C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. 1917.
It is the purpose of the commander-in-chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of the departed.
The army of Grant and the army of Lee are together. They are one now in faith, in hope, in fraternity, in purpose, and in an invincible patriotism. And, therefore, the country is in no danger. In justice strong, in peace secure, and in devotion to the flag all one.
Soldiers of the Republic, the battles of the present are identical with the battles of the past. The form of warfare only is changed. The moral conflicts waged in our nation are as truly battles as were the conflicts of Gettysburg and Lookout Mountain.
So long as its sons are willing to die for their motherland, so long will it endure to shelter, and bless them and their children. At the hour when a people shall be unwilling to abide this test, they will find that they have no longer a country worth saving.
It is good for us to be here. He who reverently and gratefully makes a pilgrimage to the spot where lies the patriot soldier, who gave his life for his country and for freedom, and for the expression of those emotions places a violet upon the soldiers grave, has received a re-consecration to the work which belongs to the citizen and the patriot.
It is but natural that flowers should give expression to our love for the departed; theirs is an oratory that speaks in perfumed silence. Joy and sorrow have their appropriate expression in these mute yet eloquent letters of the blooming alphabet of creation.
The immortal Lincoln bowed in prayer, and pled Heavens almighty aid, vowing the proclamation of freedom through all the land to all the inhabitants thereof; and though the assassins deadly arm cut short his high career, his soul went up to God with four million broken manacles in its hand.
It is instructive to read the arguments of the statesmen of forty years ago; but the war settled the issue, and no State nor combination of States can extricate itself from the loving grasp of all the States. United we stand. Divided we cannot be. E Pluribus Unum.
The Union army demonstrated the stability of representative government. In the estimation of Europe the American Republic was an experiment. Would it go to pieces by the earthquake shock of civil war? Jealous kings said Yes, but when the red lips of Grants cannon thundered No! thrones trembled.
Memorial Day is one of the most significant and beautiful occasions of the year. It shows the sentiment of the people toward those who gave their lives for a good cause, and it teaches a lesson in patriotism which is without a parallel.
The passions of the titanic struggle will finally enter upon the sleep of oblivion, and only its splendid accomplishments for the cause of human freedom and a united nation, stronger and richer in patriotism because of the great strife, will be remembered.
This precious slumbering dust, when animate, leaving the peaceful pursuits of life, sundering the ties of friendship and love, and assuming the habiliments of the soldier, incurred exposure, hardship, fatigue, danger, death, inspired by no such love of glory, but rather by the consciousness which animated the hero of Trafalgar, Our country expects every man to do his duty.
For no such wretched end did our heroes die. In their last will and testament, sealed with their blood, they have bequeathed to us, as their dying legacy, a union stronger, nobler, freer than ever. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. By the gift of these men, and such as these, we have henceforth a more homogeneous country and a grander and higher civilization.
Let us cherish their memories and treasure up their deeds! Let us gather their ashes into the urn of immortality, and write every name on the national roll of honor! Our countrys soil gives them all sepulture. They sleep beneath the Stripes and Stars, revered by a race freed from bondage, and the liberty-loving masses of the whole world.
Alas, many who went forth to the deadly fray returned not, save encoffined for the tomb, or smitten with a mortal wound or deadly disease, which claimed their lives at length. Over the memory of these, we drop the tear of affection, and strew above their sleeping dust the fragrant emblems of a nations undying gratitude, and chant again their funeral requiem.
Here sleeps heroic dust! It is meet that a redeemed nation should come, to pay it homage at such tombs, wreathing the memory of its patriot dead in the emblems of grateful affection. These grass-grown mounds, these flower-decked graves, awake the memories of the past, and the history of our nations perils and its triumphs comes crowding on us here.
Through all history, from the beginning, a noble army of martyrs have fought fiercely and fallen bravely for that unseen mistress, their country. So, through all history, to the end, as long as men believe in God, that army must still march and fall, recruited only from the flower of mankind, cheered only by their own hope of humanity, strong only in the confidence of their cause.
When the war began thousands of young men, the flower of American youth, were looking out of college halls upon a future bright with professional honors. They flung books aside and seized rifles. They became Historys Graduates. Hundreds of thousands of young Americans were anticipating a future replete with the profits and emoluments which reward business genius and integrity. Straightway they abandoned cherished life plans in order to defend free institutions.
And every village graveyard will have its green mounds, that shall need no storied monument to clothe them with a peculiar consecrationgraves that hold the dust of heroesgraves that all men approach with reverent stepsgraves out of whose solemn silence shall whisper inspiring voices, telling the young from generation to generation how great is their countrys worth and cost, and how noble and beautiful it was to die for it.
As we honor their patriotism, emulate their example, glorify their heroism, and teach our children the sacredness of the great cause in which they offered up their young lives, let us scatter over their graves the brightest beauties of lifethe glad tokens of a blessed immortality. And may the service, now inaugurated, be perpetuated through each recurring year, so long as the republic shall stand.
It is very pleasant to have the opportunity to grasp the friendly hand of those who thought so diametrically opposite, thirty years ago. It proves time not only heals, but also cools the blood, gives more mature judgment, enabling each to overlook the past, and while we do not claim to forget those dark hours in our life, nor withdraw an iota, nor impugn the motives or sincerity of an opponent, we can each forgive, and while we let the dead past bury its dead, rejoice in the sunshine of the present, that brings comfort and happiness to all parts of our native land, as we remember above and over all else, we are American citizens.
We are assembled to-day to call the roll of the honored dead anew, and to lay a fresh tribute of love and gratitude upon their graves. The occasion is complete in itself. It needs no help of speech to make it memorable. These eloquent flags waving at so many headstones, with no stripe erased, and no star obscured; these bayonets gleaming in the sunshine; these echoing cannon, this tap of drums; these beautiful flowers borne by loving hands, contributed by loving hearts; these sacred memories baptizing us all; speak to us to-day more eloquently than man can speak, in a language which we can all understand.
The light that shines from a patriots grave is a pure and holy light, and while we are guided by it we shall never go into the paths of treason and rebellion. Let that light illuminate our pathway, and the noble example of the dead strengthen our love of country and devotion to duty. When patriotism in the hearts of the people is dead all is lost. It is the life-blood and soul of the national existence, the animating fire which makes a people great, and their history grand and beautiful.
They pass before us like a long procession coming from their camping grounds amid the cemeteries, the battlefields, the graveyards of the south. To us they are no longer dead, they livewe can almost hear their well-known voices as with flashing eye, active limb, courageous lion hearts, once more they are with us, side by side, the blue, the gray, the private, the officer; on they pass, those who died at Roanoke, at Camden, at South Mountain, at Antietam, at Fredericksburg, and the battlefields of the south. Hayes and McComas, Kimbal, Sturges, Gadsden, Hamilton, Barnett, Wright, Reno, Jackson and Burnside, Grant and Lee.
With no jealousies to indulge and no envy to gratify, we seek to draw a lesson from the past that shall be to our future a beacon and a guide. To the sleeping martyrs, whose graves billow every battlefield, it matters little what we may now say or do. Our tender offerings of affection will be lost upon their mounds, and the sweet aroma of our scented flowers be uselessly exhaled to air, save as we revive our faith in the doctrines which they defended, and our zeal in the cause for which they died.
You who went forth with a mothers benediction; you who bade farewell to the children who received your last embrace at the place of embarkation; you who faced the enemy so boldly in the charge; you who died amid the carnage of battle alone, alone, while the very stars of God seemed to look in pity upon you. O yes, you, you, my countrymen, whether from Georgia or New York, tonight, thesethe remnant of more than 2,000 menthese your comrades gathered here, salute you as we bring to mind your faithfulness as soldiers, and rejoice with you that our country has passed from the hurricane to the calm; from out of all that crash, of which we were part, to liberty, union, brotherly love, and peace.
