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Battle echoes : or, Lessons from the war online

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sweet, yet full of power, coming up from its far
abysses, whispering of hope and peace, and telling
of that glorious Being, of whose repose, infinitude
and eternity it is the emblem? Or who that has
looked on it when the tempest was abroad, lashing
it into wild tumult, has not felt, as he listened to its
roar, the force of the inspired words, " The floods
have lifted up their voice " ? Oh, eloquent is the
sea ! In all its ever-changing aspects, in calm and
in storm, flashing with sunshine, silvered with the
moon's milder beams, or rolling dark and mountain-
ous in its hour of wrath, it speaks a language alike


solemn, mysterious, sublime preaching of Immen-
sity, declariug the Omnipotent.

But the sea has another voice, less majestic in-
deed, but not less impressive to the philanthropist
and the Christian the appeal which it sends forth
in behalf of its children. To a benevolent mind
the ocean is interesting, not only as it is in itself a
world of wonders, the grandest mirror of the Crea-
tor's power ; but also as it is the home of myriads
of human beings, whose lives are spent in travers-
ing its pathless solitudes. It is their sphere of
labor, the theatre of their exploits, the scene of
their cares, and joys, and sorrows. Its winds and
waves are their companions ; its soundless depths
too often their sepulchre. For these, its foster sons,
"the deep uttereth its voice."

Poets have told us that, on the far Indian coast,
there is a shell which, when held to the ear, repeats,
in low breathing murmurs, all the sounds of its na-
tive ocean. Such is the design of this chapter.
Its object is to respond to the sea to echo the cry
of the sailor. Let us, then, draw near, and listen
to the message which it brings from the expanse of

There is a voice of Complaint from the sea. No
class of men have conferred higher benefits on so-
ciety than mariners ; yet none have received from
it so little appreciation and reward. The men of


the land, engrossed by the busy activities of their
own sphere, and living in immediate contact with
the course of human development, are apt to regard
themselves as the chief agents of social progress,
and to look upon their brethren of the sea as bring-
ing to it no important contributions. But so far
from this being true, it may be asserted with confi-
dence that seamen have borne their full share in
those great achievements of peace and of war,
which have wielded so potent a ministry in improv-
ing the condition of our race. Who, with incred-
ible hardships and perils, amidst polar ice, and be-
neath tropic suns, has explored the briny waste,
and given new continents to man? The sailor.
Who, connecting nations otherwise separated by
impassable barriers, has diffused the light of arts,
science and civilization, and poured their blessings
over the world? The sailor. Who bears to dis-
tant lands the surplus products of our soil, and
brings back in return the riches of all climes
sweeping every coast, from the frozen North to the
golden South and the spicy East, to gather what-
ever can increase our wealth, or enhance the com-
fort and luxury of our homes? The sailor. Who,
when the invading foe hung on our shores, covering
every bay and harbor with his fleets, encountered
him on his own element, and bore " the star-span-
gled banner " in triumph over the waters ? The


sailor. And in the gigantic Rebellion of the South,
which has cost us such a fearful expenditure of
wealth and of blood to subdue, our obligations to
the sailor have been unspeakably augmented. It is
true that the position of the revolted States neces-
sarily confined the chief theatre of strife to the
land ; and hence the naval forces employed, though
vastly larger than at any former period, have been
small compared with the immense armies in the
field. Nevertheless, they have accomplished mag-
nificent results. No portion of the nation's defend-
ers has surpassed them in zeal and daring, and none
have rendered more effective aid in the overthrow
of treason, and in the final triumph of freedom and
justice. All through the war, the record of the
navy has been full of patriotic enthusiasm and noble
deeds. Had it done nothing else, its vigilance and
success in maintaining the blockade, shutting in the
Confederacy from outside help, and thereby hasten-
ing its fall, would alone have entitled it to the lasting
gratitude of the country. This, however, is but an
insignificant part of its achievements. To its prow-
ess we owe the splendid victories of Fort Henry,
of Port Royal, of New Orleans, of Mobile, of Fort
Fisher, and a long list of others that have contrib-
uted materially to bring about the grand consumma-
tion in which we rejoice. How often, when our
sky was the darkest, and disaster after disaster had


