Soldiers Of The Union Army: I have been desired by the conductor of the “Soldiers’ Friend” to address a few words to you at the opening of a new year. I take, the occasion to offer you my warmest congratulations on what you have accomplished in the past year, and what you may expect to accomplish in the year before you.
At the beginning of the year 1864 the rebel generals presented a formidable front to our armies. Lee, at the head of a powerful force, occupied the banks of the Rapidan and the Rappahannock, threatening Washington and Pennsylvania. Early and his rebel cavalry held the wide valley of the Shenandoah. Johnston, with a formidable army, had posted himself at Atlanta, deemed an impregnable position, in which the rebels had stored the munitions of war in vast magazines, and collected the machinery by which they were fabricated.
A glance at the history of the past year will show you how all this state of things has been rapidly changed.
It will show General Grant transferred from the West, and invested with the command of our armies, pressing Lee by a series of splendid and hotly contested victories southward to Richmond, where Grant now holds the first general of the rebel army and its choicest troops unwilling prisoners.
It will show General Sheridan sweeping down the valley of the Shenandoah, and, by a series of brilliant successes, driving Early from the field.
It will show General Sherman leaving his position in Tennessee, and, by a series of able movements, reaching Atlanta, flanking and defeating Hood, capturing Atlanta, giving that stronghold of rebellion to the flames, and then making a triumphant march of three hundred miles through the heart of Georgia down to Savannah, which yields at the first summons, while the troops which held it save themselves from capture by flight.
It will show General Thomas, left in Tennessee by Sherman to deal with Hood, luring that commander from his advantageous position, and then falling upon his troops with an impetuosity which they cannot resist, till, by defeat after defeat, his broken and diminished army has become a mere band of fugitives.
It will show Mobile Bay entered by our navy, under the gallant Farragut, and held by him until the Federal troops shall be ready to occupy the town from the land side. It will show Wilmington, that principal mart of the blockade-runners, menaced both by sea and land, and Charleston trembling lest her fate may be like that of Savannah.
The year closes in these events, which, important as they are in themselves, are no less important in the consequences to which they lead, and which, as the ports of the enemy fall into our hands, as their resources one by one are cut off, their communications broken, and their armies lessened by defeat and desertion, promise the early disorganization of the rebellion, a speedy end of all formidable resistance to the authority of the Government, and the abandonment of the schemes formed by the rebel leaders, in utter despair of their ability to execute them.
Soldiers! This is your work! These are your heroic achievements; for these a grateful country gives you its thanks. Millions of hearts beat with love and pride when you are named. Millions of tongues speak your praise and offer up prayers for your welfare. Millions of hands are doing and giving all they can for your comfort, and that of the dear ones whom you have left at your homes. The history of the present war will be the history of your courage, your constancy, and the cheerful sacrifices you have made to the cause of your country.
I feel that you need no exhortation to persevere as you have begun. If I did, I would say to the men at the front: Be strong; be hopeful! your crowning triumph cannot be far distant. When it arrives, our nation will have wiped out a dark stain, which we feared it might yet wear for ages, and will stand in the sight of the world a noble commonwealth of freemen, bound together by ties which will last as long as the common sympathies of our race.
To those who suffer in our hospitals, the wounded and maimed in the war, I would say: The whole nation suffers with you; the whole nation implores Heaven for your relief and solace. A grateful nation will not, cannot, forget you.
The nation has voted to stand by you who have fought or are fighting its battles. This great Christian nation has signified to the Government its will that the cause, in which you have so generously suffered and bled, shall never be abandoned, but shall be resolutely maintained until the hour of its complete triumph. Meantime, the salutation of the new year, which I offer you, comes from millions of hearts as well as from mine, mingled in many of them with prayers for your protection in future conflicts, and thanksgiving for your success in those which are past. May you soon witness the glorious advent of that happy new year, when our beloved land, having seen the end of this cruel strife, shall present to the world a union of States with homogeneous institutions, founded on universal freedom, dwelling together in peace and unbroken amity, and when you who have fought so well, and triumphed so gloriously, shall return to your homes, amid the acclamations of your countrymen, wiser and more enlightened, and not less virtuous than when you took up arms for your country, with not one vice of the camp to cause regret to your friends.
William C. Bryant.
January 1, 1865.
SOURCE: Parke Godwin, A Biography of William Cullen Bryant, Volume 1, p. 221-3