James H. (James Howard) Means.

A sermon, preached in the Second Church, Dorchester, after the death of Lieutenant William R. Porter, Eleventh Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers (Volume 1) online

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M E M O K I A L



LIEUT. WILLIAM R. PORTEl}.



SERMON,



PREACHED IN THE



SECOND CHURCH, DORCHESTER,



AFTER THE DEATH OF



LIEUTENANT WILLIAM R. PORTER,

1

!



Eleventh Reoimext Massachusetts Volunteers.



BY



REV. JAMES H. MEANS.



September 7, 1862.



Printed for Private Distribution.



BOSTON :

PRESS OF T. R. MARVIN & SON, 42 CONGRESS STREET.
1862.



SERMON



JOHN XVI. 33.

IN THE WORLD YE SHALL HAVE TRIBULATION.

The past week has been one of peculiar
anxiety and sorrow. We shall not soon forget
it. Strangely and sadly at its commencement were
our Sabbath services interrupted, and the hours
of that holy day demanded for works of mercy,
instead of worship. We did rightly, and I rejoice
we were able to do so much ; but how distressing
were the thoughts of suffering which the call from
the battle-field and the hospital suggested to our
minds.

As the days have passed since, how sad has
been their burden. Disaster, repulse, or victory
purchased at a fearful loss of life ; the angry flood
of rebellion flowing back, and surging round our
nation's capital, threatening for a time to sweep



all before it. And while these public calamities
filled us with grief, tidings came that one well-
known and tenderly loved, who went from us only
a few short months ago, in the beauty of his
young and aspiring manhood, had been cut down.

It has been a week of sorrow ; and the fitting
office of the preacher to-day, is to present the
truths most adapted to console and encourage.
I do not thus speak in any fit of despondency. I
am not despondent, though I feel that these are
trying days, and that probably many other such
days are before us. The sorrows of this terrible
strife are, I fear, to be brought home to us all
with yet heavier weight. We should not in the
least abate our confidence that the ultimate issue
of all will be good and blessed ; but ere that end
come, we have much more to do and to endure.

Now the way to meet the future is to face
it, with whatever of sorrow it may bring ; and
then ask what are the accompanying solaces and
benefits. It is not manly, it is not Christian-like,
to complain. We are really experiencing what
has been the common lot of men. The unusual
security and prosperity in which we have lived,
have made us forgetful how generally our race
has been thus scourged. Not a land is there in



Europe, nor, as far as we know, in Asia or Africa,
which has not been trampled by armed hosts, and
reddened by the blood of the slain. It was by
peculiar mercy that we so long escaped. Now has
come our hour of suffering ; and until the pur-
poses of God are fulfilled, we must feel his afflict-
ing hand. He is visiting us for our good, and
many are the spiritual benefits which may come
from such a season of trial as this, which is pass-
ing over us.

Let me point out some of them.

First. It is natural to say, — though the idea
has been so often insisted on of late, that we need
not dwell upon it, — that these troubles drive us to
God in prater, in trust, in the confession of our
dependence. How many have said, — what larger
numbers have felt often of late, — " Vain is the
help of man." That very absence of any leader
of commanding ability, which has been so la-
mented, concerning which many have so earnestly
prayed, Oh that the Lord would send us a man
of unerring wisdom and resistless might, — has
shut us up the more to trust only God. He has
given the people no hero to deify instead of Him ;
and when they have made an idol of one of his



6

creatures, he has filled them with confusion. Is
not this a voice, saying, Trust in me alone 1 And
every public reverse, every private bereavement
and anxiety, is intended to produce an humble
confidence in God.

It is not the rich, it is the poor, who trust him
for their daily bread. The rich trust in their
accumulations ; but when the loaf, or the money
to buy it, comes to the widow's door, perhaps
from the bounty of a stranger, she says, Behold, it
is the hand of the Lord. So do bereavements
drive us to God. For in the hour of unexpected
sorrow, what real refuge is there but this: — It is
the will of God. " I was dumb ; I opened not
my mouth ; for thou didst it." That thought has
hushed more groaning than the whole multitude
of soothing words ever uttered by the ingenious,
but miserable comforters of earth. And I believe
there has never been so general recognition of the
providence of God, and so many fervent cries of
dependence, so much strengthening of believing
hearts, as since these struggles came upon us.

