who lost an arm or leg, the widows and orphans who are left, are not the only victims of the war. There must always be another class. We rejoice to know that the great body of young men who went out to the war returned to their homes, more manly, braver, and better than when they left them; but they were gone, many of them, at the critical period of life, from sixteen to twenty years of age, just the period when they must learn habits of thrift, and the knowledge of occupations or trades that shall enable them to get that independence which every man in America ought to have, to try to have. They were during that period in the army; and some came back with habits to which we regret to allude. But, my friends, when we look at that monument, we should be reminded that that man who may have thus formed any pernicious habits in the army is always one of the victims of the war. He has lost that which is better than life in trying to save the Republic. Avert not your gaze, patriotic men, from that man. Lift him up, help him, never give him up. Give him occupation, give him good words, save him, if you can. At any rate, treat him as one of the victims of the war.