Representatives' Hall, Montpelier, Vt.,
October 22d, 1868,
By Gen. P. T. Washburn,
JOINT RESOLUTION PROVIDING FOR THE PRINTING OF THE ADDRESS OF GENERAL P. T. WASHBURN BEFORE THE RE-UNION SOCIETY OF VERMONT OFFICERS.
Whereas, The Address delivered before the Re-union Society of Vermont Officers, during the present session, by General P. T. Washburn, was a brief yet comprehensive review of the part taken by Vermont in the late war, and contains many facts important to a complete military history of our State, Therefore:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, That the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate be directed to procure the printing of one thousand copies of said Address for the use of the General Assembly.
GEORGE W. GRANDEY,
Speaker of the House.
President of the Senate.
STATE OF VERMONT.
Office of the Secretary of State.
I hereby certify that the foregoing is a true copy of a Joint Resolution passed at the Annual Session of 1868, as appears from the files of this office.
In witness whereof, I hereunto subscribe my name, and affix the seal of this office, at Montpelier, this twenty-first day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight.
GEORGE W. WING,
Deputy Secretary of State.
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Vermont Officers' Re-Union Society:-- The notice for your meeting has announced your purposes, and has, perhaps unintentionally, but most significantly and beautifully, prescribed a programme for your Address. In addition to the renewal, "through social intercourse, of the ties of friendship formed in the field," you desire to keep "green and sacred in your hearts the memories of the five thousand, who gave their lives for the cause" of freedom and the Union, and "to draw a renewed inspiration and renewed courage for the work yet before you from the 'touch of a comrade's elbow' and the sight of the shot-rent standards, under which you fought and so many of your heroes fell." To direct your attention to the prominent circumstances, which connected you, and your deceased comrades, and the thousands of enlisted men who served with you, with the State which you represented in the field, and, from a consideration of the sacrifices made and the results achieved at home and abroad, to arrive at some appreciation, imperfect though it may be, of the work yet remaining to be accomplished, is the task which you have thus imposed upon me. Trusting to your forbearance, your kind consideration, your hearty appreciation of good intentions, however crudely accomplished, with which heretofore, through the years of war, you have cheered and encouraged me in the performance of the duties and responsibilities which devolved upon me, I proceed, as I best may, to its accomplishment.
The history of Vermont in the war for the preservation of the Union remains to be written. Its minutest details, yet fresh in your memories, are preserved of record in the official archives of the State, their most sacred deposits, for the use of the future historian, when memory fading into tradition shall required their reproduction in the enduring form which literature gives to facts, and time shall furnish a stand point, free from partisan prejudice and personal partiality, from which the past may be viewed in connected panorama.But in the mean time it cannot be inappropriate, that we should devote the hour allotted to us to a brief review of its prominent features, and a slight tribute to the memory of those of our fellow citizens, who, with more than 275,000 of their comrades, have made upon the altar of their country the highest and holiest sacrifice, that may can ever make,--the offering of their lives,--a burnt offering upon fields of fire, rendered necessary by the Nation's sins and rewarded by the Nation's purification.
When, after one encroachment had followed another, and the struggle between the earnest advocates and exponents of absolute freedom and its opponents had become year by year more bitter and intensified, and slavery yet demanded broader territory for its unskilled agriculture,--after Missouri had been surrendered to its grasp,--Texas had been enveloped in its dark folds,--Kansas had become a free State only through a purification by blood,--and still it was insisted, that all the broad territories of the nation should be surrendered to its demands,s--the Judiciary obeyed its behests,--the chiefs of the government forgot the fundamental idea of the government and the source of its prosperity, treason was plotted, conspirators found favored audience in the Executive Chamber, the armament of the nation was so dispersed as to be unavailable for its protection, and the loyal States were awakened by the first overt act of Secession, as by the sudden convulsion of an earthquake, to the knowledge that the integrity of the Nation was in dire hazard, that the Representative Federal Union, which our Fathers had transmitted to our care, was upon the brink of disruption, and that we were strong only in the immutable principles of right, in our reliance upon the overruling power of a just God, and in our own untrained, unskilled numbers--the State of Vermont, in common with most of the loyal States, was poorly prepared for the emergency, though in better condition than some. The universal burst of popular indignation and of fierce determination to save the Government at all hazards was the same in all; but Massachusetts and New York, by means of their organized militia, were enabled to render, with the utmost promptness, the assistance which was required for the preservation of the Capital of the Nation; while in Vermont, the militia, which had existed and flourished from the commencement of the State Government, fostered by the recollections of two wars, had been destroyed as an organized body by the statute of 1844 so effectually, that in the year 1855 there was not in the State, and had not been for years, even the semblance of a military organization, and it had become the received opinion throughout the State, incited by years of peace and favored by a false economy, that no emergency could arise which would render it of any importance that the men of arms-bearing age should be organized, drilled, disciplined, or even armed.
