Mr. President, Members of the Shiloh Monument Commission, Veterans of the Civil War, Ladies and Gentlemen:
For the distinguished honor which is now conferred upon me I return the acknowledgment of my sincere gratitude. Two score and four years ago at this hour this splendid nation of ours, now so happy and peaceful and contented in every section of its territory, was engaged in a tremendous conflict to determine whether any government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, could maintain its own integrity among the peoples of the earth; a conflict so significant, so appalling, so unparalleled in the written records of civilization that the imagination, however vigorous and resourceful, is incompetent to delineate its immeasurable magnitude. I am profoundly impressed by the consideration, Mr. President, that we are at this moment assembled upon one of the principal battlefields of all history. It is a theater upon which, in April, 1862, there was illustrated the sublimest exhibitions of American bravery, American endurance, American patriotism. Here the intrepid Johnston, sustained by the fearless daring of the south, encountered the invincible Grant, supported by the superb courage of the north. And in the carnage of that awful collision were blood and death and immortality. The heroes who shall sleep forever in this sacred soil, whether robed in the blue of victory or in the gray of defeat, each battled to his grave for a principle which he believed with every aspiration of his soul to be right; each rendered to his country the last final measure of duty as he conceived it; and the incomparable valor of each is now the priceless heritage of all our people. And as, with uncovered heads, we tarry momentarily at this historic spot made holy by the lives here sacrificed for free government, in the shadow of this imperial column erected by the pride and gratitude of a mighty state, let us again highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, and let us consecrate ourselves anew to the great cause for which they surrendered their precious lives. When the statesmanship of the Revolution organized this government and adopted our constitution, it guaranteed to all citizens, catholic and protestant, puritan and cavalier, royalist and republican, equal security in life, property and the pursuit of happiness; and bottomed upon this principle the United States of America entered upon its long career of prosperity and usefulness and honor. The student of affairs is interested and yet perplexed when he is compelled to consider that even at the remote day when Washington was inducted by unanimous acclaim into the first presidency, there existed radical difference of opinion respecting the character of the New Republic. One school of thought affirmed that it was merely a voluntary association of sovereign states subject to be dissolved at the election of any one or number of its membership. Another school of thought maintained that it was an Union, inseparable, imperishable, perpetual. Out of this disparity of belief, honestly entertained and earnestly defended, there arose as the years elapsed heated discussion, bitter controversy, crimination and recrimination; all to be adjudicated forever, to be adjudicated irrevocably, to be adjudicated right, at Vicksburg, and Shiloh and Appomattox Court House. And in that dark and doubtful day there were patriots tried and true. It affords us infinite satisfaction to remember, Mr. President, that in that supreme crisis which wrenched and almost wrecked the Republic, our own peerless commonwealth sustained no inconspicuous part and achieved no inconsiderable renown. Her brave boys in blue were on every tedious march, in every sweltering trench, at every deadly charge; always the first to the front and the last to the rear. And they did not sheath their swords nor stack their guns until the emancipation of the slave and the permanence of the Union were assured.
