Gentlemen of the Commissions, Governor Cummins, Ladies and Fellow Citizens:
No words can express to you my appreciation of the honor which this occasion and this hour confers upon me. The chief executive of our state, who so much desired to be present today, and who has been prevented by the press of official business, has requested that I say to the distinguished representatives from the state of Iowa, for him and for the people of Tennessee, that nothing could have afforded him more pleasure than to be present with you, and join with you in the ceremonies connected with this gathering.
Speaking for our governor, I take pleasure in saying that the state of Tennessee, within whose borders and confines this magnificent military park has been located, bids you a most hearty welcome, and her citizens will vie with one another in making your visit a delightful one, and this occasion a memorable one.
Those who love their country and its many glorious institutions rejoice at these manifestations of love, loyalty and devotion that have made possible this and similar gatherings here since the dedication of this National military park. People from distant and neighboring states have congregated here from time to time to pay a tribute of love and respect to the memories of sons whose valor, heroism and bravery won for them undying fame in the years long gone by.
A little more than forty-four years ago, there were struggling on and over the grounds on which we now stand, two mighty armies. The historian has recorded the result of that great struggle and of the war in which it occurred. He has written of the causes that precipitated that conflict. He has given to the world the story of the privations of the armies; he has told you of their battles, their defeats and their victories. That great conflict is over and belongs to history, and I shall not therefore take up your time upon this occasion in dwelling at length upon the war between the states. What I know of it, I have gathered from the pages of history, and from the experiences of those who endured it from the beginning to the end. I can but rejoice that the war is over, and that we are here today the representatives of a reunited country, American citizens, enjoying the advantages and privileges of this peaceful present and joyfully contemplating the future.
Representing as I do a generation born and reared since the smoke of the late conflict between the two great sections of our country cleared away, and Peace resumed her wonted sway over a united and satisfied people, prosperous today in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, welded together by the bands of fraternity as strong as steel, and as enduring as the very foundations of the hills, it is difficult for me to realize that there has ever been the sanguinary estrangement, the great fratricidal strife, to which many in this distinguished presence were eye-witnesses and in whose deadly conflicts so many were active participants.
This friendly, this fraternal gathering, has brought together veterans who wore the blue and those who wore the gray, once arrayed in deadly, aggressive war, each swinging high his banner bright and flashing his polished steel, marching to death under shot of musketry and storm of leaden hail, keeping step to drumming cannon, urged on by the maddened kings of war, the blue stabbing at the life of his antagonist in gray, the gray parrying the thrust only to dip his blade in the blood of the blue; it is difficult, I say, for me to reconcile this and similar gatherings all over the land to the record of history. But such is history's record, reinforced by the testimony of the presence of those today who fought in that terrible war, and in the bloody battle of Shiloh, those whose comrades lie sleeping in the quiet sanctuary of the tomb yonder, overlooking the beautiful, the historic Tennessee, or resting peacefully in unmarked graves beneath the whisperings of the oaks or the moaning of the pines in yonder forest.
The civil war was a decisive one in the history of this nation, and the battle of Shiloh was a decisive battle in that war. The civil war settled the many great questions that had been perplexing to the statesmen of that day and age, and the bloody battle fought here on the sixth and seventh of April, 1862, settled the result of that war. Without that war, deplorable and unfortunate as it may appear, this land would have been the scene of many violent outbreaks, and the end could not have been foreseen. Constitutional liberty, aye the very constitution of the government was involved; the life of the nation was at stake; dangers from without and within were real and apparent. Whether this government could exist half slave and half free, whether there should be the perpetuation of the institution of slavery, or whether it should be abolished, whether this was a union of indestructible states, an indissoluble one, or whether it was a voluntary compact, from which one could withdraw without the intervention or consent of another, these and other kindred and delicate questions had to be determined. Wars before had been waged, but no such questions had ever arisen as those confronting the American people in the early days of the sixties and prior thereto.
The Revolution had been fought and the liberty of the colonists had been won on bloody fields, and against great odds.
