Asa A Spear.

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52d Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers


The 50th Anniversary of the Enlistment of the Regiment

in the U. S. Army for Service in the Civil War,

by Lieutenant Asa A. Spear of Company G.






rtB -1913

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The Civil War in History

A modern writer has said: '' History is a diary of the
luiinan race." Such a diary does not disch)se all its teach-
ings to the writer, nor to the actors in the events recorded.
If faithfully and truly written, the story told will unfold
as the years go by, and present to those who read, lessons
and truths unthought of when the record was written.

The diary of the Oivil War has been written by many
and distinguished historians, some actors in its scenes, and
others not, who have sought to record the great and con-
trolling events of that bloody struggle from different view
points and often colored by personal experiences, or told
in such way as to add luster to the names and deeds of
certain distinguished actors. But these diaries have given
us, in the main, a reliable story, from which we may draw
safe and abiding lessons for the nation's future guidance.

Many diaries of the Oivil War have been written in
humbler fashion, by less distinguished people, and record-
ing the deeds of humbler men, which are none the less
truthful, and which, none the less, contain the richer
teachings of those strenuous years. Eacii one of us, com-
rades, has written such a diary, either upon paper, or in
the hearts and lives of those near to us. We have narrated
our personal experiences and vividly described scenes
which we have witnessed and in which we have been
actors, to those who have not forgotten the stories, and

by whom lessons, hidden in them, are being discovered,
and wrought into the sturdy manhood of the generations
that have already followed ours.

By the aid of memory we sweep back through the years
and over the experiences of life, and great truths rush
upon us which we did not see when we were passing
through them.

Many and wonderful are the lessons already learned by
this retrospect, by the study of these diaries. But fifty
years is too short a space of time to give a perspective
sufficient to disclose all that is stored in these written
and unwritten records. We have already learned much.
Mighty influences have already proceeded from them. But
the historian of the generations yet to come, as distance
gives him a fuller and more perfect view of the events
and scenes in which we were actors, will find lessons and
truths hidden in them, which have not been disclosed to
us and which we have not imagined.

The nation is nobler and better by reason of what has
already been learned. She has become more powerful for
righteousness and has a mightier influence among the na-
tions, by reason of the unfolding and strengthening of the
true spirit of liberty which the Oivil War brought.

Our conceptions of loyalty and patriotism have changed
since those days. The loyal American, to-day, is not one
who seeks above all else, to defend his country against
foreign aggression, but one, who, acting from a higher pur-
pose, seeks to make her foremost in promoting peace and
good-will among the nations. Peace, not war, is now the
objective of every true American who has learned the les-
sons of the Oivil War. It was in ante-bellum days that
we boasted that America was the greatest country in the
world for prowess, wealth and bigness ; now we are proud
to proclaim our land the leader of the world in the strife
for universal peace. Now we boast not so much of the
number of square miles within our borders, or of the mill-
ions of our people, or of our enormous wealth, all of


which surpass the record of fifty years ago, as of our power
to help the world. Ringing out in clearest tones from
every mountain and hilltop, so that it is heard around the
world, is our new clarion call, "We must help all men to
be free." "We have learned through the bitter teaching
of the Civil War, that the liberty which our fathers gave,
is a precious gift entrusted to us, that we may pass it on
to those who have it not. The conception of a greater
missionary enterprise than that on which our country has
embarked during these later years, has never entered the
thought of man since the angels, above Bethlehem\s plain,
on that first Christmas night, proclaimed: "Peace on
Earth, Good Will toward Men." A new spirit, a new
patriotism, beside which the old appear weak and unde-
veloped, have possessed our thoughts and purposes.

Before the Civil War the first thought of American pa-
triots was for themselves ; their energies were directed
towards the building up of a nation invincible in prowess,
unsurpassed in wealth. Our patriotism was self-centered
and confined in narrow limits. As the years go by, and
we read and re-read the diary of that war, and study the
bearing of its great events upon each other and upon the
nation, new and broader and nobler ideas are constantly
unfolded to us. Clearer and clearer stands out in bold
perspective, the idea that after all the real and greatest
object of the war was to help others who desperately
needed help ; to awaken American patriots to a knowledge
of the fact that they had a priceless gift of freedom, in-
herited from their fathers, which they were selfishly keep-
ing to themselves, while the world was calling for a share
in the treasure.

