George T. Childs, Esq.
of St. Albans, Vt., delivered before the
RE-UNION SOCIETY OF VERMONT OFFICERS
In the Hall of the
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Nov. 5, 1864.
STATE OF VERMONT.
Montpelier, Nov. 6th A. D. 1874-
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives
That the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate, be directed to procure for the use of the General Assembly, the printing of one thousand copies of the address of George T. Childs, delivered before the Reunion Society of Vermont Officers, November 5, 1874; and also one thousand copies of P. O'Meara Edson, at the Reunion of the First Vermont Cavalry, November 4, 1874.
President of the Senate.
H. Henry Powers.
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Mr. President, Comrades and Ladies and Gentlemen:
In accepting the invitation of the Executive Committee, to deliver the address at the 11th annual meeting of the Vermont Officers Reunion Society, I am not unmindful of the fact that gentlemen who have won deserved distinction in both civil and military life, have preceded me in the performance of this duty; nor do I forget that in the peculiar association which have found so strong a bond of union between you who belonged to the same companies or regiments or brigades, I have no part, and during my term of service, was not identified with the records of the Vermont soldiery. Yes as the victories of the war were the reward of the fidelity of the soldiers, not of any single regiment or brigade, nor from any particular town or city or even State, but of the entire army; as the blessings resulting from the war are felt to-day in every community and at almost every fireside throughout the land, so it cannot be out of place for any one who had worn the army blue to claim participation in the thousand memories of trial and danger, of victory and defeat, of heroism and devotion, which crowd upon the heart at a soldiers' re-union.
The signs and grips of free-masonry and kindred organizations are assurances of welcome and hospitality, though the language be strange; and surely among those who counted no sacrifice too great when the welfare of a people demanded it; who held their Country's honor above personal consideration, all who shared in the duties of a soldier's life may be assured of a soldier's hospitality. The fatigues of the march, the strife of battle, the trials of hospital, the horrors of prison, the midnight watch, the summer's heat and winter's blast, the scorching sun and drenching rain, the thunder of artillery and roll of musketry the battle cry and bayonet charge, the memory of brave men who at our sides have fallen in the conflict, of the hours when shoulder to shoulder we carried the old flag to victory, or when, overcome in defeat, we bore it sadly back, still loving it, still ready to die for it,--have long bound together the soldiers of the army in a common brotherhood.
And since I may not recall the achievements which are so justly the pride of your society, and though I may not recount the deeds in which you bore so faithfully your part, let me speak to you of duties yet to be performed, of services to those who stood faithfully with us in war, who need to-day a comrades love and a soldier's encouragement.
Some years ago, when, before a legislative committee in a sister State, the soldiers were appealing for the recognition of the claims of those who had been made destitute by the war, a prominent writer to a prominent newspaper, insisted that they had no right to impose these burdens upon the people.
With the memories of the tens of thousands of brave men who sealed their patriotism with their lives and who died strong in their faith in the honor of those for whose sake they gave them up; of the thousands of sorrowing hearts and desolate homes all through our land, we cannot if we would forget the duty we owe to those still left to our care and protection.
When in 1861 the first blow had been dealt at the life of the Nation; when the voice of our martyr President, Abraham Lincoln, -- blessed be his memory among men forever -- summoned the loyal people to the rescue; when, from homes on whose walls for years had hung the old flint lock musket, whose children had early listened to the recital of the deeds of their sires at Bunker Hill and Lexington, at Ticonderoga and Valley Force, at Bennington and Yorktown, from counting house and workshops, from college and farm, came forth the men who united to preserve the heritage bequeathed them by their fathers, to defend the flag around which clustered so many hallowed associations, none of us can forget the earnest desire that animated every heart to do something to nerve the arms of the soldiers and to aid in preventing the threatened destruction of the Republic. Hardly a city, town or village in New England but had its war meeting. Farmers and artisan, orator and poet, statesman and writer, press and pulpit, united in one purpose, the preservation of the integrity of the government. To those who had enrolled themselves in the service it was solemnly promised that living they should be cared for and sustained; dying their memories should be tenderly cherished and those they were leaving behind should not be left to want. By private munificence, by legislative enactment, the fulfilment of those promises were guaranteed, and through all the years of the war the people of New England were true to themselves and their historic fame.