shrouded the land in doubt and gloom, has some
telling blow struck by the navy broken through the
cloud, and restored hope and confidence ! When
the tidings flashed over the country, that the terri-
ble Merrimac had entered Hampton Roads, sunk
two of our finest ships of war, and, having proved
herself invulnerable to the fire of all our batteries,
was waiting only for morning to renew the attack,
destroy our entire fleet, dismantle Fortress Monroe,
and plough her way out to sea, carrying destruction
to our cities, what anxiety and fear oppressed every
loyal heart ! But how great was the relief, how
jubilant the exultation, when fast upon the news of
evil and the omens of dread came the cheering in-
telligence that, during the night, the little Monitor
had crept into the bay, met the iron-ribbed monster,
and driven him back wounded and crippled to his
lair ! This is but one, out of the many instances
that might be cited, in which the timely presence
and the dauntless courage of the 'sailor have averted
impending danger, and changed defeat to victory.
In all the gulfs and estuaries that indent the rebel
territory, on all the rivers that intersect it, wher-
ever a gunboat could swim or a launch could pene-
trate, sailors have borne the Stars and Stripes,
scattering the foe with their huge artillery, turning
the tide of battle, and co-operating with our armies


in re-establishing the authority of the Government
over all the insurgent domain.

Such and so important is the relation which sea-
men sustain to the public weal. So marked is their
influence on the prosperity of the country hi seasons
of quietness so faithful and strong the shield
which they interpose for its defence in seasons of
peril. And what, in most cases, has been their re-
ward? Abuse, degradation, on the sea; neglect,
scorn, robbery, on the land. A few, placed in sit-
uations of command, have been caressed and hon-
ored. But the common mass, the real authors of
all these benefits, the men by whose patient labors
Discovery has visited every green isle of the ocean,
and social improvement spread itself over the earth,
from whose sacrifices and dangers Commerce has
drawn its life from whose blood Victory has
plumed her eagle wing, have been undervalued or
forgotten. Satisfied with reluctantly doling out to
them their scanty wages, or the trivial remnants of
prize-money left from the hands of lawyers and
courts and officials, society has felt itself absolved
from all further obligation, and has quietly aban-
doned them to the caprice of tyrants on board, and
to the mercy of sharpers on shore. Paltry and fee-
ble are the efforts that have, been made to redress
their wrongs ; to improve their physical condition ;
to elevate them intellectually, socially, morally ; or


to render them, in any respect, a return suited to
the magnitude of their services. Even during the
war, while the navy has been covering itself with
glory, and the brows of commodores and admirals
are crowned with laurel, and their names celebrated
in song, and their deeds justly extolled by the plau-
dits of a grateful people, how little has been thought
of the sailor, the toiling, fighting sailor, through
whom they have won their renown ? Who has re-
hearsed his exploits ? Who has told how he trained
and pointed his heavy guns on the bloody deck, and
stood fearlessly at his post, while shot and shell
were crashing around him ? Here and there an in-
stance of heroism may have awakened public regard,
like that of the brave tars on the Cumberland, who,
when the ship was sinking, and most of her guns
were under water, refused to leave her till they had
fired another broadside at the enemy, and so went
down with her into the engulfing waves. But over
the vast multitude of such acts the silence of obliv-
ion has been suffered to fall ; and the only guerdon
which their authors have received is the conscious-
ness of having performed them. There has been a
similar indifference with respect to their necessities
and their sufferings. For the welfare of our sol-
diers the sympathies of the whole nation have been
enlisted. Treasure has flowed forth like water to
supply them with comforts which the regulations of


the Government did not provide. Sanitary and
Christian Commissions have been organized to care
for their wants, with a breadth of design, and an
amplitude of resources, never before seen in the
history of the world. Fair hands, and countless
hands, have toiled day and night to furnish them
with clothing. Women have left their homes, phy-
sicians their practice, clergymen their flocks, to
nurse the sick, tend the wounded, and preach the
Gospel in the camps. The benevolence of the laud
has poured itself out in a mighty stream to minister
to the needs of the army. And the army has well
deserved it. Too much has not been done, too
much cannot be done, for the men who have gone to
the tented field in obedience to their country's call.
But by what strange oversight is it that the sailor,
equally self-sacrificing, equally meritorious, has
found no place in these demonstrations of kindness ?
"Why has he been shut out from the solicitudes and
benefactions of the nation? Why have no earnest,
comprehensive endeavors been put forth to mitigate
his privations, and promote his temporal and spirit-
ual well-being? However this remissness may be
explained, it cannot be excused. Xor can we evade
the responsibility which rests upon us to do what
we can to repair it. We owe a vast debt to sailors
a debt which it is high time we should begin to
pay. And to enforce this claim, the sea, in every


swelling gale and sounding billow, sends forth its
summons. By the dead that sleep in its bosom, by
the living that wander upon it, by the memory of
their glorious deeds, by all the benefits which the
children of the Deep have lavished on the children
of the Land, it calls upon us to cancel the long ar-
rears which ages of neglect have run up against us.
There is a voice of Want from the sea. It has
been supposed by many, that mariners can have no
necessities but such as are common to mankind at
large, and that the general benevolence which seeks
the good of the whole, is adequate for them. But
the sailor is a peculiar being. He resembles no
other. The very nature of his pursuits renders him
unique in all his habits, thoughts, and feelings. He
has mental and moral characteristics, social and re-
ligious privations, intellectual and spiritual needs,
incident to himself alone. Even his physical state
is not only inferior to that of the humblest denizen
of the laud, but in some essential features different
from it. Compelled to feed on the coarsest fare,
served in the rudest manner ; exposed, in the vicis-
situdes of his changeful life, to all the extremes of
heat and cold, thirst and hunger ; the victim often
of oppression and violence from arbitrary power,
a power against which he has no remedy at hand,
and but an uncertain' one in prospect, he has a
special claim on us for relief and protection.


But it is pre-eminently for his inind and his heart
that our sympathy should be enlisted, and our ener-
gies called into action. Taken perhaps when a
mere child from the fostering care of the parental
roof, or from the neglect and desolation of orphan-
age, and committed to the companionship and
training of men as wild and rough as the winds they
encounter, what could you expect him to become
but the brutal and reckless creature which he fre-
quently is ? Is it wonderful that Ignorance should
mark him for its own, Superstition bind its fetters
round him, and Defiance, uniting with Despair,
render him dead to all self-respect, and heedless
alike of the interests of this world and of that which
is to come ? What else could be looked for from
the tuition to which he has been subjected ?

"Will it be said that he may, by his own unassisted
efforts, or through ordinary aids, ameliorate his
condition, and raise himself in the scale of intelli-
gence and happiness ? But how is he to do this ?
Where are the means" appropriate or accessible to
him ? What avails it to him that sources of instruc-
tion, temples of worship, and all the appliances
of mental and religious culture, are multiplied
throughout the land? Lone and insulated, he
stands apart from them all. He is not a dweller on
the land. The greatest portion of his existence is
passed in buffeting the surge and the storm, far


away from these benign instrumentalities. When,
at intervals, he does visit the haunts of men, it is
only to be cheated and plundered, seduced into
worse temptations, and made more depraved and
wretched than before. And, to crown the evils of
his lot, Hope, the grand Uplifter, Hope, the in-
spirer of high thoughts and noble endeavors,- is an
exile from his breast. He cannot rise, for he
cannot hope.

In behalf of this isolated class specific exertions
are demanded. It is our imperative duty to pro-
vide and sustain in operation a series of agencies
adapted to their circumstances, and commensurate
with their wants. In every naval station, in every
resort of seamen, fitting accommodations should be
furnished, where they may be safe from the arts of
those who, for their own purposes, would lead them
to ruin. Schools and Libraries should be estab-
lished for their improvement. Places of worship
should be set apart, and a competent ministry main-
tained, whose labors shall be devoted to their espe-
cial service. In a word, all the apparatus of benev-
olence and of piety must be brought to bear di-
rectly on their present and their eternal well-being.
Nor should we limit our solicitude to the periods of
their transient residence on shore, but seek to sup-
ply them when on the deep with every means of re-
ligious instruction which it is possible to place


within their reach. Thus ought we to follow with
the tokens of our zeal and of our love the path of
those who are "separate from their brethren."

There is a voice of Sorrow from the sea. Ardent
youth in the spirit of rash adventure, and poets who
have a license to misrepresent all things, love to
paint a sea-faring life in colors of unreal beauty.
Thus Byron makes his Corsair exclaim,

" O'er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,
Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free,
Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam,
Survey our empire, and behold our home.
Ours the wild life in tumult still to range
Prom toil to rest, and joy in every change.
Oh, who can tell, save he whose heart hath tried,
And danced in triumph o'er the waters wide,
The exulting sense, the pulse's maddening play,
That thrills the wanderer of that trackless way? "

But had Byron, with all his instinctive fondness for
the sea, been a sailor before the mast, his verse
would have borne a very different burden. It is,
indeed, a kind ordination of Providence, that the
human mind, however painful the situation in which
it may be placed, becomes at length familiar with
its ills, and in a measure insensible to their pressure.
And it is also true that sailors, as a class, are pro-
verbially thoughtless and void of care. Still, it
may be confidently asserted that " life on the ocean
wave," notwithstanding the charm which novelty


may throw around it, is, in most instances, replete
with hardships. The very banishment from society,
the severance from domestic ties and enjoyments
which it imposes, is in itself a source of constant
and severe affliction. The sailor may be vicious
and degraded ; but he is never unfeeling. On the
contrary, his affections appear to be rendered even
more keen and active from the deprivations to
which they are subjected. What, then, must he
not suffer in that continual separation from kindred
and home which his calling demands? Forced to
part from all the cherished objects of his love, un-
certain what may befall them in his absence on the
long and dangerous voyage, how must his heart
bleed, as the winds bear him away ! And when the
storm comes down in its wrath, and death yawns
beneath him, with what agony must he think of the
dear ones whom he may see no more ! Or if, with
no such connections, he is cast solitary on the
waters, to float, like a lone weed, wherever the
breeze and the tide may carry him, what isolation,
what desolateness, must he not feel !

Add to these trials the physical sufferings which
fall to his lot. Now, drenched and shivering, he
keeps the midnight watch. Now he climbs the
frozen and slippery rigging, amidst driving sleet
and the howling of the tempest. Now he endures
the extremity of famine. Now, wasted with wounds


or sickness, he lies in the dark forecastle, or in some
gloomy hospital, with no mother's or sister's hand
to smooth his pillow, and wipe his fevered brow.
Xowhe is shipwrecked, and thrown destitute among
strangers, or exposed in an open boat, without food
or drink, to scorching suns by day, and piercing
cold by night drifting on and on, over the wide,
wide ocean vainly watching for some friendly sail
and proving, in its fullest bitterness, that sick-
ness of the heart which spriugeth from " hope de-
ferred." Oh, "there is sorrow on the sea."

But there is a sharper grief which sometimes
rends the bosom of the sailor. It is the sting of
Conscience, the pang of undying remorse. He
often becomes dissolute and abandoned, and plunges
into the lowest depths of debauchery. But he
cannot so steep himself in forgetfulness as to lose
all sense of his guilt and shame. The days of his
early innocence, of his father's counsels and his
mother's prayers, come back to him, like accusing
spirits from the grave. Regret for what he was,
loathing of what he is, dread of what he may be, till
him with indescribable anguish. Oh, think not, as
you see him wallowing in licentiousness, raising the
shout of drunken revelry , and giving play to all his
unbridled passions, that he is too callous or too be-
sotted to know and feel his ruin. A man lying
among scorpions, or encircled by fire, is more at


ease than he. His breast is the abode of torturing
thoughts and secret woes, which it needs but a
touch to call forth.

By all these manifold sorrows we are invoked
to come to the help of the mariner. In tones of
piercing entreaty, they conjure us to commiserate
his griefs, to relieve his distresses, to pluck him
from the grasp of the destroyer, and, by pouring on
his mind the light and hopes of the Gospel, seek to
bring him, when his stormy voyage is ended, to that
secure and blissful Haven, where every pain will be
forgotten, every joy consummated, in eternal Peace.

