Mr. Chairman, Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Forty-four years and seven months have passed away since the sanguinary conflict known as the battle of Shiloh took place here.
With some of you, I was numbered among the 6,664 Iowa men who, on that occasion, sustained the shock of battle and I bore an humble part in both days’ engagements. This is the first glimpse I have had of the field since April eighth or ninth, 1862, immediately following the battle, when we turned our bronzed faces towards Corinth, Mississippi, another Campus Martius in the neighboring state some twenty miles away to the southwest. The visit and the occasion which have called us hither have profoundly impressed my mind, inspired and quickened my memory. This serious thought, among a multitude of others, impresses me. All the great commanders who faced each other in this arena are gone. Some of them fell here — notably, Generals W. H. L. Wallace, of the Union forces, and Albert Sidney Johnston, of the Confederates. These men fell by the side of thousands of the brave men who served under them. Nearly all of their subordinates, and the rank and file — as gallant as were ever marshaled or led to battle upon the earth, have passed into the realm beyond. And yet it seems but as yesterday since we were here in the strength, bloom and fire of our youth. Friends, there is no time. We live in eternity. We count what we call days and years by the rising and setting of the sun, the recurrence of the seasons and the return of the equinoxes. But neither sunshine nor shadow, darkness or light; neither the seasons nor the movements of the heavenly bodies can separate us from eternity in which we live and move, and which (a most comforting thought) is also the dwelling place of our Almighty Creator and loving Father.
It seems to me that the firmament above our heads is full of the disembodied spirits of our old comrades. The blue and the gray are at peace over there, and I fervently thank Almighty God that their surviving friends, now constituting a united and mighty nation, are at peace also — peace among themselves.
If our eyes should be opened as were the eyes of the servant of the Prophet Elisha, we would behold the air filled with chariots and with horsemen. They are certainly all about us, and we can almost feel them fanning our brows, hear the rustle of their celestial garments and can almost grasp them by the hand.
But why was this battle fought, and what lasting good was accomplished for civilization by the prodigious sacrifices made here and then — a combat so epoch making that a half century after it took place it calls for the erection of these cenotaphs and mausoleums, designed to challenge the attention of mankind for all time? The world knows what was accomplished at Marathon in the year 490 B.C. But for that victory all Greece would otherwise have become a part of Persia. Persian power was on that occasion broken forever. The 192 Greeks who laid down their lives to accomplish that result were accorded the honor of burial upon the field and the tumulus which covers their dust remains to the present day. Ten thousand Greeks under Miltiades, with a loss of only 192 men, vanquished 110,000 Persians under Darius. The important achievement secured to the world by that victory is easy of comprehension.
We know what the battle of Pharsalia signified. In the year 48 B.C., Caesar, the Commoner, brought the civil war to a close by overthrowing Pompey, the aristocrat, and with him the hosts of the Roman aristocracy. It ushered in the era of peace throughout the Roman empire and prepared mankind for the advent of the new conscience from Palestine. From two households then formed or forming in the atmosphere of love's sweet affiance, were soon to issue John the Baptist from the one, and the Virgin Mother and the Prince of Peace from the other. A greater than Caesar came. We can grasp, then, the significance of the great conflict at Pharsalia. We can also understand the value to mankind the triumph of Charles Martel. Eight hundred years after Pharsalia, at the end of seven days of hard fighting Charles the Hammer, on the banks of Loire, midway between Tours and Poitiers, hurled the Saracens from France, drove them beyond the Pyrenees, saved Europe from the grasp of the Turk, and made it the abode of our blessed Christian faith. Had Charles Martel failed, all Europe would have become Mohammedan. Although these great battles occurred 2,500, 2,000 and 1,300 years ago, respectively, their ripe fruits in an ever increasing harvest is constantly falling into the lap of civilization and will continue to bless all generations of men through all time.
I have mentioned these three great battles of antiquity and merely hinted at their lasting significance in order that I might help you, as well as myself, to grasp more clearly the far reaching character of the victory at Shiloh. It was indeed a costly victory and can not be justified by the considerate judgment of mankind unless some lasting good was secured. The first day, the Union forces consisted of about 40,000 men and the Confederates about 44,000. The second day the Union army was reinforced by nearly 18,000 men under General Buell, which gave us greater preponderance over the Confederates on the second day than they had over us on the first.
The total loss of the Union army in both days was 13,047 — or 22 per cent, the total loss of the Confederate army, both days, was 10,699 — or 24 Per cent, the total number of men engaged on both sides was 101,716 and the total loss was 23,746 — or 23½ per cent. Iowa had 6,664 men engaged with a total loss of 2,409 — or 36 per cent.
