ANDOVER, MAY 30, 1873
Decoration Day, this year, with the attendant memorial services, will ever be remembered by those participating in the exercises or witnessing the floral tributes tendered to the brave and gallant defenders of our country.
Aside from the usual decoration services, the beautiful Memorial Hall, erected in memory of our fallen heroes, received its formal dedication, and this feature rendered the day one of unusual interest to all the people of the Town.
The committee in charge of the decoration services, met at the Town Hall at 8 o’clock in the morning, and soon the approaches to the building were laden with sweet scented flowers from field and garden, and from the profuse display of tender buds and bursting roses, it would seem that every garden, flower and plant had been compelled to yield its treasurers to bedeck the honored graves of our heroic sons.
The hour for commencing the services was at 9 o’clock and long before that time the hall was filled to repletion. The exercises commenced with singing by the Band of Hope, followed with an appropriate selection by the Ballard Vale Cornet Band. Prayer was then offered by Rev. G.F. Wright followed by more singing. The orator of the decoration exercises, Mayor Frank Davis1 of Lawrence, was then introduced and spoke as follows:
Comrades and Fellow Citizens
If to undertake the task of addressing an assembly of my fellow citizens on an occasion like the present be in me an evidence of weakness, I beg to be understood that it is not the weakness of vanity, but of power to resist and will to oppose the solicitations of the committee at whose hands I received the compliment of such an invitation. Deeply realizing the priceless service which the Union armies rendered to our imperiled country, I have had an absorbing interest in everything connected with the welfare of the soldiers of the Union, and find it difficult to refuse any service asked of me at their hands, even though it be one for which I feel myself inadequate, and therefore I have in an unguarded moment accepted this part in your exercises upon the representation of your committee that they intended a simple service, and would expect a brief and unpolished address from a soldier, and comrade, rather than the studied speech of an orator.
In impressing on the mind the necessity of making the best use and improvement of the present time, we are continually reminded that the present is all the time we have, it being impossible to reclaim the past or count upon the future. As a celebrated writer has stated it, “the past is irrecoverable; the future is uncertain; the present is all we can call our own.” However important the moral lesson inculcated, the statement is not, to my mind, strictly correct. One of the most brilliant essayists of the present century, in discoursing on this topic, remarks, that if from the present moment all time that is past, and all that is yet to come be separated, we are left but a narrow basis of present time in which to act. He might have affirmed still more strongly, that the present, strictly considered, has no duration but is only the line that marks the division of all time into two portions – the past and the future, just as mathematical line has no breadth, and merely marks the division between two portions of surface. If then we live, we live in the past and in the future. The past is not irrecoverable; the future is not all uncertain. We live in the moments that have just gone from us, in the experiences of the morning, in the anticipation of the remainder of the day. We live in the memories of yesterday, and in the days and years that are gone, in the duties of tomorrow, of the coming weeks, and the more remote but approaching future. As we are assembled today to commemorate in an appropriate manner, the services of the dead who served in the late war of the rebellion, we live over again in memory the story of their love and faith, of their virtues and gallant deeds, of their loyalty to country, their courage to defend the right. We live again the scenes of the rebellion, and from its history and incidents we are not wise if we fail to draw some lesson of wisdom for our guidance in the future.
It is so generally held as almost to become a maxim in international politics, that the justice or injustice of an attempted rebellion is measured by the degree or success or failure with which the enterprise is attended. Thus the war of the revolution was stigmatized as a rebellion until success was assured, and had it proved a failure the page of history would have recorded it as stamped with the seal of infamy, its instigators and promoters would have been branded as rebels and traitors, and would doubtless have suffered upon the gallows the penalty of their crimes.
So, too, the late war of the rebellion had it proved a success, would have been justified by the nations, and upon the page of history its leaders would have been extolled as patriots, its dead as martyrs in a great and righteous course.