There is a voice of Danger from the sea. In no
calling is life so precarious as in that of the sailor.
Its average term is shorter with this class than with
any other. Not even to the soldier in the field of
war does death come with so swift and sure a step
as to the mariner on the deep. Destruction threat-
ens him in a thousand shapes, and pursues him, with
relentless purpose, through all his career. The dis-
eases of the various climates which he visits stand
ready to seize him as their prey. The slightest
miscalculation of his course the fall of a mast
a sudden leak a hidden rock fire, wind, or the
lightning of heaven may at any moment cut short
his existence. Afloat on a treacherous element, with
only a frail plank between him and the abyss, he
has death ever beneath, above, and around him.


All this should incite us to do quickly whatever is
to be done for his good, lest, while we linger, he
pass beyond our sight to the scene of everlasting

But these dangers that so thickly beset him are
only a type of the far greater moral perils by which
he is encompassed. Indeed, the critical position in
which his own " home of oak " is often placed, will
furnish the fittest emblem of the hazards to which
his immortal interests are exposed. See that ship,
rocking in the hurricane, on a lee shore, with quick-
sands under her keel, and breakers on every side !
Her anchors may be strong, her timbers stanch, her
bearing noble and gallant. But, unless some mighty
deliverance interpose, she must inevitably perish.
Similar is the spiritual jeopardy that environs the
sailor. Like all his fellow-men, he is by nature a
sinner, and liable as such to final condemnation.
Nothing can avert from him this doom but faith in
the blood of Christ faith wrought in his heart by
the Spirit of Grace, and leading him to repentance
and a holy life. But how many obstacles combine,
in his case, to prevent such a result ! From the
ordinary means of salvation he is, for the 'most part,
withdrawn ; while, at the same time, he is brought
into close and peculiar contact with the agencies of
evil. On ship-board, there may be no teacher of
truth to whisper in his ear the word of advice and


warning. But he is sure to have vicious compan-
ions, ready to infect him with their poison, and lure
him into sin and profligacy. On shore, few may be
found to guide him to the house of God, and point
him to the Fountain of Life. But deceivers are
certain to lie in wait at every corner to ensnare and
betray him. Here, the siren voices of Pleasure
allure him to her deadly embrace. There, Infidel-
ity hangs out its false lights, to draw him on the
shoals of Doubt and Delusion. Here, the vender
of intoxicating drinks throws open his moral pest-
house, to invite him to taste the cup of madness
and woe ; and there, the theatre, that vestibule of
Hell, solicits him to enter its polluted iuclosure, and
witness scenes whose catastrophe is the loss of the
soul. Thus, while angels of grace and ministers of
mercy seldom come within his sphere, the black
demons of seduction and ruin constantly hover
about his path, and flap over him their death-dis-
tilling wings. Oh, how terrible is the state of the
poor sailor, with all these engines of destruction at
work upon him, and conspiring with his own de-
pravity to drag him down to the pit !

But the greater his danger, the more earnest
should be our effort to save him. If you saw him
on the point of being plunged into the waves, or
dashed on the rocks, how eagerly would you fly to
his aid ! And the more imminent his peril, the


more prompt and vigorous would be your endeav-
ors. Such is our duty now. Men of God ! to the
rescue. Your brother of the sea is ready to perish.
He is falling. He is overboard. Man the life-boat.
Ply the oars. Throw out to him the Gospel. Cease
not, till, by the blessing of God, he is brought to
the firm ground of scriptural safety.

There is a voice of Hope from the sea. Signs of
promise greet us, heralding the dawn of a brighter
day for the sailor. The gloom of neglect and de-
basement, that has for centuries hung over him, is
passing away. Philanthropy, instead of regarding
him as a Pariah, sunk by his vices below her reach,
has awoke to a sense of his needs, and is devising
plans to elevate and bless him. Christian benevo-
lence and Christian zeal have stretched out their
arms to embrace him. Many hearts mourn his
degradation. Many hands are striving to lift him
up. In all the chief centres of Commerce, in every
rendezvous of ships, instrumentalities are at work
for his recovery. Beside the Custom House and
the Exchange, beside the Navy Yard and the Re-

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Online LibraryGeorge Barton IdeBattle echoes : or, Lessons from the war → online text (page 12 of 19)