General Grant says, in his Memoirs, “Shiloh was the severest battle fought at the west during the war, and but few in the east equalled it for hard, determined fighting.” Grant was a competent judge. He was here in person. His impressive figure, stern face, and resolute bearing were photographed indelibly upon my brain as I saw him ride along our depleted lines. He knew what victory would mean and grasped the full significance of possible defeat. The victory, dearly purchased, was with the Union arms. The Confederate army, sorely decimated, was sent reeling in despair to the southward.
When Albert Sidney Johnston attacked our lines so furiously and so unexpectedly on Sabbath morning, April 6, 1862, he knew that Grant’s army, including Buell’s forces, numbered less than 60,000 men. He knew that this was the only obstacle between the Confederate army and the banks of the Ohio. If that force could be overcome, the cities of Louisville, Cincinnati and Nashville with their adjacent territory were within his grasp, and that henceforward the war would have to be fought out in the north. Johnston knew further that the defeat of the Union forces here meant the annihilation of Grant’s army — for remember that yonder river (pointing to the Tennessee), swollen to its brim, was back of us, and in case of defeat, made our retreat impossible and our capture certain. If defeated, we would have no army left in the west. The west, then, was saved by this victory and the Confederate forces were hurled southward upon their own territory, and their dream of northern invasion from the west was gone forever. Henceforth, they were to act chiefly upon the defensive. This was the immediate result achieved on this field. It opened the way for the later triumphs at Corinth and Vicksburg, and made it reasonable to expect success at Mission Ridge and Lookout Mountain. It enabled Sherman to enter upon his succession of victories which made his march to the sea possible. Our victory here then was of tremendous consequence to the Union and Confederate forces, and to their respective governments. Yea more, it was one of the bloody blows delivered during the war for human rights, and for the equality of all men before the law. It was one of the great events of the war that made final emancipation of the black race possible, and it lit up the Declaration of Independence with its original effulgence. Along with other similar battles, it quickened the conception of all the world of that unalterable truth that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that governments are instituted among men to secure these rights and not to destroy them. That the unconstrained consent of the subject is essential to all good government. This declaration, and the amendments to the constitution which followed the civil war, must and will forever stand. They “were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever.” All attempts to shake them are frivolous and merely loquacious.
The things accomplished in the sixties are numbered among the eternal verities, and their logic is inexorable. The fifteenth amendment is among these verities. To disturb or attempt to disturb them can in no way afford a solution of the perplexing problems bequeathed to us by the civil war. On the contrary, it would delay their solution indefinitely.
I noticed a few days ago that Governor Vardaman of Mississippi — a gentleman for whose exalted talents and sincerity of purpose I have the highest appreciation — is reported to have said, on the occasion of the dedication of the Illinois monuments at Vicksburg, that he did not believe that all men are created equal. He thinks there are inferior races. I deny it. God’s inferior family is found among the brute creation and over them man has complete dominion. But he was never given dominion over his brother. You cannot find it in the commission. Can he find a race of men not endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? If he can not, then all races of men are entitled to an opportunity to develop all the good there is in them, and the privilege of doing this within their own governments instituted by themselves. But when a race of a lower order of development is domiciled with a race of superior development, must the race of inferior growth be allowed to dominate the superior? A thousand times no. It is contrary to the natural order. It can never be. One of the errors both of emancipators and the apologists is that having developed one truth they have too often failed to reason on to other cognate truths. They stop short in their investigations and think there is no more truth beyond. They see one star through a rift in the clouds, and conclude that it is the only star in the firmament.
I observe that the Honorable John Sharpe Williams, in a recent utterance, advises the people of the south to import white labor to take the place of the present industrial force. This is most excellent advice, and should be acted upon in every southern state at once. But it does not touch the alarming situation that confronts the southern people. It does not touch the real dilemma that confronts the whole country, and that concerns us all — What is to be done with the Negro? I realize that the question to which I am now addressing myself is unquestionably one of the overshadowing contentions of the age in which we live. It is the second and complex phase of the controversy that precipitated our civil war. I cannot at this time treat the subject fully — simply suggestively. But why temporize? It must be met. We must look squarely at it and settle it justly and quickly. While I cherish firmly the doctrine that all men are created equal, I also hold that this is a white man’s government. The two apothegms are not in conflict. They are both true. This has been made clear to me by the lapse of time, the growth of the problem, and by research. Formerly I abhorred the latter when it was made to do service for slavery. But I now suggest that it be made the slogan of final emancipation. France is the Frenchman’s government, England is the Englishman’s government, China is the government of the Mongolian. This is the white man’s government and Africa the black man’s government, or country. But all nations of men were created equal. There are four great mountain peaks that stand hard by the stream of human history and lift their heads through the clouds into perpetual sunshine. First, in the councils of eternity, God said, Let us make man. Thousands of years afterward, He sent His Son into the world to redeem man — not any one race of men — and by the grace of God, Jesus Christ tasted death for every man. Less than a century after the crucifixion, that marvelous man Paul stood up at Mars Hill and said to the learned Greeks, “Of one blood God hath created all the nations of men who dwell upon the face of the whole earth and hath defined the bounds of their habitations.” There is a scientific, ethnological fact clearly stated. If your streets are stained with blood, your chemist can tell you whether it is the blood of a human being or of one of the lower animals. But he can not tell you whether it is the blood of a white man or a black man. But 1,700 years after Paul's speech at Mars Hill, Thomas Jefferson, with Pauline faith, declared, and our forefathers proclaimed it, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that to secure these ends governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Now there are the four mountain peaks upon whose majestic brows is gleaming and will forever gleam the Divine halo — creation, redemption, unity of blood and equality of rights for all men derived from heaven. I thank my Creator that these great landmarks are forever beyond the reach of malice, ignorance or greed.