Fortunately, as the result proved, in 1856 the legislature enacted a statute permitting the formation of volunteer companies, the provisions of which were sufficient to stimulate the organization of a few companies in 1857 and 1858; and when, in April, 1861, the proclamation of the President was issued, calling for 75,00 militia to serve for three months, there were upon the Roster in the officer of the Adjutant & Inspector General the names of twenty-two companies, -- several of them, however, unprovided with arms, and all deficient in numbers. The enrolment of the militia, required by statute, had been defectively performed; from many towns no returns had been made, and neither records nor files existed, from which the number of able-bodied men in the State, liable to perform military duty, could be determined with even an approximation to correctness.
Alarmed by the ominous gloom of the thickening political horizon, the Governor of the State, in January, 1861, had issued his order directing each commander of a company to assemble his men at once and ascertain and report without delay, whether they would volunteer to enter into the service of the United States, in case it should be found necessary to resort to arms. The order was obeyed and was responded to by the several companies. But even this measure failed to induce a realizing belief, that any thing serious was impending. The deficiencies in the ranks remained unfilled; and the people were apathetic, regarding the events, which were crowding thickly upon them, more as matters of curiosity and interesting items of daily news, than as real facts, prophetic of the future, which were to influence their lives, the history of the Government, the safety of the Nation, and all they held most dear in person, family and property.
In this condition of the militia and of the militia law, the officers of the State were required to raise, organize, arm and send out, for immediate active service in the field in the army of the United States, the quota of troops required from Vermont.
To the partial, incomplete and extremely deficient militia organization, then existing, and the fiery impulse of the people, which enabled its officers to fill its scanty ranks without delay, Vermont is indebted for her ability to respond to this first requisition for men, made when delay, even for a week, might involved the destruction of the Nation, or prolong the contest, until endurance could no longer be borne; and to Governor Fairbanks, whose indomitable energy would allow no check, and to his efficient staff officers, enduring gratitude is due for the promptness with which the necessary equipment for war was provided.
Of this First regiment of Vermont Volunteers I must be allowed to speak with pride. They were first to volunteer from the State; the order for their organization was issued on the twenty-third of April; they were in camp on the second of May, left the State on the ninth, bore proudly through the streets of New York the little sprig of evergreen, which designated each man as one of the noble race of Green Mountain Boys, whose fathers had fought and won at Bennington, and whose sons had maintained the integrity of their sires, until they had gained for their State the proud title of "The Star that never sets"' they were in Fortress Monroe on the thirteenth,--too late to save Norfolk, with its immense armament, which treachery had surrendered to treason only a few days preceding their arrival, but seasonably to preserve the Fortress from capture by the rebel bands which then swarmed under its very walls and effectually blockaded every approach by land; they served faithfully their term; the name of the first battle of the war is inscribed upon their record; and when they returned to be disbanded, it was but to tender service again in other organizations, again, to maintain the honor of the State and the integrity of the Nation in field and camp. The history of every subsequent organization, the history of Vermont in the war, is in part their history.
