previous next

Doc. 146.-speech of Joseph Holt, to the Kentucky troops under Gen. Rousseau, at camp “Jo Holt,” in Indiana, delivered July 31, 1861.

Fellow-Citizens and Soldiers:--I say citizens, since you still are such, and it is only because you have resolved that no earthly power shall rob you of this proud title, or in any manner curtail the privileges and blessings associated with it, that you have become soldiers. Your soldiership is but the stately armor you have donned for the purpose of doing battle in defence of that citizenship which is at once the most intense and the most truthful expression of your political life.

No poor words of mine could adequately convey to you the grateful emotions inspired by the kindness and warmth of this welcome. I should have been rejoiced to meet you anywhere; how full, therefore, the measure of my happiness must be to meet you here in such a presence and amid the thrilling associations inseparable from the scene, you can well understand. I should have felt proud to have had my name connected with the humblest trapping of your encampment, but to have it linked with the encampment itself, and thus inscribed, as it were, upon one of the milestones that mark your progress toward those fields of danger and of fame that await you, is at once an honor and a token of your confidence and good will for which I cannot be too profoundly thankful.

It is not my purpose to occupy you with any political discussion. The gleaming banner, the glistening bayonets, and the martial music, and indeed all that meets the eye or the ear upon this tented field, admonish me that with you at least the argument is exhausted, and that you have no longer doubts to solve or hesitating convictions to confirm. Your resolution is taken, and you openly proclaim that, let others do as they will, as for yourselves, unchilled by the arctic airs of neutrality, you are determined to love your country, and, unawed by traitors, to fight its battles, and, if need be, to lay down your lives for its preservation. It is indeed transporting to the patriot's heart to look upon the faces of men thus [451] sublimely resolved; and there is to me a positive enchantment in the very atmosphere whose pulsations have been stirred by the breathings of their heroic spirits. Now that the booming of the cannon of treason and the cry of men stricken unto death for fidelity to our flag are borne to us on almost every breeze, it is harrowing to the soul to be dragged into companionship with those who still vacillate, who are still timidly balancing chances and coldly calculating losses and gains; who still persist in treating this agonized struggle for national existence as a petty question of commerce, and deliberately take out their scales and weigh in our presence the beggarly jewels of trade against the life of our country.

Soldiers: next to the worship of the Father of us all, the deepest and grandest of human emotions is the love of the land that gave us birth. It is an enlargement and exaltation of all the tenderest and strongest sympathies of kindred and of home. In all centuries and climes it has lived and has defied chains and dungeons and racks to crush it. It has strewed the earth with its monuments, and has shed undying lustre on a thousand fields on which it has battled. Through the night of ages, Thermopylae glows like some mountain peak on which the morning sun has risen, because twenty-three hundred years ago, this hallowing passion touched its mural precipices and its crowning crags. It is easy, however, to be patriotic in piping times of peace, and in the sunny hour of prosperity. It is national sorrow, it is war, with its attendant perils and horrors, that tests this passion, and winnows from the masses those who,with all their love of life, still love their country more. While your present position is a most vivid and impressive illustration of patriotism, it has a glory peculiar and altogether its own. The mercenary armies which have swept victoriously over the world and have gathered so many of the laurels that history has embalmed, were but machines drafted into the service of ambitious spirits whom they obeyed, and little understood or appreciated the problems their blood was poured out to solve. But while you have all the dauntless physical courage which they displayed, you add to it a thorough knowledge of the argument on which this mighty movement proceeds, and a moral heroism which, breaking away from the entanglements of kindred, and friends, and State policy, enables you to follow your convictions of duty, even though they should lead you up to the cannon's mouth. It must, however, be added that with this elevation of position come corresponding responsibilities. Soldiers as you are by conviction, the country looks not to your officers, chivalric and skilful as they may be, but to you and to each of you, for the safety of those vast national interests committed to the fortunes of this war. Your camp life will expose you to many temptations; you should resist them as you would the advancing squadrons of the enemy. In every hour of peril or incitement to excess, you will say to yourselves, “Our country sees us,” and so act as to stand forth soldiers, not only without fear, but also without reproach. Each moment not absorbed by the toils and duties of your military life, should, as far as practicable, be devoted to that mental and moral training without which the noblest of volunteers must sink to a level with an army of mercenaries. Alike in the inaction of the camp and amid the fatigues of the march, and the charge and shouts of battle, you will remember that you have in your keeping not only your own personal reputation, but the honor of your native State, and, what is infinitely more inspiring, the honor of that blood-bought and beneficent Republic whose children you are. Any irregularity on your part would sadden the land that loves you; any faltering in the presence of the foe would cover it with immeasurable humiliation. You will soon mingle in the ranks with the gallant volunteers from the North and the West, and with me you will admire their moderation, their admirable discipline, and that deep determination, whose earnestness with them has no language of menace, or bluster, or passion. When the men from Bunker Hill and the men from the “dark and bloody ground,” unestranged from each other by the low arts of politicians, shall stand side by side on the same national battle-field, the heart of freedom will be glad.

Carry with you the complete assurance that you will ere long have not only the moral but the material support of Kentucky. Not many weeks can elapse before this powerful Commonwealth will make an exultant avowal of her loyalty, and will stand erect before the country, stainless and true as the truest of her sisters of the Union. In the scales of the momentous events now occurring, her weight should be and will be felt. Already she is impatient, and will not much longer, under the pressure of any policy, submit to shrink away into the mere dust of the balances.