But we pass to a Second point, not quite so
obvious. Anxieties and sorrows like ours develop
love to God^



"VVe might expect it to be otherwise. And
many will say, The blessings, the blessings of
Providence ; these warm the heart to gratitude
and love. But those who speak thus, forget that
the heart of man is perverse, and the movements
of the heart contrary to what they would be
among the unfallen. Take an ordinary man, in
whom there is no apparent love to God ; place
him in affluence ; pour around him the means for
the satisfaction of his desires ; and say, which
would probably be developed — love, consecra-
tion to the Highest — or, self-love, sensuality, pride,
and the whole host of evil affections which, as '^ve
see every day, grow rank in such a soil? It is
a mark of our depraved state, which constant
observation confirms, that prosperity has this in-
evitable tendency, where the Spirit of God is not
present with special help.

But adversity humbles ; it awakens cravings for
a higher than earthly good, and a sense of need
and emptiness unfelt before. The sufferer is ready
to receive instruction and rebuke and warning.
The streams of pleasure are dried up, and he
draws nearer to the Fountain for the happiness his
nature demands. The creature does not come in
between the soul and the Creator. The love of



God is not despised, as in other circumstances it
really is ; but is meekly, importunately sought.

Then God makes the season of trial his chosen
time for revealing his power and grace. The
worth of the promises, the preciousness of
Christ, the greatness of the privilege of prayer,
the power of the sustaining arm of the Eternal,
the brightness of the hope of immortality, — these
are especially felt in the hour when earthly com-
forts perish ; and as they are all seen proceeding
from the Divine Benefactor, the grateful heart
praises the Giver, and loves him with a new
aftection. He hath smitten, but it was in mercy ;
He hath afflicted, but these comforts and the
strength he gives show that it was not willingly ;
his higher wisdom, his holier will, "SO appointed
it ; and ' blessed be his name.'

In the Third place, times of public and private
sorrow work quietness of spirit, and the 2)assive
virtues, in ivhich God especially/ delights.

Let one take the Bible, and catalogue the ex-
cellencies it chiefly commends ; let him notice to
what traits of character the greater promises are
made ; or let him study the words of Jesus, and
beginning with the beatitudes, note what qualities



he most desired to see iu his disciples, and on
what he most relied for the honor and efficiency of
his religion, — and he will be surprised to find how
largely the list is filled up by those qualities which
are designated, sometimes almost sneeringly, as
passive virtues.

I suppose the approval of God may be consid-
ered as a sufficient offset for the contempt of man ;
and without any effort to show — what might be
proved easily — how largely there is in these so-
called passive traits an element of earnestness and
strength, almost heroic; on the simple testimony
of God we may be ready to give them the highest
place.

It is to be expected, that what God especially
values, he will most carefully develop ; and so he
chastens those whom he loves, and will not suffer
those whom he would most exalt, to escape the
discipline of sorrow. It was needful that Christ,
himself, should " learn obedience by the things
which he suffered ;" and when he chose his
Apostles for the highest place and noblest service
to which men were ever called, he said to them,
" Ye shall drink of my cup, and be baptized with
the baptism with which I am baptized." Where-
ever you read of one eminently useful, whenever



10

you come in contact with one who impresses by
his Christ-like spirit, there you will find humility,
meekness, submission ; the whole constellation of
these more quiet virtues shining, and probably
shining out from amid the clouds of struggle and
afiEliction.

As the diamond glitters in the cave, — as the
precious ore comes from the deep mine, — so these
jewels of God's choice flash out from the darkest
scenes of human life. And when, in the provi-
dence of God, we come to a day like this, shall it
not console us to believe that he is thus giving us
the adornment, which shall make us radiant in his
sight ?

Fourthly. In a time of trouble^ our desires are
draivn away from earthy and we long for a higher
and better life.

We are not to despise nor to loathe this world,
nor to be discontented here. There is no piety in
saying, fretfully, " I would not live alway," nor in
throwing life carelessly away. Yet this world is
not our home ; God hath prepared what is far
better, and has revealed to us in promises and
visions, wonderful and glorious, the blessedness of
the offered immortality. To be indifferent to such



11

revelations, is to despise his grace ; not to feel the
heart stirred with aspirations and longings after
heaven, argues sad unbelief, and the coldness of a
spirit fatally benumbed.

But how shall such feelings be awakened 1
Not by new revelations. God will give no more
visions ; but when men see not the light above,
because their eyes are dazzled by the splendors
and joys below, he spreads darkness over this
lower sphere ; and then, as the stars come out at
night, men see the shining of the heavens, unre-
garded before.

Such has been the experience of multitudes in
all ages. " It was when surrounded by enemies,
thirsting for his blood, that Stephen saw heaven
open. It was in the depth of poverty and exile,
that John beheld the glory of the sweeping trains
along the golden streets of the city of God. It
was when weighed down with fetters, and faint
from lonely imprisonment, and surrounded by
infuriated heathen, that the voice of Paul rang
out with the exultation of more than a conqueror,
enraptured with the good fight he had fought, and
the crown laid up for him." And so, whenever
God would work in any of his servants a deadness
to the world and fitness for heaven, when he would



12

prepare them to depart, by giving them a desire to
depart, he darkens their prospects here, takes their
beloved away, wakes them from all delusive dreams
of earthly permanence and security, and makes
them " homesick for glory."

What Christian is there, who has not felt some-
thing of this during these recent days of sorrow 1
How many have thanked God that this was not
their home. " There remaineth a rest for the
people of God." " There the wicked cease from
troubling." " God shall wipe all tears from their
eyes." How precious have such words been. And
many who clung to life, and have longed to see
many years, have asked themselves, Is it not
folly ^ There is a better portion ; why not reach
after it 1

" Jerusalem, my heavenly home,
My soul oft pants for thee ;
When shall my sorrows have an end.
In joy, and peace, in thee."

Not repining, not with any morbid gloom, do
they thus speak ; but with a deepening conviction,
which is in blessed accordance with the mind of
God, that heaven is better than earth, and that
their treasure is above. These sorrows are not
lost upon us, which work such results ; for the



13

more heartily one longs for heaven, the more will
he enjoy its higher life.

Let us then be contented with our state. Let us
feel that it is not really a cause for grief, that our
lot is cast amid these commotions. If this were
all — if this were the best we could hope for —
we might be sad ; but courage, Christians — 't is
but for a little while ; we may be thus ripening for
everlasting joys, and soon, amid those unfolded
scenes above, we shall be speaking of these " light
afflictions, which were but for a moment," — con-
trasted with what the Apostle called, in words in
which he evidently labored to convey the fullness
of his meaning, — "the weight — the exceeding —
they^r more exceeding — the far more exceeding
and eternal weight of glory."

While we would thus encourage and comfort all,
our thoughts turn with special sympathy to those
who have asked our remembrance of their great
sorrow, to-day. One, whom many of us have
watched from youth to manhood, with growing
confidence and hope, whom we saw for successive
years in the Sabbath school, whose voice was often
lifted among those who led in our songs of praise,
whose constant presence in the sanctuary was



14

familiar to all, has gone from us, to return no
more. We parted from him in hope of meeting
him again. But this may not be. His name is
added to the long list of the ardent and heroic
who have fallen on the field of strife. A braver
officer, one more manly and generous, one more
trusted and loved by those whom he commanded,
was not in our country's service. Almost his last
words to me were, " Whatever you learn of me,
you will hear that I have done my duty." It has
been so. Unsoiled by any of the vices of the camp,
unsparing of himself, with a patriot's ardor, and
the conscientiousness of one religiously educated,
he did his duty to the last.

A comrade, who saw him at the moment of his
receiving the mortal wound, cried out, " The
bravest man in the regiment has fallen;" and amid
even the excitement of the charge, as the sad
words rang along the ranks, many a heart was
pierced with deepest grief, that so honorable and
bright a career had ended so soon.

But no, it was not ended ; his example lives.
Such sacrifices as he and others have made, and
others still are making, who are pressing forward
for duty's sake, in the same great service, cannot
be lost. They who are growing up will breathe



15



an air fragrant with noble and unselfish deeds,
and will be made manly and earnest. We all
shall be shamed out of low aims and selfishness,
and a mean clinging to life. And if God's truth
come with the voice of his providence to guide us,
there shall rise a generation more lofty and mighty
than their fathers.