In the mean time, upon the call of the Executive, the people of the State, by their elected representatives, met in council to devise ways and means for performing worthily and promptly their part in the great struggle, which they had scarcely began to realize. So little were the extent of the exigency and the resources of the State understood and appreciate, that, beside making some slight provision for calling out the previously neglected and scanty organized militia, they authorized the raising of two regiments immediately, for two years' service, and for more regiments if necessary;--and even with this as the extent of the provision made, there were men, whose intelligence and patriotism could not be doubted, who argued with earnest sincerity, that the provision made was greatly in excess of the necessity,--and army officers of large experience, and even thinking and well informed men resident in the State, insisted, that to raise three regiments and keep their ranks filled would test the capacity of the State to the utmost. What would have been the thoughts of those men and what the action of that legislature, could the veil of futurity have been for a moment raised, and they could have known, that before that rebellion should end, before the terms offered by humanity and justice to wrong and oppression should be accepted at Appomattox, Vermont would raise eighteen regiments, three batters and three detached companies, requiring for their original organizing and the replenishing of their constantly depleting ranks more than thirty-four thousand men, at a cost of more than nine millions of dollars, happily we are not required to speculate. The error of those days was that each side underrated the other. Had the magnitude of the approaching contest been appreciated, compromise might for a time have prevented its occurrence, and the Nation have been left to struggle for a few years longer with the ulcer, which was gnawing at her vitals,--but which yet would have ultimately been required to be removed, not by the soothing appliances of scheming and compromising politicians, but only by the harsh operation of actual excision. In the wise providence of God, the contest has been fought and won; and if it has taxed our resources and our faith beyond the possibility of anticipation, it has nevertheless enabled us to transmit to those who shall succeed us a more priceless legacy, than our fathers bequeathed to us,--a Constitution freed from compromises,--a government realizing in fact, what previously was but a splendid theory, that "all men are born free and equal."
But two acts of that legislature must ever be regarded as eminent illustrations of their wise and patriotic forethought. They deemed it unjust that the gathering volunteers from Vermont should make all the sacrifice, and those who remained within the State enjoy the result without cost,--and they provided, that every enlisted man serving in a Vermont organization, should receive from the treasury of the State seven dollars per month in addition to his pay from the United States. And they held, that it would be a disgrace to the commonwealth, if the families of its brave defenders, who had given to the service of the State their sold dependence for the necessaries of life, should ever be deemed, or treated, or even assisted, as town paupers,--And they provided, that those families should be treated as the beneficiaries of the State and be furnished by an agent of the State with all the assistance they required. From that time the patriot, having a family, or relatives, dependent upon him, however poor in worldly goods, could enter and remain in the service with the undoubting certainty, that their necessities would be relieved and their comfort be provided for by the State, which had assumed their guardianship. how much of alleviation this might have brought to the death beds of soldiers dying from disease, or wounds, how much it may have rendered more endurable the hardships of the campaign and of the battlefield, we may never know. But these two wise and spirited enactments, originating in the brain of some far-seeing man, to whom, for the conception, the people of the State should be ever grateful, were the foundation of the promptness with which every subsequent call for men was met, and of the consequent position which the State was enabled to attain.
The action of the people of the State during the succeeding four years of war is too recent and too familiar to need more than mention. Everywhere from our rugged mountain slopes and our beautiful valleys, from the field, the workshop, the counting-room and the scenes of professional life, the young and the brave, abandoning the pursuits of peace, with which alone they were familiar, abandoning wives, children, and parents, the delights of home and the comforts of home life, with a readiness and a unanimity, which evinced, more than words can describe, how dear to the people was the cause which was involved, assumed the garb and weapons of the soldier and put themselves in training for their new profession. The State furnished means with lavish hand. To her executive officers enlarged and extraordinary powers, the necessity of war, were freely conceded. The towns assumed cheerfully the quotas that were assigned to them, and vied with each other in friendly contest to avoid a draft. Every selectman became a recruiting officer,--every hamlet and every farm was diligently canvassed for recruits. As time progressed, and the supply of men became more limited, and the first enthusiasm, which had induced the belief that the contest was to be terminated in some very brief period of time, gradually gave way to the stern realities of protracted war, the towns increased the inducements offered to volunteers, until, under the call of July, 1864, in the midst of the campaign from the Rapidan to the James, when the Army of the Potomac, under the immediate eye of Grant, were engaged in daily conflict, and the long rolls of casualties from the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, and the hospital returns from one hundred and twenty-five General Hospitals told to the citizens of the State, that recruits then obtained were need for and would be at once placed in the front rank of actual combat, bounties attained their highest point, and the towns cheerfully paid five hundred dollars, and in many cases a thousand dollars, to each volunteer; and the required quota was filled without a single drafted man.
With a grand list, as the basis of taxation in 1861, of $971.690 09, a population of 31,116, and an enrolled militia, as near as could be ascertained, of 36.680, the State furnished for the war 34.238 men, at an expense of $9,087.353 40,--of which sum $5,215.787 70 was expended by the several towns, in their municipal capacity, without expectation of repayment,--an average for the State of more than nine hundred cents upon each dollar of the Grand List. I do not mention this boastfully; but it is an item in the history of the State, of which her citizens have a right to be proud. If the emergency has attended with lavish expense, it also justified it; and no complaint has ever been made of the amount.
The Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Regiments of Infantry, the First Regiment of Cavalry and the three companies of Sharp Shooters followed each other in rapid succession in 1861; the Seventh and Eighth Regiments went into camp in the midst of the severity of a Vermont winter; and the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Regiments of Infantry and two Batteries of Light Artillery followed them from the State in 1862. In that single year, 11.952 of our bravest and best men volunteered their services to the nation, without draft, and with a very slight bounty in a few cases,--a very large proportion with none. To the men who volunteered for three years, I am not aware that any bounty was paid, unless as subsequent appreciation of patriotic service, until after 1862. Under subsequent and often repeated calls for troops the Seventeenth Regiment and the Third Battery were raised and send forward; and the ranks of the old regiments, depleted by death, disease, and the casualties of the service, were filled by recruits, taking their places by the side of the scarred, war-worn veterans who remained, and carrying to them that encouragement, which those only who have experienced it can appreciate, that their State had not-forgotten them--until, when the long contest culminated in victory, and the vanquished but stubborn rebellion had collapsed, 10.437 men had been sent for this purpose,--more than thirty-four thousand in all,--rom the comparatively small but glorious old Green Mountain State.
Our Fathers, with wise appreciation of the present, and perhaps with prophetic anticipation of the future, inscribed upon the banner of the State of Vermont the motto "Freedom and Unity,"--freedom for all men of every race,--freedom for self-government,--freedom for the equal rights of all,--the Unity of the States, the confederated exponents and defenders of the rights of man. When the martyr Lincoln proclaimed liberty to the enslaved, the motto of the States became the battle-cry of the Nation. Time and again have the stalwart men of the State flaunted the banner bearing that motto in the face of defiant rebels;--never once has it been left in their possession.
But in alluding to the patriotic deeds of patriot men, let us not forget the mothers in the State, those tender, loving, shrinking mothers, called upon to give consent to the enlistment of their sons into a service, of which they knew nothing, but that it was beset with danger and death,--impelled on the one hand by the stern demand of patriotism, and keenly, most keenly, tortured on the other by the thought of surrendering to privation, exposure and the chance of sudden death the children whom they had borne, and nursed and watched from birth with all a mother's love and all a mother's care. nearly, if not quite, one-third of the soldiers from the State required the consent of parents to their enlistment into the service of the country. To give that consent must have involved a conflict as keen, a forgetfulness of self as complete, a devotion to country as perfect, as was ever required from the soldier in the sterner conflicts of actual war. and the wives, the sisters, the daughters, and the betrothed,--let them never be forgotten, when the sacrifices and exertions of Vermont are remembered. Each and all surrendered all that they loved most dear on earth at the call of the State,--they gave infinitely more than treasure, for they gave that, for which each would gladly have given life itself. Most nobly have they contributed to the record of Honor which the State has earned.
But to find the full page of that record, we must follow those patriot soldiers to the field. And here I falter,--for I cannot do justice to their bravery, their endurance, their gallant bearing in every time of trial and of danger. The battle flags displayed in these legislative halls, and in yonder vestibule, torn and pierced by shot and shell, shreds, only, of the beautiful banners they once were, with the tablets, upon which are inscribed the battles through which they were borne, though silent, more eloquently speak of the deeds of the brave men who fought and died under their fields, than the most finished eloquence of the most gifted orator.
I do not need to tell you of the glorious record of the "Old Brigade,"--the "best brigade in the Army of the Potomac,"--distinguished alike for fearless courage in fight, patient endurance in camp, and unwearied diligence upon the march. I need not tell you how at Lee's Mills they forded the Warwick in the face of the enemy's fire, carried the rebel entrenchments and held them against repeated attacks by thrice their number for hours, until they were ordered to retire,--how they endured the seven days, from Savage Station to Harrison's Landing, when every day was spent in continuous fighting and every night in marching,--how they fought at the first Fredericksburgh,--of the gallant charge at Marye's Height, crossing at the double quick the open plain of a mile in width and storming successfully the enemy's works,--how at Bank's Ford they held at bay the victorious rebels and saved the Sixth Corps,--how at South Mountain they charged and drove the enemy from a position which appeared impregnable,--of their exploit at Funkstown, unexampled in history, where in extended skirmish line of three miles and without support they repelled there several attacks of rebels in line of battle, and retained their position,--of that stubborn, fearful fight at the Wilderness, where, holding the key of the position, a line, the piercing of which would have exposed the reserve artillery and the wagon train of the army to immediate capture and would have effectually severed Hancock's Corps from the main body and driven him back upon Fredericksburgh, with but 2800 muskets they resisted the repeated impetuous charge of a division of 10.000 rebels and held their line, though at the fearful cost of three out of every five,--more than 1700 in all, killed or wounded,--of their gallant behavior at Spotsylvania, where, having charged and carried the enemy's works far in the advance, they refused to retire, when ordered, and declared that they would hold them six months, if furnished with rations and ammunition,--of the deadly conflict on the twelfth of May, 1864, when only a breastwork of logs and earth separated the combatants and almost hand to hand the fight was maintained at scarce a musket's length apart,--of Cold Harbor, the march to Petersburgh, the fight at the Weldon Railroad, never to be forgotten by those whose friends and relatives were there captured and consigned to the tender mercies of Andersonville,--of Opequan, Charleston, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek,--of the tedious winter in front of Petersburgh, and the magnificent charge of the second of April, which drove the rebels from their last stronghold and compelled them to that final disastrous flight, which resulted in the annihilation of the rebel strength. Through all this that brigade of men of iron marched and fought, until their record has added its brightest pages to the history of the State, and the name of the "Vermont Brigade" has become as widely known as that of the State itself.
Shall we ever forget the services rendered and hardships endured by the regiments and batteries stationed in the Department of the Gulf, and subjected to the severity of an unhealthy climate so unlike their own?--the Seventh Regiment, depleted to a skeleton by disease before they had had time to fire a musket in active service, but so nobly vindicated at Spanish fort the honor of the State, and compelled, by their fearless bravery, the recognition of their claim to have been ever brave and true, and of their right, denied by Butler, but ordered by the gallant, Sheridan, to inscribe upon their colors the name of Baton Rouge;--the Eighth Regiment,--can we forget the almost incredible labor performed by them in opening the railroad to Lafourche,--the march from Brashear City to Alexandria, with the battles fought and won,--their dashing bravery at Vicksburgh, where, in the first attack, they marched through and over two brigades in front and from the third became the first line of attack, holding their position with dogged obstinacy until the fortress fell,--or their gallant enduring courage at Cedar Creek, where, attacked in front, flank and rear, they maintained their ground, until, of sixteen officers and one hundred and forty men engaged, thirteen officers and one hundred and nine men had been killed, wounded, or captured;--the First Battery, who at Pleasant Hill, with double canister and at half distance poured into the breasts of the charging column of rebels such a resistless storm as enabled them to save the guns which they had been ordered to spike and abandon;--and the Second Battery, who at Plains' Store and Port Hudson made their record for history?
Let me also, in this brief retrospect, do full justice to the Ninth Regiment, who effaced at Chapin's Farm (Chaffin's Farm) the memory of their misfortune, not their fault, at Harper's Ferry,--who won the palm in the eighteenth corps for soldierly drill and discipline, and were the first of the Union Army to enter Richmond;--to the Tenth Regiment, who, after long and wearying delay upon the banks of the Upper Potomac, nobly earned at Orange Grove, in every battle from the Rapidan to the James, in the final assault on the second of April, and at Sailor's Creek, the right to be recognized as true sons of Vermont;--and to the Eleventh Regiment, who, in the construction of the defences at Washington, left an enduring monument of their toil, whose active service commenced at Spotsylvania, and whose subsequent history is that of the "Old Brigade."
No unimportant part of the record of the history of Vermont in the war has been won by the fearless riders, the gallant, dashing troopers, of the First Vermont Cavalry whose colors are inscribed all over with the names of seventy-three battles, and who were always ready to follow where any man would lead, or to lead where any man would follow. They rode, as though it were pastime, from the Rapidan to the defences of Richmond, around Lee's flank and rear,--from Ream's Station through South Eastern Virginia back to the lines before Petersburgh,--from Winchester to Waynesboro, and thence to the Chesapeake, fighting as often as the enemy were seen and dealing destruction to his supplies and his communications. Who can read, without a thrill of admiration, the record of that final charge at Cedar Creek, where, after a whole day of desperate fighting, of retreat and advance and varying fortune, the enemy were driven, routed, demoralized and disheartened, from the field, and the ready carbine, the sabre and the revolver, in the hands of men goaded to the utmost limit of excitement by the evidences of brutal barbarity to the Union wounded and dead, which they had witnessed as they traversed the battle-field, took ample revenge in the carnage of blood, and twenty-three captured guns were parked as their trophies of victory.
The Sharp Shooters, always placed in the front, ever sent to explore the most dangerous places, accustomed to direct with unerring aim the deadly rifle, and upon the skirmish line to make and receive the first attack, though they were comparatively few in number and so connected with organizations from other States as to prevent the full record of their daring deeds from being generally known and appreciated, have yet earned ample meed of praise. Of the campaign from the rapidan to Petersburgh their official report says,--"Since the first gun in the Wilderness there has been no cessation of artillery and musketry and no resting-place in the whole campaign." THe record of their engagements and the ration of their loss conclusively prove how deservedly they won the confidence of their commanders.
The bloody record of the Seventeenth, the youngest of Vermont's regiments, deserves more than to be merely mentioned. Within eighteen days after they left the State they were placed in the front rank of battle. Without drill, and scarce knowing an order, save that which directed them to advance, they fought their way with reckless bravery from the Wilderness to the lines of Petersburgh, their tattered colors, ever advanced as far as the foremost, now the property and the sacred charge of the State, attesting with silent but impressive eloquence their right to demand rank by the side of Vermont's bravest sons. I would that I could describe to you the fearful scene at the explosion of the mine, where every commissioned officer was left, killed, or captured, and the colors, grasped by one as they fell from the hands of another of their brave defenders, were yet borne from off the field of battle, with scarce fifty men left to rally around them. The record of the regiment, with its fifteen engagements, is one of honor, and yet one of blood throughout.
The chances of the campaign and their comparatively brief term of service gave the Third Battery but few opportunities to achieve distinction; but those were gallantly improved and their record is honorable to themselves and to the State. Few of them, while living, will forget their service in "Fort Hell," or the close and decisive artillery fire of the second of April.
But here another glorious scene, the culminating point of the rebellion, that of the memorable third of July, 1863, made a bright and dazzling page in the history of Vermont by the gallantry of her sons, demands attention. The State had sent out, upon brief notice and for short term of service, a brigade of men,--the Second Vermont Brigade. They left with high hopes of achieving distinction, ambitious of testing their right to challenge position by the side of the "Old Brigade." They lay inactive upon the banks of the Occoquan through the tedious winter until their term of enlistment had well nigh expired, and their anticipation of active service had yielded to the longing desire for home, which at such times protracts the lingering days. But picket duty and the protection of an interior line were not to be the extent of their experiences in the filed. Lee, flushed with victory at Chancellorsville, had led his legions across the Potomac and transferred the seat of war to the free soil of the North. His fancied opportunity for final success was before him, and he hastened to improve it. On the twenty-fifth of June the order was received, directing the Second Brigade to report at Gettysburgh. They toiled for seven days through rain and mud and exhausting heat, and arrived upon the field, weary and exhausted, just at the conclusion of the disastrous fight on the first of July. On the evening of the second day the Union ranks had been pierced and broken by a desperate charge, and the chance of war placed the untried troops of Vermont in the front line,--the exigency of the moment not allowing delay for bringing up more distant but veteran troops. That line they held,--giving, that evening, by a gallant dash in front, a specimen of their spirit. The next day, when every other part of the line had been unsuccessfully attempted, Lee, informed that the left centre was held by untried militia, directed upon it for two fearful hours the terrific fire of more than one hundred pieces of artillery. The men of Vermont lay unprotected, while shot and shell ploughed the ground in front and rear and filled the air with demoniac sound. The tornado ceased, and the veteran division of Pickett was hurled upon them. Met by a courage as determined, by a fire as furious, as their own, and unable to advance against the pitiless storm of death, the charging column changed their direction, hoping to find a weaker point. Then was the time for the Second Brigade. Changing front upon the battle-field with the precision of parade, they assailed the rebel column in flank and it disappeared before their impetuous charge. And while in the very flush of victory, with captured battle flags and unnumbered prisoners falling into their hands as the trophies of their triumph, when men, if ever, would lose their formation in the excitement of the moment, another charge of front was made, another rebel column, met by the Fourteenth Regiment with furious fire, was assailed in flank by the Sixteenth and annihilated;--and Gettysburgh was won. Hearty were the cheers, with which, that night, the "Old Brigade" received their younger brethren into full communion, and recognized their right, earned by a baptism of blood, to rank by the side of Vermont's proudest sons upon the roll of History.
And thus the records show the people of Vermont entitled to the proud remembrance, that every organization sent from the State returned to the State the Colors with which it was entrusted,--that the record of every regiment is a record of honor,--and that the gallant soldiers of Vermont, in earning for themselves that record, have added new and increased lustre to the honor of their State, and have obtained for it a name which shall be imperishable in history. But at what fearful cost has this been done!--5,124 men lost by death,--5,022 men discharged and sent home, wrecks, only, of the physical vigor with which they entered the service,--a total loss, in all the forms of casualty, of 13,724 officers and men. The proportionate ration of the loss in battle of Vermont is second in the loyal States of the Union,--exceeded only by Kansas, long accustomed to ferocious fighting. In proportionate loss by disease Vermont stands third among the loyal States,--exceeded only by Iowa and Kansas. And in the proportionate number honorably discharged for disability she stands the fourth of the loyal States,--exceeded only by Maine, Michigan and West Virginia. If Vermont has earned a reputation in the war, of which her sons have a right to be proud, she had paid for it a price proportioned to its value.
The names of your deceased comrades, whose memories are to be kept "green and sacred" in your hearts, yet fresh in your recollection, are known and honored throughout the State. Fifty-four commissioned officers, your brethren in arms, endeared to you by many a hardship shared in common, whose example and whose social qualities alike incited your emulation and won your affection,--among them, earning high place upon the Roll of Honor, the gallant, Stone, Tyler, Barney, Roberts, Preston, Dudley, Chamberlin, Cummings, Eaton, Crandall, Dwinnell, the self-sacrificing Jarvis, the young and ardent Dillingham, Buxton, and the brave Reynolds,--fell by your side at the head of their men i the front of battle, and by their death sealed the devotion of their lives to loyalty. May they never be forgotten. Patriotic towns have erected monuments to the patriot dead; and in every grave yard throughout the State are grassy mounds, whose marble headstones mark the resting place of the soldier, where he awaits the final reveille. Let these monuments stand, while time shall endure, not merely as the votive offerings of a grateful people to commemorate brave deeds and men, but perpetual remembrances of the great principle of the universal equality of man, illustrated by its defenders in their lives, but rendered sacred by their sacrifice,--so that, when your children's children, to the remotest generation, shall haze reverently upon them, when you name and deeds shall have faded even from tradition, they shall say, each to the other,--these men died that we might be free.
The war has closed, rebellion has been suppressed, the right of secession has been tried by the final arbitrament of the sword and has failed, the officers and men composing the organizations from Vermont have laid aside their arms, have assumed again the garb of citizens, have quietly resumed their places in the communities from whence they emerged and returned to their original peaceful employments, and there are no indications left of the terrible events which so severely taxed the energies and resources of the State, except the record of their gallant deeds of bravery, the maimed veterans, whose appearance among us makes constant appear to our sympathies and our respect, and the vacant places in many a household, eloquent of the remembrance of the gallant men whose lives have been surrendered in defence of the great principles of freedom, unity and equality before the law.
But has the content closed?--or has it only assumed a new form and been transferred to a different sphere? The close of war brings with it duties as imperious as those of war itself. It was due to posterity, it was due to humanity, that the fruits of victory should be preserved,--that those men, who had deserted, and had sought by force to divide the Government, who had traitorously violated the most solemn oaths, who had desolated the homes of the North and had burdened the Nation with debt, should be required, before again participating in the councils of the nation, or assisting in its legislation, to give the most binding security that they would thereafter, in the most perfect good faith, live as true and loyal citizens. Criminals of the deepest dye, pronounced guild by the God of Battles on appeal of treason, they have no right to complain, if bound over under heaviest bonds to keep the peace. tHey were offered terms more liberal than they deserved, or had reason to expect,--terms so liberal, that, though freely offered and for a time adhered to, prudent and sagacious statesmen deemed them not free from hazard in the future. These terms were rejected, except by a single States, and were withdrawn;--and, like the Sybil of old, the loyal people of the North offered others in their stead, made more onerous, and thereby more complete and perfect. These have been in form accepted by seven of the revolted States,--three have thus far refused to accede to them.