Out of those earnest desires and faithful efforts there gradually came into existence those twin virtues of the war, the Sanitary and Christian Commissions. I need enter upon no eulogy of them; their history is a part of the history of the nation; their deeds find no counterpart in the history of the world. No soldier but bears in grateful remembrance their tender care, and none but soldiers can tell of the comfort they carried to many a weary heart, the blessing they were to many a wounded, the consolation to many a dying hero.
In 1865, when the rebel flag was furled at Appomattox, these organizations, created by the war and continued because of the war, were dissolved. The strong will of our people, that had carried them triumphant through so many hours of defeat and disaster, was relaxed. The heavy burdens which the war necessarily imposed began to be felt, and there was danger that the promises made to the soldiers in '61 to '65, promises which can find their fulfilment only when the last veteran shall have answered the summons of the Divine Commander, were being forgotten. The was was over, the Union preserved, the nation redeemed; but tens of thousands of brave men were maimed and helpless, and the cry of the widow and the orphan resounded from an hundred thousand desolate hearth-stones.
Not all at once did the obligations imposed by the sacrifice of so many lives appear to be less binding. Aid societies continued for a time their charitable labors; municipalities and State Legislatures responded to the appeals for assistance; but gradually, as the hero of yesterday became the citizen of today, and the men on whose fidelity had rested the preservation of republican government, re-occupied their stations in the ordinary walks of life, the necessities, though none the less real, became less apparent.
Out of these necessities came the formation of the soldier and charitable organizations which in 1866 and 67 became so numerous throughout the Northern States. The men who had stood together through so much of trial, who had shared the last drop of water, the last morsel of food, who had staunched the blood of comrades dying and closed the eyes of comrades dead, could not stand idly by while they were suffering, or while the widows and orphans of the heroic dead were calling for assistance.
Nearly all of these organizations, from lack of fixed principles or from entanglement in matters of a political nature, were deservedly abandoned. But one -- the Grand Army of the Republic, has continued in the exercise of those duties which during the war were the peculiar province of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions. Its permanence is largely due to the careful exclusion of all matters of a political and sectarian nature, and the faithful exercise of its principles comprises the obligations woe owe to each other as soldiers and to those whom our dead comrades have left to our care and protection. The importance of the duties incumbent upon all to the State and Nation must not be undervalued but the men who through four years of war upheld the fair fame and honor of the Republic may safely be trusted to maintain its interests and guard its integrity.
It is incumbent upon us as soldiers to evince a feeling of fraternal love towards all those who defended the nation in her hour of need, and to keep ever fresh in remembrance the glorious record of those who "sleep for the flag" on a hundred battlefields. They know not the tie that binds us together, who know not the meaning of that simple word, Comrade.
It reminds of the brave boys whose life blood made forever sacred the plains of Shiloh, who thundered with Grant at the gates of Vicksburg or carried the Stars and Stripes above the clouds on Lookout Mountain with Hooker; of the veterans who wrested victory from defeat at Antietam and Cedar Creek; who swept down the valley with gallant Phil Sheridan, like an avalanche, or followed Sherman in his resistless march from Atlanta to the Sea; of the brave sailors with "hearts of iron in hulls of oak" who breasted the storm at New Orleans and Mobile, with grand old Farragut in the main top of the Hartford; carried dismay to the hearts of traitors when Winslow sank the Alabama in the harbor of Cherbourg, or fought the Cumberland to the water's edge when she went down in Hampton Roads with the old flag still flying from her mast-head; of the heroes who braved starvation with Burnside at Knoxville, drove back the famished legions of Lee at Gettysburg, or toiled with McClellan up the Peninsula; who, strong in defeat and magnanimous in victory, gave faithful answer to the bugle-calls of Thomas and Reynolds, of Sedgwick and Franklin, of Reno and Lyon and Hancock; who at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill, at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, on the mountains of Tennessee or in the lowlands of Louisiana, gave sturdy blows for freedom. It has a meaning dear to the heart of every soldier and it grows nearer and dearer as the years roll by.
