Oration of General
Henry A. Barnum
Here we stood! Here, at its fullest flood we met and pressed back the angry, blood-flecked tidal wave of fratricidal war, whose stubborn resistance, in God's good time, settled back into the blessed calm of National peace.
Later, on yonder sacred ground, stood he, whose simple name will ever be its own synonym for grandeur of moral character and achievements of lasting deeds of good for his people, unsurpassed in all the ages - Abraham Lincoln! Thus spake he:
"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon the continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedications to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engages 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor 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 to the unfinished work that hey have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task 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 these dead shall not have died in vain; that this 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."
This is our lyric poem of American loyalty and patriotism, clothed in matchless prose, and should be repeated on all similar occasions while patriots live to salute and bear aloft the starry banner of free America.
This were enough; yet, you would longer linger with the theme. This place, these days, suggest the July days of '63. It were fitter that now, as then, some great civilian, from the heights of his own patriotic achievements, might recount the valor of your deeds, here and elsewhere done, a quarter of a century ago; but to me has been assigned this duty. I earnestly wish I were equal to this great occasion.
For two bloody years had the brave sons of the valorous South and the brave sons of the unyielding North desperately contended for supremacy. In the East and West their armies had swayed backward and forward in alternate defeat and victory. Westward the Union armies were closing in upon the Gibraltar of the South, and the echo of the victory of Gettysburg was the glad acclaim that greeted Vicksburg and the bulletin of our great captain, that once again the Mississippi flowed unvexed to the sea.
And what of the Army of the Potomac and of the Army of Northern Virginia? I need not recount the details. Suffice that history has already recorded that here on the heights of Gettysburg their giant struggle reached its climax; and this victory of the army of McClellan, of Burnside, of Hooker and of Meade is crowned with the special glory that in the army of Beauregard, of Johnson and of Lee they found their equals in desperate valor and undaunted courage - AMERICANS all - foes then, friends now!
Where all stove so grandly, where all did so nobly, it would be invidious to make comparisons; but it will not be deemed amiss for us of the corps of the skillful and gallant Slocum, and of the brigade of the sturdy and immovable Greene, to here repeat the recorded fact that battle's fitful circumstance gave the Third Brigade, Second Division, Twelfth Corps, on the night of July 2nd, the proud but costly privilege of of saving the Army of the Potomac from dire disaster, if not ignoble defeat. And history will fail of truth and justice if the the Sixtieth, Seventy-eighth, One hundred and second, One hundred and thirty-seventh, and One hundred and forty-ninth New York Volunteers, and its gallant commander, Gen. George S. Green, -- to the first soldier of all New York's more than 400,000 volunteers, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, commanding Twelfth Corps, who, with steady nerve, with eagle eye, with lion heart, from Powers Hill, just over there, directed our movements, -- if to this small body of veterans of the Army of the Potomac, is not given the grand distinction I here claim for it.
This brigade arrived on this field on the afternoon of July 1st, took its position in front of Little Round Top, and advanced skirmishers to the Emmitsburg Road. At evening it picketed this front. Early in the morning of July 2nd it took positions here on Culp's Hill, built these works, and July 2nd and 3rd, aided by gallant reinforcement, successfully defended them. Time will not suffice for details of the sanguinary contests here fought. This was the key to the whole battle line. That it was stubbornly, valiantly held against repeated and madly desperate assaults of vastly superior forces is all that need now be said; unless I may add as an illustration, that in this front and mostly in front of this brigade, nearly 1,400 of the enemy's dead were found at the close of the battle; and to point to this torn and broken flag (the Gettysburg flag of the One Hundred and forty-ninth New Your Volunteers), whose staff was twice shot in twain, and on folds and staff showed the marks of eighty bullets. This service was enough for renown, but their glory ended not here. Transferred soon after this battle to the vicinity of the beleaguered Army of the Cumberland, at Chattanooga, this brigade was in the fore of the wild midnight fight at Wauhatchie, Tennessee, where Longstreet's veterans, who had also fought at Gettysburg, were signally defeated, and where our noble commander, General Greene, was severely wounded; it climbed the bristling heights of Lookout Mountain, and in the front rank, nearest the towering palisades, it planted its flag in victory above the clouds, and crowned with immortal and poetic fame, the name of Fighting Joe Hooker.
It captured more than half of all the flags taken in the battles of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Ringgold, and was honored by our hero, General Thomas, by the selection of one of its officers to convey to the President at Washington all the flags taken by our forces in these battles.
When Sherman, with his mighty battle-axe, was cleaving the Confederacy in twain, this brigade was there; it led our armies in forcing the crossing of the stream at the sanguinary battle of Peach Tree Creek, July 20, 1864; it was in all the 100 days f battle from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and among the first, under General Slocum, then commanding the Twentieth Army Corps, formed the consolidated Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, to enter that Gate City of the South; it bore its dancing banners gaily in Sherman's famous march "from the mountains to the sea," and, receiving the surrender of Savannah ere daylight, while, save the sentries, all the rest of those armies were asleep, it planted its banners on the public building, just as the sun of December 21st rose from its morning bath in the waters of the blue sea at out feet
Again the resistless columns move in the campaign of the Carolinas, and with them this brigade. The swamps of the Cooswatchi, Salkahatchie, Edisto, Congaree, Wateree, Pedee, and Saluda, deemed impregnable since Marion, the Swamp Fox of the Revolution, made them historic, scarcely delay their march; before their majestic power Charleston, the cradle of secession, and Columbia, the proud capital of the Palmetto State, bow in sudden submission; at Averasboro and Bentonville they brush away the foe; at Raleigh they are "in at the death" of the rebellion; and soon the veterans of this brigade enter Richmond by a path made easy by their comrades of the Army of the Potomac, and, anon, the long, swinging strides of Sherman's men, up Pennsylvania Avenue, and their "bronzed and bearded features," set with resolution that only death could relax, showed to the assembled representatives of crowned heads, how they had campaigned across half a continent.
Our tents are indeed folded and our weapons are rusting in these halcyon days of peace; but he is none the less the good citizen who recalls for personal gratification, and as guides to present duty, the days of the bivouac, and the charge, whose happy issue has made such an hour as this possible. A happy hour this! The interchange of greetings, the renewal of friendship, the new fidelity to the Union, evoked by backward glances at teh struggle which has made it what it is; the resolution always to be true, as we were then true, to the government we have helped to perpetuate.
One sad reflection mars our festival -- the thought that so many who were with us in the long marches, by the cheerful camp-fire, in the desperate assault, cannot be with us here. They would come as freely at the call of friendship as they went from homes of comfort at the call of duty. But in the cause for which they fought is sanctified in their deaths. We revere their memories. The vacant places in our ranks are more suggestive than the presence of the living. Call the roll of the honored dead! Nay, call no the roll, for the time would not suffice to repeat the names of all who, through the sacrifice of their lives, preserved the charter of or liberties. These monuments are fitting tributes to organizations of valiant soldiers, and there are imposing monuments to officers of high rank, whose marble is none too eloquent in their praise. There are pages of our history which tell none too forcibly their achievements, but there are simple mounds in country churchyards, there are unknown graves that billow Southern fields, inclosing the clay of heroes to whom chilling circumstances forbade distinction, who are as worthy of our remembrance as the gallant slain, whom a more fortunate fame lifted to the summit of a deserving popularity. Call not the roll! Their memory is our keeping, is indelibly engraved upon the tablets of our hearts. They need no proud memorial to symbol their devotion.
Source: New York at Gettysburg, Vol. I. Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1900