Memorial Day, 1869. Excerpts from the New Bedford Mercury.

New-Bedford Mercury (New Bedford, Massachusetts) • 06-04-1869 • Page 2

 

“Whatever evils threaten our country are not found in the old soldiery… It is the corruption which is eating out honor in public affairs; the shameless venality, in which members of legislatures are bought and sold, or, now and then, a whole legislature at once; the “rings” which dictate statutes and purchase officials; the laws which are framed to make the rich manufacturer richer and the poor buyer poorer…” Rev. Dr. Quint Grand Chaplain of the Army of the Republic, 1869.

In accordance with order issued by the Grand Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic… William Logan Rodman Encampment, Post No. 1, of this city, decorated, on Saturday last… the graves of our deceased heroes, in the cemeteries of New Bedford and vicinity.

The day was by no means a propitious one, the rain of the evening previous having so muddied our streets, as to make them disagreeable to pedestrians, and deter many from marching in the column as they intended; and at the hour of forming the procession, the darkened sky gave every evidence of a wet and uncomfortable day.

At the hour designated at 8 ½ A. M. the veterans and citizens taking part in the ceremonies of the day, reported to Lieut. W. T. Soule, at the City Hall, and shortly after 9 o’clock, at a signal of three guns fired from the roof the Custom House by Mr. John B. Smith, the column moved…

The post had on parade about 80 men in all departments, the color-guard being under arms, and the colors borne by two mutilated men, Edward T. Chapman and Samuel P. Winegar. The number of veterans, not members of the Grand Army, was small; the clergy of our city was fully represented, as well as our various civil offices.

The procession moved through the Rural Cemetery, which was quite abundantly decorated with the national colors, the bright hues of which mingled pleasantly with the beautiful green shrubbery around.

The column halted in about the centre of the cemetery, the guest alighted from their carriages, and perfect quiet being obtained, an earnest and fervent prayer was offered by Rev. Daniel D. Winn, and the list of those known to be buried in the cemetery was read by comrade Isaac H. Coe, in a remarkably clear and distinct voice. The beautiful and appropriate air “Leaf by leaf the roses fall,” was played by the band, while the disabled veterans performed the solemn task of decorating the graves of those who lost their lives in the defence of the old Flag, placing wreaths and bouquets of beautiful flowers upon the graves, while many tearful eyes around gave testimony to the tender reverence and affection for the dead soldiers.

From the cemetery, the procession passed through Parker street gate, up Parker street to the Common, which place it reached at 12 ½ o’clock, a salute of thirty-seven guns being fired upon its approach under the direction of Sergt. Joseph Wing, formerly of the Third Rhode Island Battery, and who served through the entire war…

Capt. Cobb then introduced Rev. Dr. Quint Grand Chaplain of the Army of the Republic, who spoke as follows… Comrades: — Two great events in the history of the present generation are unexampled.

Portrait of Reverend Alonzo H. Quint. catalog 2000.100.2323

Portrait of Reverend Alonzo H. Quint. Catalog #2000.100.2323. Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The first is the alacrity with which a million of citizens, unused to war, voluntarily sprang to arms in defence of their national flag against treason… The second is, that contrary to all predictions and all historical precedents, the soldiers of that great army, at the close of the war, peacefully, quietly, settled down in their homes, returned to their business and to their trades, melted back into the ranks of citizens, and gave one grand example to the world that disbanded soldiers can be as loyal to law in peace as they were true to the sword in war…

War was not the trade of the men of 1861. It had no fascination. It required many a sacrifice. It was not to be the business of life It was chosen freely, out of love of country…It was equally as great a spectacle when these men, altogether transformed by four years of the camp, the march, and the line of battle, into a different race, laid aside their banners, stacked arms, and calmly went to their work.

Where are the scenes of riot and disorder which were predicted? Where are the lawless plunderers which were prophesied? Where are the insecure villages, the dismayed towns, the alarmed cities, that were foreshadowed? In other countries, the disbanded armies have been terrors. Who fears now? Or, in the opposite danger, where is the military dictator riding at the head of his merciless columns to supreme rule? Our leader sits in the chair of government; but it is by the voice of a free people, chosen in the lawful way, and obedient himself to every law of the land.

Whatever evils threaten our country are not found in the old soldiery… It is the corruption which is eating out honor in public affairs; the shameless venality, in which members of legislatures are bought and sold, or, now and then, a whole legislature at once; the “rings” which dictate statutes and purchase officials; the laws which are framed to make the rich manufacturer richer and the poor buyer poorer and the spirit of greed and covetousness which sanctions such laws… The men who knew the inspiration of a great cause cannot well descend to the depths of the politician… Let them never forget the manly life of past days, the honor of their victory, the glory of their country, the graves of their dead.

