AT THE DEDICATION OF THE SOLDIERS’ MONUMENT
IN CONCORD, APRIL 19, 1867
,, THEY have shown what men may do,
They have proved how men may die, –
Count, who can, the fields they have pressed,
Each face to the solemn sky ! “
“THINK you these felt no charms
In their gray homesteads and embowered farms ?
In household faces waiting at the door
Their evening step should lighten up no more ?
In fields their boyish feet had known ?
In trees their fathers’ hands had set,
And which with them had grown,
Widening each year their leafy coronet ?
Felt they no pang of passionate regret
For those unsolid goods that seem so much our own ?
These things are dear to every man that lives,
And life prized more for what it lends than gives.
Yea, many a tie, through iteration sweet,
Strove to detain their fatal feet;
And yet the enduring half they chose,
Whose choice decides a man life’s slave or king,
The invisible things of God before the seen and known:
Therefore their memory inspiration blows With echoes gathering on from zone to zone;
For manhood is the one immortal thing
Beneath Time’s changeful sky,
And, where it lightened once, from age to age,
Men come to learn, in grateful pilgrimage,
That length of days is knowing when to die.”
LOWELL, Concord Ode.
DEDICATION OF SOLDIERS’ MONUMENT IN CONCORD, APRIL 19, 1867
FELLOW CITIZENS: The day is in Concord doubly our calendar day, as being the anniversary of the invasion of the town by the British troops in 1775, and of the departure of the company of volunteers for Washington, in 186 r. We are all pretty well aware that the facts which make to us the interest of this day are in a great degree personal and local here; that every other town and city has its own heroes and memorial days, and that we can hardly expect a wide sympathy for the names and anecdotes which we delight to record. We are glad and proud that we have no mono-poly of merit. We are thankful that other towns and cities are as rich ; that the heroes of old and of recent date, who made and kept America free and united, were not rare or solitary growths, but sporadic over vast tracts of the Republic. Yet, as it is a piece of nature and the common sense that the throbbing chord that holds us to our kindred, our friends and our town, is not to be denied or resisted, – no mat-ter how frivolous or unphilosophical its pulses, – we shall cling affectionately to our houses, our river and pastures, and believe that our visitors will pardon us if we take the privilege of talking freely about our nearest neighbors as in a family party ; – well assured, meantime, that the virtues we are met to honor were directed on aims which command the sympathy of ever loyal American citizen, were exerted for the protection of our common country, and aided its triumph.
The town has thought fit to signify its honor for a few of its sons by raising an obelisk in the square. It is a simple pile enough, -a few slabs of granite, dug just below the surface of the soil, and laid upon the top of it; but as we have learned that the upheaved mountain, from which these discs or flakes were broken, was once a glowing mass at white heat, slowly crystallized, then uplifted by the central fires of the globe : so the roots of the events it appropriately marks are in the heart of the universe. I’ shall say of this obelisk, planted here in our quiet plains, what Richter says of the volcano in the fair landscape of Naples: ” Vesuvius stands in this poem of Nature, and exalts everything, as war does the age.
The art of the architect and the sense of the town have made these dumb stones speak ; have, if I may borrow the old language of the church, converted these elements from a secular to a sacred and spiritual use; have made them look to the past and the future ; have given them a meaning for the imagination and the heart. The sense of the town, the eloquent inscriptions the shaft now bears, the memories of these martyrs, the noble names which yet have gathered only their first fame, whatever good grows to the country out of the war, the largest results, the future power and genius of the land, will go on clothing this shaft with daily beauty and spiritual life. ‘T is certain that a plain stone like this, standing on such memories, having no’ reference to utilities, but only to the grand instincts of the civil and moral man, mixes with surrounding nature, – by day with the changing seasons, by night the stars roll over it gladly, -becomes a sentiment, a poet, a prophet, an orator, to every townsman and passenger, an altar where the noble youth shall in all time come to make his secret vows.’
The old Monument, a short half-mile from this house, stands to signalize the first Revolution, where the people resisted offensive usurpations, offensive taxes of the British Parliament, claiming that there should be no tax without representation. Instructed by events, after the quarrel began, the Americans took higher ground, and stood for political independence. But in the necessities of the hour, they over-looked the moral law, and winked at a practical exception to the Bill of Rights they had drawn up. They winked at the exception, believing it insignificant. But the moral law, the nature of things, did not wink at it, but kept its eve wide open. It turned out that this one violation was a subtle poison, which in eighty years corrupted the whole overgrown body politic, and brought the alternative of extirpation of the poison or ruin to the Republic.
This new Monument is built to mark the arrival of the nation at the new principle, – say, rather, at its new acknowledgment, for the principle is as old as Heaven, – that only that state can live, in which injury to the least member is recognized as damage to the whole.
Reform must begin at home. The aim of the hour was to reconstruct the South ; but first the North had to be reconstructed. Its own theory and practice of liberty had got sadly out of gear, and must be corrected. It was done on the instant. A thunder-storm at sea some-times reverses the magnets in the ship, and south is north. The storm of war works the like miracle on men. Every Democrat who went South came back a Republican, like the govern-ors who, in Buchanan’s time, went to Kansas, and instantly took the free-state colors. War, says the poet, is
” the arduous strife,
To which the triumph of all good is given.”
Every principle is a war-note. When the rights of man are recited under any old government, every one of them is a declaration of war. War civilizes, rearranges the population, distributing by ideas, – the innovators on one side, the antiquaries on the other. It opens the eyes wider. Once we were patriots up to the town-bounds, or the state-line. But when you re-place the love of family or clan by a principle, as freedom, instantly that fire runs over the state-line into New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Ohio, into the prairie and beyond, leaps the mountains, bridges river and lake, burns as hotly in Kansas and California as in Boston, and no chemist can one soil and the other. It lifts every population to an equal power and merit.
As long as we debate in council, both sides may form their private guess what the event may be, or which is the strongest. But the. moment you cry ” Every man to his tent, 0 Israel ! ” the delusions of hope and fear are at an end ; – the strength is now to be tested by the eternal facts. There will be no doubt more. The world is equal to itself. The secret architecture of things begins to disclose itself; the fact that all things were made on a basis of right ; that justice is really desired by all intelligent beings ; that opposition to it is against the nature of things ; and that, whatever may happen in this hour or that, the years and the centuries are always pulling down the wrong and building up the right.
The war made the Divine Providence credible to many who did not believe the good Heaven quite honest. Every man was an abolitionist by conviction, but did not believe that his neighbor was. The opinions of masses of men, which the tactics of primary caucuses and the proverbial timidity of trade had concealed, the war discovered ; and it was found, contrary to all popular belief, that the country was at heart abolitionist, and for the Union was ready to die.
As cities of men are the first effects of civilization, and also instantly causes of more civilization, so armies, which are only wandering cities, generate a vast heat, and lift the spirit of the soldiers who compose them to the boiling point. The armies mustered in the North were as much missionaries to the mind of the country as they were carriers of material force, and had the vast advantage of carrying whither they marched a higher civilization. Of course, there are noble men everywhere, and there are such in the South; and the noble know the noble, wherever they meet; and we have all heard passages of generous and exceptional behavior exhibited by individuals there to our officers and men, during the war. But the common people, rich or poor, were the narrowest and most conceited of mankind, as arrogant as the negroes on the Gambia River ; and, by the way, it looks as if the editors of the Southern press were in all times selected from this class. The invasion of Northern farmers, mechanics, engineers, tradesmen, lawyers and students did more than forty years of peace had done to educate the South.’ ” This will be a slow business,” writes our Concord captain home, ” for we have to stop and civilize the people as we go along.”
It is an interesting part of the history, the manner in which this incongruous militia were made soldiers. That was done again on the Kansas plan. Our farmers went to Kansas as peaceable, God-fearing men as the members of our school committee here. But when the Border raids were let loose on their villages, these people, who turned pale at home if called to dress a cut finger, on witnessing the butchery done by the Missouri riders on women and babes, were so beside themselves with rage, that they became on the instant the bravest soldiers and the most determined avengers.1 And the first events of the war of the Rebellion gave the like training to the new recruits.
All sorts of men went to the war, – the roughs, men who liked harsh play and violence, men for whom pleasure was not strong enough, but who wanted pain, and found sphere at last for their superabundant energy ; then the ad-venturous type of New Englander, with his appetite for novelty and travel ; the village politician, who could now verify his newspaper knowledge, see the South, and amass what a stock of adventures to retail hereafter at the fireside, or to the well-known companions on the Mill-dam ; young men, also, of excellent education and polished manners, delicately brought up; manly farmers, skilful mechanics, young tradesmen, men hitherto of narrow opportunities of knowing the world, but well taught in the grammar-schools. But perhaps in every one of these classes were idealists, men who went from a religious duty. I have a note of a conversation that occurred in our first company, the morning before the battle of Bull Run. At a halt in the march, a few of our boys were sitting on a rail fence talking together whether it was right to sacrifice themselves. One of them said, he had been thinking a good deal about it, last night, and he thought one was never too young to die for a principle.’ One of our later volunteers, on the day when he left home, in reply to my question, How can you be spared from your farm, now that your father is so ill ? said : ” I go because I shall always be sorry if I did not go when the country called me. I can go as well as another.” One wrote to his father these words : ” You may think it strange that I, who have always naturally rather shrunk from danger, should wish to enter the army ; but there is a higher Power that tunes the hearts of men, and enables them to see their duty, and gives them courage to face the dangers with which those duties are attended.” And the captain writes home of another of his men, ” B comes from a sense of duty and love of country, and these are the soldiers you can depend upon.”
None of us can have forgotten how sharp a test to try our peaceful people with, was the first call for troops. I doubt not many of our soldiers could repeat the confession of a youth whom I knew in the beginning of the war, who enlisted in New York, went to the field, and died early. Before his departure he confided to his sister that he was naturally a coward, but was determined that no one should ever find it out ; that he had long trained himself by forcing himself, on the suspicion of any near danger, to go directly up to it, cost him what struggles it might. Yet it is from this temperament of sensibility that great heroes have been formed.
Our first company was led by an officer who had grown up in this village from a boy.2 The older among us can well remember him at school, at play and at work, all the way up, the most amiable, sensible, unpretending of men ; fair, blond, the rose lived long in his cheek ;grave, but social, and one of the last men in this town you would have picked out for the rough dealing of war, – not a trace of fierceness, much less of recklessness, or of the devouring thirst for excitement ; tender as a woman in his care for a cough or a chilblain in his men ; had troches and arnica in his pocket for them. The army officers were welcome to their jest on him as too kind for a captain, and, later, as the colonel who got off his horse when he saw one of his men limp on the march, and told him to ride. But he knew that his men had found out, first that he was captain, then that he was colonel, and neither dared nor wished to disobey him. He was a man without conceit, who never fancied himself a philosopher or a saint ; the most modest and amiable of men, engaged in common duties, but equal always to the occasion ; and the war showed him still equal, however stern and terrible the occasion grew,- disclosed in him a strong good sense, great fertility of resource, the helping hand, and then the moral qualities of a commander, -a patience not to be tired out, a serious devotion to the cause of the country that never swerved, a hope that never failed. He was a Puritan in the army, with traits that remind one of John Brown, – an integrity incorruptible, and an ability that always rose to the need.
You will remember that these colonels, captains and lieutenants, and the privates too, are domestic men, just wrenched away from their families and their business by this rally of all the manhood in the land. They have notes to pay at home ; have farms, shops, factories, affairs of every kind to think of and write home about. Consider what sacrifice and havoc in business arrangements this war-blast made. They have to think carefully of every last re-source at home on which their wives or mothers may fall back ; upon the little account in the savings hank, the grass that can be sold, the old cow, or the heifer. These necessities make the topics of the ten thousand letters with which the mail-bags came loaded day by day. These letters play a great part in the war. The writing of letters made the Sunday in every camp : – meantime they are without the means of writing. After the first marches there is no letter-paper, there are no envelopes, no postage-stamps, for these were wetted into a solid mass in the rains and mud. Some of these letters are written on the back of old bills, some on brown paper, or strips of newspaper ; written by firelight, making the short night shorter ; written on the knee, in the mud, with pencil, six words at a time ; or in the saddle, and have to stop because the horse will not stand still. But the words are proud and tender, – ” Tell mother I will not disgrace her ;” ” tell her not to worry about me, for I know she would not have had me stay at home if she could as well as not.” The letters of the captain are the dearest treasures of this town. Always devoted, sometimes anxious, sometimes full of joy at the deportment of his comrades, they contain the sincere praise of men whom I now see in this assembly. If Marshal Montluc’s1 Memoirs are the Bible of soldiers, as Henry IV. of France said, Colonel Prescott might furnish the Book of Epistles.
He writes, ” You don’t know how one gets attached to a company by living with them and sleeping with them all the time. I know every man by heart. I know every man’s weak spot, – who is shaky, and who is true blue.” He never remits his care of the men, aiming to hold them to their good habits and to keep them cheerful. For the first point, he keeps up a constant acquaintance with them ; urges their correspondence with their friends ; writes news of them home, urging his own correspondent to visit their families and keep them informed about the men ; encourages a temperance society which is formed in the camp. ” I have not had a man drunk, or affected by liquor, since we came here.” At one time he finds his company unfortunate in having fallen between two companies of quite another class, -” ‘t is profanity all the time ; yet instead of a bad influence on our men, I think it works the other way, – it disgusts them.”
One day he writes, ” I expect to have a time, this forenoon, with the officer from West Point who drills us. He is very profane, and I will not stand it. If he does not stop it, I shall march my men right away when he is drilling them. There is a fine for officers swearing in the army, and I have too many young men that are not used to such talk. I told the colonel this morning I should do it, and shall, – don’t care what the consequence is. This lieutenant seems to think that these men, who never saw a gun, can drill as well as he, who has been at West Point four years.” At night he adds : ” I told that officer from West Point, this morning, that he could not swear at my company as he did yesterday; told him I would not stand it anyway. I told him I had a good many young men in my company whose mothers asked me to look after them, and I should do so, and not allow them to hear such language, especially from an officer, whose duty it was to set them a better example. Told him I did not swear myself and would not allow him to. He looked at me as much as
to say, Do you know whom you are talking to? and I looked at him as much as to say, Fes, I do. He looked rather ashamed, but went through the drill without an oath.” So much for the care of their morals. His next point is to keep them cheerful. ‘T is better than medicine. He has games of baseball, and pitching quoits, and euchre, whilst part of the military discipline is sham fights.
The best men heartily second him, and invent excellent means of their own. When, afterwards, five of these men were prisoners in the Parish Prison in New Orleans, they set themselves to use the time to the wisest advantage, – formed a debating-club, wrote a daily or weekly news-paper, called it ” Stars and Stripes.” It advertises, ” prayer-meeting at 7 o’clock, in cell No. 8, second floor,” and their own printed record is a proud and affecting narrative.
Whilst the regiment was encamped at Camp Andrew, near Alexandria, in June, 1861, marching orders came. Colonel Lawrence sent for eight wagons, but only three came. On these they loaded all the canvas of the tents, but took no tent-poles.
” It looked very much like a severe thunder-storm,” writes the captain, ” and I knew the men would all have to sleep out of doors, unless we carried them. So I took six poles, and went to the colonel, and told him 1 had got the poles for two tents, which would cover twenty-four men, and unless he ordered me not to carry them, I should do so. He said he had no objection, only thought they would be too much for me. We only had about twelve men [the rest of the company being, perhaps, on picket or other duty], and some of them have their heavy knapsacks and guns to carry, so could not carry any poles. We started and marched two miles without stop-ping to rest, not having had anything to eat, and being very hot and dry.” At this time Captain Prescott was daily threatened with sickness, and suffered the more from this heat. ” I told Lieu-tenant Bowers, this morning, that I could afford to be sick from bringing the tent-poles, for it saved the whole regiment from sleeping out-doors ; for they would not have thought of it, if I had not taken mine. The major had tried to discourage me ; – said, ` perhaps, if I carried them over, some other company would get them ; ‘ – I told him, perhaps he did not think I was smart.” He had the satisfaction to see the whole regiment enjoying the protection of these tents.’
In the disastrous battle of Bull Run this company behaved well, and the regimental officers believed, what is now the general conviction of the country, that the misfortunes of the day were not so much owing to the fault of the troops as to the insufficiency of the combinations by the general officers. It happened, also, that the Fifth Massachusetts was almost unofficered. The colonel was, early in the day, disabled by a casualty ; the lieutenant-colonel, the major and the adjutant were already transferred to new regiments, and their places were not vet filled. The three months of the enlistment expired a few days after the battle.
In the fall of 1861, the old artillery company of this town was reorganized, and Captain Richard Barrett received a commission in March, 1862, from the state, as its commander. This company, chiefly recruited here, was later em-bodied in the Forty-seventh Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, enlisted as nine months’ men, and sent to New Orleans, where they were employed in guard duty during their term of service. Captain Humphrey H. Buttrick, lieu-tenant in this regiment, as he had been already lieutenant in Captain Prescott’s company in 1861, went out again in August, 1864, a captain in the Fifty-ninth Massachusetts, and saw hard service in the Ninth Corps, under General Burn-side. The regiment being formed of veterans, and in fields requiring great activity and expo-sure, suffered extraordinary losses ; Captain But-trick and one other officer being the only officers in it who were neither killed, wounded nor captured.’ In August, 1862, on the new requisition for troops, when it was becoming difficult to meet the draft, – mainly through the personal example and influence of Mr. Sylvester Lovejoy, twelve men, including himself, were enlisted for three years, and, being soon after enrolled in the Fortieth Massachusetts, went to the war; and a very good account has been heard, not only of the regiment, but of the talents and virtues of these men.
After the return of the three months’ company to Concord, in 1861, Captain Prescott raised a new company of volunteers, and Captain Bowers another. Each of these companies included recruits from this town, end they formed part of the Thirty-second Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. Enlisting for three years, and remaining to the end of the war, these troops saw every variety of hard service which the war offered, and, though suffering at first some disadvantage from change of commanders, and from severe losses, they grew at last, under the command of Colonel Prescott, to an excellent reputation, attested by the names of the thirty battles they were authorized to inscribe on their flag, and by the important position usually assigned them in the field.
I have found many notes of their rough experience in the march and in the field. In McClellan’s retreat in the Peninsula, in July, 1862, ” it is all our men can do to draw their feet out of the mud. We marched one mile through mud, without exaggeration, one foot deep, – a good deal of the way over my boots, and with short rations ; on one day nothing but liver, blackberries, and pennyroyal tea.”-” At Fredericksburg we lay eleven hours in one spot without moving, except to rise and fire.” The next note is, “cracker for a day and a half, – but all right.” Another day, ” had not left the ranks for thirty hours, and the nights were broken by frequent alarms. How would Concord people,” he asks, ” like to pass the night on the battle-field, and hear the dying cry for help, and not be able to go to them ? ” But the regiment did good service at Harrison’s Landing, and at Antietam, under Colonel Parker ; and at Fredericksburg, in December, Lieutenant-Colonel Prescott loudly expressed his satisfaction at his comrades, now and then particularizing names : ” Bowers, Shepard and Lauriat are as brave as lions.”
At the battle of Gettysburg, in July, 1863, the brigade of which the Thirty-second Regiment formed a part, was in line of battle seventy-two hours, and suffered severely. Colonel Prescott’s regiment went in with two hundred and ten men, nineteen officers. On the second of July they had to cross the famous wheat-field, under fire from the rebels in front and on both flanks. Seventy men were killed or wounded out of seven companies. Here Francis Buttrick, whose manly beauty all of us remember, and Sergeant Appleton, an excellent soldier, were fatally wounded. The Colonel was hit by three bullets. ” I feel,” he writes, ” I have much to be thankful for that my life is spared, although I would willingly die to have the regiment do as well as they have done. Our colors had several holes made, and were badly torn. One bullet hit the staff which the bearer had in his hand. The color-bearer is brave as a lion ; he will go anywhere you say, and no questions asked ; his name is Marshall Davis.” The Colonel took evident pleasure in the fact that he could account for all his men. There were so many killed, so many wounded, – but no missing. For that word ” missing ” was apt to mean skulking. Another incident : ” A friend of Lieutenant Barrow complains that we did not treat his body with respect, inasmuch as we did not send it home. I think we were very fortunate to save it at all, for in ten minutes after he was killed the rebels occupied the ground, and we had to carry him and all our wounded nearly two miles in blankets. There was no place nearer than Baltimore where we could have got a coffin, and I sup-pose it was eighty miles there. We laid him in two double blankets, and then sent off a long distance and got boards off a barn to make the best coffin we could, and gave him burial.”
After Gettysburg, Colonel Prescott remarks that our regiment is highly complimented. When Colonel Gurney, of the Ninth, came to him the next day to tell him that ” folks are just beginning to appreciate the Thirty-second Regiment : it always was a good regiment, and people are just beginning to find it out ; ” Colonel Prescott notes in his journal, – ” Pity they have not found it out before it was all gone. We have a hundred and seventy-seven guns this morning.”
Let me add an extract from the official report of the brigade commander: ” Word was sent by General Barnes, that, when we retired, we should fall hack under cover of the woods. This order was communicated to Colonel Prescott, whose regiment was then under the hottest fire. Understanding it to be a peremptory order to retire then, he replied, ` I don’t want to retire ; I am not ready to retire ; I can hold this place ; ‘ and he made good his assertion. Being informed that he misunderstood the order, which was only to inform him how to retire when it became necessary, he was satisfied, and he and his command held their ground manfully.” It was said that Colonel Prescott’s reply, when reported, pleased the Acting-Brigadier-General Sweitzer mightily. After Gettysburg, the Thirty-second Regiment saw hard service at Rappahannock Station ; and at Baltimore, in Virginia, where they were drawn up in battle order for ten days successively : crossing the Rapidan, and suffering from such extreme cold, a few days later, at Mine Run, that the men were compelled to break rank and run in circles to keep them-selves from being frozen. On the third of December, they went into winter quarters.
I must not follow the multiplied details that make the hard work of the next year. But the campaign in the Wilderness surpassed all their worst experience hitherto of the soldier’s life. On the third of May, they crossed the Rapidan for the fifth time. On the twelfth, at Laurel Hill, the regiment had twenty-one killed and seventy-five wounded, including five officers. ” The regiment has been in the front and centre since the battle begun, eight and a half days ago, and is now building breastworks on the Fredericksburg road. This has been the hardest fight the world ever knew. I think the loss of our army will be forty thousand. Every day, for the last eight days, there has been a terrible battle the whole length of the line. One day they drove us ; but it has been regular bull-dog fighting.” On the twenty-first, they had been, for seventeen days and nights, under arms without rest. On the twenty-third, they crossed the North Anna, and achieved a great success. On the thirtieth, we learn, ” Our regiment has never been in the second line since we crossed the Rapidan, on the third.” On the night of the thirtieth, -” The hardest day we ever had. We have been in the first line twenty-six days, and fighting every day but two ; whilst your news-papers talk of the inactivity of the Army of the Potomac. If those writers could be here and fight all day, and sleep in the trenches, and be called up several times in the night by picket-firing, they would not call it inactive.” June fourth is marked in the diary as ” An awful day;-two hundred men lost to the command;” and not until the fifth of June comes at last a respite for a short space, during which the men drew shoes and socks, and the officers were able to send to the wagons and procure a change of clothes, for the first time in five weeks.
But from these incessant labors there was now to be rest for one head, – the honored and beloved commander of the regiment. On the sixteenth of June, they crossed the James River, and marched to within three miles of Petersburg. Early in the morning of the eighteenth they went to the front, formed line of battle, and were ordered to take the Norfolk and Petersburg Rail-road from the rebels. In this charge, Colonel Georgeo. L. Prescott was mortally wounded. After driving the enemy from the railroad, crossing it, and climbing the farther bank to continue the charge, he was struck, in front of his command, by a musket-ball which entered his breast near the heart. He was carried off the field to the division hospital, and died on the following morning. On his death-bed, he received the needless assurances of his general that ” he had done more than all his duty,” – needless to a conscience so faithful and unspotted. One of his townsmen and comrades, a sergeant in his regiment, writing to his own family, uses these words : ” He was one of the few men who fight for principle. He did not fight for glory, honor, nor money, but because he thought it his duty. These are not my feelings only, but of the whole regiment.”
On the first of January, 1865, the Thirty-second Regiment made itself comfortable in log huts, a mile south of our rear line of works before Petersburg. On the fourth of February, sudden orders came to move next morning at daylight. At Dabney’s Mills, in a sharp fight, they lost seventy-four in killed, wounded and missing. Here Major Shepard was taken prisoner. The lines were held until the tenth, with more than usual suffering from snow and hail and intense cold, added to the annoyance of the artillery fire. On the first of April, the regiment connected with Sheridan’s cavalry, near the Five Forks, and took an important part in that battle which opened Petersburg and Richmond, and forced the surrender of Lee. On the ninth, they marched in support of the cavalry, and were advancing in a grand charge, when the white flag of General Lee appeared. The brigade of which the Thirty-second Regiment formed part was detailed to receive the formal surrender of the rebel arms. The homeward march began on the thirteenth, and the regiment was mustered out in the field, at Washington, on the twenty-eighth of June, and arrived in Boston on the first of July.
Fellow citizens: The obelisk records only the names of the dead. There is something partial in this distribution of honor. Those who went through those dreadful fields and returned not deserve much more than all the honor we can pay. But those also who went through the same fields, and returned alive, put just as much at hazard as those who died, and, in other countries, would wear distinctive badges of honor as long as they lived. I hope the disuse of such medals or badges in this country only signifies that every-body knows these men, and carries their deeds in such lively remembrance that they require no badge or reminder. I am sure I need not be-speak your gratitude to these fellow citizens and neighbors of ours. I hope they will be content with the laurels of one war.
But let me, in behalf of this assembly, speak directly to you, our defenders, and say, that it is easy to see that if danger should ever threaten the homes which you guard, the knowledge of your presence will be a wall of fire for their protection. Brave men! you will hardly be called to see again fields as terrible as those you have already trampled with your victories.
There are people who can hardly read the names on yonder bronze tablet, the mist so gathers in their eves. Three of the names are of sons of one family.’ A gloom gathers on this assembly, composed as it is of kindred men and women, for, in many houses, the dearest and noblest is gone from their hearth-stone. Yet it is tinged with light from heaven. A duty so severe has been discharged, and with such immense results of good, lifting private sacrifice to the sublime, that, though the cannon volleys have a sound of funeral echoes, they can yet hear through them the benedictions of their country and mankind.
IN the above Address I have been compelled to suppress more details of personal interest than I have used. But I do not like to omit the testimony to the character of the Commander of the Thirty-second Massachusetts Regiment, given in the following letter by one of his soldiers : –
NEAR PETERSBURG, VIRGINIA,
June 20, 1864.
DEAR FATHER :
With feelings of deep regret, I inform you that Colonel Prescott, our brave and lamented leader, is no more. He was shot through the body, near the heart, on the eighteenth day of June, and died the following morning. On the morning of the eighteenth, our division was not in line. Reveille was at an early hour, and before long we were moving to the front. Soon we passed the ground where the Ninth Corps drove the enemy from their fortified lines, and came upon and formed our line in rear of Crawford’s Division. In front of us, and one mile distant, the Rebels’ lines of works could be seen. Between us and them, and in a deep gulley, was the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad. Soon the order came for us to take the railroad from the enemy, whose advance then held it. Four regiments of our brigade were to head the charge; so the 32d Massachusetts, 62d, 91st and 155th Pennsylvania regiments, under command of Colonel Gregory, moved forward in good order, the enemy keeping up a steady fire all the time All went well till we reached the road. The Rebels left when they saw us advance, and, when we reached the road, they were running away. But here our troubles began. The banks, on each side of the road, were about thirty feet high, and, being stiff clay, were nearly perpendicular. We got down well enough, because we got started, and were rolled to the bottom, a confused pile of Yanks. Now to climb the other side! It was impossible to get up by climbing, for the side of it was like the side of a house. By dint of getting on each other’s shoulders and making holes for our feet with bayonets, a few of us got up ; reaching our guns down to the others, we all finally got over. Meanwhile, a storm of bullets was rained upon us. Through it all, Colonel Prescott was cool and collected, encouraging the men to do their best. After we were almost all across, he moved out in front of the line, and called the men out to him, saying, ” Come on, men ; form our line here.” The color-bearer stepped towards him, when a bullet struck the Colonel, passed through him, and wounded the color-bearer, Sergeant Giles of Company G. Calmly the Colonel turned, and said, ” I am wounded; some one help me off.” A sergeant of Company B, and one of the 21st Pennsylvania, helped him off. This man told me, last night, all that the Colonel said, while going off. He was afraid we would be driven hack, and wanted these men to stick by him. He said, ” I die for my country.” He seemed to be conscious that death was near to him, and said the wound was near his heart; wanted the sergeant of Company B to write to his family, and tell them all about him. He will write to Mrs. Prescott, probably ; but if they do not hear from some one an account of his death, I wish you would show this to Mrs. Prescott. He died in the division hospital, night before last, and his remains will probably be sent to Concord. We lament his loss in the regiment very much. He was like a father to us, – always counselling us to be firm in the path of duty, and setting the example himself. I think a more moral man, or one more likely to enter the kingdom of heaven, cannot be found in the Army of the Potomac. No man ever heard him swear, or saw him use liquor, since we were in the service, I wish there was some way for the regiment to pay some tribute to his memory. But the folks at home must do this for the present. The Thirty-second Regiment has lost its leader, and calls on the people of Concord to console the afflicted family of the brave departed, by showing their esteem for him in some manner. He was one of the few men who fight for principle, – pure principle. He did not fight for glory, honor nor money but because he thought it his duty. These are not my feelings only, but of the whole regiment. I want you to show this to every one, so they can see what we thought of the Colonel, and how he died in front of his regiment. God bless and comfort his poor family. Perhaps people think soldiers have no feeling, but it is not so. We feel deep anxiety for the families of all our dear comrades.
Sergeant Company G, 32d Mass. Vols.’