It is not possible to refer to the heroes living and dead who struggled here except in language which, in any other connection, would be condemned as inexcusable extravagance. They are the most resplendent stars in all the firmament of humanity. Nobler than the Roman, grander than the Greek, they suppressed an insurrection without a precedent and without a parallel. I have for every one of them a deep and reverent affection, and I seldom deliver public address without acknowledging my individual obligation to the men who rescued this Republic when it was attacked by open treason at the south, and assailed by covert disloyalty at the north. No hope of conquest induced their enlistment in the great army of freedom; no ambition of office reconciled them to the indescribable sacrifices which they embraced. The historian of the future will not discover in all the annals of the past a more inspiring example of human grandeur than that presented by the volunteer soldiers of America who conquered the armed enemies of their government upon the bloody battlefields of the civil war. Nothing could be more gratifying to the martyrs who perished here, could they be conscious of it, than the reflection that their unrivalled exploits are recounted with solemn but exultant approval upon every proper occasion. So long as we understand the principle of gratitude, so long as we comprehend the beneficence of liberty, so long as we canonize the exhibition of loyalty, so long will we preserve the splendid history of the most gigantic civil struggle in the annals of humanity. The soldiery of any country represents its physical sovereignty, and no nation can organize an army so imposing or so powerful as were those invincible battalions which mustered under the stars and stripes from 1861 to 1865. No soldiery ever entered a field with such noble purpose, and none ever emerged with a record of such glorious accomplishment. When our beloved flag was insulted, when our territorial integrity was threatened, when our national life was imperiled, they promptly responded to the appeal of President Lincoln, and cheerfully embraced self immolation to secure the perpetuity of this government of the people, by the people and for the people, and to render forever positive the certainty that that government, after being baptized in the sacred blood of the Revolutionary fathers, should not disappear from the earth, but that it, under God, should have everlasting life.
The civil war was an unprecedented catastrophe. Reflect a moment. The terrible loss of life, the tremendous destruction of treasure, the firesides ruined, the hearthstones desolated, the families beggared, the national travail and wretchedness and misery, the individual suffering and sacrifice and death! Think of the faithful husband, as he renounces the sweet and tender associations of home; think of his goodbye to his devoted wife and his cherished children, and then think of him on the bloody field of battle, slowly dying of a mortal wound, and all for principle, all for liberty, all to maintain an united government of indestructible states, one and indivisible, then and forever! Think of the dutiful son, the silent joy of an affectionate and solicitous mother, the stalwart support of an aged and declining father, think of his farewell to those sorrow-stricken parents; farewell, not until tomorrow, not until next week, not until after a while, but farewell until they all shall stand at the last day, in the presence of each other, before the judgment bar of God! Think of the romantic suitor, as he sighs au revoir to the soft-voiced siren who has long reigned empress in his heart. Behold a splendid handsome fellow, strolling in a quiet woody place with the maiden he adores! Perhaps it is the last interview they ever will have on this earth. The surroundings are of an inspiring character. There is the fife and the drum and the uniform and the march, and there are the grand old patriotic songs that stir men's souls. Here are the sweethearts under the shade and sanctity of a leafy arbor; all without is tumult and confusion, all within is confidence and love. The fragrant flowers are swinging and swaying and blooming in the summer sunset, the care-free birds are warbling forth their sweetest strains in the stately treetops, the solitary nightingale is singing his song of joy and pain, and this rueful Romeo is whispering to his gentle Juliet the old, old story which always is new at every repetition. But suddenly the drums beat, the advance is sounded, they must part for a time — it may be forever. Think of that young hero as he marches away to the wild, grand music of the war:
“His not to reason why,
His but to do and die.”
And then think of him on this sanguinary field, yielding up his young life that the Great Republic might live. My countrymen, you may suggest that in the painting of these pictures I have employed only the darkest and most somber colors, but I insist that they are only typical of an hundred thousand similar tragedies. We try to measure all the sorrow and the sacrifice, and we are transfixed with horror. The eyes grow dim, the lips are silent, the heart is still. Oh, how superb, how magnificent, how glorious, how cruel, how terrible, how remorseless is war to the victorious and to the vanquished!
It was a calamity unspeakably sorrowful, that fratricidal misunderstanding between the people of the north and the people of the south. But we long ago learned to know beyond all doubting truly, that the Almighty has his own purposes and that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. There could not be a new birth of freedom so long as the old institution of slavery survived. There could not be a more perfect union in peace until the doctrine of the states’ rights perished by the sword. There could not be remission of national sin without the shedding of individual blood. And so the war was inevitable. It was an awful retribution, but its compensations were more than manifold, for out of it there emerged the regenerated, the reunited, the real Republic, which is now the miracle and the marvel of all the civilized communities of the earth. The conflict itself has become a priceless and imperishable memory, cherished everywhere throughout the length and breadth of our common country. And it is our common country now. A little while ago I witnessed a spectacle which to me was a genuine revelation. There were miles of carriages, civic societies in full uniform, salvos of artillery, regal pomp, and military pageantry. The occasion was the unveiling of that historic statue erected on the Lake Front by the gratitude and generosity of the state of Illinois in honor of General John A. Logan. Throughout the five miles of that remarkable procession, the atmosphere was enriched with continuous cheers, as Federal and Confederate emulated each other in tribute to that redoubtable warrior, the superb "Black Eagle" of the Fifteenth Army Corps. And as I looked upon that demonstration, I said to myself, it is our common country now. In the national park at Chickamauga, the sovereign state of Kentucky has erected a single monument to her sons in blue and her sons in gray, who fought and fell on that decisive field. And on that magnificent marble there is inscribed these significant and inspiring words:
“As we are united in life, and they in death, let one monument perpetuate their undying deeds, and one people, forgetful of all the bitterness of the past, ever hold in grateful remembrance all the glories of the terrible conflict which made all men free, and retained every star upon our nation’s flag.”
And when but yesterday I stood in the shadow of that imperial column and read that noble sentiment composed by a Colonel who commanded a Confederate regiment, I said to myself again, it is our common country now. Who, indeed, can doubt it after the memorable incidents of the Spanish-American war? That was an unfortunate and sanguinary controversy in which we became embroiled with a semi-barbarous power, but let it be remembered that it was not of our own provoking. After exhausting every resource of pacific diplomacy, the government of the United States was compelled to submit the questions at issue to the arbitrament of the sword. We forbore until forbearance ceased to be a virtue, we delayed until dilatoriness was fast becoming a crime. Yonder on the little island of Cuba, thousands of innocent women and children were starving at our very threshold. Cruelties and inhumanities beyond description were daily practiced upon inoffensive noncombatants. Robbery, rapine, and murder without example characterized the conduct of Spain toward her impoverished dependencies. We petitioned, and our petitions were ignored with contempt. We remonstrated, and our remonstrances were scorned with defiance. We protested, and our protests were spurned with derision. Finally the good ship Maine was destroyed, and by that last act of infamy two hundred and sixty-six of our gallant seamen, upon a friendly visit to a supposedly friendly port, with no moment's warning of impending danger, were ruthlessly slaughtered, and without a conscious struggle they passed from the repose of sleep to the repose of death. Then came our declaration of war. It was a trumpet call to duty, and it unified this country as no other agency could have accomplished. Party disagreements were forgotten in the national peril. Personal differences were silenced in the presence of insult to the flag. Instantly, a million men were ready to respond to the crisis, and they came from every city, from every town, from every village, from every hamlet in the broad commonwealth. For the first time in generations there was no north, no south, no east, no west; only a common country, whose dignity had been challenged, whose authority had been impeached. Everywhere the old songs, once sung to symbolize antagonistic sections, were now rendered alternately and indiscriminately by the grand orchestra of aroused, enthusiastic, united American patriots. Thus fortified we proceeded from victory to victory, while vengeance was ours, and until we had repaid. That war was doubly holy because it was a concrete defense of humanity in the abstract. It was our supreme privilege to emancipate a beleagured people, to avenge fiendish and brutal assassination, and once again to banish European tyranny from the occidental hemisphere. My countrymen, I do not know what your opinion may be, and I trust that I do not abuse this occasion, but I announce the profound conviction that there is no place in the territory of this western continent for any but American institutions; there is no room in the atmosphere of this western world for any but the American flag. And in that brief but brilliant engagement with Spain, when I saw the Federal General Merritt and the Confederate General Wheeler standing side by side and shoulder to shoulder under the stars and stripes