ADDRESS AT THE NINTH REUNION OF THE SOCIETY OF THE ARMY OF WEST VIRGINIA

 

September 16, 1885

Portsmouth, Ohio

 

Ladies, Comrades of the Army of West Virginia, and Fellow Citizens:  I am very glad, indeed, to have the opportunity to meet under such favorable circumstances again my comrades of the Army of West Virginia.  The response to the address of General Turley, the Mayor of Portsmouth, is also an exceedingly pleasant duty, and wholly unexpected a few moments ago, and not in the least degree difficult.  But, I am to speak in the place of General Crook.  That is rather feeble applause for that name.  That is an improvement, but before we are through we can get very much better applause at the mention of the name of George Crook than that.  The last Commander of the Army of West Virginia was George Crook.  I said that a year ago at Cumberland, and they sent me to have corrected, the off-hand remarks made upon that occasion before printing them permanently in a pamphlet.  I made those corrections as I should, that he was the last Commander of the Army of West Virginia; but the compositor was wiser than I was, he set it up so that it reads: “General Crook was the best Commander of the Army.”  I could not say that, because here are a great many, behind me, that were commanders.  I believed it all the same.  The General is not with us today—he is on duty, and where duty calls, General Crook is always present, hence his absence is but in the line of character, which we all know very well that he possesses.  I have a theory upon the subject of armies: A regiment, it is said, is known by its Colonel, if its discipline is not good we know why; if it is a good regiment we know it is because there is a good Colonel, having good material out of which to make a good regiment.  It seems to me that the Army of West Virginia in its characteristics resembled General George Crook.  He is a man utterly without pretension; appreciating exactly the cause in which he fought, ready to do duty; always appreciating above all others, with whom it was my fortune to serve, the high rank, character and motives of the men who carried the musket.  Never seeking popularity, but always having it, because he deserved to have it; the men believed in him, and he believed in them.  The soldier was not a mere part of a machine under George Crook, and in his mind he believed that the private soldier was there because a great claim was made upon him, because it was his duty; and he always treated his men:  officers, subordinate officers and privates as they deserved to be treated, having the highest and best motives for their actions and of the highest and best character.  This is George Crook.  The Army of West Virginia has the stamp of that character upon it.  These banners tell where it has been and what it has done.  Of course, in these reunions—whether of regiment, or army, the talk is always of that organization that is holding the reunion, and the common criticism on every reunion is not an altogether unjust criticism—that if you were to take what you hear as the history of the great war, it would seem that that regiment which attends the reunion had done all the fighting of the war, and that army is the one great army.  But we must consider that every other regiment at its reunion is doing the same thing, and every other army is talking the same way of its particular share in the great work. 

 

Now, responding more directly to this welcome we have received from the Mayor, we have every reason to congratulate ourselves, and to congratulate the city of Portsmouth upon the welcome we are getting.  Was there ever anything better than this for a place of assembling?  How perfectly this is shown for your comfort, your pleasure.  That great procession we met as we entered your city—how well did it proclaim what your city was; how well did it advertise the industry and the business—the employments of the people of Portsmouth.  I was impressed, as we passed that procession, I thought I understood perfectly well that there were great resources here, but naturally from the north part of the State, I had supposed that but very few things, as coal, iron, and a very few interests absorbed the attention, the enterprise and business skill of the people of Portsmouth; but I saw in that procession represented, the great diversities of industry.  I said to myself:  “I am in a ‘Yankee City’ again.”  I said to my friend:  “We have now just the weather we want.”  “Why, ” he says, “you know we have an Ohio man in Washington, and he telegraphed me that we are to have the weather we want, and we are to have it here.”  For all these we must be grateful, and return our thanks.

 

Looking over this programme, I don’t know how long it is proper to entertain you in talk.  I want to talk long enough to get acquainted with my old friends.  In these twenty years that we have been separated, not meeting very often, I want to learn in how many of you your eyesight has failed.  Every now and then I find one is so blind that he looks at me and says:  “How gray you are getting!”  Of course, I know it’s his eyesight.  It only shows how age is creeping upon you, my comrade.  I want to renew my acquaintance, for if I am getting gray, you are getting blind.  Like that old Methodist preacher said: “We must brother up until we get acquainted.”