The constitution had been written long before; the war of 1812 had been fought and its results had gone on the pages of history without the settlement of these great questions which were agitating the public mind and threatening the dissolution of the Union. It was now that the American people were facing a crises. They looked and beheld on the political horizon a cloud, flecked and afar, standing against the sky. They saw that cloud enlarge and grow until it hid the sun and sky, and darkness covered the land. But it was only that darkness that preceded the sunburst of universal freedom in this land.
Another conflict of arms must be waged, but it was not to be a conflict of conquest and subjugation, but of the claims of constitutional government, prompted and carried on by sentiments of unsullied patriotism. These claims were denied by a people who loved their country and its traditions. He who wore the gray and marched under the stars and bars was alike loyal to his home and his principles as was he who wore the blue and marched under the stars and stripes.
A peaceable solution of these great questions had been sought in legislative councils, in judiciary proceedings, and at the ballot box, but in vain. The issues were well defined, and all arbitrament but that of the sword must be abandoned. At Sumter, Bull Run and Manassas, the signal cannons pealed forth the incipient strife. The salutation is answered in hurrying troopers from every nook and corner of the divided land; there is heard the farewell bidding to home and loved ones, and seen the hurrying of platoons to the embattled front. Grant, hurrying up the Tennessee and Cumberland, and planting the victorious stars and stripes at Forts Henry and Donelson, and then in a hand to hand conflict at Shiloh, on this red field of battle, with Johnston, the Blucher of the Confederacy, and on to the Father of Waters to open the gateway to the sea, Bragg and Johnson thundering against Buell and Burnsides. Thomas standing like a rock at Chickamauga, Hooker scaling the heights of Eagle’s Nest and fighting the battle in the clouds, Johnson like a giant with arms of steel, holding in check the advancing foe, challenging them to battle at Dalton, Ringgold and Kennesaw, making the last grand stand at Atlanta, Sherman’s march and encampment at the sea, Lee heading his army at Gettysburg, the bloody encounters of Spottsylvania, the Wilderness and along the Rappahannock, the battles of Vicksburg, Franklin and Murfreesborough, and the dashing campaigns of that matchless chieftain, the wizard of the saddle, Nathan Bedford Forrest, all of these closing in the imposing scene at Appomattox, surpassing in its grandeur anything in the annals of war.
Marathon had its Miltiades; Thermopylae its Leonidas; Arbela its Alexander; Marengo and Austerlitz their Napoleon; Waterloo its Wellington, and Yorktown its Cornwallis and its Washington. But it was reserved for Appomattox to crown the climax and to encircle with immortelles the brows of her Lee and her Grant. The latter, unwilling to humiliate the heroic leader of the cause he had so gallantly defended and gloriously lost, appears not with sounding trumpet and bugle blast, caparisoned as the conqueror comes, but in the costume of the camp and saddle, he appears, his great heart swelling with emotions of gladness and gratitude that the end had come. He has shown himself the general worthy of his country and cause, as well as the proudest mention of history. He now, in this imposing hour, with the gaze of the world fixed upon him, does not mistake the opportunity of adding to his laurels as a soldier the grander glories of the statesman, philosopher and humanitarian. Lee, the pride of the south, who had led many bloody charges, the victor on many hard fought fields, but whether in victory or in defeat, the same calm, self-possessed, masterly man, has now come to lay down his sword at the grave of the cause he had so loyally defended, thus yielding to the inevitable — defeated, but his pride still pulsing through his great soul, he is soon to quit the life of the soldier to serve his country in the noble example of an American patriot and industrious citizen.
These and other events of military and patriotic sacrifice, occurring in rapid succession, make up a history fraught with victories and deeds of heroic daring, long marches, privations, great suffering, and achievements in military science and strategy unknown to former wars.
