Albert B. Cummins, Governor of Iowa
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Iowa Shiloh Commission, Mr. President and Gentlemen of the National Shiloh Commission, Ladies and Gentlemen:
As I rise to perform my last official act upon this most memorable journey, my mind and heart are swept with memories of Vicksburg, of Andersonville, of Lookout Mountain, of Sherman Heights, of Rossville Gap; and now, to this flood of recollections, patriotic, glorious, tender, sorrowful, there is added the overwhelming current which always flows from this historic, sacred fountain of the war. It seems to me, my friends from Iowa, that the week we have devoted to the memory of our soldiers will be a week long remembered among the grateful and patriotic children of our commonwealth. Standing here, in the glory of this calm, beautiful, peaceful sunshine, it seems impossible to believe that on such a day, forty years ago and more, these hills, valleys and plains were crowded with eighty thousand men in mortal conflict. Can you transfer yourself, in the exercise of your most vivid imagination, to that day, when eighty thousand men strove here for the mastery? I have endeavored to call to my vision that fateful struggle. We are now in the midst of a profound, and as I hope, an enduring peace. We are now forty-one years from the day upon which the light of peace dawned upon a distracted, disunited land, and yet we are still too near the mighty conflict to see it in its true perspective. We think of it still as involving only the shock of arms, the skill of commanders, the endurance of mortal man, of suffering soldiers, of dying patriots; but the future will look upon it from a higher, a holier and a truer standpoint.
As I look upon that dear old flag, it represents to me, better than can any other symbol, the full meaning of the war of 1861, not to the people of our own country alone, but to the people of the whole civilized world. When these boys from Iowa, these boys from Tennessee, the boys from all these states, were here, that old flag was drooping in dejection, in every part of the civilized world, and there were few so poor as to do it reverence. Forty years have gone by; forty years of peace, forty years of achievement, forty years in which the genius of the American has worked upon the opulent resources of nature, and now look at the old flag! It streams in triumph and beauty in every part of the world, and my friends, it ought to make your hearts beat a little faster, it ought to make the blood run a little more rapidly through your veins, when you remember that at this moment there is not a ruler under the sun so proud and so mighty but that he takes off his hat and bows his head as Old Glory goes floating by. This is the real heritage of the war of 1861. I remember, too, that when these boys were struggling for the possession of these hills and valleys, Old Glory marked the sovereignty of the United States upon the golden sands of the Pacific. But when peace came, the American began his journey, his peaceful journey of triumph. Destiny took up the old flag and carried it across the western sea, so that now, although I am speaking to you in mid-afternoon, in the full tide of an autumn day, the morning's sun has not yet gilded the beautiful colors of the stars and stripes as they proclaim the sovereignty of the United States in the far away islands of the Philippines.
And so it seems to me that whatever may be the memories of those who are about me, this mighty struggle, whether they fought over there (pointing), under the stars and bars, or whether they fought here under the stars and stripes, they are equally the heirs of a glory we never could have enjoyed if, in the end, the Union had not been triumphantly maintained.
I have been impressed, as we have gone on from day to day, by one phrase which we have constantly employed. We look at a monument and we say, “the boys were worthy of this tribute.” Why do we call them boys? Why is that name so dear to the hearts of the succeeding generation? We call them boys because they were boys. Of the eighty thousand men the first day, and of the one hundred thousand the next day, upon this field, I venture to say the average age was under twenty-one; not more, at least, than twenty-one. Your boys, fighting for the honor of your country’s flag and the permanence of your country’s institutions. Ah, I do not wonder that we come here weeping. To their mothers, to their wives, to their sisters, to the maids who loved them, these men, some now gone beyond the river, some now sharing the gratitude of a succeeding generation, will always be boys. And to us they shall always be boys. The thought in my mind, however, is this, and it should fill us with transcendent hope when we reflect upon it — that boys of eighteen, twenty and twenty-one could, by the summons of war, change in the twinkling of an eye into the mature heroes of conflict. The boys who climbed the banks of the Tennessee River, and here offered themselves up that their country might live, became men — stern, unyielding men — when the storm of shot and shell fell upon them. The days of their boyhood were gone forever, and they stood, as stalwart giants, full of the sense of responsibility, with minds attuned to the music of the Union, and with arms strong to execute a high and sacred purpose.
It is not for me at this time to speak in detail of this, the first great battle of the war in the west. Here, for the first time, the flower of southern chivalry, led by that prince of men, Albert Sidney Johnston, met the sturdy men from the west, commanded by that hero, that silent hero, both of war and of peace — Ulysses S. Grant. And here, for the first time, I believe, the great armies of the south and the north knew the full significance of war. I see (pointing to the monument) Fame chiseling in the flinty granite not only the names of these heroes, but I see her writing their great and noble deeds, and as I have said more than once, upon an occasion like this, we cannot honor them, for what they did is already carved imperishably upon the tablets of time. It is for us to patriotically hearken to the echo of their deeds. It is for us to so live, in these times of peace, that history, with her inevitable verdict, history, with her unerring accuracy, shall, when we have passed away, write of us, not the glory that she has written of them, but may she say of us, “the world was better because they lived in it.”
And now, Mr. President, speaking in behalf of the commonwealth of which we are both citizens, I accept the tribute which you have presented, in gratitude and in honor of Iowa’s soldiers at the battle of Shiloh. I need not say that the design you have chosen is a beautiful one. It speaks for itself more eloquently than I possibly could. On behalf of all our people, I thank you for the fidelity with which you have executed the commission imposed upon you, and I say of you, as I have said of others, “Well done, thou good and faithful servants.”
And now, for myself, I dedicate this shaft, as it rears itself into the beautiful air of this sunshiny afternoon. I dedicate it to the high and holy purpose for which it was established and erected. May it, so long as time endures, stand there as the evidence of a courage and a patriotism never exceeded in the history of mankind.
And Colonel Cadle, of the National Commission, representing the United States government, it is with a pleasure unsurpassed in all this journey that I now take what has been given to me by the Iowa Commission and deliver it into your keeping. The pleasure is magnified a thousand-fold when I remember that I am transferring these beautiful memorials of our Iowa boys to one of Iowa's distinguished sons, a valorous, courageous soldier from our own state. I doubt not that the government which you so ably represent will surround these monuments with a loving care and a scrupulous attention, so that succeeding generations may read and know the kind of men who fought for their country and their flag in the days of 1861.
SOURCE: Alonzo Abernathy, Editor, Dedication of Monuments Erected By The State Of Iowa, p. 249-52