We commenced the bestowal of our inheritance upon
those needing it, by sharing with the oppressed within
our own borders. Our charity commenced at home. We
thought we enlisted in the country's service to preserve
the union of the States, but have we not learned in these
fifty years, that the preservation of the union was a sec-


ondary purpose, and that there was a higher and mightier
purpose behind and above that ? A purpose which we did
not then see, nor understand, but which time has made
wonderfully clear ? A purpose out of which the choicest
and richest fruits of our sacrifices have come ? That pur-
pose Avas that we should be taught the lesson that Amer-
ica's mission was to share her birthright with those in
need; to give, free-handed, liberty and justice and peace
to all the world — the lesson that by giving we should be
enriched and exalted to a higher and mightier station than
our fathers ever attained.

In bestowing freedom upon the slave we not only re-
moved the greatest burden upon our national life and
blotted out the greatest stain upon our national honor, but
we got our first glimpse of the reward that always comes
from sharing our best with those in need.

The teaching of this lesson w^as costly, very costly, and
there may have been in it something of chastisement, for
the dullness and inaptness to learn, which we now see so
clearly, marked the earlier days of our national existence.
But we learned the lesson well, and time and experience
are fixing it more indelibly in our national character.
This new idea has grown and broadened with advancing
years, until the very foundations of our patriotism have
been rebuilt. The old foundations were too narrow and
contracted ; the last fifty years have completely changed
our conceptions of patriotism and loyalty. The loyal
American of to-day is a different man from the loyal
American of fifty years ago; his ideals are higher; his
influence mightier ; his sympathies universal; his field is
the world. And all this is precious fruit of the Civil War,
which we have already gathered. The future will produce
still richer harvests.

"When Americans became thoroughly awake to the mean-
ing of this lesson from the Civil War, and this new spirit
of charity and good-will sought expression, the opportu-
nity came most unexpectedly. Cuba, most cruelly op-


pressed and in direst need, stretched out her shackled
hands to us for help. The new spirit of loyalty to liberty
and of exalted patriotism, which filled the sons of those
who fought the Oivil War, responded to the call. They
sprang to arms; struck off the shackles from the out-
stretched hands; wrested fair Ouba from her oppressor
and presented her to herself, dowered with a portion of
the heritage so precious to us. And greater still was the
outcome of that blow at tyranny. Dewey's guns, on that
May day morning, annihilated a Spanish fieet and opened
the doors of the poor, ignorant, uncivilized Philippino, to
receive a share of what we had to give. Since then
America has been a schoolmaster to these alien, but needy
people, instructing them in the arts of peace, self-govern-
ment and liberty; lifting them up to a higher plane of
existence, herself pledged to give them self-government
and civil liberty when the savage shall have had time to
develop into the law-loving, law-abiding, enlightened

Search history from the dawn of creation to this day
and where will you find sucli another example of disinter-
ested, unselfish bestowal of a share in a nation's choicest
heritage, upon an oppressed and distracted people ? His-
tory will record these glorious achievements as fruits of
the Oivil War.

Then again, the Oivil War produced John Hay, that
most distinguished and masterful statesman, who taught
the world lessons in the arts of peace, in honest, unselfish
diplomacy and fair-dealing. He set up a new standard of
national integrity and supplanted deceit and falsehood in
international dealing, with straightforward honesty and
truthfulness. Out of the Oivil War he had learned the
lessons of the higher patriotism. At the feet of Lincoln
he had drunk in the new spirit of righteous action, peace,
good-will and liberty for all ; and it had developed in him
until it produced a noble man, filled with a love for liberty
and fair-dealing which could not and would not counte-

nance unjust oppression of the weak. His voice sounded
throughout the world a new and higher note of truthful-
ness, honor and justice on the part of the strong in their
dealings with the weak.

