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Record of the Rhode Island excursion to Gettysburg, October 11-16, 1886 (Volume 2) online

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in ils extrumc j»cril ; and when we arc gone it will be a blessed
history to hand down to our children.

The State of Rhode Ishuid is a small one in territorial
limits, but it did not have a snudl place in the war, and by
the erection of these monuments on the field of Gettysburg
she takes a position with the larger States, and the care which
she took ol hci' soldiers makes (Uie proud to Ije a native of the

1 regi'ct exceedingly that 1 shall ni»t Ite able to be with you



on the memorable occasion, but 1 leave it in the hands of the
old comrades who were always brave and true, and it will be
well done.

The following address was prepared for the occasion by Mr.
William D. Child, who served as a private in Battery A at the
battle of Gettysburo-, though lack of time prevented its de-

Mr. Chairman, Comrades and Friends of Battery A :
The field of Gettysburg is still a ground which cannot be trod
without emotion.

Although a generation of men has come upon the stage
since the events which have placed the name of this beautiful
Pennsylvania borough in history as the scene of one of the
most terrific and sanguinary battles of the world, to be men-
tioned as long as the names of Thermopylae, of Balaklava, or
of Waterloo, are spoken, and perhaps beyond, for history will
not forget that the emancipation and freedom of a race was a
grand and controlling factor in that problem, yet to you,
comrades, who come to this field now for the first time, to
you, the cycle of whose years has doubled and commenced its
second course since those mighty events which gave to you
and yours forever a share in its glory, tell me, does there not
crowd upon the memory a train of thoughts so tender, so
proud, and yet so vivid, that they seem like the events of a
year but just agone 't

To the soldier who escaped its perils, and to the student of
history who understands in the light of events the conditions,
which obtained on both sides the bayonet guarded line, of the
reasonable rising hopes of that monstrous fallacy of secession,
and of the still hopeful but w^ell-nigh discouraged loyalty of
the North, the mention of this field recalls not only a vivid
picture of heroism and of terror, but of a period in the history
of that tremendous four years' struggle, when the op])osing
theories represented by the two contending hosts, who met
almost by accident here — theories which had long since passed


beyond tlie doniaiu of statesmanship — had been relegated to
the last dread arbitrament of the sword, and upon this spot
between two gigantic armies almost equal in numbers, both
ably marshalled, were to find, the one, either an opening
grave or the first tangible sign of a resurrection morn.

A just eoncei)tion of the battle of Gettysburg, with all its
momentous consequences for weal or woe to the cause we
loved, cannot be had without considering the salient points,
at least, of the immediate causes which led thereto. It may
be doubted if this republic of ours, since its birth 'mid the
throes of war, e'er saw a darker hour than that which pre-
ceded the dawn of the first of July, '63. You are all familiar
with that history, and I shall speak but lu-iefiy thereon, from
the private soldier's standpoint.

Two years and more had elapsed since the first three years'
contingent had taken the field and commenced the mighty
preparation of drill and discipline which was destined in the
later and closing years of the struggle to permeate the mass
like an inspiration, while of the original, whose names were
borne upon the rolls, but a small fraction remained. The
heroes and the victims of the early "• Bull Run " had all but
lost their identity as such, and the Army of the Potomac had
been born.

A soldier from the West had been summoned to its com-
mand, and iKi lover ever transferred liis allegiance of mind
and soul to the object of his first passion more wholly and
with more honest purf)0se than did that army tender to him
its devotion and its Iduod. To it and to him was entrusted
at first the protection of our own capital, and later the sub-
jection of the ca|»ital of the Confederacy, — a complex and
gigantic duly, — and history will tell how it was perfoi'med.

On Washiugton's Inrthday, 1802, the army strikes its tents,
and tlien commences a series of five chapters in its history,
namely : the peninsular campaign, the Pope defeat, the
.semi-victory of Aniietam, the failure of Fredericksburg, and
the blunder at Chanceilorsville, all written in letters of Idood,
and, with one possible e.\eei»iion, all covered with the pall of


defeat. Meanwhile at home the voluntary enlistments had stop-
ped, and the wheel of the draft-hox had commenced. Copper-
headism, now becoming rampant, had just shown its teeth at
Springfield, 111. (June, '63,) in a convention representing
half a million of men, whose sworn and bounden duty it was
to deter enlistments, to encourage desertions, and in every
possible manner to chock the wheels of Federal success,
whether in the field, the senate chamber, or the streets of our
cities and hamlets, every one of which, almost, had sent its
representittive to the front.

Wherever men congregated its hideous counsels were
heard, and broken-hearted mothers and gray-haired fathers
went back to their homes with the despair born of the mo-
mentary thought that perhaps their sacrifices had been in

Our letters from home did not betray this, thanks and
honor to the hands and hearts that could write through their
burning tears those epistles so full of faith, and hope, and
love. Who shall say what was their effect upon this sanguine
field ? and, to them, does there not belong a part of its glory ?

Aside, then, from these letters from home, sometimes in-
terrupted for weeks, but always acting like a tonic when re-
ceived, there was not much encouragement to be found in a
review of the past. We had seen regiments and companies
about us decimated by one-half and more of their numbers ;
we looked in vain for many familiar faces, whether he were a
commander or a messmate ; and for thousands of these ab-
sentees, the graves which marked our paths from the Poto-
mac to the Pennsylvania line, alone could answer.

Within a period of ten months the fourth commander of
the army in regular succession had given way to the fifth,
and now in the presence of a buoyant and exultant enemy,
whom, to use a very mild term, we had grown to respect.

One of Gen. Meade's initial orders concludes with this sen-
tence : " Corps and other commanders are authorized to
order the instant death of any man who fails in his duty this



Upon wliat liyi)otliesis can the language of this sentence be
based otliei- than that he and liis advisers with the govern-
ment at Washington felt and knew that, in the impending
struggle, it was then or never for the army of the Potomac,
and all that hinged thereon ? Did that army ever before i-e-
ceive such an order ? Did it ever afterwards? Not that the
speaker remembers or can find. Is the deduction, then, in
the premises, not perfectly fair which concludes that, with the
highest authorities, the conviction had obtained, that as that
army answered for itself on this field, so would history an-
swer for the preservation or dismemberment of the Union.
Gen. Lee and his advisers, in contemplating the practicability
of this invasion, had taken all these considerations and many
more into the account. There were evidences to them that
the time had arrived for the Confederacy to strike but one
more determined and successful blow uj)on the all but faint-
ing head and theory of pojiular government. Let them but
plant their banners at Philadelphia, with its stores and trea-
sure, and Washington be cut off by bayonet line from its
people at the North, when out from Baltimore would come to
their relief thousands of armed men who were waiting sul-
lenly, but hopefully, for the hour.

New York city, which at the behest of secession had already
had the proposition of withdrawal from the Union and es-
tablishing herself as a free city, made through the person of
its mayor (Fernando Wood), was now wrangling over the
constitutionality of the di'aft, and, if we may believe our own
conclusions, was ready at that moment for anything which
promised its withdrawal. Foreign complications were trying
the mettle and genius of our state-craft. England, the pow-
erful, and France, the boastful, waited with undisguised im-
patience for the liour of our doom to strike, while the enemies
of the republic cvei-ywhere rejoiced in the belief that its dis-
solution was at hand. With the commencement of the year
the edict of eiuancipal ion had gone forth from the hand and
heart of tiiat noblest soul of all the jiroductions of those
troulilous times. To it and its ultimatmn our army stood


committed. It was for them now to write with their swords,
their bayonets, and their lanyards, what the great Lincohi had
written with the pen. Its immortality hinged not more on
its conception than on its support; its realization now de-
pended on the fate of battles. In the months and years of
war through which wo had just passed, there had obtained to
some extent throughout the army an aversion to any measure
of this kind. This aversion had been outspoken by one of its
commanders, had been shared by some of his subordinates, had
entered into their councils, had acted as the dead-weight about
their necks in more than one campaign, and, in the opinion of
the speaker, had contributed largely to more than one defeat.
Have we not the spectacle of a commander dictating from
the field, by the midnight lamp, messages of advice upon this
subject to Washington, and while those messages were being
studied and written, his opponent was preparing against his
army a campaign from the toils of which it barely escai)ed ?
But, thank God, this sentiment did not appreciably affect tlie
rank and file ; and, at the period of which we speak, its bale-
ful element had been largely, if not entirely, eliminated from
its councils, and the caps of liberty upon the staffs of our
regimental flags stood, for one and all, as no longer the em-
blems of an idle and groundless dream, but as the symbols
of an enunciated and living fact. If we succeeded, it would
live the pride and boast of all coming time ; if we failed, it
would find a grave amid the common wreck.

And now Gen. Lee and his lieutenants, with every external
reason for hopefulness of success, sauguine of their own abil-
ity, with no shadow of doubt of the constancy of the ragged
and dirty, but devoted divisions which they led, knowing that
in some instances their soldiers had come to hold in derision
the Army of the Potomac, which now alone could bar their
progress and wake them and their cause forever from their
dream of disunion, had started out to carry the war into the
North, and the recognition of their cause in Europe. Says
one writer : " The future of America was about to be decided



A few days after the vanguard of that invading host had
crossed the Rappahannock on the right of our canijts at Fal-
mouth, and, in light marching order and with lighter hearts, had
sped on well towards the North, Gen. Hooker puts his columns
in motion, and, at route step, always the order when a long jour-
ney was before it, the Army of the Potomac takes up again its
task of protecting its own capital and beating back an invasion.
Analyze that task, if you can ; measure its breadth, sound its
depth ! Only the plummet of the Almighty can reach the
limit. That army comprised a mass — that mass composed of
units, every one of those units representing a human heart, a
human soul, living, breathing, hoping, loving, to whom the
name of home and loved ones was as dear, to many the prattle
of whose children was as sweet, and to one and all the desire
for life as strong and controlling as are any or all these senti-
ments to this company to-day. That army, that mass, those
units had now become, for the time being, at least, the forlorn
hope of its government ; with their bayonets and their bosoms
they were to form the last bulwark of defence between the
loyal cities of the North, with their industries, their wealth,
their homes, their altars and their firesides, and the hitherto
victorious arms of Lee.

Do you comprehend the meaning of that task ? In a mea-
sure, yes ; but words fail and become impotent in the presence
of the facts towards which that oft-defeated army now, with
resolute step and determined visage, Avends its way. Dante,
Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, and Carlyle, have, each in his own
way, written of battle scenes ; all have brought their wonder-
ful and varied power of language to bear in reciting the phy-
sical transaction ; but which of these has ever depicted the
mental phase, or what is felt 'mid the shriek of shrapnel and
the wlii/, ttf lead ? Go, read iheni, you soldiers of twenty
l)attles, and see if even these masters of delineation luive told
all that is e.xix'rienced 'mid the noise and confusion, the roar
of aiiillt'ry, the crash of small arms, the struggle of dealh,
the hemoi-rhage of friends, the beseeching look for assistance
which yitii eiiiniot give, and the thousand sickening details of


a fight. Men hare come out from these scenes without the
vestige of a physical bruise, but with mental balance gone,
reason dethroned. Physical science teaches that 'tis but a
step, but a hair's breath, but a feather's weight, between sane
and insane ; but who has ever told what a man may suffer
before that weight is changed ?

"We left our camps in front of Fredericksburg and the near
vicinity of Chancellorsville, without regret, for, saving the
graves of comrades tried and true, there was nothing there
that did not incite a shudder, and, while we knew instinct-
ively that the campaign upon which we were just entering
could not be closed without a fearful struggle, yet the pre-
dominant feeling was, anywhere, but there, for the next trial
of arms.

The march of the Second Corps, with the soldierly Hancock
in command, over long and circuitous routes, sometimes in
battle line, sometimes en masse, fording rivers and ascending
hills, always oa the watch as one who peers into the darkness
for the foe he knows is there, is without special interest in
this narrative, till a point near Taneytown, in northern Mary-
land, is reached on the 30th of Jane, at night. We had
scarcely resumed our march of the morning, before the sound
which we had been for days expecting to make or to hear,
was borne upon our ears — that sound, which once heard can
never be mistaken, of continuous and increasing artillery
fire ; and, although it was miles away, its volume was por-
tentous. Quickly and instinctively the ranks of the sturdy
infantry close up, gunners look to their pieces as they have
done a score of times before, though, excepting a sponge
bucket may need refilling, there is nothing to be done to pre-
pare them for the fray.

At eleven o'clock the hamlet of Taneytown is reached, where
the Second Corps is briefly halted, for, at this stage, the plan
of battle, which the next few hours was to develop, had not
yet had its birth, and in obedience to orders we were not hur-
ried to the front. During this halt we hear of the deatli of
Gen. Reynolds, and we know that one of our ablest and best


lias forever sheathed his sword. With this sad news there
also comes the wildest rumors of disaster at the front — of the
First Corps and Buford's Cavalry fairl}' enveloped by a cloud
of Confederates, before whom they are stubljornly giving

We knew that splendid First Corps and those equally brave
horsemen, and, if they were giving ground before an enemy
whom they had met, it was evidence conclusive that Gen. Lee
had commenced, if he had not already effected, the concen-
tration of his troops. The probability of this conclusion, and
of the rumors which were rife, was constantly enhanced by
the ever-increasing battle-sound, which tells to the now anxious
minds of both armies that the hour of trial was at hand.

Gen. Meade, with a retinue, gallops not hastily along the
road to where our headquarter flag is seen, and there, with
Hancock, occurs a conference, the import of which all the
world knows. " Go to the front. General, assume command
of the field in my name, bring order, if you can, out of chaos,
if chaos there exists, and report to me promptly the feasibility
of concentration there !" Gen. Hancock enters an amlmlance
instead of the saddle, that he may have better opportunity
of studying his maps and plans, while he is driven rapidly
toward the point where danger thickens. Immediately the
weary feet of the Second Corps are moved battle-ward, and
the tired soldier takes heart, for this is the man of whom
Gen. Grant, within a few years, has said that he " never knew
him to make a mistake."

You have already listened to an histoi'ical address by Lieut.
Benjamin H. Child, whose triple l)attle-scars from Bull Run,
from Antietam, and finally, and all but fatally, from this once
shot-torn ground ui)oii which we now stand, so mutely entitle
him to speak in this glad and sad reunion hour ; also to a
brief paper prepared by Capt. Wm. A. Arnold, reciting in
modest words (he jiait his company bore on this eventful
Held — Ca|)t. Aniold, whose name we ha\e so iiroiully inscribed
on this monumental stone, whose cool, intelligent bravery
amid those trying Jiours lent accuracy to the gunners' aim,

rhodp: island excuhsion to Gettysburg, 45

while it imparted strength to the arm and hope to the hearts
of his comrades. Would that he were with us to-day to speak
for himself, as, in the name of Rhode Island, we apply the fin-
ishing touch to her history in that great drama ; to speak not
as once at the head of this company he spoke across these
fields, carrying death and dismay to countrymen, but rath(!r
in the spirit which eighteen centuries ago promjjted the great
Nazarene, when he taught of " Peace on earth and goodwill
to men."

One single thought and I have finished. Said Lord Nelson
by signal flag to his fleet at Trafalgar, as clearing their decks
for action they bore down on the French and Spanish Armada :
" England expects that every man will do his duty." Was that
expectation realized ? Let her proud and unquestioned supi-em-
acy of the seas from that hour to this very day, make answer !
Capt. Arnold has told us that every man of his company did
his duty on this field. This statement will apply with equal
force to the soldiers of every loyal State whose representa-
tives were here. What more did Rhode Island or her sister
States ask of their sons ? What more did their government
expect of its soldiers ? Were these expectations realized ?
Go ask of the thirteen undivided stripes upon yon cemetery
flag as it keeps its solemn watch and guard over the bivouac
of its dead upon this field — this field which witnessed perhaps
one of the grandest exemplifications of American valor it ever
beheld ! Go ask of that untarnished field of blue with its star
for every State, old and new, — some of whom, though once
estranged in their affections, now join with glad and haj)py
hands in the grand confederation of liberty and union ! Go
ask of the shackles, mental and physical, which were broken
upon this and a hundred other fields ! Go ask of the Afric
mother, who to-day owns her babe and whose back the lash
of arrogant idleness no longer scars ! Go ask of the many
great questions of state and polity which came up through the
regenerating influences of that awful baptism of blood, waslied
and cleansed forever !


The party"thcn proceeded to the memorial of Battery B,
where the services were continued as follows :


Wno Served as a Private in Battery B, at the Batti-e of


Mr. Chairman^ Ladies and Gentlemen, and my old Comrades
of the War : ■

I feci more like sitting- down and bowing my head and let-
ting memory take its sway at this time and place, than in at-
tempting to speak. Although the surroundings and the face
of the country have a familiar look, still there seems to be
something missing, which memory all the while is trying to
fill with regiments, brigades, divisions, batteries, and all the
paraphernalia of the grand old Army of the Potomac engaged
in desperate battle. I find it very difficult to realize the pres-
ent while the recollections of the past crowd themselves in
serried columns, as it were, on the mind. At the first glance
backward it seems hardly possible that twenty-three years and
upwards have been added to our lives since our first visit to
this spot, when we marched up in column across those fields
to take our ])osition in line and share with the old Second
Corps the destinies of battle, and also to secure a spot for this
monument. It is but natural that a small company like ours,
continually in the face of danger, should become intimately
acquainted with one another and as strongly attached as one
family under one roof, for we had shared alike together the
dangers and excitement of battle and skirmish, the suffering
of hunger and thirst, the fatigues of tlie long and tedious
march by day and by night, in sunshine and rain, the longing
for houK! :ni(l loved ones, and often in the lone hours of night,
when on post, we would meet at the end of our beats and
converse in low tones of our homes, and tell to one another
oiii- plans iiiKJ wlml we intended to do if we li\ed to arrive
safe at home. Many of them never lived to enjoy the realiza
tion of llicir ciicrisbcd plans and desires, but have passed


hence on this and other fields, or from lingering disease, or
from wounds received. I feel that we, the survivors, have
much to be thankful for, tliat we have been spared from the
sad casualties of war, and our hearts should be filled with
gratitude to a kind Providence which has guided our marches
by day and by night, and permitted us to gather here after so
many years. As I stand on this sacred spot, I cannot help
comparing the occasion of this visit with that of our first visit
so many years ago. We have a duty to perform to-day ; we
had a duty to perform then ; but what a vast difference in
these duties ! To-day we are here to dedicate the monuments
contributed by the State of Rhode Island in grateful recogni-
tion of our services in this desperate battle. Well might
Rhode Island be proud of her soldiers, for they fought side
by side with the best troops of other States, and have met in
battle array the choicest troops of the Confederacy, and on no
field, under no circumstances, has the honor of Rhode Island
suffered at their hands, especially her artillery. We are here
to-day to dedicate this monument, sacred to the uiemory of
our unfortunate and revered comrades who fell at this place,
dying in the full vigor of manhood. Death, under the most
favorable circumstances, is terrible to contemplate ; but to the
soldier on the field of carnage — torn, mangled, bleeding, dying
in the full vigor of manhood and health, with all the bright
prospects of future glory blotted out forever ! 0, how my
heart throbbed in agony as I saw them fall on this field ! —
comrades whom I had associated with for nearly two yeai'S,
sharing with them the dangers of other fields, sharing to-
gether our scanty rations, drinking from the same canteen,
and gathered around the camp-fire they told me their lives,
their hopes, read to me their loving letters from home. Cruel,
cruel war ! I feel that we are here to-day to dedicate this
monument to the memory of Battery B, the pride of our
hearts, and the grandest, choicest recollections of our lives.
Battery B was mustered in at Providence, Aug. 13th, 1861,
for the period of three years, and proceeded immediately to
Washington, where we went into quarters at Camp Sprague,


and received our guns and horses. Then we marched to
Poolesville, Md., near where we had our first fight, the dis-
astrous battle of Ball's Bluff, and lost one gun and nearly a
whole gun detachment. In the spring of '62 we took part in

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Online LibraryHoratio RogersRecord of the Rhode Island excursion to Gettysburg, October 11-16, 1886 (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 6)