Address of Colonel William B. Dell, Chairman of the Iowa Shiloh Battlefield Monument Commission:
Governor Cummins, Fellow Citizens:
On the morning of the thirteenth instant, we left Chicago on the governor's special to the southland, on a mission of love. Many of us, especially those who are commissioners, looked forward with a great deal of anticipation to a memorable time, and one that appeals to the best sentiments of the human heart. We arrived at Vicksburg in due time, there to dedicate the monuments on that great battlefield, where Iowa was more numerously represented than on any other field of the war. Vicksburg was termed the “Gibraltar of the West,” and situated as it is on the Father of Waters, its importance as a strategic point was recognized by all. We there witnessed a program for the dedication of our Vicksburg monument which was perfection. Many papers were produced there which will go down in history. The monuments erected by the Vicksburg commission are an honor to the state as well as to the commission.
I cannot dwell on these points. We left Vicksburg for Andersonville. The goodly party, the members of which were more or less acquainted and growing more so day by day from association, arrived at Andersonville, and visited the city of the dead. We were not assembled there as an army with banners. We did not go there to conquer. With us was a cumulative force of unarmed soldiers — the heroes of many battlefields from all along our battle line — some of them captured from time to time, and congregated there. When we looked at the markers there for the thirteen thousand dead, and joined in the exercises, well might Governor Cummins, even, plead the poverty of language in describing the situation, the surroundings, and the feelings of men. The occasion was an appeal to our sympathies, so deep that the only fit response was from the welling up in our hearts and the flow of tears. It is difficult for any one to talk of the experiences of men under those circumstances. We will hastily step out from the city of the dead over into the stockade, where an aggregate of over thirty thousand men were imprisoned at the same time, with no protection from the inclemency of the weather; with the ground for their bed, and the starry firmament for their covering. Who can realize, who can picture the thoughts of those men, as they lay down for the night, looking up into the heavens, in such a condition of hopelessness? Their thoughts, their heroism, are not recorded anywhere for man to peruse. In man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. The little creek that flowed through that stockade became so polluted from the very nature of things that men became diseased, and suffered from the impurity of the water. There was no Moses there, with the rod of Aaron, to strike the rock that would bring forth the supply of water necessary for these perishing men. They became debilitated in mind, but, just as is recorded there, God's thunderbolt opened the earth, and pure water flowed out so that those men were supplied. Veterans sing that they have drunk from the same canteen. We were privileged there, as a party, to drink from the same spring.
“God's mercies flow, an endless stream,
Through all eternity the same.”
Every man and woman in this party who visited the stockade and witnessed the exercises that took place there, came out a better man and a better woman. I think they all realize it.
We leave Andersonville, nevermore, in all probability, to return. We come to Lookout Mountain. We are privileged to go over Lookout Mountain, where the battle was fought above the clouds — a historic point in this country. Battles on every hand, for terms of months and months. The views there are unequaled, perhaps, in this country. The Iowa Lookout Mountain Commission has erected three monuments that are a credit to themselves and an honor to the state. I remained there long enough to see two of these monuments dedicated, and then left, going to Corinth, and thence here to Shiloh, in order to prepare, as best I could, for these exercises.
And now, fellow citizens, we are at Shiloh; and as I turn to speak of the great event that calls us together on this occasion, the scenes and events of that memorable sixth of April, 1862, come pouring into my mind like a flood. It was a beautiful Sabbath morning. Nature had commenced to put on her summer garb. The leaves were only developed sufficiently to slightly obscure the view in the woods; the troops were having morning inspection, many of them simply armed citizens and some of them loaded their muskets for the first time on the field. About eight o'clock, the booming of artillery and the roar of musketry burst upon this encampment, and we realized that the battle of Shiloh was on. About half past eight o'clock we were ordered to the front and formed a line about nine A. M. Five Iowa regiments formed a brigade, and while I wish to speak of this particular brigade, six other Iowa regiments did as hard fighting and some of them suffered greater loss than any of this brigade.
They held the position assigned them until about four P. M. During this time, as we reported officially, this brigade repulsed four separate assaults and suffered heavy loss. The Confederates report that after having made four unsuccessful assaults, they placed sixty pieces of artillery in position. They decided that owing to the great natural strength of the position, they would not attempt the fifth assault, but flanked the position, and captured the remnants of three of these regiments, and named our position the “Hornet’s Nest,” and to verify the statement they have placed sixty pieces of artillery on the same ground as you see them today. But one fails to discover any great natural strength in the position, and can only account for the result by stating that they fought lying down, and made a heroic defense. One thing is certain, each side thereafter had a profound respect for the fighting qualities of the other, and realized they were all Americans. At the close of this contest, they were full-fledged soldiers.
We look upon the city of the dead near by to-day, and we are here to commemorate their patriotism and devotion to their country's cause by dedicating these monuments as a memorial to their fame.
Some seem to think that a soldier that gives his life in defense of his country thereby has a passport to Heaven. This is a mistake. He that secures a title to a mansion in the sky must accept it as a free and unmerited gift. In midsummer a few years ago I sat in yon city of the dead. The magnolia was in bloom, the mocking bird was singing in its branches, and flowers were blooming all round, and the beautiful Tennessee River quietly, like the years of our lives, passing away. I felt it was good to be there, and it seemed to me that any true soldier, Confederate or Federal, would find in his heart a desire to strew flowers on the graves of all.
Turning again to the battle, the total number on both sides engaged was 101,716, and the total loss 23,746 — 23 per cent. Iowa had 6,664 engaged, with a total loss of 2,409, or 36 per cent.
Some seven years ago, Iowa made an appropriation of $50,000.00 to erect monuments on this field of Shiloh, and the present commission was appointed. For various reasons this dedication has been postponed, although the monuments have been completed several years since, but it seems fitting that the state after having appropriated more than a quarter of a million dollars for the erection of monuments on some of the prominent battlefields of the war of '61 and '65, the dedication of all should be provided for together, and now that we close our sad but enjoyable and ever memorable trip at Shiloh, let us hope and pray that nothing in the future of our country will occur to make it possible for any of its citizens to be called upon to perform ceremonies similar to these that we are now engaged in.
The flag of our country at the beginning was baptized in blood by sprinkling; in the war of ‘61 and ‘65 it was baptized in blood by immersion, so to speak, but thank the Lord it is now clean, no blotch, stain or wrinkle. No man can commit crime and claim its protection, but it is the true emblem of liberty, and floats over a reunited country, “The land of the free and the home of the brave.”
And now, the Iowa Shiloh Commissioners have completed the work assigned to them; feel that they have used economy and good judgment, and believe that Iowa people will be well pleased with their work. At the proper time a full report will be made by the commission.
And I now, on behalf of the commission, turn over these monuments to the chief executive of the state, Governor Albert B. Cummins.
SOURCE: Alonzo Abernathy, Editor, Dedication of Monuments Erected By The State Of Iowa, p. 245-9