It is sometimes urged that these re-unions, the existence of soldier organizations, the erection of soldier monuments, and the recital of the achievements of our comrades, have a tendency to encourage a feeling of hostility toward those who wore the "Gray" and to prevent that perfect reconciliation between the two sections of our country, so essential to its progress and security. While the soldiers of our army yield to none in their desire for a union of all the interest of our land, and none can more fully appreciate the need of harmony between those who were victors and those who were defeated; though to no class of the community can the blessings of peace seem half so precious as to those who have passed through the terrible realities of war, yet we cannot believe it to be our duty to the present, nor to those who are to come after us, that we should forget the heroic deeds, the priceless sacrifices of our comrades. We can abate nothing from the record of their devotion; but we realized that true charity not only guards the memory of those who defended the right but is forgiving and tender towards the erring. We may not, we cannot forget, but we can and do forgive, and we look hopefully forward to the day when they who wore the Blue and they who wore the Gray shall realized that the results of the war, in their just interpretation, mean not advancement of the interest of class or section, but all all; the guaranty of good government and equal rights as well in South Carolina as in Vermont, in Kentucky and Louisiana as in Massachusetts. The preservation of harmony does not necessitate the sacrifice of a just pride in the achievements of our comrades, nor of a steadfast, unwavering conviction that the cause for which they died was wholly and completely right, and that those who opposed them were as wholly and entirely wrong. The standards of rebellion, though battle-stained and torn, though borne by brave and earnest men, though carried with fidelity and upheld with devotion, have no place by the side of the flag our brothers bore in defence of country, for the cause of freedom and humanity.
It has been claimed that as a nation we had been taught to revere the patriot rather as a traditional sentiment than as a living reality to be tested in the crucible of war. Yet it was found that the sentiment of loyalty was deep rooted in the hearts of the people, a principle that trials and disasters could not subdue. To foster and to encourage this spirit of loyalty, to inculcate a proper appreciation of the value of our republic, and the cost at which it has been preserved, is a sacred duty devolving upon all who love the country truly and desire to see its future prosperous and its institutions perpetuated. This principal of loyalty is wholly distinct from partisanship and is akin to the impulse that carried us victorious through the war. The grand and glorious objects for which our comrades poured out their blood and sacrificed their lives on so many battle fields, deserve to be kept alive in every heart. Our land has been preserved at the cost of too many precious lives, of too much sorrow and suffering, for us to bequeath to our children any question of its value. Rather let us teach them a just appreciation of the blessings secured to them, that should danger ever again threaten this fair land of ours they may be inspired to emulate the patriotism of their fathers, even as the achievements of our fathers in '76 were our inspiration in '61.
In this connection I cannot forbear to urge the necessity for a generous encouragement of those organizations upon whom in times of public excitement and danger we must depend for the safety of our institutions. The strength of the Republic is its citizen soldiery. None of us can forget that from the ranks of the volunteer militia came the first great sacrifices upon the altar of the country in the streets of Baltimore. The doubts and fears of the Nation were only allayed when across the wires came flashing the intelligence that its Capital was environed by the glistening bayonets of the volunteer militia of New England and New York. Much of prejudice existed and to some extent still exists in the minds of many against "Holiday Soldiery." Said a good old deacon to me years ago, when the militia organization of my native city were parading; "my boy, I hope I shall never see you playing soldier." Yet when the flag went down at Sumter, this same man was among the first to bid God speed to those who had learned the rudiments of war in the ranks of that same company, and his only son, taught in his boyhood to despise the holiday soldiery, donned its uniform and is sleeping his last sleep to-night in the trenches an Andersonville. And since to the volunteer militia we are indebted for so much that contributed to the success of our arms, we may justly claim for it the fostering care and protection of the State.
But beyond the renewal of the friendships of the war, and above even the preservation of the results of the war, there are higher and grander duties devolving upon us. Day by day the calls are coming up from those who but for the war would be still protected by the strong arms, still sustained by the brave hearts of husband and father. The oath we took on entering the service implied fidelity not alone until the contest was over, but fidelity while life shall last. The promises with which you sent us forth, were not alone that we should be sustained in camp and field, but that you would care for and assist those whose protectors should give their lives for you. If it was a duty to uphold the arms of those who were battling for the perpetuity of a republican government, none the less is it a duty to lighten the suffering, to soften the grief and minister to the wants of those who have no earthly helper. The obligations assumed by soldier and citizen in 1861, are as binding to-day as on that Sabbath morning in December, when the people of all the loyal States vied with each other in sending comfort and encouragement to the wounded and the dying at Fredericksburgh. Monuments and Memorial Halls may evince appreciation of the valor of our braves; tongue of orator and pen of poet may recount their constancy and devotion; the flowers we strew upon the graves of our fallen may tell of our unchanging love; but so long as there shall live one who by reason of serving of father or son, of husband or brother, is needy and in suffering, so long are our promises unredeemed, our duties unfulfilled.
Some years ago the people of New England gathered by thousands to pay the tribute of their respect to one who in his day and generation had done his duty manfully and well. Old age had impaired his memory and dimmed his intellect and he little heeded the homage he received. In him the people reverenced not the veteran bowed with the weight of years, looking only to the end, but the young man who at the first great battle of our elder revolution struggled faithfully for the establishment of the government. Are they who battled no less faithfully to preserve that government less worthy of our gratitude?
We would not be unmindful to-night of those who, though not enrolled in the ranks of the army or navy, were still enlisted in the same great cause and are entitled to the same meed of gratitude -- the brave, true hearted women of our land, whose busy fingers worked faithfully to sustain the soldiers, and whose unwavering faith in the justice of our cause did so much to secure its triumph. THe sufferings and privations of camp found their counterpart in the anxieties of the brave at home, and the bullet that crushed out the life of one of our gallant defenders sent a thrill of anguish to the hearts of those who were waiting and watching fro the light to come.
"The mother who conceals her grief
While to her heart her boy she presses
And speaks a few brave words, and brief
Kissing the patriot brow she blesses
With no one but her secret God
To know the pain that weighs upon her
Sheds precious blood as e'er the sod,
Received on freedom's field of honor.
Neither would we forget those who in the vanguard of the conflict fell where none may mark their resting places. Veterans who fell along the shores of the Potomac, by the banks of the Mississippi, who were rocked to sleep beneath the wave in the "iron cradle of the Monitor," whose ashes lie scattered all through our southland, no tomb or lettered monument may mark your resting places, but the record of your valor is enshrined in the hearts of a grateful people, and our children and our children's children shall rise up to call you blessed. Martyrs who sleep at Andersonville and Belle Isle, at Libby Prison and at Salisbury, in the years that are to come, men shall bend above the trenches where you are lying, in reverent admiration for that patriotism that even starvation could not subdue.
One of the keenest sorrows of our soldiers, and one of the hardest trials of the brave at home, was the fear that they or their loved ones might sleep in unknown graves, where no loving mother's tears might water them; no children came to bend above a father's grave; and I think there are thousands of homes that would be less desolate, tens of thousands of hearts whose anguish would be less bitter, if only they might know where their heroes were lying. It filled no aching void in the heart that,
"By Fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung."
Fathers, mothers, wives and loved ones yearn for some one spot in all the world, sacred to the memory of their lost. The desire to rest amide the associations of home, for some recognition beyond the confines of the grave, is common to all humanity. "Bury me not in Egypt, but carry my bones to our family home, that is the cave at MacPelah" was the dying prayer of the Jewish patriarch. "Lay me to rest amid a people I have loved so fondly" said Napoleon in the last hours of his lonely exile at St. Helena. "Scatter her ashes in the waters of the Seine" cried the enemies of Joan d'Arc; yet France to-day holds no memory more lovingly than hers. The chosen resting place of our martyr President is not in the capital city of the Nation he did so much to save; but afar off near his prairie home in Illinois, and a loving people follow him with tearful eyes and anguished hearts across a continent.
Against the names of how many of our boys in blue is written that terrible record, missing. Missing around the family circle and at the family alter; missing when each returning anniversary brings new promise of the day when His blessed promise of "peace on earth, good will to men," shall bless all nations of the world; missing in the busy marts of trade; missing in the councils of the State and Nation; missing wherever true manhood is needed, true patriotism required. But in earnest faith that from the battle-field of right it is but one step to immortality, we thanks God that at the roll-call of the redeemed on high they are answering to their names forever.
"Beyond the mystic portal
Where faith is lost in sight,
Where this frail mortal has become immortal,
And God has given light.
Where there shall be no sorrow and no fighting,
Where pain and tears shall cease,
Where never more shall any wrong need righting,
But God has given peace."
Are there gathered here to-night any who are mourning the loss of loved ones, -- mothers who turn with tender love to the hour when their first born in the full pride of his young manhood, filled with the patriotic ardor instilled into him at his mother's knee and animated by the story of our early fathers, shouldered his musket and went forth to die, -- fathers who in their declining years yearn for the strong arms of their noble sons, -- wives whose lonely hours are filled with the memory of him who loved and cherished her, but who answered the summons to a grander duty -- sisters and brothers who look back with tearful eyes to the companionship of their childhood -- little ones who miss the coming step of father -- alas that to you we have so little consolation to offer. We can only tell you how true were the lives of our dear ones, how glorious the cause for which they laid them down, and point you to Him who has promised to be the "widow's God and the Father of the fatherless." But so long as there shall live one of the races who by their efforts was lifted from bondage to freedom; so long as the downtrodden and oppressed of any clime shall turn to this republic for the realization of the fullest measure of their manhood; so long as the government of the people, for the people, and by the people, shall exist on earth, so long shall their deeds be recorded and their names be blessed. Generations yet unborn shall recount the story of their fidelity, and lift their hearts in reverent thanksgiving that the flag they died to defend waves triumphant over every grave where sleeps a faithful soldier of the Republic. Brighter its red by the blood of the thousands who have fallen to defend it; clearer its blue that wherever it floats, on land or sea, it symbolizes a race redeemed, a nation re-united; purer its white that the angel of peace has descended upon it; brighter its stars that not one if fallen or obscured; prouder with each advancing day, that it is indeed the emblem of "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
COMRADES! Our army is marching on. Shot nor shell no more may decimate our ranks, but none the less surely are they diminishing. One by one the men who have stood together in the smoke and dim of the conflict must re-unite in that Eternal army, whose Commander was the first great sacrifice to humanity. On each succeeding anniversary of our Memorial Day new graves will be planted on our hill-sides and in our valleys for affectionate remembrance, until in the bye and bye a few feeble, tottering steps shall gather in our churchyards and lay with trembling hands upon some comrades' graves the tribute of their faithful love. And if in the Providence of Almighty God there is gathered here to-night the one who is to be the last survivor of the war, may he remember to tell his children and his children's children how our brave boys died, and teach them the value of the Republic they redeemed.
The duties of our soldier live are over. God grant the bugle call or rolling drum may summon us no more to conflict; but to the duties of to-day we must not prove recreant. He only had filled the obligations of his service who holds steadfast to his duty to the comrade who stood faithfully with him, to the lonely and the desolate whose dear ones died that the Nation might live, to the country redeemed by their blood and ennobled by their heroism.
"New occasions teach new duties
Time makes ancient good uncouth
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth."