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United States. Army. Ohio Infantry Regiment, 21st - MS 562: Transcripts

Transcripts - Other McMahan Writings: Address to the 5th Reunion, September 19, 1882

Fellow Soldiers---
Ladies & Gentlemen---

Among the archives of our nation and part of the history of our glorious country, emblazoned on one of its brightest pages stands the record of an organization; whose patriotism and true hearted bravery shone through our country's darkest hour steady and brilliant, whose glory paled before none, whose radiance suffered no shadow, and whose record still glows with the luster of great achievements by fortitude and daring in a most worthy and holy cause.

That light helping so nobly on the great tempestous[tempestuous] ocean of the Rebellion to guide our nation to an open sea of peace blazoned from the courage and valor of the faithful 21st Ohio, whom and whose friends we gladly welcome here today.

Yes welcome 21st Ohio ye veterans who by your courage, patriotism and perseverance have been the winners of many a hotly contested field. Welcome ye heroes traced through upwards of thirty hard fought battles, whose memories flow with recollections of noble deeds of daring witnessed and participated in by you, and while you may not blot from memory the weary marches, destitution and hunger combined with excessive fatigue, chagrin of capture and being held as prisoners of war, barbarous cruelty of the treatment in Libby, Danville and Andersonville let us forbear to call up more particularly all that is sad and devote ourselves to that and that only which conduces to make glad and joyous, this is the occasion of the reunion of the 21st Ohio Veteran Vol. On the 21st anniversary of its muster the 19th day of Sep. 1882.

Who among you veterans here has not held open wide today the door of the past?

To day of all the days of the year brings a retrospect of that famous "stand upon the ridge" at Chickamauaga.

Where from a little band of 500 men who sustained the battle and "held the ridge" throughout that bloody day there were 50 killed, over 100 were wounded, 116 captured by the rebels and tortured and starved until 50 perished in their festering pens planned and builded by the hellish fiends who first conceived the destruction of our free institutions, and the breaking of our glorious Union.

Yes the dawn of to day recalled that early morning march, the appearance of the rebels before your line was scarcely formed, the few moments of fierce fight that followed which would have repulsed them at that time but for the arrival of fresh troops to aid them. Brave Stoughton wounded early in the fight leaving others as brave though sorrowful to fill the command.

Does not the order "Hold the ridge" still make your pulse beat fast. Aye "hold the ridge" for others faint of heart are flying.

What though batteries are brought to bear upon you and comrades are beneath your feet, ye must not falter nor bear away a friend to a place of safety for those who should have "held the ridge" with you today have forgotten the first duty of a soldier and have shown the white feather to the foe.

Ah! Chickamauga will never be forgotten and though the heart may be cast down at thought of those to whom death came on that sad day, and of those (God pity them) who met a far worse death in rebel prisons. Let the thought that a nation does not forget your stainless courage in a measure reward you.

The battle of Chickamauga completed two years of the 21sts existence, a sorrowful anniversary, half the regiment destroyed and captured.

Was this the glory looked forward to? Had these misfortunes a part in your dreams when enlisting in the service? No! far better as it is that hope always beckons on, disguising the rough path that too often must be trod.

Though you entered the service, as did many others, ready and willing to remain until the war should close, how few realized the long time that would be, how near discouraged you many times must be, not only by defeats in battle, but by contentions and treachery in the North and though the thought often came that the last home look, and "good bye" had been given, there always came with it, the soldier's resolve to put that thought aside, and let the faithful discharge of the present duty crowd it from the mind.

I find that first your regiment went for three months. What numbers there were in that short service, who were young, the necessity for the older men not yet having become apparent. So many feeling that this rebellion was a trifling thing, easily to be crushed.

So at first the most who went were the boys from our colleges and our academies, from our shops and fields.

To them going to war meant a quick way to glory and lasting fame.

Soon did they learn that even the lightest military discipline was a heavy yoke, that the camp fire was not the home fire side, and that even a brave deed done in battle was not always recognized and if recognized slow to be rewarded.

I do not know that your regiment was of this order, but many of you must have been young and in mentioning the three months service, I could not but call to mind, how young a great portion of our army was. Young in years, young in experience, and unfortunately led by Generals who if they were not young, by mismanagement threw many of these young lives away.

Following you, after the three months service, came your immediate reenlistment. I can but speak of your first year, spent much of it in a campaign in Ken., suffering greatly from sickness, helping at last to rid the State of rebels, but finding afterward that all this work and weariness had been of no avail as the rebs did not stay where they were sent, but came swarming back so soon as our army withdrew to give them a chance.

The first anniversary spent at Nashville surrounded by rebels, the second at Chickamauga (of which I could not help speaking at first since this day must always put it uppermost in your minds) made your war experience, so far, a gloomy one.

