Skip to content

1865 July 15: The 4th of July Commemoration at Gettysburg

July 20, 2015

The following address by General O. O. Howard on July 4, 1865, at Gettysburg comes from the July 15, 1865, issue of The Prescott Journal.

GENERAL INTELLIGENCE.

Fourth of July at Gettysburg—The American Soldier.

As I stand here to-day before a peaceful audience, composed as it is of beautiful ladies, joyous children and happy citizens, and think of my last visit to this place two years ago, and of the terrible scenes to which it was my lot to bear a part, I cannot help exclaiming, “How changed!  How changed!”  It was the same rich landscape, broad and beautiful, covered with every variety of natural objects to please the eye.  The same wooded ridges and cultivated fields ;  the same neat little town clinging to the hill side ;  the same broad avenues of approach ;  the same ravines and creeks—but, Thank God, the awful magnificence of hosts arrayed against each other in deadly strife, is wanting.  Yonder heights, are no longer crowned with hostile cannon ;  the valleys do not reverberate with their fearful roar ;  the groves and the houses do not give back the indescribable peal of the musketry fire.  And oh !  how like a dream to-day seems that sad spectacle of broken tombstones, prostrate fences, and the ground strewn with our own wounded and dead companions !  Then follows, after battle, the mingling of friends and enemies, with suffering depicted in all possible modes of portraiture.  The surgeons, with resolute hearts and bloody hands, the pale faces of relatives searching for dear ones, the busy Sanitary and Christian workers—all pass before my mind in group after group.

My friend[s], my companions, my countrymen, suffer me to congratulate you anew to-day this 4th day of July, 1865, that this sad work is completely done, and that sweet peace has really dawned upon us.  On the 19th day of November, 1864, this National Cemetery, a pious tribute to manliness and virtue, was consecrated.  The Hon. Edward Everett delivered an addres [sic] in his own rich, clear, elegant style, which, having been published, has long ago become historical and affords us a complete and graphic account of the campaign and battle of Gettysburg.  I am deeply grateful to this noble patriot for his indefatigable industry in securing facts, and for the clear narrative he has left us of this battle, in which every living loyal soldier who fought here is now proud to have borne a part.  He, joining the patriotic band of those that are honored by his eloquence, has gone to his reward¹ ;  and let his memory ever be mingled with those here, upon whose graves he so earnestly invoked your benediction.  Mr. Everett was followed by the few remarkable words of President Lincoln.  [Abraham Lincoln]

While Mr. Lincoln’s name is so near and dear to us, and the memory of his work and sacrifices so fresh, I deem it not inappropriate to repeat his own words :  “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forward² upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battlefield of that war.  We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But in a larger sense we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work they have thus far so nobly carried on.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task of remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain, that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The civil war is ended ;  the test was complete.  He, Abraham Lincoln, never forgot his own dedication till the work was finished.  He did display even increased devotion if it were possible.  The dead did not die in vain, and the nation has experienced already the new birth of freedom of which he spoke.  Oh !  that in the last throes of darkness and crime God had seen it good to have spared us that great heart out of which proceeded such welcome works of truth and encouragement !  How very much of grateful recollection clusters around the name of Abraham Lincoln as we pronounce here among the dead who have died that our nation might not perish from the earth !  These grounds have already been consecrated and are doubly sacred from the memory of our brethren who lie here, and from the association with those remarkable men, Mr. Everett and Mr. Lincoln, who gave tone to the exercises of consecration two years ago, whose bodies are now resting beneath the sod, but whose spirit is still living and unmistakably animating every true American heart this day.  We have now been called to lay the corner stone of a monument.  This monument is not a mere family record, the simple memorial of individual fame, nor the silent tribute to genius.  It is raised to the soldier.  It embraces a patriotic brotherhood of heroes in its inscriptions, and is an unceasing herald of labor, suffering, union, liberty and sacrifice.

Let us then, as is proper on such an occasion as this, give a few thoughts to the American soldier.  We have now embraced under this generic name of soldier the dutiful officer, the volunteer soldier, the regular, the colored, and the conscript ;  but in my remarks, I will present you the private volunteers as the representative American soldier.  In the early part of 1861, the true citizen heard that traitors at Washington had formed a conspiracy to overthrow the Government, and soon after that the stars and stripes had been fired upon and had been hauled down at the bidding of an armed enemy in South Carolina, that the Capital of the nation was threatened, and that our new President had called for help.

How quickly the citizen answered the call !

Almost like magic he sprang forth a soldier.

