Remarks of Captain Henry R. Jones upon the dedication of a monument to the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment at the Antietam battlefield.
Given October 11, 1894
Comrades and Friends:
We stand on hallowed ground. The story of this spot, written in blood in 1862, has passed into the history of the Republic, and each loyal commonwealth, whose sons here did battle for the Union, has a share in the gallant record. The survivors of four Connecticut regiments are here to-day to dedicate perpetual
memorials of their several organizations. On one pilgrimage, and with a common aim, they are come, and each brings a tribute of loving remembrance for the comrade who here won a victor’s laurels and a victor’s grave.
This hour, with its reminiscent story, belongs in a special manner to the Eight Connecticut Volunteers, and it is of them, for them, and to them that I shall briefly speak. In complying with the request to prepare an address for this occasion two difficulties have been encountered. First, there was a hesitation in withdrawing the service of my own regiment from that vast record of heroic deeds of which it forms a page, lest I might seem to be overmuch praising the survivors, for whom I speak. But there came to me these words of Dr. Bushnell’s grand commemoration address: “It is the ammunition spent that gains the battle, not the ammunition brought off the field. These dead are the spent ammunition of the war, and theirs above all is the victory.” The other difficulty was, that the mention of single deeds of valor, must necessarily be omitted; where every man was a hero a choice of names seemed impossible, and where leader and rank and file together threw themselves into the breach, they should have a common eulogy in their common death.
When, in the dark days of the summer of 1861, President Lincoln issued the call for volunteers for three years, Connecticut promptly responded. Regiments were organized and sent to the front with all possible speed. The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth were soon filled, and volunteers for the Seventh came forward in such
numbers that the overplus — the New Hartford Company — formed the nucleus of the Eighth, and were ordered into camp in Hartford early in September. By the 15th the regiment was full, and the gallant Edward Harland, who won his spurs in the three months’ service, commissioned as Colonel.
The regiment was well officered, and the rank and file represented the best blood and sinew of six counties. Hartford sent two officers and nine men ; Bridgeport one officer and eight men ; Norwich the officer and thirty-three men of Company D. The rest were country boys; Meriden, which sent a company under Captain
Upham, and Norwalk, which sent a detachment under Captain Fowler, being then but thrifty villages. The regiment, as it left Hartford for Annapolis, October 17th, 1861, halting at Jamaica, L. I., where it encamped two weeks, mustered over one thousand strong. Some were scholars ; some were farmers ; some were artisans or laborers— plain men who had never heard of Thermopylae or Sempach, but m whose breasts burned the fire of Leonidas at the pass ; of Winkelried, as he gathered to his bosom the Austrian spears and ” made way for liberty.” The inspiration of an exalted patriotism made heroes of them all.
They were men that day who would stand alone
On the bridge Horatius kept;
They were men who would fight at Marathon,
Who would battle with Stark at Bennington.
When flashing from sabre and flint-lock gun,
The fires of freedom leapt.
Such was the heart and fibre of the men who embarked at Annapolis, November 6, to take part in that famous Burnside expedition. We can but briefly follow the stormy and tedious voyage, the engagements at Roanoke Island and at Newbern, where the Eighth were’among the first over the ramparts, and where two men of the regiment were killed and four wounded.
At FortMacon, worn with the long siege, with ranks depleted by sickness, and forty dying of typhoid fever, the Eighth did most arduous service. Ordered forward to pick off the rebel gunners, eight men were killed and twenty wounded before the fort capitulated. Colonel Harland was ill, Major Appleman wounded, and no field officer of the regiment was present to receive the surrendered flag, which trophy the Eighth had fairly won.
Tediously the early summer of 1862 wore away to the soldiers encamped on the banks of the Neuse and at Newport News, with fever making inroads on constitutions worn by a laborious siege. August found them at Fredericksburg, near which city they were for a month on picket duty.
But Washington was menaced, and August 31st saw the Eighth, with the Ninth Army Corps, on line of march for the Capital, from which city they moved September 8 to join McClellan’s army in pursuit of Lee, arriving at Frederick just in time to see Jackson‘s cavalry driven out of its streets.
On the 14th was won the furious and bloody fight of SouthMountain, where the Eighth was under fire, but held in reserve, with the bullets cutting the branches of the trees overhead.
At noon on the 15th of September the Ninth Corps took up the march from SouthMountain to Sharpsburg, and morning found Harland’s Brigade near Antietam Creek, where they remained all day within range of the rebel batteries on the heights beyond. At dark the brigade moved to position on the extreme Union left, and lay all night in line of battle. The Union line stretched for four miles along the Antietam, the enemy holding a position on the west side of the stream, protecting Sharpsburg, the bridges and the fords. General Burnside was in command of the Ninth Corps, which formed the left wing, Brigadier-General Rodman, of the
Third Division, and Colonel Harland, of the Second Brigade ; the Eighth, Eleventh and Sixteenth Connecticut, and the Fourth Rhode Island. At sunrise a ball from a rebel battery crashed through the Eighth, killing three men, and frightfully wounding four. The Connecticut Brigade was early in the day advanced on the left to support a battery near the creek, and came again under a sharp fire.
But how shall tongue recount the stubborn fighting all throughout the day, the awful carnage all along the line, as four times the field was lost and won ? How shall we picture the desperate conflicts in the cornfield and in the “bloody lane,” or tell how Burnside held the hill, or the Eleventh stormed the bridge, or Harland’s
Brigade forded the stream in the face of furious cannonading and
raking musket fire ?
At four o’clock Rodman’s division was ordered forward. At the command from Colonel Harland the Eighth on the brigade right started, the Eleventh had not come up, the Sixteenth and the Fourth Rhode Island were delayed by some confusion of orders, but the Eighth, under Colonel Appleman, now on the extreme Union left, charged steadily up the hill, and as they reached the crest the rebel troops were but a few yards in front.
Halting and firing as they can, the Eighth pass on until alone they gain the crest of the hill, with three batteries turned upon them and a storm of shot and shell sweeping through the ranks. The color guard falls ! Another siezes the standard, he too falls ! A third ! A fourth ! and with him the standard goes down. But
Private Charles H. Walker, of Company D, siezes the staff and waves the riddled banner in the very face of the foe. The ofiicers stand like targets. Colonel Appleman falls ! . Nine others are wounded, staggering, dying. Men fall by scores, as thick and fast pours the leaden hail. Major Ward rallies the thinning ranks, and looks for re-inforcements. ” We must fall back.” And down the hill, in stern, unwilling column, march a hundred men where four times that number charged bravely up the slope. In the words of Chaplain Morris :
” No regiment of the Ninth Corps has advanced so far, or held out so long, or retired in formation so good. By their stubborn fight they have saved many others from death or capture, and by their orderly retreat they saved themselves.”
And here, on this spot, marking the advanced position of the regiment on that ” bloodiest day that America ever saw,” the Eighth has chosen its monumental site. Is it not indeed hallowed ground, its precincts baptized with the blood of one hundred and ninety- four men of the regiment here killed or wounded? In no battle of the war did Connecticut troops suffer so heavily. Harland’s Brigade
loss was six hundred and eighteen in killed and wounded, one of the heaviest brigade losses in the entire army. Here General Rodman fell, mortally wounded, in the charge which cost Connecticut so dear.
Night closed the contest, but Oh ! the appalling scenes after the battle, the agonies of the wounded and the dying, the unspeakably mournful tasks of the surgeons and the survivors who all that night and the next day buried their dead. Near the point where they made their gallant charge, side by side, were laid the dead of the Eighth, with rude pine headboards marking the graves.
Continuing on duty with the Army of the Potomac, it was not until December that the Eighth saw fighting again, this time at Fredericksburg. At FortHuger, Walthall Junction, Drury’s Bluff, Cold Harbor, FortDarling, Petersburg and FortHarrison, the Eighth was engaged with more or less loss.
At Drury’s Bluff they were commended for special gallantry ; at FortHarrison the regiment suffered a loss of eight killed and sixty-five wounded. On the 3rd of April, 1865, they were with the advance of the Union army at Richmond. After the close of the war the Eighth did military duty for several months at Lynchburg,
and was mustered out December 12th, 1865, after a service of four years and two months, a longer time than was served by any Connecticut regiment, except the First Artillery and the Thirteenth Infantry.
Meager as has been the foregoing outline of a four years’ record of heroic sacrifice, it calls for an answer to the question :
*’ For what cause did these men do battle ? ” A candid look at the question compels the answer : “They and all the loyal men who fought from 1861 to 1865 were battling for Union and liberty against disunion and treason.” Those good people who counsel that the issues of the late war should be spoken of only in whispers, who say, apprehensively, *’ the war is over, we are all brethren again,
don’t mention the sectional differences of 1861,” are demeaning the services of every man who fought in the late war for the Union. If the men who left home and all that was dear to peril life at their country’s call had no high motive, no inspiration that is worth the mention, where was the heroism ? Take away the righteousness of a cause, and war is but stupendous butchery.
I tell you, comrades, in such a place as this we must speak of the issues at stake in that dreadful war, or our hearts would burst as we contemplate the fearful cost at which this Union was saved, the Union for which these our brothers fought and bled and starved and died. The Union threatened with dismemberment, assailed by those who had sworn to support and defend it ! The Union, not only of Lincoln and the Republic of t86i, but the Union of Washington and the men who fought in 1776, and cemented their rights of government in a ratification of the constitution of 1787. Washington himself, who presided over the convention which framed
our national constitution, said : “In all our deliberations we kept steadily in view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American — the consolidation of our Union — in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, and, perhaps, our national existence.” The Union, complete and indissoluble, was the first great principle of Washington‘s policy. In that immortal address
at the close of his Presidential service, the father of his country summed up his farewell to his countrymen in these words :
” It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your National Union to your collective and individual happiness ; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, immovable attachment to it ; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the palladium of our political safety and prosperity ;
watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety ; discount nancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can, in any event, be abandoned ; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.”
Shade of Washington, son of Virginia, noblest type of Southern chivalry ! Didst thou forsee that it would be a Virginian, one allied to thine own house, one nurtured and educated by the nation, who would turn traitor to his oath of fealty, and lead an army to destroy the structure thou didst rear, and dying, bequeath to this Republic ?
The Union, the legacy of Washington and the fathers to succeeding generations, the Union which had stood before the world for seventy years as the home of peace, of prosperity, of constitutional liberty ; whose emblem, the stars and stripes, was hailed as the banner of the free in every clime ; it was to preserve this from dismemberment, to snatch its banner from disgrace at home and from obloquy among the nations, it was for this that two millions of loyal men periled life in that four years’ struggle, it was for this that blood ran as rivers on this ghastly field in 1862.
And, thank God ! the Union was preserved. To-day it stands, forty four stars studding its blue ensign, seventy millions of people within its borders, with a prosperity and a future opening before it such as the world has never seen.
Standing on the verge of the twentieth century, we look back thirty-two years, and say of those who fell here, and on every bloody field of that long conflict, ” Theirs v/as a glorious death, and for a glorious cause, and its meaning grows more luminous with the lapse of years. We were too near them to fully under-
stand. They who fell never knew that Time, the great transmuter, would make heroes of them all. We saw their imperfections, we knew them as 7nen, future generations will know them as martyrs whose blood was the seed of a reunited nation.
” So take them, Heroes of the songful Past ! Open your ranks, let every shining troop Its phantom banners droop, To hail Earth’s noblest martyrs and her last.
Take them, O Fatherland, Who dying, conquered in thy name : And, with a grateful hand. Inscribe their deeds who took away thy blame. Give, for their grandest all, thine insufficient fame ! Take them, O God, our brave.
The glad fulfillers of Thy dread decree; Who grasped the sword for Peace, and smote to save. And dying here for Freedom, died for Thee.”
And now, comrades in arms, tried friends in peace, we who came from this field in our young manhood, scathed, it may be, proud to carry through life an empty sleeve, a shattered breast, a halting step, an aching wound as our offering, where the supreme sacrifice was not required ; we who, on other fields, carried the musket or unsheathed the sword ; we who languished in prison pen
or noxious swamp ; now, a handful, representing the two hundred survivors of the two thousand men who fought under the banner of the Eighth, we have come again. All things are changed ; these hills give back no echo of the battle’s din ; no rushing charge tramples the grassy fields ; no gory tide flows down the quiet
stream. The graves are leveled, their rough headboards gone.
In yonder cemetery, watched by a nation’s care, sleep those of our comrades who were left upon the field. Along the Carolina coast and on Virginian hills lie many more, while mouldering with kindred dust in the cemeteries of our own state, or in lonely graves ” by mount and stream and sea” the scattered remnant rest. For some the hand of affection has raised a memorial stone, and the names of many are graven on the soldier’s monuments in the old home towns. Some lie in nameless graves, and of some the only record is the sad word “missing.”
But here is a monument for all. The State of Connecticut commissions us to-day to dedicate to the memory of every soldier of her Eighth Volunteer Infantry this monument, that henceforth none who served in that organization shall fail of a fitting memorial. Here, cut in enduring granite, is their record of valor ; here the knapsack and the bayonet, symbols of the march and the intrepid charge.
O, comrades ! who, weary with the march and the onset, have heard the tattoo call, drawn the curtains of your tents and fallen asleep — to you, we who remain, in the name of our grateful commonwealth, dedicate this perpetual memorial. Be it ours to tend it, and ours to accept the legacy which you have left us — devotion
until death, to a Union saved and reunited.