of the national Union, achieving a new and illustrious glory for our resplendent Republic, I said to myself again, a thousand times, it is our common country now. From Maine to California, from the great lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, the veterans in blue and the veterans in gray are unanimously committed to the proposition that this is a single commonwealth with a single flag and a single destiny. And thus in harmony of spirit the comrades of Grant and the comrades of Lee are journeying down to the twilight of life together with charity for all, with malice toward none. The old anger, the ancient acrimony, all unfriendly feeling, is rapidly vanishing, aye, we believe it has completely vanished from the recollections of men. Over the graves of the fallen dead the spring has cast its tender violets, the summer its gorgeous field of flowers, the autumn its golden withered leaves, the winter its blanket of crystal snow. All is forgiven, all is forgotten except the glorious results of the combat in which our soldiers were engaged, the reminiscences of it in which they alone have the right to indulge, and the obligation which devolves upon us to establish appropriate memorials to commemorate their heroism. The past, so filled with magnificent achievement, is past. We turn with undiminished confidence to the unexplored future. Today, we are the most important people on earth, today we are the most progressive, today we are the most enlightened. We know more than any other people. We have more books on our shelves, more pictures on our walls, more thought in our brains. We have more pleasant homes in this country, more happy children, more beautiful women, more intellectual men; and the world is higher and grander and nobler than ever before. And the government which the fidelity of the north preserved at Shiloh and on a thousand other fields of carnage, is the best government ever organized by man. No other nation so nearly approaches absolute equality, no other republic ever survived half so long without a successful revolution, and every additional star that we imprint upon our emblazoned banner is a perpetual evidence that we intend to advance throughout all eternity. And this shall constitute the marvelous future of our country; that it is and shall be for all time, the United States of America. What is he whose heart is not uplifted, whose soul is not enraptured, whose spirit is not transfigured by the mighty magic of those symbolic words — the “United States of America”?
“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power and pelf,
The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonor'd, and unsung.”
The United States of America! The immortal principles of justice and equity which underlie it! The incomparable benefits which it secures to its citizenship! The inestimable sacrifices which have been suffered to maintain it! It is our home, our country, our beloved government, bequeathed to us forever by the venerated fathers, the most invaluable inheritance ever bestowed upon the sons of men! And it shall go forward forever, surmounting one obstacle after another in the pathway of its development and of its destiny, until at the last it shall seize and hold and reflect the glory and the grandeur of all the earth. Joaquin Miller, that erratic, eccentric and almost insane genius of the Sierra Nevadas, has written a poem of Columbus and his voyage, of its hope and fear and doubt and despair, and of its ultimate reward in the discovery of an unsuspected continent. I never read that poem that I do not instinctively feel that its exalted sentiment typifies the irresistible progress of my country:
“Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind the gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores;
Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: ‘Now must we pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Adm'r'l, speak, what shall I say?’
“Why say: ‘Sail on! Sail on! and on.’”
* * * * * * * *
“They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
‘Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way,
For God from these dread seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Adm'r'l, speak and say —’
He said: ‘Sail on! Sail on! and on!’
“They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
‘This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Adm’r’l say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?’
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
‘Sail on! Sail on! Sail on! and on!”
“Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
And peered through darkness.
Ah, that night Of all dark nights! and then a speck —
A light! a light! a light! a light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: ‘On; Sail on!’”
And so, my countrymen, shall this imperial Republic of ours, proud of yesterday, contented with today, hopeful for tomorrow, sail on and on and on throughout the countless cycles of its shining career, until finally it shall realize the loftiest aspiration of the most devoted patriot who ever offered his best blood to establish it, to maintain it, to defend it. Veterans of the greatest conflict in all history, living and dead, this is your contribution to the happiness of humanity, to the welfare of the world! At the last day, when all men appear to be judged according to the deeds done in the body, surely the approving voice of the great Master will pronounce upon each of you the triumphant benediction: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
SOURCE: Alonzo Abernathy, Editor, Dedication of Monuments Erected By The State Of Iowa, p. 277-87