His farm or his bench, his desk or his counter, was left behind, and you find him marching through the then gloomy, flagless, defiant streets of Baltimore, fully equipped for service, with uniform gray, blue, red or green—it then mattered not ;  with knapsack, cartridge box, musket and bayonet, this outfit was all that was required.  He was a little awkward, his accouterments much awry, his will unsubdued.  He did not keep step with the music, nor always lock step with his companions.  He had scarcely ever fired a musket, but he had become a soldier, put on the soldier’s garb, set his face toward the enemy, and God willing, he purposed never to turn back till the soldier’s work was done.

You meet him in Washington (or Meridian Hill perhaps;) discipline and drill seize upon him, restrain his liberty, and mould his body.  Colonels, captains, lieutenants, and sergeants, his former equals, order him about, and he must obey them.  Oh, what days and oh, what nights !  Where is home and affection ?  Where is the soft bed and loaded table ?  Change of climate, change of food, want of rest, want of all kinds of old things, and an influx of all sort of new things, make him sick—yes, really sick in body and soul.  But in spite of a few doses of quinine and a wholesome hospital bed and diet, (as the soldier of ’61 remembers them,) his vigorous constitution and indomitable heart prevail, so that he is soon able to cross the Long Bridge and invade the sacred red clay of Virginia, with his companions in arms.  Yet, perhaps, should you now observe him very closely, you will perceive his enthusiasm increasing faster even than his strength.  He is on the enemy’s side of the river ;  now for the strict guard duty ;  now for the lonely picket ;  and the thickets where men are killed by ambushed foes.  How the eye and the ear, and, may I say it, the heart, are quickened in these new and trying vigils.—Before long, however, the soldier is inured to these things ;  he becomes familiar with every stump, tree and pathway of approach, and his trusty gun and stouter heart defy any secret foe.

Presently you find him on the road to battle ;  the hot weather of July, the usual load, the superadded twenty extra rounds of catridges [sic] and three days’ rations, strung to his neck, and the long weary march quite exhaust his strength during the very first day.  He aches to leave the ranks and rest, but no !  no !  He did not leave home for the ignominious name of “straggler” and “skulker.”  Cost what it may, he toils on.  The Acotink, the Cub Run, the never-to-be-forgotten Bull Run, are passed.  Here, of a sudden, strange and terrible sounds strike upon his ear, and bear down upon his heart ;  the booming of shotted cannon ;  the screeching of bursted shell through the heated air, and the zip, zip, zip of smaller balls ;  everything produces a singular effect upon him.  Again, all at once he is thrown quite unprepared upon a new and trying experience ;  for now he meets the groaning ambulance and the bloody stretcher.  He meets limping, armless, legless, disfigured, wounded men.  To the right of him and to the left of him are the lifeless forms of the slain.  Suddenly a large iron missile of death strikes close beside him and explodes, sending out twenty or more jagged fragments, which remorselessly maim or kill five or six of his mates before they have had the opportunity to strike one blow for their country.  His face is now very pale ;  and will not the American soldier flinch and turn back ?  There is a stone wall ;  there is a building ;  there is a stack of hay ;  it is so easy to hide.  But no !  He will not be a coward !  “Oh, God, support and strengthen me!”  ‘Tis all his prayer.  Soon he is at work.  Yonder is the foe.  “Load and fire ;” ” load and fire.”  But the cry comes, “Our flank is turned ! Our men retreat !”  With tears pouring down his cheek, he slowly yields and joins the retiring throng.  Without any more nerve, and little strength, he struggles back from a lost field.

Now he drinks the dregs of suffering.  Without blanket for the night, without food, without hope, it is no wonder that a panic seizes him, and he runs demoralized away.  This disreputable course, however, is only temporary.  The soldier before long forgets bis defeat and his sufferings, brightens up his armor, and resumes his place on the defensive line.  He submits for weary days to discipline, drill and hard fare ;  he wades through the snows of winter and the deep mud of a Virginia spring.  He sleeps upon the ground, upon the deck of the transport steamer, and upon the floor of the platform car.  He helps load and unload stores ;  he makes fascines and gabions ;  he corduroys quicksands, and bridges creeks and bogs.  Night and day he digs or watches in the trenches.  What a world of new experience !  What peculiar labor and suffering he passes through, the soldier alone can tell you.  He now marches hurriedly to his second battle ;  soon after be is in a series of them.  Fight and fall back !  Oh, those days of hopelessness, sorrow, toil and emaciation.  How vividly the living soldier remembers them, those days when he cried from the bottom of his heart, “Oh, God, how long !  how long !”