He taught the world many a lesson and fearlessly cham-
pioned the cause of righteousness everywhere. That new
spirit in him and the courage it had given, enabled him,
when all the great nations of Europe, in the Boxer war,
had combined to partition distracted and helpless China,
to hurl defiance at them all and to say: "Thou shalt
not." And the heart and voice of America Avas behind
him, sustaining and encouraging, and saying to him and
them, a new spirit of liberty and justice has been born in
us, out of the blood and sacrifice and suffering of our Civil
War, and we will protect and defend China against the
world with the might of our good right arm, if need be,
and will preserve to her, her ancient possessions inviolate.
Europe listened and heard and stopped. The dove of
peace shortly found a resting place in China, and John
Hay found a place on the topmost pinnacle of power and

The world stands aghast at these many acts of u.nselfish
giving of our best, and wonders whence they come. His-
tory points back to the Civil War.

Nor is this all. Out of this new spirit of patriotism and
good will, America has given to China the new spirit
which is now at work, awakening the nation from her cen-
turies long lethargy, and rebuilding and consolidating her
civil, social and intellectual life.

The return of the Boxer millions to China is another ex-
ample of the working of our new spirit, which Europe does
not yet understand.

In all these events, the future historian w411 find deeper
meaning and richer lessons than we have yet discovered.

There are men who will not subscribe to all that I have
thus far said ; men who do not believe that there is power
enough in this new spirit of peace and good will, to de-


fend and preserve the nation. Pessimists there are and
always have been. We had them during the Civil War
and labelled them "Copperheads." They are now con-
tinually telling us that the safety of the country demands
the continued cultivation and development of the nuirtial
spirit; and they atfirm that the martial spirit is dying
out, and that etfeminacy and moral decline are every-
where manifest among our young men. They maintain
that the spirit of peace is enervating, and in the end will
sap the very foundations of our liberty. They decry the
trend which has made possible such results as came from
the Spanish War, and our influence with China. Not so.
The future historian will record that this new spirit of
patriotism and loyalty to country is not a degenerate
spirit. The new spirit is ennobling, uplifting, purifying,
strengthening. All these forces are life-giving, life-sus-
taining. The new spirit slulfs off the asperities of the old
martial spirit and leaves it refined and purified, but wath
all its ancient stamina intact. Because refined and puri-
fied it is safer, surer and more enduring. The country
will never want for defenders in time of need, nor for
valiant sons to pass on our inherited blessings to those in
need, so long as this new and refined spirit survives. And
it comes from sources which can never fail.

We can all tell stories illustrating the truth of what I
have just said. One morning wdien the Brooklyn boys
were enlisting for the Spanish war, my son, then just
starting in his teens, sat pensive and thoughtful at the
breakfast table. After a time he said: " Father, it is too
bad." "What is too bad, my son ? " " It is too bad that
the family has no one to send to this war. You are too old
and I am too young."

I was proud of that boy. You need not tell me that the
spirit of patriotism and loyalty to country is dead or de-
cadent. It still lives, but purified and strengthened- He
knew that the blood of the early settlers in his mother's
family, shed by the arrow and tomahawk of the Indian,


^ad stained the meadows and the hillsides of this beauti-
ful Connecticut River valley; he knew that, in the public
library at Sunderland, hung a memorial to his maternal
great-great-grandfather as a captain in the Revolutionary
War ; he knew that when Massachusetts called on her sons
to repel the expected British invasion in 1812, his pater-
nal great-grandfather responded to the call; he knew that
the names of his father and uncle were enrolled upon the
marble slabs in the town hall at Amherst, as soldiers in
the Civil War, and he knew and felt, above all, that the
spirit of his ancestors w^as in him, moving him to loyalty
and duty.

Comrades : You have such sons and grandsons. As you
have held them on your knee and told them of the loyal
service of their ancestors, of your own hard service, of the
campfire, of the toilsome march, of the battle field, you
have seen their bosoms heave, their eyes flash with the
latent fire, and the fixed and loyal purpose Avithin, ex-
pressing itself on the brow and face. You know that the
spirit which filled your life in 1862, still lives in them

The future student of history will commend with un-
stinted praise the loyal, unfaltering and unselfish devo-
tion of the nation to the soldiers in the field. The diary
abounds in stories of such devotion. Every village and
hamlet in the land has its organization to provide com-
forts for the sick; houses were stripped of such articles
as could be used to make lint and bandages for the
wounded. Night and day the first thought was for the
army at the front.

One incident in our own history illustrates what I would

say, an incident which has retained a w^arm place in all

our hearts. On the 30th day of July, 1868, after a week

of wearisome progress up the Mississippi, we land from the

river steamer " Henry Chouteau," at that den of sin they

call " Cairo," in Illinois, where too many of our boys fell

victims to the temptation which lurked everywhere.


About midnight we were loaded into freight cars and
started, overland, for home. Rations were scarce, and for
three days we had little to eat beyond what the good peo-
ple of the towns and villages through which we passed,
gave us, and in their honor be it said, they treated us gen-
erously. About two o'clock in the afternoon of August
3rd, we reached Buffalo. The news of our coming and of
our need, had gone before. It was Sunday. At the open-
ing of the morning service, the church over which Rev.
Dr. Hosmer, father of Corporal Hosmer of Company D,
presided, received an unusual message. The Doctor an-
nounced that the 52nd Massachusetts regiment was on its
way home from the seige of Port Hudson, and would
arrive in Buffalo early in the afternoon, and that the boys
were hungry. Then he dismissed his congregation with
the injunction that his people see that the hungry soldiers
Avere fed. Then followed a glorious illustration of Chris-
tianity applied. Scores of families in Bufl'alo gave up
their Sunday dinners; kitchens, meat shops and bakeries
were ransacked ; long tables were erected in the railroad
station, and fairly loaded with a feast such as no 52nd reg-
iment man had seen in many a day. Dr. Hosmer's church
was there en masse to welcome us ; the ladies in their
Sunday gowns to serve the viands. What a sight met our
unsuspecting eyes as we marched into the station! And
then the scenes that followed! Buffalo learned that day,
how hungry men can eat, and better still, how they can
express their gratitude for and appreciation of such gen-
erous self-denial. Their bounty not only satisfied our
hunger, but filled our haversacks with good things for the
morrow. The ringing cheers which were our farewell,
were answered by cheers and waiving handkerchiefs from
the multitude.

Comrades: Such scenes reveal the inner spirit which
fills the heart of loyal America, and which is strengthen-
ing year by year.

Another great truth, I believe, the future student of


history will reveal, as he reads and re-reads the diary of
the Civil War. It is that the Confederate Soldier and the
Union Soldier, knew and felt in his inmost heart, that
they were brothers ; that the war was a fratricidal w^ar
which ought not to have been. Another story from our
own history will show the reason for this belief.

After the unsuccessful assault on Port Hudson on June
14, 1863, three companies of our regiment, which had been
thrown forward as skirmishers, were left in close proxim-
ity to the Confederate earth-works. Company G was in
an angle of those works fronting two Confederate regi-
ments — the 49th Alabama on one side of the angle, and the
1st Mississippi on the other, and there we remained in the
blazing sun, protected by stumps and logs and gulches in
the earth, most of the time till July 8th, w^hen Port
Hudson surrendered. For three days after the assault
the dead of our army lay about us everywhere. On the
17th of June the bugles sounded a parley, a white flag was
raised and parties were sent out to bury the dead. For
nearly three hours the flag was up and many Confederates
came out into the neutral ground between their lines and
ours and met the men from my company, and during those
three hours they sat upon stumps and logs and chatted as
socially and pleasantly as though they had been brothers.
The Confederates had the idea that they were confronted
by a company of sharpshooters, so accurate and annoying
had been our fire, and many of them asked to be presented
to the officer commanding the company. They were
greatly mistaken, however. There was no one there but a
few farm boys and mechanics from Amherst and Sunder-
land and Pelham. But the truth is, they had acquired
some skill in handling Springfield rifles.

A duel had been going on between Edgar Pomeroy, my
orderly sergeant, and the orderly sergeant of a company
in the 1st Mississippi. The Mississippian's favorite post
was behind a large magnolia tree, just outside the Con-
federate works. Pomeroy lay behind a stump two hun-


dred yards away. Many shots had been exchanged with-
out material damage to either combatant. On the after-
noon of the day before the truce, the Mississippian landed
a heavy charge of buckshot in the top of the stump close
to Pomeroy's head; then he commenced to reload, and in
doing so exposed his right arm to Pomeroy's quick eye.
He saw his chance, and in an instant a minnie ball was
on its way from Pomeroy's rifle, which shattered the Con-
federate's good right arm. His rifle fell and he did not
finish loading. The afternoon of the truce this Mississip-
pian was introduced to me and asked to see the man who
shot him the day before. I called the orderly, introduced
his victim, and for more than two hours those two men,,
the Confederate with his arm in a sling, sat on a log and
laughed and chatted like old friends. You would not sus-
pect that they were aught but brothers. The major of
the 49th Alabama asked to be brought to me. We were
introduced by one of his men. The greeting was cordial
on both sides. He commenced the conversation by ask-
ing me where I came from. I answered that 1 came from
Massachusetts. He said: ''You are a long way from
home. What did you come down here for ? " I answered :
" To make you fellows behave yourselves, if we can." He
answered: ''Well, we ought never to have misbehaved."
We sat down on a log and for an hour talked freely of the
war, and the events which led to it. I found him to be a
fine, well educated and intelligent gentleman. He freely
admitted that the war never should have been ; that the
masses of the Southern people were not at heart in favor
of the war, but were in it because they had to be, because
of the impetuosity and hot-headedness of their political
leaders. Coolness and calm deliberation, he felt sure,
would have avoided the war.

After three hours of brotherly fellowship the bugle
sounded the recall, the white flag went down, the men of
both armies scurried to their covers, and instantly went
at each other's throats like incarnate devils. For half an


hour bullets flew as if to make up for the time which had
been lost.

By this scene and many others like it, 1 have been led
through the mellowing influence of the years and the
growth of the new spirit within me, to the belief which I
have expressed, that we were after all brothers at heart,
loving a common country and rejoicing in a common lib-
erty. The outside was but an appearance put on from
force of circumstances, and because we must.

Another fact which the future historian will make much
of, is the abounding love which the war developed for the
old flag in the hearts of those who followed it. I never go
to Boston, that I do not climb Beacon Hill to the old State
House to look upon one flag among the many which the
old Commonwealth is preserving in the rotunda. I feel
an impulse within me which strengthens with the years,
that I must make this pilgrimage. And as I stand and look
upon the flag we followed, tattered and bullet pierced, the
tears come streaming down my face. I don't know why it
is. I cannot help it. They come spontaneously. Do you
say tears are unmanly ? Not such tears. They are a tes-
timony to something within, that makes a man. That war-
worn flag is a symbol of what we sufl'ered and endured for
country's sake. It stands for everything we cherish most
of home and liberty and peace. The experiences we asso-
ciate with it, are graven on our hearts, and are among our
most precious memories and the sight of it brings up all
the past. That flag speaks to us, not in words, but by a
mighty unseen influence, loaded with the lessons of the
past, which has reached our hearts, and inspired a stronger
love and brought us little by little into this new and bet-
ter idea of what the Civil War really was, what it has done
for us, and what we feel assured it will do for those who
come after us.

Another lesson which the future student of history will
find, even more i)lainly written than we now And it, as he
reads the diary of the Civil Wai- \\ritten V^y bleediiig


liearts, in desolate homes tliroiiglioiit the hind, will be the
niagnilicently heroic character and fortitude of the women
of the Kepublic, — of the women of the 52nd Massachusetts
regiment. Comrades: Too little honor have we given
them as the years have tlown ; too little appreciation of
their sacrifices have we expressed. Fifty years ago we
adopted them into the regiment. We went bodily to the


Online LibraryAsa A SpearThe civil war in history → online text (page 1 of 2)