…Go said the President, your work is done, you are free. No, we were not free… No power can free us from the duties which we owe to the disabled soldiers, the widow, the orphan. No power can absolve us from the eternal reverence to the Flag, and fidelity to the country over which it now waves in glorious supremacy… We have embodied three principles, Fraternity, Charity, Loyalty. We tell all the world, that to maintain these, 400,000 veterans are still united…We question no man’s religious faith. We ask not what his rank once was or now is.

Fraternity… High or low; rich or poor, an old comrade is a brother. He shall not feel that, how the need of his arm is ended, he has no friends. He shall find a friend wherever those live who can say, “I was at Manassas, and I was at Antietam, and I was at Gettysburg, and I was at Goldsboro’, and I was at Shiloh, and I was at Kenesaw, and I was at Mobile, and I was with Farragut.

Charity. We see the maimed men, shattered in health, without employment, and often without power to work, often discouraged, their old business gone, their lives weary; and we have pledged ourselves that so far as in our power lies, they shall have the cheering word, the hearty hand, the open purse. We see widows and children who had comfortable support before the head of the home was laid under the sod, now troubled for their daily food; and we have solemnly said… no widow or orphan of a dead soldier shall lack bread for their hunger or shows for their feet or fire for their homes… We say it for this community, which stands ready to give freely whenever we show them the hungry and the cold.

Loyalty. By the flag which waves over us we have pledged ourselves to an undying loyalty to our country… We pledge ourselves to obey the laws of the land. We promise to uphold purity and honesty in public affairs. We are all united against treason… Thank God there is one place where a rebel can never come! Whether against insidious treachery at home, or against foreign foes, these 400,000 are pledged to defend the flag, whenever the national authority calls us… If in our day that time comes, which is sure some time to come, when the pride of England is to be humbled, the country will find these veterans ready for the bugle. And in the spirit of unswerving loyalty we shall educate our children to take our places when we too lie in the ground.

Comrades, we have adopted a sacred public duty. It is this day performed. Every year when the grass is green and the winds grow mild, we take flowers – spring flowers, fresh and delicate—and reverently place them on the graves of the honored dead… Their work is done. The country is safe… But in memory of the past and faithfulness to the living, we leave the flowers and go our way to do our duty in the land which the dead and living made glorious.

Not we alone. These flowers were gathered by other hands for us to use. Women gathered them and made them into wreaths and crosses. Men looked reverently on. This is not our day: it is the people’s day, in which every loyal man has his own right… Aching hearts own these graves. Fathers and mothers, widows and children won the sacred spots where the dead are laid. Their dead! This people’s dead!…

In the late session of soldiers at Cincinnati there was presented a memorial that we petition Congress to make the 30th day of May a legal holiday. I venture to tell that I was the only one who spoke upon the subject. And I said only this:

“I do not like this proposition. The beauty of our ‘Decoration day’ is in its being spontaneous. We do not want the merest shadow of law to constrain its celebration. Of the sweetest flowers, you cannot extract the perfume by law or art. Such is a people’s gratitude to our dead. That they voluntarily lay aside their day’s work, and crown the graves with flowers, in inexpressibly beautiful. But if the dedication of that day ever ceases to be the farewell offering of a grateful people, let the graves be left to the covering of God’s green grass alone.”

This feeling was universal. It is ours now. Our hearts are grateful to those who honor the dead, because it is their free offering… But while you cherish such memories as you do now, you and your children, and your children’s children will preserve the grand old nation and guard its great Flag, for which the soldiers fought and the women prayed in the days of trouble, — preserving the immortal principles which live when the graves are level with the ground, and the stones are covered with the moss of years.”

A benediction was then pronounced by Rev. Mr. Walker, of Fairhaven, at the close of which the Soldier’s Monument was decorated with flowers.

A salute of two guns was fired, and the procession took up its line of march for Fairhaven, reaching the bridge at 2 ½ o’clock. As the column passed Pope’s Island, the artillery, which had gone there in advance, fired a salute of four guns.

At nearly 3 o’clock the procession reached Fairhaven whose streets were thronged with people… There was a halt made at the residence of Capt. John A. Hawes, and beautiful crosses, wreaths and bouquets of fresh flowers placed in the wagons.

Upon reaching Riverside Cemetery a large number of people were found assembled, relatives and friends of the noble dead there interred.

The procession halted, and grouped themselves around the fine Soldiers’ Monument, which marks the last resting place of most of Fairhaven’s citizens who laid down their lives for their country.

Rev. A. S. Walker, of Fairhaven, then delivered a most eloquent and impressive address… All things appeared to be in sympathy with the solemn ceremonies of the day. In the morning, the clouds wept and even now the heavens were draped in mourning. They had assembled here to-day, not only to decorate the graves of those who had fallen… but of those who had been brought back from the front, with their frames shattered by disease and exposure, to die in the arms of their families and friends…

… The decoration of these graves was not a token of remembrance, it was an act of love…

 

 

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