Would you have patience to follow him through the commingling of disasters from the battle of Cedar Mountain to the same old Bull Run, you would emerge with him from the chaos and behold his glistening bayonet again on the successful field of Antietam, where a glimmer of hope lighted up his heart.  Would you go with him to the bloody fields of Fredericksburg, staunch his wounds in the wilderness of Chancellorville [sic], and journey on with him afterwards to this hallowed ground of Gettysburg, and could you be enabled to read and record his toils, his sufferings and all his thoughts, you might be able to appreciate the true American soldier.  You might then recite the first chapter of the cost of the preservation of the American Union.  In September, 1863, after the battle of Gettysburg, the Government sends two army corps to reinforce our brethren in the West.  The soldier is already far from home and friends, but he is suddenly apprised that he must go yet two thousand miles.  He can not visit his family to take leave of them.  He has scarcely the opportunity of writing a line of farewell.  The chances of death are multitudinous as they appear before his imagination, and the hope of returning is very slender.

Yet again the soldier does not falter.  With forty others he crowds into the close, unventilated freight car and speeds away, night and day, without even the luxury of a decent seat.  With all the peculiar discomforts of this journey, the backings and the waitings at the railroad junction ;  the transfers from car to car and from train to train ;  being confined for days without the solace and strength derived from his coffee, there is yet something compensative in the exhilarating influence of change, and there is added to it in passing through Ohio and Indiana, a renewed inspiration as the people turn out in masses to welcome him and to bid him God-speed ;  little girls throw wreaths of flowers round his neck, kiss his bronzed cheek, and strew his car with other offerings of love and devotion.—Such impressions as were here received were never effaced.  They touched the rough heart anew with tenderness, and, being a reminder of all the old home affections, only served to deepen his resolution sooner or later, by the blessing of God, to reach the goal of his ambition ;  that is to say, with his compatriots, to secure to his children and to other children enduring peace with liberty and an undivided country.  He passes on through Kentucky, through the battle-fields of Tennessee, already historical.  The names, Nashville, Stone River, Murfreesboro and Tullahoma, reminded him of past struggles and portended future conflicts.

He is deposited at Bridgeport, Alabama, a houseless, cheerless, chilly place, on the banks of the Tennessee ;  possessing no interest further than that furnished by the railroad bridge destroyed, and the yet remaining rubbish and filth of an enemy’s camp.  Before many days the soldier threads his way up the valley of the great river which winds and twists amid the ragged mountains, till he finds himself beneath the rock-crowned steeps of Lookout.  Flash after flash, volume after volume, of light-colored smoke, and peal on peal of cannon, the crashing sound of shot and the screaming of shell, are the ominous signs of unfriendly welcome sent forth to meet him from this rocky height.  Yet on he marches, in spite of threatening danger, in spite of the ambush along his route, until he has joined hands with his Western brother, who had come from Chattanooga to greet him.  This is where the valley of Lookout joins that of the Tennessee.  At this place the stories of Eastern and Western hardship, suffering, battling and danger, are recapitulated and made to blend into the common history, and the common sacrifice of the American soldier.

[The following paragraph was left out by the Prescott Journal:

Were there time, I would gladly take yen, step by step, with the soldier, as” he bridges and crosses the broad and rapid river; as he ascends and storms the height of Mission Ridge ;  or, as he plants his victorious feet, waves his banner, and flashes his gun on the top of Lookout Mountain.  I would carry you with him across the death-bearing streams of Chickamauga.  I would have you follow him in his weary, barefooted, wintry march to the relief of Knoxville, and back to Chattanooga.  From his point of view, I would open up the Spring campaign, where the great General initiated his remarkable work of genius and daring.  I could point you to the soldier pursuing his enemy into the strongholds of Dalton, behind the stern, impassable features of Rocky Face, Resaca, Adairsville, Cassville, Dallas, New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill, Pine Top, Lost Mountain, Kenesaw, Culp’s Farm, Smyrna, Camp Ground, Peach-tree Creek, from so many points of view, and Jonesboro, are names of battlefields, upon each of which a soldier’s memory dwells.  For upwards of a hundred days he scarcely rested from the conflict.  He skirmished over rocks, hills and mountains ;  through mud, streams and forests.  For hundreds of miles he gave his aid to dig that endless train of intrenchments which encompassed every one of the enemy’s fortified positions.  He companied with those who combatted obstinate foe on the front and on the flanks of those mountain fastnesses which the enemy had deemed impregnable, and he had a right at last to echo the sentiment of his indefatigable leader, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” ]

