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

 

September 17,1885

Portsmouth, Ohio

 

Comrades of the Army of West Virginia: Once more we meet to enjoy ourselves, and I congratulate all present upon having just such a day as we would have had if we had made the weather ourselves.  It is our day, made for us, and it is a great day; it is the anniversary of one of the illustrious events of the war—nay, of all the great events of the war.  About this hour of the day twenty three years ago a large part of the Army of West Virginia were entering upon the battle of Antietam, one of the great battles of the war.  Indeed, I think I am not mistaken in saying that on that day, the 17th of September, 1862, more men died in the war for the Union than on any other day of that war.  There were battles in which more men fell, killed and wounded, than in the battle of Antietam; but they were two-day or three-day battles, like Gettysburg, or Stone River; but I expect that in no other day of the war did as many men fall killed and wounded.  Two thousand and upwards of Union soldiers were killed on the field.  The proportion of wounded to the dead being as one is to five or six, gives an aggregate of ten or twelve thousand on our side that fell upon that day, and about the same number on the other.  Twenty thousand beings killed or wounded twenty-three years ago today in the great battle of Antietam!  Tremendous as that fact appears, it sinks into insignificance compared with the event that Abraham Lincoln connected with the battle of Antietam.  In July of that year, 1862, he called his Cabinet together and told them that he had in mind to secure the will of the Almighty God and all mankind to our side by proclaiming emancipation.  With the wisdom and foresight, it was suggested in the Cabinet that we had just suffered disaster in the field and is there not danger if we issue the proclamation now that it will be said it is the despairing act of a despairing cause; had we not better wait, until we have a large victory.  History tells us that Mr. Lincoln thereupon said yes, you are right, and that he went into his closet and with his Maker registered a vow, that if we had some great success, immediately after the emancipation proclamation should issue; and accordingly after the great battle of Antietam he waited for a few days to be sure that it had accomplished its object, driven Lee back across the Potomac, then he issued the notice, that to every part of the United States that should be in rebellion on the 1st of next January, emancipation should be proclaimed to all, and as to the rest emancipation should be secured by compensation or through the proper authorities.  And accordingly, by reason of the battle of Antietam, the anniversary of which is today, Abraham Lincoln did an act which made this great war illustrious forever.  He issued that proclamation saying:  “Upon this act, believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution and upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of all mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”  And so, forever the great act of emancipation is connected with the battle of Antietam, fought twenty-three years ago today, in which you and I bore our part.

 

Comrades, we have here an honored comrade; the commander of a regiment of cavalry; the commander of a brigade of cavalry; the commander of a division of cavalry in the army of Sheridan; a man who did as much as any other man in that great army—wounded and suffering, taken prisoner and confined for days and weeks in a rebel dungeon, but always a man—General William H. Powell.  I ask three cheers for your old cavalry officer.  He is also to deliver a eulogy on General Grant, which is next in order of the exercises.

 

Let every comrade of the Army of West Virginia; let all our friends, men, women and children, vote upon this resolution by a rising vote.  All who are in favor of the resolution please stand up.  It is a unanimous vote.

 

Comrades:  I have the pleasure of introducing to you a comrade from Logan county, who will address you.

 

Comrades, Ladies, and Gentlemen:  We shall now have the pleasure of listening to on e who came into the Army of West Virginia among one of its youngest members, who is entitled to rank, --by intelligence, sacrifice and heroic acts—perhaps, as high or higher that any other in West Virginia.  He is a Virginian of Virginians, but in the old sense that Washington was a Virginian of Virginians.  It happened to me to have public duties at one time of some importance in West Virginia.  I needed good advice—naturally I needed good advisers.  I had older men with me in that army, but I got the youngest of my advisers, and acted upon his advice, and I have always been glad I did.  I am glad to introduce to you that advisor, General Goff, of Virginia.  He was at one time Secretary of the Navy under an administration that some of you have heard of.

 

We have our various army societies, but there is one society to which every soldier of the Union, from the general to the drummer-boy is at liberty to belong and to wear its badge, because it means that the man who wears it served faithfully in the cause of the Union.  We have present with us today the Commander of the Department of Ohio, who will address you.  I take pleasure in introducing to you General R.B. Brown.

 

Comrades:  I now have the pleasure of introducing to you General S.H. Hurst, of Chillicothe, Ohio, late of the 74th O.V.I.

 

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