But, although in the execution of God’s eternal purposes all results are in accordance with his will, and although in this sense it is doubtless true, that “whatever is is right,” yet viewed from a merely human standpoint, and in the light of our limited perceptions, the right does not always triumph, and the evil is too often allowed to succeed, for a time at least, in its struggle to supplant the good. Therefore we plead the justice of the revolution, not from the success it achieved, but on account of the eternal principles contended for, on account of the unjust oppressions that had been so long and patiently borne, and on account of the integrity of the men who gave their lives and fortunes in defense of their rights in the maintenance of their principles; and therefore we denounce the war of the rebellion, not because it failed, but because it had no basis of right on which to stand. We denounce it because it was the wicked undertaking of an arrogant minority entered upon in violation of a solemn compact they had made establishing a government on republic principles.
In the mind of a loyal man there could have been no alternative but to sustain the government, or to abandon the very foundation principle that underlies all government – the necessity of self-preservation.
Although the perpetuation of slavery was the prime objective contended for by the rebel armies, this was not the issue presented to loyal men. The platform of the incoming administration suggested no innovation upon that conservative institution. For all that the party in power would have done it, it might have remained intact, as left by the constitutional convention in 1787, and we can only regard with amazement what our eyes have seen, but our minds could not then comprehend, the wonderful providence of God, who wrought out the emancipation of four million of slaves, by means of the very war that was waged for the purpose of riveting their fetters more closely choosing as his fitting instruments our martyred President – the beloved Lincoln, and his lieutenant in the field, our honored chief magistrate. Now indeed may the whole nation unwittingly repeal the glad lines, which when written, were intended for and could only apply to our own New England:
“Hail to the land whereon we tread,
Our fondest boast”
x x x x x x x x x x
“No slave is here; our unchained feet
Walk freely as the waves that beat our coast”
Although a right to secede was an important point for which the rebels contended, this was not the issue presented to us. The war was precipitated upon us, and although the posture of affairs was afterward speedily changed, it was, in its inception, on the part of the rebels, one of aggression – on ours, of defense and as has been already said, the loyal men had no choice but merely to submit or nobly to defend.
Thus aside from our achieved success, I have with necessary, brevity argued the justice of our cause, and in this just war, we are and of right ought to be, proud of the part we have acted. We are and of right ought to be proud of the record this grand old town has made, of the noble quotas she sent to the field, and the efficient service they rendered in quelling rebellion! Proud of her living sons, who, through the smoke of battle, and the clash of steel, through all the perils of the dangerous field, were spared to return to their homes and waiting friends! Proud of the dead, who so freely poured out the right treasures of their blood in their patriotic devotion to country! Proud of the maimed, the shattered in health, who must patiently suffer on till death shall afford them sweet release; who have sacrificed for their country, that for which all the wealth and great cannot supply the purchase. Proud of her widows and orphans and all whom the dead have left to our care. May they never be exposed to cold neglect, but their lives be brightened by our constant attention and aid.
It was my pleasant fortune as an enlisted man and an officer, in the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, to be intimately associated with many of you during more than four years services in quarter, camp and field. It was a noble regiment and one with which any man may well be proud to have been connected and I gladly testify to the faithful services and splendid bearing of the soldiers of Andover, giving added luster to the splendid record of the regiment, and reflecting credit upon themselves and honor upon the town to whose credit they served.
Together we have tread many a weary march and shared the discomforts of the midnight bivouac. Together we have endured the scorching summer heat and the biting cold of the winter campaign. Together we have slumbered beneath the blanket of spotless snow, which the frost-king so gently spread for our protection. Together we went down to our first baptism of blood on that fatal day when fully one fourth of our regiment were stretched upon the field, wounded or dead, and when that night, my eyes were closed in sleep – of the comrades who lay, on either side in that rude hospital, one was of your number who had given an arm that day, to the cause of his country.
Together we stood when the lines in front of Petersburg were broken and carried, and together we joined in the exciting chase after Lee’s retreating columns from Petersburg to Clover Hill. Together we watched and waited for the return of our commander Gen. Meade and together we hailed his approach on that momentous day, when he rode in from the front, his face all radiant in smiles, bringing the glad news that Lee had surrendered. How his happy, soldiers crowded around him to do him honor as he rode along through the Corps, Divisions and Brigades of his command. How all our colors were unfurled and waved around him in glorious exultation. How our cheers mingled with the glad music of a hundred bands and the roar of a thousand common, telling to the listening heavens the joyful tidings that Lee had surrendered and the war was over. You cannot forget the stirring incidents of that glorious day. You would not if you could. For all that wealth or favor could offer, you would not exchange its excellent memories.
I have spoken particularly of those soldiers of Andover who served in the regiment with me, because I knew them well, and shared with them their daily experiences, but I would not be considered as drawing any insidious comparisons between them and those of other regiments and arms of the service. It is enough that the sons of Andover freely bore their share of the pains and burdens and contributed their generous part towards the grand consummation of the war, and as we live again in the years of the past, we are again all united in one assembly, the living with the dead – the living in this hall, and those scattered near and far away – the dead in these cemeteries around us, and those who peacefully sleep in the fields where they fell and those too who as quietly rest in their graves near the prisons where they died – none are forgotten. All – all unite with us in celebrating this day, in commemoration of their priceless service.
I have not been able, nor indeed has it been my desire to dwell in detail upon the painful incidents of the war. In so far as all the horrid cruelties of war seemed concentrated in this, and in proportion as it seemed to us to surpass all others in its cruel experience – insofar, and in such proportion should be our desire and purpose to adopt every, proper means to prevent the recurrence of any such calamity in the future, either to ourselves or to those who shall come after us. This will lead us to a brief consideration of our duties as citizens of a republic. With all its cruel memories fresh in our minds, it seems but natural that nothing but bitter animosity should exist between the parties who were so lately arrayed in mortal strife upon the battle field. To many, it would seem impossible that it could be otherwise, and yet it is against the encouragement of this feeling, aye for its utter suppression that I would earnestly counsel you today. Since the war is over, and since all we contended for, and more is accomplished, it is time that as far as possible all its bitterness should be allowed to pass away. It was for the Union we contended, and how else shall it subsist but in a unity of sentiment among its citizens?
Glance for a moment at the history of the nations of the past, and for a bit if you will by their experiences. Though surrounded as she was by all the powerful monarchies of Europe Hungary might have stood today, a bright example of a republic in its glory, had her provinces avoided those fatal jealousies which made her an easy prey to her ambitious neighbors. Ireland, the unhappy victim of centuries of misrule, might have stood, and might stand today’s a prouid nation among the nations of the world had she not fatally wasted her splendid powers and opportunities in internal dissensions, rather than combine her energies in repelling a common foe.
I would not be thought as counselling aught in a censorious spirit. I feel confident that a sincere desire exists in this community that all enmity should cease, and that mutual confidence and fraternal feeling restored, without which it is folly to hope that a republic can be sustained.
It is for the victor to be magnanimous enough for the vanquished to sustain with what of dignity and grace he can his humiliating defeat. Oh! that soldiers might prove themselves noble of soul, and worthy their honored name, by taking the lead in this patriotic work.
“We would not hate – our hearts would fain
Cast a veil over their shameful story
It will not bring back our loyal slain
To recall their treason gory
We would forgive the past –
God give us grace we may –
But never while life shall last
Can we honor the rebel gray.”
But I fear I am wearying your patience, and will hasten to a conclusion.
Although our purpose today is to honor the dead, it is not they but the living who shall profit by the service. Do they not rest peacefully in their quiet graves? The living can have no power over them, either to help or to harm. It is only in life that those distinctions exist that makes men unhappy, that separate them into rich and poor, into sects and parties, classes and clans. Here the greedy possessions of unneeding wealth revel in luxury, careless of the clamors of the groaning poor. Here the self-satisfied man of the world wraps himself in his cloak of selfishness, heedless of the existence of pain, disease or want. Here are pride and humility, learning and ignorance, gladness and woe; but death is the great leveler, and all who enter his domain, do so on terms of rigid equality with each other.
“The mighty grave wraps lord and slave,
Nor pride nor poverty, dares come
Within that refuge house – the tomb.”
I’m rendering then to the dead, their need of honor due, we can do nothing better than to remember in words of kindness and deeds of charity the living who were bound to them by the dearest ties, and who by their loss were left without their natural protections.
To recount in eloquent speech the story of the soldier’s gallant deeds, to extol in glowing language the glorious cause in which they contended, is a noble task, but nobler his services, who gives the cheering word and friendly hand to the poor and despised and who extends the hand of charity to the relief of pinching poverty, who sits by the bedside of the sick and suffering, to soothe and cheer their weary hours.
To form in imposing procession and march in solemn pageant to decorate their graves in the cities of the dead, is passing well, but better for to honor in our hearts their memories, and to emulate their virtues of their examples.
But there are many who will fail to perceive in the common soldier anything worthy of imitation or emulation, as there are many who believe that obscure and humble people, having little at stake, will take little interest in the affairs of government, and care little about them. These people can be enthusiastic enough in praise of their ideal solider plunging in the smoke of battle, and in the thick of the fight plucking victory from the very jaws of defeat, but when he returns and presents himself sailed and torn, it may be with features marred and garments rent, a living reality before their eyes, they turn away, with loathing from an object that no more embodies their ideal than a Digger Indian answers to the poets, or the romantics conception of the noble savage of the forest, and yet it is to these men that the country stands indebted for its salvation today. The rich, it is true, contributed of their wealth and thus enabled the government to sustain the financial burdens of the war. Contributed, did I say? They loaned their money and their credit and have received in return therefore, more than cent per cent, and they stand today, than though there had been no war.
Thus the heavy burdens were borne by the common people who constituted the great bulk of our armies. They supplied the material, fought the battles, and gained the victories and it is their example that I present as worthy of emulation.
“Who does the best he can, does well, acts nobly; angels can do no more,” and he who left home, fireside and friends to shoulder his musket in the ranks of his country’s defenders – to brave the dangers and fatigues of the campaign – who periled, aye perhaps sacrificed his life in the nation’s defense, has done the best that he could in the service of his country. He has done all he could, and that is the best any man has done, or can do. “Angels can do no more.”
So we assemble today to pray to their memories, the tribute of our respect and affection to adorn their graves with the flowers we have brought, roses and violets, honeysuckle and geranium, the cypress and laurel, the oak and the bay. Fair hands have entwined them into forms of grace and beauty.
Scatter then your loveliest garlands where your heroes sleep, and let your leaves mingle with the generous dews of heaven upon their hallowed graves.
“But the night dews that fall, though in silence they weep
Shall brighten with verdure the graves where they sleep,
And the tear that we shed, though in secret, it rolls,
Shall long keep their memory green in our souls.”
At the close of the address, the Andover Brass Band played a selection, and the services at the hall closed with the singing of “America” by the audience accompanied by the bands.
Immediately after the exercises closed, a procession was formed in the following order:
Marshal and Aids
Ballard Vale Cornet Band
Needham Post 39 G.A.R.
Past Soldiers and Sailors
Selectmen and Orator of the Day
Band of Hope
Schools and Citizens generally
Andover Brass Band
Andover Fire Department
After visiting the cemeteries in the vicinity of the village, the procession was dismissed, and the members of the Grand Army, and past soldiers, escorted by the Ballard Vale Band proceeded to the West Parish Cemetery, afterwards returning, when they were dismissed.
1Lawrence Mayor Frank Davis had served in Company C of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery and had mustered out as a quartermaster sergeant.