Could you now have patience to turn back with him and fight these battles over again, behold his communications cut, his railroad destroyed for miles and miles ;  enter the bloody fight of Alatoona, follow him through the forced march, via Rome, Georgia, away back to Resaca, and through the obstructed gaps of the mountains into Alabama, you would thank God for giving him a stout heart and an unflinching faith in a just and noble cause.  Weary and worn he reposed at Atlanta on his return but one single night, when he commenced the memorable march toward Savannah.  The soldier has become a veteran ;  he can march all day with his musket, his knapsack, his cartridge box, his haversack and canteen upon his person ;  his muscles have become large and rigid, so that what was once extremely difficult he now accomplishes with graceful ease.  This fact must be borne in mind when studying the soldiers’ marches through Georgia and the Carolinas.  The enemy burned every bridge across stream after stream ;  the rivers, bordered with swamps—for example the Ocmulgee, the Oconee and the Ogeechee—were defended at every crossing.  That they were passed at all by our forces is due to the cheerful, fearless, indomitable private soldier.

Oh, that you had seen him, as I have done, wading creeks a half a mile in width, and water waist deep, under fire, pressing on through wide swamps, without one faltering step, charging in line upon the most formidable works, which were well defended !  You could then appreciate him, and what he has accomplished, as I do.  You could then feel the poignant sorrow that I always did feel when I saw him fall, bleeding to the earth.  I must now leave the soldier to tell his own tale amongst the people ;  of his bold, bloody work at McAllister against the torpedoes, abattis, artillery and musketry ;  of his privations at Savannah ;  of his struggles through the swamps, quicksands, and over the broad rivers of the Carolinas ;  of the fights, fires, explosions, doubts and triumphs suggested by Griswoldville, Rivers’ and Binnaker’s bridges, Orangeburg, Congaree creek, Columbia, Cheraw, Fayetteville, Averysboro, and Bentonville.  I will leave him to tell you how his hopes brightened at the reunion at Goldsboro.  How his heart throbbed with gratitude and joy as the wires confirmed the rumored news of Lee’s defeat, so soon to be followed by the capture of the enemy’s Capital and of his entire army.  I will leave him to tell to yourselves and your children how he felt and acted ;  how proud was his bearing ;  how elastic his step as he marched in review before the President of the United States at Washington !  I would do the soldier injustice not to say that there was one thing wanting to make his satisfaction complete, and that was the sight of the tall form of Abraham Lincoln, and the absence of that bitter recollection which he could not altogether exclude from his heart—that he had died by the hand of a traitor assassin.

I have given you only glimpses of the American soldier as I have seen him.  To feel the full force of what he has done and suffered, you should have accompanied him for the last four years.  You should have stood upon the battlefields during and after the struggle ;  and you should have completed your observations in the army hospitals, and upon the countless grounds peopled with the dead.  The maimed bodies, the multitude of graves, the historic fields, the monumental stones, like this we are laying today, after all are only meager memorials of the soldier’s work.  God grant that what he planted, nourished, and has now preserved by his blood—I mean American Liberty—may be a plant dear to us as the apple of the eye, and that its growth may not be hindered till its roots are firmly set in every State of this Union, and till the full fruition of its blessed fruit is realized by men of every name, color and description, in this broad land.  Now as I raise my eyes, and behold the place where my friend and trusted commander, General Reynolds [John F. Reynolds], fell, let me add my own testimonial to that of others, that we lost in him a true patriot, a true man, a complete General, and a thorough soldier.

Upon him and others who died here for their country, let there never cease to descend the most earnest benediction of every American heart.  Let me congratulate this noble Keystone State³ that it was able to furnish such tried and able men as Reynolds who fell, and Meade [George G. Meade] who lived to guide us successfully through this wonderfully and hotly contested battle.  In the midst of all conflicts, of all sorrows and triumphs, let us never for an instant forget that there is a God in Heaven whose arm is strong to help—whose balm is sweet to assuage every pain—and whose love embraces all joy.  To him, then, let us look in gratitude and praise that it has been His will so greatly to bless our nation ;  and may this monument ever remind us and our posterity, in view of the fact that we prevailed against our enemies, “that righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”4

1.  Everett died January 15, 1865.
2.  Usually the word used here is “forth.” See the 1863 November 19: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address post.
3.  Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone State.
4.  From the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 14, verse 34. 

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: