Decoration Services at Andover


Decoration Day, May 30th 1874

The Soldiers Committee of arrangements, consisting of E.K. Jenkins, O.R. Howarth, Thomas Smith, Charles Dugan, Warren Means, Jr., S.R. Goldsmith and William H. Greene made the following arrangements for the appropriate observance of the day. At an early hour on the 30th May a committee will be at the Town Hall to receive donations of flowers. At 8 ½ o’clock a detachment of soldiers under the direction of a Marshal accompanied by the Andover Brass Band will march to the Memorial Hall and decorate the tablets with appropriate services. The services at the Town Hall will commence at 9 o’clock with music by the Andover Brass Band, singing by a quartette of ladies and gentlemen, Prayer by Rev. James H. Merrill and an oration by Rev. Selah Merrill.[1]

Immediately after the services in the Hall a procession will be formed on Elm Street in the following order.

Andover Brass Band
Members of the Needham Post 39 G.A.R.
Past Soldiers and Sailors
Disabled Soldiers in carriages
Board of Selectmen
Trustees of Memorial Hall School Committee
Andover Catholic Benevolent Society
Schools and Citizens generally
Ballard Vale Cornet Band
Board of Engineers and Fire Department

After visiting the cemeteries in the vicinity of the Town and detailing a detachment to visit Spring Grove Cemetery, the procession will return to Elm Square, where it will be dismissed, and the past soldiers will proceed to the West Parish Cemetery and decorate the graves with appropriate ceremonies.

The orator of the Decoration Services, Rev. Selah Merrill of Andover, late Chaplain of the 49th Regiment United States Colored Infantry, was then introduced and spoke as follows:

Comrades and fellow citizens:

Today we have a duty to perform – we have lessons to learn. Today, we give room to emotions which do not ordinarily occupy our minds. Today the sad, the beautiful, and the heroic are strangely blended in our hearts as on no other occasion throughout the year. It is not the novelty of the occasion, nor of these services that has drawn us together; but a far higher motive. We pause for a few hours at least, in the current of our busy lives that we may express our regret for those who fell, our sympathy for the living whose friends were cut off by the war and our gratitude to God that our country and liberty have been preserved.

While it is appropriate that we observe this day with befitting ceremonies, it seems also appropriate that if any words at all are spoken, they should be to a great extent at least.

Reminiscences of the War

And allow me to say that although I am a stranger to many of you, yet I feel more in my place in observing this day, in Andover than I should anywhere else, for the reason that my dearest friend, a man who for years was like a brother to me, who entered the army as a private, and at the close of the war commanded the “30th of Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, unattached” is now resting beneath a plain monument just on the brow of the hill in yonder South Church yard. Samuel R. Bingham – the noble soldier – citizen – man!

Another personal reminiscence I will mention here. Nine years ago this month I went out with our adjutant and a few men along the hills at Vicksburg, to set up and replace as well as we could the headboards at the soldiers’ graves. These had in many cases fallen, or been thrown down with evil intent. In some cases it was impossible to identify the grave to which particular headboard belonged. In other cases they had been taken away altogether, and these men who were sleeping side by side how widely scattered and separated were the homes from which they had come! This one was from Ohio, this one from Kansas, this one from Minnesota, this one from Michigan and this one from Illinois. It was a sad duty, but saddest was the thought that, in less than a year after the close of the war those graves – the known as well as the unknown – would all be levelled to make room for a corn or cotton field. While I speak of Reminiscences of the War, I feel keenly how poor are any human words in comparison with the eloquence of the occasion which has brought us together. The day itself is eloquent. These bands thrill with their inspiring strains. These well trained voices add their vocal sweetness to the hour. Our hearts are melted by the touching sentiments of the prayer. Far above the earth in calm splendor are binding the blue heavens of God. About us are the green fields, the mild air, the fragrant flowers – a whole world of loveliness. Truly the day itself is eloquent. It is eloquent by its natural charms. It is eloquent by its services. It is especially eloquent by its memories.

Before our minds there passes a vision of scenes that were terribly real once, but which seem now almost like a dream, the time was so long ago. The firing on Fort Sumter; the enthusiasm of the North; the rallying of men to stand in the deadly places between our country and her foes; the rending assunder of the dearest ties; the tears at parting; and alas! how often the final farewells; the strange life and the discipline of the camp; the constant drill in learning how to train the artillery, or to handle the musket or the sword; then the weary campaigns; the long marches; now advancing, now retreating; sometimes in the blinding sleet, or the drifting snow; then again in the rain and mud; the clouds of dust and the scorching sun; then the picket duty; the risky business at the vidette stations; the approach of the enemy; the massing and arranging of troops for battle; fifty thousand murderous bayonets flashing in the sunlight; the summits occupied by the dumb hideous cannon of the artillery; far away on the flanks, the dark masses of the cavalry; the anxiety, but firmness of the officers; the silent but terrible earnestness of the men; the skirmishers sent out; the lines of battle formed; the army feeling its way; the near approach of the enemy; the artillery, belching forth its thunder and death; by and by the artillery ceases so that the infantry can move; the long lines moving to the onset; nearer and nearer; and then double quick; the sharp command “steady;” the gaps in the ranks caused by the murderous shot; the stern words “close up the gaps;” the dashing over the entrenchments or against the opposing lines either to sweep away the foe or to be beaten back shattered and broken or repulsed; then the hasty burying of the dead; then the sieges, the trenches, the parallels, the dampness and exposure, then the hospital, the fevers, the wounds; the thought of home and friends; the arrival of the wails; the stories; the jokes, and the fun; the mustering for payday; the non-arrival of the paymaster; the curses heaped upon his head in consequence; the sutlers, the rations; the baked beans; the coffee, the lighted fence rail on which are placed perhaps a dozen coffee cups; the slimy water; in a word scenes of constant danger and death, campaigns, battles, sieges, defeats, victories; the prisons, these and a hundred like them, which were real once, make up the vision which passes before our minds today.

In those days we knew what sacrifice meant. A large number of this audience today and a majority of the people you meet upon our streets, were mere children when the war was going on, ten, twelve, fourteen and sixteen years of age. Now they are men and women, and are engaged in all the active employments of life, such can hardly realize what we mean by sacrifice. They see the solders, their brilliant uniforms, their polished guns, they hear the music – they see and feel the poetry of war. War’s grimness and fury, and destruction and frequent misery they cannot now, and God grant they may never know. Even those who survived lost in many cases their vigor and health and suffer today from their exposures then. The country called for its best men. A sick man, a weak man, however brave his soul, however loyal his heart was not wanted. The country called for those in the strength and vigor of manhood, for those in the finest health. Now and then it is said “that man looks old,” “he looks prematurely old,” these persons who make such remarks forget the swamps, the fevers, the trenches, the hospitals, and all the places of exposure and peril and death, where those men suffered who gave their lives to redeem our nation from its shame, and to elevate it to a position of true glory among the people of the earth. Why shouldn’t such men look old? Sacrifice meant giving all – keeping back no part whatever of your youth, your manhood, your vigor, your health, your very life.

But the men were not alone called upon to make sacrifices. The mothers, the wives, and the daughters of our land gave their means, their time and their aid without any reserve, to mitigate the hardships and the horrors of war. And when the beauty of our Israel had fallen upon the high places of the field of battle, it was the mothers, the wives, the daughters, the sisters of the land that were the deepest and sincerest mourners. Truly, in those days there was both burden and heat to be borne, which was nobly borne both by the men and women of our country.

Let us call to mind the wonderful transformation which those four years witnessed. On the first of April 1861, we were a nation of peaceful citizens. We hardly knew the meaning of war. We had 4,000,000 of slaves and wealth in abundance. On the first of April 1865, four years later, a line of bristling bayonets stretched across half our continent; 300,000 loyal men had fallen in battle or perished in the service of their country. We had broken the fetters from those 4,000,000 slaves, and the arm of God’s Providence was just being lifted to give the finishing blow to the mightiest rebellion that ever shook an empire or threatened the national existence of any people. Four eventful years!

Men speak of the cost of war and they refer to the dollars and cents, but the greatest sacrifice was that of human life. Forth from their quiet and peaceful homes went 300,000 men to meet the issues of war, and they returned no more! Oh, what a cost was that!!!