 

The Army of West Virginia is not in history one of the distinguished armies.  And why not?  The Society of the Army of West Virginia, as I suppose, embraces among its members—or may embrace among its members, as they are eligible to it—all who served in West Virginia in the army of the Union.  Now, who is that?  Why, at the beginning every regiment almost from Ohio, Indiana and the northwest was hurried into West Virginia and began under General McClellan and General Rosecrans.  They won the first victories of the war at Rich Mountain and Carnifex Ferry.  Those places gave opportunities to General McClellan which placed him in Washington at the head of the army of the Cumberland and fought at Stone river, among other battles of great distinction; and so one after another.  So we come to think of West Virginia as a place for furnishing for the Union generals, a great training school for Union soldiers, for us to go in green there, gradually ripen and press on to other places.  If the Army of the Potomac did great things, the Army of the Cumberland or the Army of West Tennessee, all we have to say is that we in West Virginia educated your army, educated your Generals, and whatever belongs to you belongs as well to me.  You tickle me, I tickle you; you praise the officers, I praise the men.  There is no particular harm in it, and sometimes the truth is told.  Each of the great armies you may say has its characteristics, its separate history, its separate traits of character, and so has the Army of the Potomac.  Early in the war, those from the west began to think the Army of the Potomac rather slow; that it worked too much with the spade; that they were not sufficiently instructed in the use of the bayonet.  But now, when we begin to look over the whole ground, and long ago when we got amongst them, we found that the Army of the Potomac had great qualities.  It is true that it had the first defeat at Bull Run, which we cannot forget, and history is not going to forget that it had the last great victory at Appomattox.  If it had misfortune, it never gave up, it never lost hope.  The army of the Potomac seemed always to understand that it had Washington, our Capitol, in its keeping; it seemed always to understand that its business was sooner or later also to have the Capitol of the Confederacy in its keeping; and sooner or later it did.  It seemed to be actuated with the conviction that the cause of liberty and good government and union was in its keeping.  So we are not here to disparage the Army of the Potomac.  There is the Army of the Cumberland altogether different:  the Army of the Tennessee altogether different.  The Army of the Potomac made but short marches, but it was because the enemy were but a short distance from them; it was not a great marching army.  While the Army of Sherman was an army that strode across the continent; not merely from Atlanta to the sea, but along a great river almost throughout its length; from Chattanooga to Atlanta, from Atlanta to the sea, and from the sea back to Washington.  No civilized army ever made such marches into the enemy’s country and returned safely with its prisoners.  And the triumphs of the army of Sherman then will be shared by the Army of West Virginia.  I have often thought that a soldier would like, when he reads this great history, to be placed in just the page and just the paragraph of some transaction.  I myself like to have been a part.  There is, for example, the march of Sherman to the sea, with that which belongs to it, commencing at Chattanooga those one hundred days of fighting day after day for the possession of strongholds and communications upon which depended the life of the Confederacy through the long summer of 1864, with all its great battles down to Atlanta, from Atlanta to the Sea, thence up the Savannah and up through the Carolinas.  A man who has been through that, why, he has seen all the glory, the best that this world’s history has to show.  That is one of the places I would like to have been; it was not my fortune.  There is another, in which I think any man who was present at that transaction may sleep well at night.  He has been at the place.  He has been where the greatest work was done and finished.  The fortunes of the Confederacy rose to their greatest height at Gettysburg, and when the three days’ fight was over, there was no longer any doubt as to the result.  The Government was saved, liberty was saved; it was the decisive victory of the war; the Union was saved; we had triumphed.  We would have been glad if we could have been there.

 

The third great splendid achievement and success, comrades of the Army of West Virginia, we were there.  We were in the battle of Fisher’s Hill, at Winchester, at Cedar Creek.  We were with Sheridan in the valley obeying the order “if the rebels send their army to that valley again we want you to take possession of it, and strip it so that when you are done with it, a crow that would fly a hundred miles in that valley must take his rations with him.”  When we were done with it, if there were any crows about they had to take their rations with them.  No one of those who witnessed that ever hears Sheridan’s ride without thinking that he was the man that made it.  Comrades of the Army of West Virginia, let us enjoy ourselves, let’s have a happy time, let us sing the good old songs as of old; let’s show our Portsmouth friends that we know how to sing.

 

Mr. Mayor, we are greatly obliged for your welcome; we thank you for being so kind, so liberal, so generous in your preparations for our entertainment.

 

Comrades:  If I am to be your presiding officer I want your help; I want your sympathy.  When I call upon a gentleman to speak I want you to receive him as if you were glad to see him.  Now, let us try this, here is our old Commander in West Virginia—I think the first commissioned officer in the United States to have been wounded in the war for the Union.  The first man hit by a rebel bullet bearing the commission of his country was General Kelley.  I have the pleasure of introducing him to you.

 

Comrades:  You have been introduced to the oldest General in the Army of West Virginia, and have heard his remarks.  I have the pleasure now of introducing to you one of the youngest Generals of that army, General Van H. Bukey.

 

Comrades of the Society of the Army of West Virginia:  It is moved and seconded that Mrs. General B.F. Kelley be made an honorary member of the Society of the Army of West Virginia.  Are there any remarks upon the motion?  If there are none, I will put the vote.

 

The vote is unanimous in favor of the motion; Mrs. B.F. Kelley is an honorary member of this society.

 

Comrades:  I have the pleasure of introducing to you our newly elected member, Mrs. General B.F. Kelley.

 

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