Edward Ashley Walker.

Our first year of army life : an anniversary address, delivered to the First Regiment of Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, at their camp near Gaines' Mills, Va., June, 1862 online

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Online LibraryEdward Ashley WalkerOur first year of army life : an anniversary address, delivered to the First Regiment of Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, at their camp near Gaines' Mills, Va., June, 1862 → online text (page 1 of 8)
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Published for circulation solely amoBg the memhers and friouds of the Eegiment.



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1862,


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Connecticut.

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If any of our good friends at home would like to sit for
awhile with us around our camp fire and listen to the stories
of our first year of army life, they are most welcome. Only
they must expect the free and easy style of talk that belongs to
such a place, and also to hear a great many incidents and allu-
sions of but little interest and sometimes of but little signifi-
cance to any but ourselves. The record of the First Connecti-
cut Artillery does not afi:ord, especially in the first part of it,
anything to gratity the demands of blood-thirsty sensation
writers or readers. We have not fought a battle every day,
as many of us seemed to think we would when we left home,
and as many seem to think our armies ought to do in order to
come up to their ideas of active service. Much of our time
has been spent in camp or in forts, and affords merely quiet
pictures, so to speak, of our domestic life. Still our experi-
ence has been singularly varied, and one feature of it, at least,
may be instructive, as showing the effect of thorough army
discipline upon volunteer troops.

Our anniversary came round last June, while we were in
camp near Gaines' Mills, before Kichmond ; and at that time
I threw together from rough notes and recollections a sort of
anniversary address, which occupied us two long evenings.

Its publication lias been unavoidably delayed till now on
account of my sufFering from that mysterious disease, which
some of our medical gentlemen, fur lack of a better name, call
the ChicJcahominy. But it is ofl'ered to the regiment witli tlie
hope that it may not have lost all its interest, and that it may
be at least an acceptable testimonial of tliat kind regard which
I shall ever cherish toward the ofhcers and men with whom I
passed one of the most important and interesting periods of
my life.

It will be a double pleasure and reward to me if its perusal
shall afford any satisfaction to my former brethren in arms or
entertainment to our indulgent friends.

E. A. W.

New Haven, November \st, 1862.



Fellow Soldiers : —

A year ago, on tlie ninth of June, 1861, at Camp Mansfield
in Hartford, tlie Fourth Regiment of Connecticut Yohmteero
first assembled for the worship of God. It was the day before
our departure for the seat of v.-ar. The companies had been
mustered into the service of the United States about two weeks
before, and had been living a sort of amphibious life in camp
while their outfit was being completed. Now all was ready.
Most of us had seen our homes for the last time during the
war. The last fond embrace had been given to wife and little
ones. The last words of loving counsel had been spoken by
mother to son. And on the coming day the last good-bye was
to be said, as we left our state to serve our common country.

To most of us this volunteering was no hasty step, into vvdiich
we were led by the mere excitement of the hour ; nor was it
one to which vre were impelled by lack of employment or the
means of support at home; but it was taken, in full view of all
the liabilities whicli it involved, from a sense of duty to our
country and our God. The national government had been as-
sailed by treason. The union and partnership of states had
been irregularly and dishonorably broken. The will of the
American people, expressed in strict accordance witli the con-
stitution by an overwhelming majority of the electoral votes,
had been spurned. And -now the Southern states were in open
rebellion against the government, defying its authority, tramp-
ling on the flag, and threatening with armed force to seize and
hold the national capital itself.

A few words concerning the origin and progress of this re-
bellion, unfolding the motives which prompted ns to take up
arms, may be a fitting introduction to the record of our first
year in the service.


The cause of the rebellion, as it is claimed by the disaflfected
states, was interference on the part of the North with South-
ern rights and institutions. Its immediate occasion was the
election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of the United
States on the platform of no extension of slavery.

Let us look for a moment at this so-called " interference."
The discussion of the subject of slavery, whenever it has been
productive of opposition to Southern views, has of late years
been called by Southern men " interference," even when such
discussion has been carried on in strict accordance watli the
constitution, and when it has been provoked and even demanded
by themselves. Strange to say, the first prominent abolition-
ists were Southern men. The first abolition society, if I re-
member right, was formed at Charleston, South Carolina. At
that time the North, being occupied with getting rid of its own
slaves, and regarding the South as equally anxious to do away
with a system which all felt to be opposed to the social and
economical interests of the country, as well as unnatural and
wrong — the North interested itself no more in the subject of
Southern slavery than a general regard for the respectability
and welfare of the whole country would naturally prompt.
Moreover, the spirit of the constitution was opposed to slavery.
The existence of the system was recognized by the framers of
that document only as a national evil, requiring, it is true, cer-
tain exceptional provisions, but to be got rid of as soon as cir-
cumstances would permit. All this is abundantly shown in
the writings of such men as Washington, Adams, Hamilton,
Jay, Jefierson, Llenry, and others, many of them Southern
men, and slaveholders ; and, after years of vain denial, such is
at last the frank admission of the South in the Avords of no less
a representative than the Vice-president of the Confederate

States, Alexander IT. Stephens of Georgia, who said in a
speech in the Athenanmi at Savannali, as reported by the Sa-
vannah HepuWican, — "The prevailing ideas entertained by
him [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the
time of the formation of the old constitution were that the
enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of
nature ; that it was wrong in 2:)rinciple, socially, morally and po-
litically." — " Our new government is founded upon exactly op-
posite ideas ; its foundations are laid, its corner stone rests upon
the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man ;
that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural
and moral condition." — To which he adds with impious irrev-
erence, " This stone [slavery] which was rejected by the first
builders ^ is hecome the chief stone of the corner'' in the new

"What is this but an emphatic avowal that slavery and the
fundamental principles of the constitution are " exactly oppo-
site ideas,'''' that as such, slavery was " rejected^'' by the framers
of the constitution? And is not this virtually a full endorse-
ment of the right and duty on the part of the people of the
United States to oppose all efforts to perpetuate and extend
the system of slavery as unconstitutional and in bad faith ?

But not only does tliis so-called I^orthern interference thus
appear to be perfectly justified and proper under the constitu-
tion, but it is also true that it was provoked and forced upon
the N^orth by the South itself

Is^otwithstanding the recognized fact that tlie spirit of the
constitution w^as opposed to slavery, and notwithstanding the
efforts on the part of early Southern politicians toward the abo-
lition of the system, this system was to slaveholders so lucra-
tive and agreeable that these began to oppose the idea of abo-
lition, and finally to seek under the constitution guarantees
for the protection and extension of slavery.— Mark this as the
root of our present troubles. The spirit of the constitution
was violated by the idea of tlie protection and extension of
slavery, and discord, maturing into rebellion, was the offspring.

But these constitutional guarantees could only be admitted
by action of Congress. On all the propositions and demands
which the South brought forward to this end, legislation on the


part of the whole country Avas necessary. If slavery is to be-
come a national instead of state institution — if it is to be spread
over territory common to all the states — if new privileges are
to be accorded to slaveholders v/ithin the free states — all this
can only be done by act of Congress. The will of the people
North and South must be expressed through their representa-
tives ; and in determining what this will shall be, a perfectly
free, untrammeled expression of individual opinion is inevita-
ble ; so that the discussion of the subject of slavery on the part
of JSTorthern men, however it may be opposed in spirit, meth-
od, and result, to Southern preferences, so far froui being charge-
able to interference, is seen to be demanded and actually forced
upon the North by the South itself. Yet notice here the intol-
erable and preposterous assumption of the South. She could
discuss the subject. She could lay down the right and wrong
of it. She could dictate concerning the constitution. She
could defame and vilif}" the North with most extravagant and
bitter epithets. She could shamelessly retaliate by acts of bru-
tal violence on those whose views or conduct were oifensive to
her. But let the North, in the discussion forced upon her by
the unconstitutional demands of the South, express her candid
opinion, and she is charged with "interference." Let her ex-
press her preferences through the ballot-box, in strict accord-
ance with the constitution, and she is charged with being the
cause of treason and rebellion. As if the moral action of the
North were to be directed by a slaveholdhig conscience ! As
if her intellectual decisions were to be determined by the heat-
ed brains of Southern politicians ! As if her i:)olitical action
were to be controlled by the charlatanry of Southern oratory !
As if discussion were not free ! As if the will of the majority
were not, under the constitution, the law of the republic!


I have said that the germ of our existing difficulties was to
be found in the effort on the part of the South, in ojoposition
to the spirit of the constitution, to secure the protection and
extension of slavery. We are all familiar with the steps by
which lier politicians sought to attain this end. Now by bar-

gains, now by protestations, now by threats, ever ploughing with
the most ignorant or selfish classes of the North, they stead-
ily advanced their line of policy, so that Southern statesmen
now admit, in singular opposition to their complaints all along,
that the South has not asked a favor under the constitution
for the last fifty years without obtaining it. By the Missouri
Compromise in 1820 Missouri was admitted as a slave state
into the union. Then Texas was annexed and thrown open
to slavery. TJien the Fugitive Slave Law was passed. Tlien
the Missouri Compromise was repealed. Flattered by these suc-
cesses, and knowing that slavery must eitlier spread or die, the
South began to advance new and more rapacious scliemes,
Cuba was to be annexed by purchase or force — then Mexico ;
and all territories of the United States were to be open to
slavery. Then Southern families must be allowed in traveling
to bring their slaves with them to the ISTorth, And, at last, the
insulting threat of Toombs should be realized, that he would
yet call the roll of his slaves from the foot of Bunker Hill

But all this time the people of tlie JSTorth, and the leaders
of the South, had felt that the spirit of the constitution was
opposed to slavery ; that slavery could not become a national
institution ; that, if it were to exist at all, it must do so merely
as a state institution, and as such must be confined to the
states where it belonged ; that no more slave territory sliould
be annexed ; and that the now existing territory of tlie United
States must be, and renuiin, forever free. In vain slaveholders
plead their right to take their property wherever they pleased.
The fallacy of their claims was shown by the fiict that t]ie_y also
demanded and received representation in Congress foi" three-
fifths of their slaves, so that slaves could not be considered
merely as property, but as persons degraded to the condition
of slavery. In vain the South maintained that the territories
of the United States were common, and therefore free to
slavery as to freedom. Free to slavery as to freedom ? Free
to Slavery ? How debased the human mind and heart must
be to harbor for a moment such a sentiment ! No. Slavery is
a mere local and exceptional institution. It cannot be foisted


thus among the tree institutions of the republic. If it exist
at all, it must be not by protection but by tolerance. Eather
restriction than extension. Ratlicr abolition than perpetua-
tion. Thus spoke the people of the free states; and by them,
on the conservative platform of no extension of slavery,
Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States,
Immediately, South Carolina taking the lead, several of the
Southern states seceded. Their constitutional rights were'
untouched ; and, if these had been interfered with, there
wei'e means of constitutional redress. But they foresaw that
slavery, if checked, must die. It was checked. Its plans of
aggression were brought to nought. Its hopes were dashed.
Its pride was humbled. Its threats were played out. Noth-
ing was left to its adherents but to submit or secede ; and,
reckless of consequences, they chose the latter.


But this was not all. They did not honorably secede.
Foreseeing the result of the election, the leaders of the South
had been for a long time secretly planning to withdraw, and
had been hard at work undermining the power of the federal
government, crippling its resources, doing all in their power
to make it defenseless against the treason which they medita-
ted. Large quantities of arms and munitions of Avar had
been distributed throughout the Southern states ; and these
were now appropriated. United States forts, arsenals, manu-
factories, dockyards, vessels, and public property of all de-
scriptions were seized. The nav}' was sent abroad to distant
ports. The army was largely in their hands. And — what
makes the matter still worse — all this was done directl}" by, or
at the instigation of, men who had held or were holding offices
of trust and of emolument under the federal government.
Think of it, you who have heard so much in days gone by of
"Southern honor" — here were the leaders and representatives
of the South, men who had taken the most solemn oaths to be
faithful to the federal government, who were enjoying its
protection and living on its benefits — here they were under


cover of tlieir sacred, vaunted honor, stealthily and deliberately
plotting the ruin of that which before God they had sworn to
support and maintain ! • Did perjury ever take so black a die ?
Was treason ever so infamous ?

" But were not these things ours by right V is the idle and
shameless reply of the secessionist. " Did we not help pay for
public improvements ? — and were not these, being on Southern
soil, our proper share ?"

Now, setting aside the feet that tlie South has always cost
the government, in tlie way of public expenditures, vastly
more than her proportion, and that, with all her boasted con-
tributions to the wealtli and prosperity of the North, she never
gave a cent without receiving what she considered a fair
equivalent, but, on the contrary, has repeatedly refused to pay
her honest debts, basely repudiating enough to make her
bankrupt among nations — I say, setting all this aside with
its accompanying obligations — what right liad the Soutliern
states to set themselves up as arbiters on a question of com-
mon property ? — You and I are partners in tlie jewelry busi-
ness. Of course, the watches and money belong to tlie firm.
No one of us has the right to appropriate the smallest part of
them. Suppose, now, that I become through any cause dis-
affected and wish to dissolve the partnership — have I any
right whatever to go to the money drawer and help myself to its
contents, to take all the watches and jewelry that I can lay my
hands on, and secede, claiming these as my legal share? Sup-
pose they were at my end of the store — would that palliate
my guilt ? Even suppose that you had violated the terms of
our agreement, and had made yourself every way obnoxious to
me — would not such proceedings on my part be altogether
illegal and criminal ? But this is precisely what the Southern
states have done. And tlius, supposing that tlie union were
simply a partnership of states as under the Articles of Con-
federation of 17Y7, the conduct of tlie South is seen to be in
bad faith and dishonorable. Much more, tlien, when we con-
sider that in that " more perfect union " under the existino;
constitution, the rights of tlie state are vested in the general


government, from wliicli all the protection and all tlie powers
of the individual states are regularly derived.

IIow was it when in the last war with England the New
England states were disaffected, and the propriety and right
of their secession was everywhere discussed ? Nothing irregu-
lar or unconstitutional was done, or even contemplated, by
them — not even in the famous Hartford Convention ; but the
whole nation was indignant even at the discussion. Meetings
were held in yonder town of Kichmond, and resolutions were
passed rebuking the conduct of Connecticut and denying her
right under any circumstances to secede from the federal
nnion. That power which has formed the union of states,
said the voice of Virginia, alone has the right to dissolve it ;
and that power is the General Convention. New England
admitted the argument. Miich against her preference and
apparent interest she remained in the federal union. And
now her sons are here before Richmond, maintaining those
principles which Virginia maintained, upholding that govern-
ment which Virginia helped to construct, for which she fought
and bled, but which her degenerate sons now repudiate and
trample under foot. So much for Southern honor and con-
sistency !


" But," says the secessionist — and the cry has sounded to
us from over the water — " what right has the North to compel
the Southern states to remain in the union against their will ?"

I answer, the difficulty is not merely one between the North-
ern and the Southern states, but it is between the govern-
ment of the United States and rebels. Strange that there
should be any misapprehension of this point, or any doubt
concerning it ! Is it not an axiom of govermnent, that every
government has the right of self-preservation — the right to
defend itself from traitors v/ithin as well as from foes without ?
If treason in the individual be a capital crime, is it any less
so because traitors are numbered by thousands ? — is it any less
our duty to punish them and purge the state of thorn? As if,


because tliG cancer is great and its corrosion violent, tlierc
were the less need of rcniovinp; it !

" But you cannot subjugate the South," says the secession-
ist — and England echoes the taunt. " Why, then, do you not
let her alone, now that she has gone out of the union, instead
of going to war to compel her to return V

AVe will not boast of Avhat we can do ; but one thing is cer-
tain — we will spare no money, pains, nor life, but that we will
vindicate the honor of our government and preserve our
national integrity. It is not for the monetary value of the
South that we are fighting. It is not for the privilege of pay-
ing her public expenses, running her mails, trusting her credit
and sharing the disgrace of her character and institutions,
that we are here in arms. But it is for justice, right, and

Suppose, for the moment, that this rebellion should succeed,
that the Southern Confederacy should be established on its
"corner stone" of slavery, and that the "stars and bars,"
according to the visions of the South Carolina prophets, should
cover the seas. And now suppose that England shovdd seize
some little schooner sailing under that flag and wantonly re-
fuse to give her up. Would not every Southern heart burn
with the sense of the outrage thus inflicted? Would not the
whole people spring to arms to avenge the insult ? AVould not
all nations point at them the finger of scorn, if they did not?
And would not England be the first and bitterest to ridicule
their craven spirit and taunt them with dishonor? What
shall we say, then, when ships, forts, arsenals and mints are
seized ; when public property of all descriptions is appro-
priated, or v/antonly destroyed ; when the flag of our union is
trampled under foot ; when the constitution, under which in
good faith we were bound to live, is spat upon ; when men are
hanged for being loyal to the government ; when the capital
itself is threatened :— and all this at the hands of men who
had lived and fatted in our oflices of honor and of trust, and
whose sacred word was pledged to maintain our national gov-
ernment and integrity ! Did ever the history of the world
present so imperative and righteous a cause of war?



We liave heard much talk of " peaceable secession" since the
war began ; and those who try to throw the odinni of the war
upon the Korth, would fain have us believe that the Southern
states would have gone out quietly and in order, if we would
have let them. Yery quietly and peaceably, indeed, did they
concoct their schemes of treason ! Yery cautiously and gently
did they unfold thera ! Yery softly did Mr. liuffin pull the
lanyard when he fired the first gun at Fort Sumter ! Talk
about peaceable secession ! The idea never entered into the
Southern head, until the Southern heart faltered in view of
the consequences of its crime. With unparalleled forbearance
we looked on the first movements of the rebellion, and waited
to see the South retrace her steps. It seemed impossible that
she should be capable of such folly, temerity, and crime. But
no. Instead of returning to their loyalty, the leaders of the
revolt began to entice and to force out of the union states that
would gladly have remained. Ever}' day unfolded new proofs
of the magnitude of their schemes. Public property of all
kinds was seized by them. Armed with their stolen arms they
threatened the loyal troops that still occupied the Southern
forts. N^ay, more, they even tin-eatened to take the capital it-
self, and make it the seat of their confederacy. It is useless to
deny this. Read the Southern papers of the day. Recall the
fiery speeches of their leaders. Better yet, refer to the
multitude of private letters of warning and condolence written
to us b}^ Southern friends. These all evince the ho23es and
plans of the leaders of the rebellion. They hoped that when
they fired the signal gun, the political tactions of the North
would fly to arms, the republican administration would be
overthrown. New England should become the seat of civil
war, which should not end until the so-called " rights of the
South" should be vindicated, and slavery should become the
law of the land.

Such were their boasts ; and so they fired the signal gun,
and stood on tiptoe " to observe the eftect of tlie shot." A


wonderful shot ! As its echoes rolled over the country, tliero
was a o-reat uprising, such as the world had not seen since the
soldiers of the crojs went forth to save the Holy City. They
looked — that cannon ball had shot down every vestige of party
feeling at the North. They looked — and lo, the whole North

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Online LibraryEdward Ashley WalkerOur first year of army life : an anniversary address, delivered to the First Regiment of Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, at their camp near Gaines' Mills, Va., June, 1862 → online text (page 1 of 8)