Not even the knowledge of your almost rash bravery at Chickamauga could disguise the fact that the day had been a disasterous one, but brighter days were to come.

You had not "held the ridge" in vain.

Whenever a nation engages in war how closely is it watched by other nations. How many have been watching England for the last month or 6 weeks, though the power was so strong on one side there can be but little doubt of the final issue.

England's rule extends over many lands, and she still goes on to conquer, a little less than a quarter of a century ago, me thinks she had a strong relish for a larger interest on this side of the Atlantic.

Did she not say, "let those foolish brothers quarrel and waste their lives and their property, let us help the weaker one. It may teach those colonists that the seed of rebellion may not germinate for a generation but at last will bear fruit most unpalatable, meantime we shall grow rich over their misfortunes and the North and the South at last exhausted and impoverished shall become an easy prey if we choose again to send a few boat loads of red coats to their shores.

But English gold and English fire arms were not a sufficient match for Yankee ingenuity and bravery of the impetuous crowds that came pouring at every call. At first eager young boys who enlisted with out thought or care except to go and finish up this trouble soon. Later came the veteran enlistment, that made in full realization of all dangers and hardships of this fierce disordered war, and not yet they came. Wives and mothers who had thought the dreadful suspense at an end when the first term of enlistment had expired, were called upon to put aside all tenderness that would say "I can not give thee up" and thinking only that the victory must be won, bravely say "go".

And still the foreign nations looking on said "Will these brothers never cease to fight" "Did we not say that such a government could not long exist". Let us be careful how we trust their currency it may damage us, it may bring us ruin.

Ah! Those were dark times, but though many of us have seen days of short rations and insufficient clothing, Uncle Sam always had the means, and generally found a way to feed, clothe and pay his soldiers, and we can spend our greenbacks today in the very countries where they would not be taken at half value when first issued.

I have heard of a careful father, who on sending his daughters abroad soon after the war, and knowing the feminine weakness of always buying whatever is pretty as long as money lasts, gave these daughters some greenbacks, in order to insure their having sufficient to take them to their Western home when they should reach N.Y. city on their return. To his surprise when the party they were with reached N.Y. he received a telegram to send his girls money to bring them home, the greenbacks having disappeared along with the gold he expected them to spend.

Yes England has been forced to treat us courteously and if she stops our mails or treats an American citizen in a manner to be complained of, Uncle Sam can indulge his inquisitiveness and ask why it is done with a fair expectancy of a respectful answer.

Your hard winter at Chattanooga followed by a furlough so well earned, bring us to the spring when the regiment again reorganized.

The Union army lying so seemingly quiet that winter and spring. The enemy so proud and defiant behind his rocky faced barrier at Dalton, recovered from his discomfiture at Mission Ridge, his ranks filled again, a new and popular commander to lead, made those at home who were looking on, wonder why time was thus allowed to pass unimproved.

But one May day the slumbering Union army awoke to action. Threatening one point it fell upon another, Resaca, with such suddenness that the enemy only escaped by the rapidity of his retreat and his thorough knowledge of the roads.

I have understood that Sherman attributed much of success in this march to having acquired a knowledge of this country when a young man.

When hunting deer in the swamps of the Edisto, the Cooper and the Santee he had seen that they could be made fordable for wagons.

This knowledge of the country he made good use of in his campaign.

Now began the grand "march to the sea" this grand loyal - I had almost said royal army except that no royal army could ever compare with this army of American citizen soldiers. No loyal is the better word and always a thought of this march brings the fragment of an old army song.

"T'was the loyal army marching to the sea
Flinging out the banner of the free."

Flinging out that banner so broadly that eyes that had been blinded to all but its bars could see their freedom in the glory of its stars and you found them as helpless in their freedom as little children, following the army by hundreds.

It seems to me that I must refer you now to New Hope Church if but for a moment, where your great-hearted Col. Jas M. Neibling was wounded, who although his arm was crushed by a piece of shell very reluctantly gave up his command. Lieut. Col. Arnold McMahan who did his duty so nobly and so well succeeding him, and who now with Col Norton extend an especiall welcome to you all. What deep feelings must be stirred at the mere mention of that field, me thinks a glow and fervor akin to that in the very height of the engagement is aroused and at once the same bitter revengeful hatred now as then, searing your very hearts to such callous that sympathy, and even scant humanity find there no room, and anew you feel the same deep longings to revenge your hardships and your toils, your sufferings and your tortures.

Is it to be wondered at that your new commander then should say that Chickamauga and Libby Prison were fresh in his mind and he was "glad to meet the enemy". Is it strange that men led on by such a spirit should fight with such zeal and energy as to make them almost invincible and earn for them that reputation which always assigned them the position of honor and the hottest place on the line. So that others who know, may say with Col. McMahan, that "your services of Chickamauga and the prison pens of the South may be assured that they and their dead comrades have been amply avenged." And is it a wonder ye survivors of the war, men of the 21st Ohio, that those who bore what you have borne should not accept most cordially the results of the war, in so far as it affected the placing in office and in power some of the strongest advocates of secession, and who were the instigators of Rebellion, the very men who fought like demons to break the bonds asunder that had made these United States the home of the free and one of the proudest of nations; more honored now and justly more proud today that we are a free people.

Do you wonder! Nay does not the very blood spilled by you near twenty years ago ferment in earth and in agony call out for justice.

Asserting that if now it be too late
For justice, unto those whose fate
Has been, to drench the earth in gore;
High Treason, can be sin no more;
Or if it cannot now be given,
Its kindred drops, should wash the very steps to heaven.
Oh! Charity thou art undone, and mercy hath eclipsed the sun-

For a mock charity and mercy have so cheapened our freedom that suffrage extended to rebels conquered, hath been like a forked tongue to the viper whose sting is felt at every session of our National Congress.

But I must on with your record in war. Taking the Altoona pass the eventful battles about Kenesaw Mountain followed. Never to be forgotten is that point by you. Would it be unsoldierly to say that with a shudder you remember the terrible days spent behind earthworks you had thrown up, taking such rest as could be got on your arms while holding the front line in such an engagement?

The following of the confederate across the Chattahoochee and closing the Augusta road by Sherman seemed to make the rebel authorities dissatisfied with Johnston as a commander and Gen. Hood more rash and bold was sent to fill his place.

He at once gave you the battle of Peach Tree Creek to the great destruction of his own army.

All this time was Sherman drawing near Atlanta, making every move in such a manner that in the end it would tell for the capture of that city.

In the North at this time an uneasy feeling at the continuous march of the army into the enemy's country was growing up.

Our great and noble Lincoln on being asked if he had no fear for our army removed so far from assistance in case the enemy should concentrate to cut them off, replied, " I tell you there's a heap of fight in 100,000 western veterans. They are a good deal like old Zack Taylor at Buena Vista they don't know when they are whipped".

Well might he say this of an army of such veterans as these who with the intrepid Thomas "held the ridge" at Chickamauga and the front line at Kenesaw.

By Nov. all communication with the North was cut off and the army divided into two wings spread over the state.

By this division and by the many advances made at different points the rebels were completely bewildered, being entirely at a loss to decide what was the objective point of the march.

In a week after quitting Atlanta and after many small battles it became apparent that the confederates had not troops equal to the stopping of the Union army.

And so through swamps and lowlands foraging to lengthen out the scanty ration, indeed subsisting almost entirely on the country, destroying railroads and bridges, this restless unconquered force moved on til at last through many perils and losses, you were, with the rest of Sherman's army enable to present as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah.

Resting only a short time, I trace you next coming through the Carolinas. Could anyone who had given up home, business, property everything for his country forget that in South Carolina the mine was sprung that carried such wide spread desolation.

Soldiers could not forget it and what might easily have been saved in other states was in this unsparingly destroyed in almost open defiance of official restrictions.

And so from victory to victory you moved on, not without loss or weariness but in the main victorious.

All have heard with wonder of your six days march of nearly two hundred miles, and having often been on the march myself I can truly say such endurance seems almost incredible.

And now the victory won, the war finally ended you come to Washington for a last grand review.

It is probable, indeed to be hoped, that none of us will ever witness such a review again, Glorious, but how much it called up that was sorrowful.

The worn veterans and the thinned ranks bearing the tattered flags, were a striking contrast to the strong men and full regiments who carried the stars and stripes so proudly to these battles.

Yes the war is done and you are all going home, Uncle Sam needs his boys no longer. This bit of paper your honorable discharge, though precious, is this the end? Does a grateful republic consider this a recompense for all?

With too many this is the case, but there are some who never forget the soldiers who saved their nation and their freedom, and who are always glad to honor and assist the men who wore the blue.

Nations are proverbially ungrateful and if the thought comes to us of the many privations endured in camp and on the field and how lightly it is regarded now, let the thought that we did our duty and did it well take away the sting of ingratitude, knowing that the time would pass more pleasantly in recalling with each other personally the incidents of your companionship in arms. And also intending my address shall possess the popular element of brevity. I bid you again welcome; hoping that all who are here today may meet again, before one shall rest.

"Beneath the low green tent"
"Whose curtains never outward swing!"

MS 562: Introduction | Transcript List
MS 562 Series Description: MS 562: Introduction | 86th O.V.I. Records | Arnold McMahan Papers
MS 562 Abstracts: Part 1 (McMahan Correspondence) | Part 2 (Box 12) | Part 3 (Box 13) | Inventory
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