But if all men are created with equality of rights, and at the same time this is a white man’s government, what is to be done with the Negro? Did you catch Paul’s meaning when he said that God had created of one blood all the nations and “defined the bounds of their habitations?” America is not the Negro’s habitat. This country is not within his habitation. God never domiciled two nations of men together. Heaven loves peace and commands justice. When one nation invades another, you have war. When the Mongolian attempts to crowd in upon us, there is trouble, and they are excluded by law. Commercial relations are natural and tend to peace. But all attempts to settle two distinct and antagonistic races within the same territory is unnatural and destructive of social security. The Negro does not belong here. He was brought hither by crime, which was prompted by greed. He is out of his latitude and away from home. He can never reach his natural and proper development here. He has a country richly endowed with everything necessary to the comfort and happiness of man. There he can live in peace, equality and respectability. He can never do so on this continent. Two distinct races can not dwell together in happiness. We might as well recognize this burning fact first as last. Neither can the Negro be held among us in a position of inferiority and dependence. It is contrary to sound ethics, at war with the whole genius of our institutions, and it makes the Golden Rule a farce. While here of course the Negro must be secure in his rights before the law, and the door of opportunity open to him. But he should be prepared for his exodus — not by forcible deportation, but by voluntary, intelligent migration. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. That people never could have been incorporated into the Egyptian body politic. They went to their own country through forty years of rough discipline, in order that they might accomplish their Divinely appointed work. The Negro has had a like probation. Our whole national policy toward him has been false, cruel, and unchristian. At the close of the war, he should have been sent home by deportation instead of being made the plaything of politicians. It was not done, however, and now the problem is upon us with tremendous weight. It is estimated that they are increasing at the rate of 1,500 per month. They numbered four millions at the close of the war. They now number ten millions. At the end of the next forty years they will reach the forty million mark, and within the lifetime of children now born they will nearly, if not quite, number one hundred millions.
Now what is to be done with them? Talk of the problems which are pressing upon us for a solution — and they are many and mighty; but none of them are equal in importance to this awful storm now gathering upon our horizon. We of the north are too far from the storm center to be properly sympathetic with our white brethren in the south, and they are too near to have an accurate perspective of the situation. One thing is sure — they can not be retained here as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the cultivated men among whom they dwell. They can not be kept here for exploitation. They can not be retained in the south, for soon the south will not be big enough to hold them. They can not, in any considerable numbers, he diffused throughout the north, for they are fast becoming as distasteful to us as they are to the south. We must awake to the fact that the Federal government has not discharged, it has scarcely begun to discharge, its full measure of duty toward these people. It liberated them and sent them adrift without chart or compass. It must now promote their exodus. Let the whole Negro race in this country set their faces toward Africa and a Black Republic. I would have the colored schools and colleges make the study of Africa a part of their curriculum. They should send expeditions of their brightest young men and women to Africa to study its climate and resources, and they should return and make report as did the spies who explored Canaan, and these reports should be scattered among the colored people like the leaves of the forest. When they learn of their inheritance, they will go, and their Moses will appear. The coasts of Africa should be surveyed and its harbors sounded, its rivers navigated, its forests penetrated and its mines prospected. Colored medical students should be sent to study climatic diseases and remedies. The Federal government should encourage this, open the way by its splendid diplomacy, and all good people of the north and south should speak of the contemplated exodus with favor.
The immigration of white labor will be slow, of course, and so will the exodus of the blacks. The one will come in as the other goes out, and there will be no resultant shock to industrial progress. The young and the middle-aged among the Negroes should lead the way to the promised land, and the older classes can go later. These people were brought here in chains in the dismal holds of slave ships. Let them return as freemen in our modern ocean steamers and with the flag of the Black Republic streaming from the masthead. I pray God that the people of the United States may awake to the situation ere it is too late.
SOURCE: Alonzo Abernathy, Editor, Dedication of Monuments Erected By The State Of Iowa, p. 268-77