Take another fact. On May, 15th 1865, Secretary Cameron positively refused to receive from Governor Andrew any more than six regiments, “more” he said “are not wanted.” “If more have been called for, they must be discharged.” Read in the light of what we know to be history those words sound strange enough. In less than four years from that date Massachusetts had sent into the field 61 Regiments of infantry, besides artillery and cavalry.

Out of a population of 1,200,000 she had sent into the army and navy, 159,000 men, and besides that she had raised and expended 4,000,000 of dollars.

The citizens of Andover will remember with pride that on her part every quota was filled, and more than filled; and also in regard to money, and the care of soldier’s families and the furnishing of sanitary supplies, this Town was always ready, and prompt and ample in her efforts in these directions. The 600 or more names on the soldier’s roll of this Town, prove that there is a good deal of fight in Andover, as well as a good deal of preach!

I had it in mind to speak at length of the men that went from Andover, in what particular regiments they served, in what battles from Virginia to Texas they were engaged to give such personal reminiscences as would be appropriate for this occasion. But I found this needed to be done with so much detail, if done at all, and especially to be well done, that at last I decided to omit altogether that personal narrative which would be interesting to you all. Let me repeat what is familiar to everyone, namely that considering the history of the anti-slavery agitation it seemed fitting and providential that if blood must be shed in Baltimore, the first should be shed by the loyal sons of Massachusetts. But the conflict did not begin in the streets of Baltimore in the spring of 1861. In the year 1850 Whigs and Democrats united to put down what they called “this anti-slavery agitation”. There came a lull. Conservative wiseacres guessed that all was over. No more storms would arouse the calm surface of the political sea. But, a silent pen was at work, it was a woman’s pen; it was silent enough at first but vocal at last; a book was issued; before the year was out 500,000 copies had been sold, and in England a million copies. It was translated into nineteen languages. But the advent of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not the beginning of the strife. We must go back to 1835 or to 1830 when Mrs. Stowe was a girl of eighteen, or even earlier than that if we would get at the beginning of that struggle which you comrades helped to complete at Port Hudson, at Vicksburg, in the wilderness and before Richmond. But how the great men of thirty and forty years ago ridiculed this movement; Rufus Choate and Daniel Webster, and even Lyman Beecher, and a great many more whose names in other respects we delight to honor. By then it was characterized as a mere sentiment, and worthy of the attention only of old women of both sexes. “A mere sentiment” was it? Let me say that if the student of history wants an illustration of the power of moral force, by the side of which the might of fleets and armies dwindles into insignificance, let him study the rise and the growth and especially achievements of the anti-slavery sentiment in America. “A mere sentiment” indeed! But it was like the red hot wrath of the Almighty, and from 4,000,000 of fettered men it melted their chains forever. “A mere sentiment” was it! But it proved to be the thunder of Jehovah which leveled to the dust that slave power which cast its shadow and its curse over all our land. “A mere sentiment” indeed! But it proved mightier than any material force and lifted our nation to a position of true glory among the nations of the earth.

Our war illustrated the fact which in our dreams of the millennium is sometimes lost sight of, namely, that in the history of every nation even the sword and the bayonet have a mission. Our sewing machines, our looms, our reaping machines, our school houses, and the other appliances of the peaceful arts have their mission; but there is some work these cannot do; neither can this work be done by speechmaking, nor by diplomacy of any sort. There is some work, rough work to be sure, which in God’s providence the cannon and the musket must be called upon to finish up. As sometimes the surgeon must cut off an arm or a limb or run the risk of some more dangerous and difficult operation in order to save the life of an individual, so God the Healer of Nations must sometimes make the deadliest weapons the instruments of his wrath on the one hand, and of his mercy, on the other. So it was in our struggle. Ours was not a struggle of the North against the South, by no means, but a struggle of right against wrong – begun long ago, and we may say, hardly ended yet. We passed from 1830 and 1835; then to 1850 and then to 1861. When suddenly on that dark April day, all our arguments, our books, our pamphlets, our speeches, our sermons, our prayers were changed as by magic into bayonets and swords, and that stern hour was the beginning of the end! It was indeed a day of darkness and anxiety. Men must go down to battle. Quiet peaceful homes must be left. Hardships must be endured. As the Greeks in a time of peril went forth to stand or fall in the passes of the dear mother-land, so you comrades and your fellow soldiers went down to the bloody front – a solid wall of living hearts between our country and her assailants. For four years we heard the noise of battle. The eyes of the world were upon us. All history from its mountain tops was watching the issue of our conflict. By, and by, the noise ceased, the smoke lifted, we saw all the hills and plains covered with the white tents of victory and peace. And then the conquering heroes began to return. In a few months that great army had melted quietly, quickly, as if by the subtle influence of enchantment. That enchantress was peace; over that marshalled host she moved her magic wand. Then voices were lifted to heaven in all our places of prayer. Silver chimes sounded from every village and hamlet in the north. We kept high jubilee because freedom had triumphed. In spite of all the scenes and facts which I have tried to call up before your minds the war after all seems more like a troubled dream than a reality. It was thirteen years ago that the war commenced, and nine years ago that it ended. You frequently hear one soldier saying to another “it does not seem as if we had even been to war.”   These Memorial days will prove to the rising generation that we believe in the justice of our cause, and that we hold sacred the memory of those who fell in the contest of freedom with slavery.

It would be an interesting study to show how that the war, although in itself a curse has been so overruled as to prove in some respects a real blessing to our people. No doubt our national character was greatly strengthened by it. But a full discussion of this point would take us too far from our purposed theme, namely Reminiscences of the War and out of the mass of topics which present themselves as appropriate to such a theme as this, let me select two facts only for your consideration now. They may perhaps be called national characteristics which the war developed. I refer to the poetry and the humor of the war. It seems a little unnatural, and yet poetry has always been associated with heroic deeds in battle. No other school that scholar ever went to can so develop the power of expression in men as the school of war, men learn how to get along without long sermons, and long speeches, and round about statements. They learn how to use the most expressive language. They learn how to use the most emphatic language. Sometimes their language is too empathetic and they learn too how to write the sublimist and most stirring poetry. The strongest passions and emotions are uppermost in men’s minds. One need not study very carefully to observe what a change the war wrought in our national poetry. There is one which I regard as among the finest of the poems that were called forth by the incidents of our war, and which I will repeat. It represents a very common incident, one where a soldier in making a charge is wounded; he is placed under a tree where he can see the battle; his comrades win the day, but his soldier dies. He asks his comrades to pray, and as he dies he invokes a blessing upon the cause of freedom and the country. The poem is entitled:

“Mustered Out”

Let Me Lie Down
Just here in the shade of this cannon-torn tree,
Here, low in the trampled grass, where I may see
The surge of the combat: and where I may hear
The glad cry of victory, cheer upon cheer;
Let me lie down

Oh, it was grand!
Like the tempest we charged, in the triumph to share;
The tempest – its fury, and thunder were there;
On, on o’er the entrenchments, over living and dead
With the foe under foot, and our flag overhead;
Oh, it was grand!

Weary and faint.
Prone on a soldier’s couch, oh, how can I rest
With this shot-shattered head, and this sabre-pierced breast?
Comrades, at roll-call, when I shall be sought,
Say I fought till I fell, and feel where I fought.
Wounded and faint

Oh, that last charge!
Right through the dread hell-fire of shrapnel and shell.
Through, without faltering, clear through with a yell.
Right in their midst, in the turmoil and gloom,
Like heroes we dashed at the mandale of doom.
Oh, that last charge.

It was a duty,
Some things are worthless, and some others are so good.
That nations who buy them pay only in blood;
For Freedom and Union each man owes his part,
And here I pay, mine all warm from my heart;
It is a duty!

Dying at last!
My mother, dear mother, with meek tearful eye,
Farewell! And God bless you forever and aye;
Oh that I now lay, on your pillowing breast.
To breathe my last sigh on the bosom first-pressed;
Dying at last!

I am no saint.
But, boys say a prayer. There is one that begins
“Our father!” and then says – “Forgive us our sins!”
Don’t forget that part, say that strongly, and then
I’ll try to repeat it, and you’ll say, Amen!
Oh I am no saint!

Hark! There’s a shout!
Praise me up comrades! We have conquered, I know!
Up, up on my feet, with my face to the foe!
Oh, there flies the flag, with the star spangles bright.
The promise of glory, the symbol of right!
Well may they shout!

I am mustered out!
O god of our fathers, our freedom furlong.
And tread down rebellion, oppression and wrong!
O land of earth’s hope, on thy blood-reddened sod
I die for the Nation, the Union and God!
I’m mustered out.

This is but one out of many. Such and stirring poems, they bring the moisture to the eyes, the flush to the cheek, and send a brill of emotion through every part of our system. Such poems can be written only in those excited periods of a nation’s history when men’s hearts are stirred to their very depths.

Then of the other characteristics which I mentioned, the humor of the war. I can speak only in the briefest and most imperfect manner. Yet this topic is a fruitful one, and might occupy us any length of time. Like poetry, one would think that mirth and fun would have no place among the many scenes of peril and death. But in no other school as in the school of war, do men learn to extract fun from every passing event. No doubt they carry this too far. Things were said and done then and there, that would be shocking and blasphemous if said or done in society at home. Let a company of old soldiers get together for an hour or more and you will be surprised at the number of funny stories they will tell and the jokes they will recall, as they live over again their experience in the army. For instance at Vicksburg an Iowa and an Illinois regiment lay encamped by the side of each other. One morning it happened what indeed was a very common occurrence that each regiment had a dead man to bury. A squad from the Iowa regiment went out early in the morning and dug a grave and then returned to get the body they were to bury. While they were gone for the body, the squad from the Illinois regiment went out to bury their dead man, and took the body with them. They found this newly dug grave and buried their man in it and returned to camp. Soon after the squad from the Iowa Regiment returned with their dead man and found to their great surprise that their grave had been appropriated during their absence. Now the stealing of that grave by that Illinois regiment, although it seems so shocking to us, was considered, till something else occurred, as one of the best jokes of the season. Officers and men laughed at “that capital joke.”

You may be familiar with an incident connected with a German chaplain or rather, the chaplain was absent and this German was to serve in his place. There was a dead man to be buried, and this German attempted to say a few appropriate words before the body was carried away. He said something like this: “Comrades dees ist der firsht time, dat dees man has died.” The soldiers all smiled, and the chaplain thought he had made some mistake, and tried again “Comrades, dees ist der firsht time dat dee man has died?” The soldiers could stand it no longer and broke out in a shout of laughter, and the funeral ended there. The soldiers as they used to tell this story, added an appendix, that the chaplain left in a hurry, saying as he started “Boys, shtick him in!”

Take another laughable circumstance – also connected with death. In a certain battle a Sergeant had his head shot entirely away by a cannon ball. His lieutenant in writing of his death to the sergeant’s mother wanted to make it appear that her son was one of the noblest of soldiers, and he said;

Mrs. Blank

Dear Madame

In the late action, Sergeant Blank, your son, was killed by a cannon ball. His head was shot completely away. He was a noble soldier. His last words were “Bury me where I fell.”

Before we go from this place to the duties of the day let us learn one or two lessons which this hour teaches, for this occasion has its lessons for the future, as well as its memories of the past. The history of the past thirteen years has taught us, even if we doubted it before, that the cause of human progress is constantly advancing. Sometimes the Providence of God seems to double back upon itself like the great Mississippi River on which the traveler sometimes finds himself going due north when he is on his way to the Gulf. So however God’s Providence may seem to us to turn backward the course of events, we may rest assured that liberty and equality and universal freedom are moving forward like the great river with a majesty and a might that no power can resist. We have outlined one of the wildest storms that ever shook to its foundations an edifice of state and the past should make us hopeful for the future. Thirteen years ago the prospect for our country was gloomy enough. We remember those days of darkness. We knew not from whence our help was coming. Yet if we could have seen as God sees we should even in those days have seen on all the plains and in the thousand hills about us all the chariots and horsemen of the almighty and above us the omnipotent arm of Him in whose hands are all the shields of the earth; and to Him today let us give the glory of our salvation as a people. We found that God had planted in our own national character those elements which in his hand were to prove our sure defense.

That emergency proved that in our character there was a wonderful reserve force of moral energy, of good sense of integrity and of conscience. This was a surprise to ourselves. We were wondering from where our deliverance would come. And behold from among ourselves there rose up a million of noble heroes to do battle for freedom and justice against oppression and wrong. This result filled us with astonishment as great will a million of mailed warriors had suddenly marched froth from the regions of infinite space to fight our battle for us.

The fact that these reserve forces were thus suddenly and unexpectedly developed, is one of the most encouraging in all our national history. We know something of the darkness and dangers of the present. Wise and prudent men are anxious because of the corruption in high places, because of the frenzied rush for wealth and position, and political honors. Our prosperity is miraculous; our domain is immense; our trade is enormous; our name is a power in the earth. But side by side with our prosperity the miasma of corruption is poisoning our political life. Wise men see the dangers before us and are sad. Is there in our national character a moral tonic which will correct this disorder? I feel for one after looking back for only thirteen years that the past ought to encourage everyone never to despair. On the other hand, I feel that they are very unwise who burst into floods of victories in regard to the greatness of our national or the perfection of our national institutions. Our government is not yet a hundred years old. The old crusaders held Palestine longer than that. We are yet an experiment. God grant that our experiment may be a successful one. But in order that it may be a success each man has his part to perform now in lives of peace as well as a dozen year ago in the days of battle. There fall from our lips as if they were common careless phrases some of the noblest words that men ever uttered; for instance, freedom, progress, equality, liberty, justice to all, citizenship, patriotism, conscience. But do we show by our lives and conduct as citizens that we have a right to use these sacred words! Are we doing anything to work what corresponds to moral oak and hickory into our national character? Let us see to it that the noble words which I have just repeated, become not the mere tinsel of our national life.

On the tablet in yonder hall – are the names of fifty two men, your comrades, whose voices are hushed in death; but today the white lips seem to move again and they ask us in pleading tones if we cannot afford to live for the country for which they could afford to die!

The three hundred thousand slain who see not this beautiful day ask us if we cannot afford to live for that liberty and freedom for which they could afford to die. The blood of Massachusetts sons shed in the streets of Baltimore; the agony of misery and death at Andersonville; the grave of the martyred president; the flag, which after the dread ordeal of battle floats over a free nation; these things call to us as if they were living voices to guard with infinite care the purity of our national character; that with malice towards none and with the largest charity, we see that justice is meted to all.

Comrades you know full well how quickly the hours pass; how swiftly the years glide away. You remember well the martial array which our eyes beheld ten short years ago. The tents of that mighty army are all struck; the voices of its common are hushed, its morning and its evening guns, its drums and bugles are silent now. We ourselves have been pushed out of our places. No, not out of our places but forward. By and by, there will be left of us but a few old men! The Grand Army seems to be formed in a single column, and the order from the Great Captain is “Column forward, march!” Now and then we halt briefly to bury, a comrade, but the undeviating order from the Great Captain of us all, is “column forward, march!”

On all our plains and among our thousand hills, there are processions today, men go forth not with bayonets and cannon, but with banners and flowers – symbols of peace. Who does not admire the infinite wisdom of God in creating flowers; so that on such occasions as this, when we gather in silence about the graves of our comrades, and our words and prayers are voiceless, and even sweet song is timeless, we could carry in our hands that which should express better the feelings of our hearts than could any words or song. Those who have gone down to the valley of the shadow of death to lay beneath the sod the remains of some beloved friend, know well how richer for, and how much fuller of promise of the life to come than any words which human lips can utter, are the delicate flowers which the white hand of the sleeper holds above the silent breast.

Today flowers bloom at Andersonville, at Fort Pillow and on all those fields of strife. Let us regard this fact as a commentary of God’s Providence – saying to the nations, “let there be peace among men.” “Peace on earth” was the burden of angels song. And as you lay flowers gently upon the graves of your comrades today, let them be to you the symbol and the promise of that coming day:

“When peace shall over all the earth
Its final splendors fling,
And the whole word send back the song
Which now the angels sing”

[1] Reverend Selah Merrill served as a chaplain of the “49th U.S. Colored Infantry from 1864 to April, 1855. At the time of his oration he was a professor at the Andover Theological Seminary.