But the form of acceptance has not carried with it the spirit of loyalty. The obligations which it imposes are regarded as lightly as the criminal regards the bonds which bind him for appearance at court,--to be evaded, if possible, or forfeited, with the hope that full payment will not be enforced. Defiant and arrogant as ever, aided by the countenance and counsels of a Chief Magistrate of the Nation, who has deserted alike principle and party, and of their former allies in the North, political leaders, who are ready to surrender for power and place all that the sacrifices of the war secured, they announce to us by their acts as unmistakably as by their words, that the rebellion, though suppressed, is not yet dead.
They demand the violation of the public faith, pledged by Abraham Lincoln, with the full concurrence of the loyal States, to the only loyal class in the rebel States, that they and their posterity should thenceforth enjoy the equal rights of manhood; to which the grateful response of the race is testified by the Muster Rolls of more than 186,000 volunteers in colored regiments, by the roll of 54,000 casualties in the service, by the records of Wagner, Port Hudson, Helena and Mobile. They demand the right to regulate suffrage; and they are regulating it every day with the rope, the rifle and the revolver. they demand the repudiation of the public debt, or the recognition of their own. Their chiefs openly and boldly proclaim, that the "lost cause" is not yet lost,--that the fourth of March, if they and their allies are successful, shall inaugurate a reign of terror, which shall drive from the Southern States every loyal man, white, or colored, or overwhelm them in one common destruction. They demand, in short, that the victors shall accept terms from the vanquished under penalty of a renewal of war. And their candidate for the second place in the Government was selected solely for the reason, that he placed himself beyond the possibility of misunderstanding upon a platform, which, though its planks are rotten and crumbling beneath his weight, declared, that every thing thus far accomplished at the South should be undone, that the reconstructed State Governments should be dispersed by force, and that the white people alone should be allowed to re-organize their governments, and elect Senators and Representatives.
Are these the principles for which you fought? Is this the victory which you fancied had been won by the loyal North? Shall we submit to the insolent terms thus imposed? Better death, privation, poverty, the repetition an hundred fold of the sacrifices we have made, than such tame, cowardly submission. Faith to the loyal dead, faith to their widows and their orphans, faith to the outraged living, demand adherence to the principles for which the war was fought, and in defence of which our heroes died.
What duty, then, remains for us? What sin of omission, or of commission, yet remains unrepented and unpardoned, which thus protracts the punishment meted to us for the sin of slavery?
The National faith and the National honor, to be preserved at all hazards, demand, not only that slavery, but that every incident and result of slavery, shall cease to exist; that the loyal colored men of the South shall retain inalienably the right to maintain by the ballot the privileges for which they were willing and were deemed worthy to contend with the bayonet and the bullet; that the public debt should be paid according to the letter and the spirit of the laws under which it was contracted, and the public credit be preserved without stain; the treason "should be made odious" and traitors, whether at the North or at the South, be repressed and punished.
The great captain of the age, whose genius devised and whose orders directed the movements of the loyal armies to final victory in the field, under whose eye you fought and your brave comrades died, whose name and fame are as dead to us as our own, and who is now the selected standard bearer of liberty and loyalty, has said, "Let us have peace." If we are true to ourselves, to our manhood, to our avowed principles, to our plighted faith, peace, with its blessings, will prevail from the Atlantic to the Golden Gates of the Pacific, from the Dominion of Canada to the borders of the Gulf,--prosperity, exceeding all that we have ever yet known, will place us foremost among the nations of the earth, and a victory will be won by Grant in November, which shall perfect the fruits and secure the full results of the victory which he achieved at Appomattox.
In whatever yet remains to be done for the securing of the full fruition of these glorious results, whether of action, or of further sacrifice, may that higher and Supreme Power, that rules the nations and controls the action of States, announce and enforce Sedgwick's famous order,--"Put the Vermonters ahead and keep the column closed up."
Source: Re-Union Society of Vermont Officers. An Oration by Gen. P. T. Washburn, Woodstock, Vt. Montpelier: J. & J. Poland, Printers, 1869; contributed by Mike Ellis, Rochester, Michigan.