We are not now permitted, with the usual fune-
ral rites, to commit this body to the ground ; but
as our thoughts visit the spot where strange hands,
and yet perhaps not unpitying hearts, laid that
youthful form away, we can leave it to the care and
keeping of an omnipresent God.

We weep not as unsubmissive. God has ena-
bled the bereaved to say, " It is right ; it is well.
His country called ; he heard the voice, and was
ready to obey; it would have been sin to have
held him back." The off'ering was made to God,
because duty prompted it. And he accepts such
offerings, and will not leave them comfortless,
whom his plans require to be afflicted. In the
graces that spring from tribulation, in the joys of
that world where death is unknown, they, and all
who are distressed, shall find a recompense.



16



Lieutenant Porter died, August 29, 1862, aged
twenty-one years, in the second battle at Bull Run, in
Virginia. When the foregoing Sermon was preached, it
was feared that his remains could not be recovered.
Through the goodness of Him, who delights to give com-
fort in trouble, they were regained, brought home, and
buried at Mount Auburn, November 28th. At the funeral,
the following words were spoken :

We gather together here to-day, with strangely-
mingled feelings. The sight of this sable casket
reminds us afresh of our great and sad loss, and so
renews our grief; and yet so thankful are we for
the unexpected recovery of these precious relics,
that we wipe away our tears to bless God for the
comfort thus afforded. The Christian doctrine of
the resurrection teaches us to be mindful concern-
ing even the bodies of our dead. Not only are
they dear to us, as forms once familiar and cher-
ished, but as holding in their mortal inclosure the
germ of that which is immortal. " It is sown
in corruption ; it is raised in incorruption." We
would not then willingly leave it unprotected and



17

uncared for ; we would lay it reverently in hal-
lowed ground.

And, to-day, another feeling moves us. There
lie the remains of one who gave himself to a peril-
ous service for his country's sake. He heard the
call, and with the generous impulses of youth,
hastened to obey. From this smiling home, from
all the bright prospects opening before him, he
turned away. Patient and faithful, as a private
soldier, he learned to command by learning to obey.
As an officer, gentlemanly, kind and brave, he won
the confidence and esteem of all. Through scenes
of fearful danger, he passed unharmed ; and with
strengthened hope, we looked for his continued
safety. But God willed it otherwise ; and in the
unflinching discharge of duty, he fell, with, alas !
how many others of the young and heroic. We
feel he is entitled to an honorable burial. Our
sense of right craves the privilege of thus honoring
his bravery and patriotism.

It becomes us, also, to confess that God has seemed
very graciously to favor this our desire. Won-
derfully was the way prepared for those who went
forth for the pious office of recovering this body.
Had they gone a few days earlier, or two days
later, they would not have gained safe access to



18

the field of death. They went at just the right
time; they found, unexpectedly, just the right
man to lead them to the spot where it had been
needful for grieving comrades to abandon their dead.
There, undisturbed, had he been lying ; the wither-
ing leaves had fallen, and the autumn winds were
sighing above his grave, but no profane hand, no
careless foot of man or beast had violated its peace.
The marks of identity were such as to leave no
possibility of any painful doubt. And they who
went with only the faintest hope, returned with
thankfulness that God had thus comforted them in
their sorrow, and granted thus their last fond wish.
And so, mourning, and yet praising God, we
now commit this body to the ground — " earth
to earth, dust to dust:" — we give it, shrouded in
our country's flag, to these associates in study and
literary pursuits, and to these comrades in arms,
whom we welcome from distant fields of service,
that they may bear it to a patriot soldier's honored
grave.



It was a gratification to the friends of Lieut. Porter,
to see, among those assembled at his Funeral, several
Officers of the Eleventh and Thirteenth Regiments of



19

Massachusetts Volunteers, and fellow-members of a Lite-
rary Society in which he was much interested. The
feelings of these associates are expressed in the commu-
nications which follow.

FROM COLONEL BLAISDELL.

Head Quarters 11th Regiment Mass. Volunteers,

Camp near Alexandria, Va., Sept. 12, 1862.

Edward G. Porter, Esq. :

Dear Sir, — Your brotlier, Lieutenant William R. Porter,
commanding Company C, of this Regiment, died on the field of
battle at Bull Run, August 29, 1862, while gallantly leading his
command in a bayonet charge upon a very strong position of
the enemy, who were posted behind a railroad embankment.

Before reaching the railroad, Lieut. Teaffe observed him sud-
denly bend forward, and totter ; and caught him in his arms,
and asked him if he was hurt. He replied, " My back is
broken." In answer to a second question, as to where he Avas
hit, he said he was shot in the bowels.

By order of Lieut, Teaffe, Sergeant Farrington, assisted by
Sergeant Boucher, bore him a short distance to the rear, where
he died. Sergeant Boucher, in a few minutes after, having
returned to the battle, was killed.

I can only inform you that Lieut. Porter's body was buried
near where he fell, and I doubt whether the exact spot could be
identified, as our troops retiring, made it necessary to send a
flag of truce to bury the dead — the fatigue party being detailed
from other Regiments.

I cannot omit this opportunity to do justice to the memory of
your brother, who, during the short time he was an officer in
this Regiment, performed his duty understandingly, faithfully,
and fearlessly ; winning the love of his men — who felt the great-
est confidence in him as a leader, — the esteem of his brother
officers, and the respect of all who were acquainted with him ;
and I myself shared with them the feelings with which they
regarded him. I feel that I have lost a valuable and promising
officer, and sympathize deeply with you and his large circle of



20

friends at home in their bereavement, trusting you and they
may find consolation in the knowledge that the manner of his
death, in the van of battle for human freedom, and the perpe-
tuity of our institutions, formed a fitting termination to the life
of a vporthy and brave soldier.

I am, with the greatest respect, your obedient servant,

WILLIAM BLAISDELL,

Colonel Co7nmanding Regi7nent.



FROM THE PICKWICK CLUB.

Dorchester, Sept. 13, 1862.
Nathan Carruth, Esq. :

Dear Sir, — At a meeting holden on the 12th instant, by
the Pickwick Club, of which Lieutenant Porter was a member,
the following Preamble and Resolutions were adopted : —

Whereas, We have learned of the death of our brother.
Lieutenant William R. Porter, who fell, fighting for his
country, at Bull Run, on Friday, August 29th,

Resolved, That Avhile fully appreciating our great loss, at the
removal of one whose friendship we so highly valued, we find
much consolation in the fact that our brother has fallen in so
glorious a cause — faithful to his duty, even unto death.

Resolved, That we will strive ever to cherish his memory,
and to profit, in our own lives, by the noble example he has set
before us, of true patriotism, self-denying devotion, and unfal-
tering courage.

Resolved, That Ave deeply sympathize with the family of our
departed friend, in the great sorrow which has come upon them,
and earnestly pray that they may receive all needed comfort in
their distress.

Resolved, That a copy of these Resolutions be sent to the
family of Lieutenant Porter, in token of our syiBpathy with
their afiiiction.

GEORGE W. FOX, Vice President.
J. H. TUTTLE, Secretary.



21



THE GRAVE OF LIEUT. WILLIAM ROGERS PORTER,
AT BULL EUN.



Tread softly, passing here,

This is a Soldier's grave ;
Press lightly, this is sacred soil.

Here sleeps a Hero brave ;
Speak gently, passing here.

Yes ! talk in tender tone ;
'TAvas here our Brother shed his blood.

Far from his happy home.

Breathe softly, passing here.

Break not his last repose ;
Let none disturb this gallant Son,

Slain by our Southern foes ;
Weep gently, passing here,

He died for th' Flag wc love ;
It is not weak to shed a tear,

For those who live above.

Blow softly, passing here,

Ye winds, that sigh and moan ;
Our tender hearts are bleeding now.

For those he loved at home ;
Touch gently, passing here.

The leaves that fall around ;
Move not a twig or stone.

For this is holy ground.

JOILN" A. FOWLE.

Wasbiiigtou, November 27, 1SG2.



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Online LibraryJames H. (James Howard) MeansA sermon, preached in the Second Church, Dorchester, after the death of Lieutenant William R. Porter, Eleventh Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 1)