In this connection I cannot refrain from speaking briefly of the sequences of this unprecedented conflict. I see these two mighty armies, each strong and firm in the righteousness of its cause, made up of the boys and young men from the glebe and fallow, from the shop, mine and factory, from hamlet, town and city, responding with alacrity to the call of arms from the respective heads of the warring sections, melt away like snow. I see the soldier in gray shaking in friendly grasp the hand of his erstwhile foe in blue, while the soldier in blue divides his rations and his money with his defeated but unconquered brother in gray, each bestowing his blessings upon the other, and they are foes no more but friends forever, the heirs of a common heritage, each proud of his valor and achievement in war. The bivouac is ended; the tattoo and reveille will be sounded no more. The sky for a covering at night and the blood-stained earth for a bed, have been exchanged for the comforts of home. While many of the homes in this southland were desolate and in ruins, it was still home, sweet home. The knapsacks are hung up, and the old dented canteen is put on duty in the field. Tales of war entertain the fireside and social circle, and war songs are sung as the days come and go. Only a few months elapse until the neglected fields are blooming with the products of his labor. The horse that pulled the cannon or bore upon his back the dashing cavalier in January, now pulls the wagon to church for the discharged soldier and family in August.
In this beloved southland, with all of its tender memories, and sweet associations, no battalions of soldiers or armed constabulary are needed to troop the land, to enforce allegiance to the flag borne by the victors in 1865. The south appealed to the sword, the last arbitrament of nations, she staked her all and lost. She accepted the result proudly and with patriotic ambition set to work to redeem her waste places and to rebuild her fortunes by the sweat of honest brows. Trained in the school of liberty and democracy as preached by the Apostle of the New Dispensation of Freedom, our purposes and aims have been and ever will be, henceforward and forever the same. Sectional lines have vanished, and social economic and moral questions engage our time and thought. My faith in the wisdom, the patriotism and the integrity of the American people causes me to believe that the great questions and issues left us by the civil war, as grave and complex as were ever addressed to mankind, will be settled and settled right. Let us confide in one another and in God, and our peace and salvation are assured.
My friends, you have come from far off Iowa, to dedicate these monuments to your heroic and immortal dead. We all know that these, your testimonials of love and reverence will soon pass away. The tooth of time will destroy that proud monumental shaft, and those beautiful patriotic lines will soon be effaced and no longer read. But while the monuments of brass and marble will crumble, there is builded in your heart and in mine, in the hearts of all who love freedom, liberty and a peaceful united country, one that shall stand so long as the human heart can love. The deeds of your sons and of ours who wrote the history of a great struggle with their own blood, and who piled upon the altar of their country the most precious sacrifice, will continue to live when these proud monuments shall have gone to dust, for
“On Fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread;
While Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.”
You who have come to our own Tennessee will soon return to your homes, and these imposing monuments, these testimonials of a grateful state to her heroic dead, will be left to and entrusted to us of the south. Tennessee assures you that her citizens will care for them, and upon the graves of your soldiers, who sleep in this southland, will bloom the rose, the violet and the lily, and on the periodical recurrence of lovely springtime, when the decoration day shall come, these mounds, whereunder sleep your dead, will be beautified by loving hands, and if in your northern country some southern soldier may sleep, guard well his mound and keep it green. Some loved one here has prayed for one who never returned, and as some mother whose son, or some wife whose husband, or some sister whose brother weeps over an unknown grave here, planting thereon some sweet flower, caring for it with tender hand and watering it with her tears she will believe that loving tender hands are caring for the one yonder.
My friends, as we go hence from these grounds, hallowed by tender memories and baptized with the blood of heroes in the long ago, let us gather inspiration for the conflicts of the future, rejoicing that we are all citizens of the same country, living under the same flag, enjoying the same blessings. As you shall return to your homes, we assure you that you carry with you our warmest and kindest feelings. The southern country through which you have journeyed is enjoying an era of prosperity. Her furnaces are aglow; her sons are in the forefront; her industrial development is the pride and marvel of the world. Our joys are your joys; our prosperity is your prosperity. A more glorious day has dawned upon this nation, and we are all rejoicing in the hope of a more glorious future.
Our distinguished governor, who presides over the destinies of two millions of peaceful, contented, prosperous and patriotic people, speaking for our citizenry, extends to the people of Iowa through her illustrious governor who graces this occasion with his presence, assurances of friendship and good will. If in the future it shall not be our good fortune to meet you again, may the ties that bind us here draw us together in a reunion beyond the River, under the shade of the trees in that sinless, summer land.
Governor Cummins, Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been a pleasure to meet you.
SOURCE: Alonzo Abernathy, Editor, Dedication of Monuments Erected By The State Of Iowa, p. 261-8