In the book of nature, where every emotional, mental, and spiritual quality of humanity may find its correspondence and illustrations, flowers represent good affections, thoughts, and intentions toward others. As the flower precedes the fruit, and gives notice of its coming, so good thoughts, affections, and intentions precede and give promise of deeds in love to others. These cherished dead are now beyond the reach of our good deeds; to bring fruits to them would be vain, but to indulge good thoughts and affections toward them should enlarge our souls and wake in our breasts a more vigorous determination to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others.
The asperities and alienations engendered by the great struggle between freedom and slavery have largely passed away, and those who participated as soldiers on both sides, who are still living, fraternize with each other as brothers and fellow-citizens of one common country, on whose glorious banner is inscribed forever E pluribus unum. It is meet that those who sacrificed and died in the struggle, or who sacrificed and have since died, should be remembered and honored for the invaluable service they have rendered their country and humanity. Let the graves of the dead soldiers be decorated with flowers and wreaths of laurel, and the memory of their noble deeds revived anew in oratory and song.
Then as oft as the 30th of May returns with times annual round let a grateful nation remember its dead, and with a floral offering decorate the tombs of its fallen heroes, while the dropping tear moistens the cold sod that covers their sleeping dust. To them we owe the liberty we enjoy; to them we owe the preservation of our institutions; and shall we not hold them in grateful remembrance? though we may often differ in opinion, let us here be united. In Gods name let us respect and love the dead who have died for us. Let this beautiful custom be perpetuated until the day shall become hallowed in the history of freedom. It carries with it idea of our loss and the dear cost of liberty. It brings fresh to mind the deeds of our countrys martyrs, it keeps alive and warm the greatest principles for which our sires poured out their blood, on which our republic is based.
For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.
When the life of the nation was attempted, when the cause of liberty and human rights called for their aid, they rushed forth to rally under the banner they loved, with grand singleness of purpose and heroic devotionleaving all behind them, to meet toil and danger, hunger, sickness, wounds, and death, for nothing but the sublime satisfaction of doing their duty to their country and to mankind.
The best men we had in each of these two regiments are not visibly present with us now; the best and truest of our number lie buried on the battlefields of the south; some were clad in gray, some in blue; no towering monument marks their resting place, nor massive monolith stands sentinel. Buried where they fell, baptizing the soil with their blood, forever consecrating the ground, making it holy, while their life and death tell the world the story of how an American will fight, and if necessary die for what he believes to be the right.
From age to age the honorable fame of this patriotic army will endure. It will not decrease, but rather increase with the flow of years. When the passions of the times are stilled in the grave and the men of this generation have passed away from the earth, the gathering plaudits of coming generations will greet the memory of the men who in a great crisis saved the national life.
But the patriot dead are not only those who wore the blue and marched under the flag; not alone their graves do we honor. There were patriots who at home upheld the soldiers heart and inspired him to duty. There were the women, who gave their loved ones, who breathed up prayers for their safety and return, whose needles stitched for them, whose hands wrought for them, whose letters cheered them, whose love forever embodied itself in something that should comfort and relieve them. The memory of those patriot women we too would honor, and did we know where their bodies sleep, their graves we would decorate.
The martyrs of all ages are illustrious, not so much by virtue of their personal position and merits as from the fact that the great cause for which they suffered and sacrificed themselves has reflected upon them its own imperishable luster and glory. And if any cause can confer honor upon its defenders and martyrs, surely the cause for which these men suffered is such a one.
As a flash of lightning in a midnight tempest reveals the abysmal horrors of the sea, so did the flash of the first sun disclose the awful abyss into which rebellion was ready to plunge us. In a moment the fire was lighted in twenty million hearts. In a moment we were the most warlike nation on the earth. In a moment we were not merely a people with an armywe were a people in arms. The nation was in columnnot all at the front, but all in the array. I love to believe that no heroic sacrifice is ever lost; that the characters of men are molded and inspired by what their fathers have done; that treasured up in American souls are all the unconscious influences of the great deeds of the Anglo-Saxon race, from Agincourt to Bunker Hill. It was such an influence that led a young Greek, two thousand years ago, when musing on the battle of Marathon, to exclaim, The trophies of Miltiades will not let me sleep! Could these men be silent in 1861; these, whose ancestors had felt the inspiration of battle on every field where civilization had fought in the last thousand years? Read their answer in this green turf. Each for himself gathered up the cherished purposes of lifeits aims and ambitions, its dearest affectionsand flung all, with life itself, into the scale of battle.
A shot fired at the old flag aroused the anger of a great people. Who can describe those historic years? The heavens were suddenly black. Fierce eagles of war flew across the lurid clouds. The awful storm rolled thunders along the sky. Reverberating, they shook the Atlantic coast and the banks of the Mississippi. They crashed over Antietam, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg. Forked lightnings played among the clouds around Lookout Mountain. Fire ran along upon the ground in Tennessee, and in Virginia, swamps and rivers were turned to blood. It was the nations midnight. The death angel was abroad with unsheathed sword. There was a great cry in the land, for there was not a house among half a million where there was not one dead. Four years the storm raged. The iron hail rattled incessantly, prostrating armed men, and crushing womans tender heart. It was a deluge of blood. Then muttering thunders ceased; the clouds broke away, and out of the blue sky a dove came, and lo! in her mouth was an olive leaf. More than a quarter of a century has passed. Peace still abides. Over the cannons mouth the spider weaves his web. But while mighty people are busied with great enterprises, they do not forgetcannot forgetthe brave men who purchased peace by their valor and blood.
We hear much of the language of flowers. With them we crown the head of childhood, and deck the brow of beauty. They bring to the sick chamber the cheering remembrance of the grand expanse of strength and loveliness that is spread abroad without. They grace the festival. They soothe the grief of the funeral. They tell the deepest secrets of love, and pass into the cells of memory, never to be forgotten. But where have flowers ever been applied by man to a nobler, fitter purpose than by us to-day? Have we not done well to give the sweetest products of our native land to the memory of those who died to defend it? May not these flowers best spend the brief hour of their unassuming lives in doing honor to heroes, and wither and meet death on the graves of the truest hearts that ever bled?
Their heroic deeds take rank in that grandeur whose full appreciation requires the lapse of thoughtful years. Their greatness, heartily as it is recognized now, will grow more in splendor as the fruits of their victory shall fall in successive years to enrich the nations history. It has happened to them as to all prominent actors in either religious or political contests, that the excellency of their deeds could not be fully discovered until the smoke and dust of battle had been swept away. In such time the aspirations of slandering enemies and the jealousy of lukewarm associates, and the timidity of friends in faintly claiming deserved praise, all conspire in withholding that generous award of honor which after generations take delight in bestowing. Thus the generations to come will continue the repetition of the tributes to these patriots which we have this day observed, rehearsing with ever-increasing praise the moral grandeur of their deeds.
But one way is open to the people of this country who would estimate the value of the services rendered by the union soldiers, living or dead. It is to try to imagine what the result would have been had the union been divided. There would have been two nations instead of one; twice as many foreign diplomats within the territory as now; twice as many possibilities of foreign complications; and much more than twice as much difficulty in settling them, while the influence of each fragment would be much less than half the amount exercised by the whole. Those who had a common ancestry which had been represented in the same halls of legislation, had cheered the same flag and fought togethernot against each otherfor freedom, would have been strangers and foreigners, aliens from the commonwealth of which Washington was the father. Mutual jealousies would make standing armies necessary, and war clouds would ever have lowered upon the political horizon. It was the valor of our soldiers that stood between the people of the United States and these evils.
When we look at our vast country with all its resources of wealth and power, at our system of free government with all the appliances for further advancement in greatness and intelligence, reaching as it does from ocean to ocean, with its fields, and mines, and streams, its hills and valleys, smiling in the sunlight of freedom, inviting the poor and oppressed of all lands to come and occupy them, to plow and reap, to build and grow, and be happywhen we look at all this and think what we would have been had the rebellion proved a success, we feel that our comrades did not die in vain, and we feel that this is but a small token, indeed, of the love that we ought to show their memories. What tender emotions are awakened to-day in our minds as we bend over the silent, yet eloquent, mounds where the American soldier sleeps his last sleep.