Have no fears as to the vigorous and ultimately successful prosecution of this war; and feel no alarm either as to the expenditure it must involve, or as to those startling steps, seemingly smacking of the exercise of absolute authority, which the Administration may be forced from time to time to take. While doubtless all possible economy will be observed, it is apparent that no considerations of that kind can be permitted, for a moment, to modify the policy that has been resolved upon. When the life of the patient is confessedly at stake, it would be as unwise as it would be inhuman to discuss the question of the physician's fee before summoning him to the bedside. Besides, all now realize that the system of arithmetic has yet to be invented which could estimate in dollars and cents the worth of our institutions. This terrible emergency, with all its dangers and duties, was unforeseen by the founders of our Government, and by [452] those who subsequently administered it, and it must make laws for itself. The Government has been like a strong swimmer suddenly precipitated into the sea, and like that swimmer it has unhesitatingly and most justifiably seized upon any and every instrumentality with which it could subdue the treacherous currents and waves by which it has found itself surrounded. All that was irregular or illegal in the action of the President has been fully approbated by the country, and will no doubt be approbated by Congress, on the broad and incontestable principle that laws and usages of administration designed to preserve the existence of the nation should not be suffered to become the instruments of its death. So, for the future I do not hesitate to say that any and every required to save the Republic from the perils that beset it not only may, but ought to be, taken by the Administration, promptly and fearlessly. Within so brief a period no such gigantic power has ever been placed at the disposal of any government as that which has rallied to the support of this within the last few months, through those volunteers who have poured alike from hill and valley, city and villarge, throughout the loyal States. All classes and all pursuits have been animated by the same lofty and quenchless enthusiasm. While, however, I would make no invidious distinctions, where all have so nobly done their duty, I cannot refrain from remarking how conspicuous the hard-handed tillers of the soil of the North and West have made themselves in swelling the ranks of our army. We honor commerce with its busy marts, and the workshop with its patient toil and exhaustless ingenuity, but still we would be unfaithful to the truth of history did we not confess that the most heroic champions of human freedom and the most illustrious apostles of its principles have come from the broad fields of agriculture. There seems to be something in the scenes of nature, in her wild and beautiful landscapes, in her cascades, and cataracts, and waving woodlands, and in the pure and exhilarating airs of her hills and mountains, that unbraces the fetters which man would rivet upon the spirit of his fellow-man. It was at the handles of the plough and amid the breathing odors of its newly-opened furrows that the character of Cincinnatus was formed, expanded, and matured. It was not in the city full, but in the deep gorges and upon the snow-clad summits of the Alps, amid the eagles and the thunders, that William Tell laid the foundations of those altars to human liberty, against which the surging tides of European despotism have beaten for centuries, but, thank God, have beaten in vain. It was amid the primeval forests and mountains, the lakes and leaping streams of our own land; amid fields of waving grain; amid the songs of the reaper and the tinkling of the shepherd's bell that were nurtured those rare virtues which clustered star-like in the character of Washington, and lifted him in moral stature a head and shoulders above even the demi-gods of ancient story.

There is one most striking and distinctive feature of your mission that should never be lost sight of. You are not about to invade the territory of a foreign enemy, nor is your purpose that of conquest or spoliation. Should you occupy the South, you will do so as friends and protectors, and your aim will be not to subjugate that betrayed and distracted country, but to deliver it from the remorseless military despotism by which it is trodden down. Union men, who are your brethren, throng in those States, and will listen for the coming footsteps of your army, as the Scottish maiden of Lucknow listened for the airs of her native measure land. It is true, that amid the terrors and darkness which prevail there, they are silenced and are now unseen, but be assured that by the light of the stars you carry upon your banner you will find them all. It has been constantly asserted by the conspirators throughout the South that this is a war of subjugation on the part of the Government of the United States, waged for the extermination of Southern institutions, and by vandals and miscreants, who, in the fury of their passions, spare neither age, nor sex, nor property. Even one of the Confederate generals has so far steeped himself in infamy as to publish, in choice Billingsgate, this base calumny, through an official proclamation. In view of what Congress has recently so solemnly resolved, and in view of the continuous and consistent action of the Administration upon the subject, those who, through the press or in public speeches, persist in repeating the wretched slander, are giving utterance to what everybody, themselves included, knows to be absolutely and infamously false. It will be the first and the highest duty of the American army as it advances South, by its moderation and humanity, by its exemption from every excess and irregularity, and by its scrupulous observance of the rights of all, to show how foully both it and the Government it represents have been traduced. When, therefore, you enter the South, press lightly upon her gardens and fields; guard sacredly her homes; protect, if need be, at the point of your bayonets, her institutions and her constitutional rights, for you will thereby not only respond fully to the spirit and objects of this war, but you will exert over alike the oppressed and the infatuated portion of her people, a power to which the most brilliant of your military successes might not attain. But when you meet in battle array those atrocious conspirators who, at the head of armies, and through woes unutterable, are seeking the ruin of our common country, remember that since the sword flamed over the portals of Paradise until now, it has been drawn in no holier cause than that in which you are engaged. Remember, too, the millions whose hearts are breaking under the anguish of this terrible crime, and then strike boldly, strike in the power of [453] truth and duty, strike with a bound and a shout, well assured that your blows will fall upon ingrates, and traitors, and parricides, whose lust for power would make of this bright land one vast Golgotha, rather than be balked of their guilty aims — and may the God of your fathers give you the victory.

I should have rejoiced to have met you within the limits of yonder proud Commonwealth from whence you came, and whose name you bear, but wise and patriotic men, whose motives I respect while dissenting from their conclusions, have willed it should be otherwise. Here, however, you are in the midst of friends, and have doubtless received a brother's welcome on the soil of a State which is not only loyal but proud of her loyalty — a State which, by the marching of her volunteers, announces every hour what a portion of her people have recently proclaimed by formal resolution, that “the suppression of this rebellion is worth more to the world than all our lives and all our money,” and that she “cares nothing for life or worldly goods, when they can only be enjoyed amidst the ruins of our country.” No Spartan hero, under the grandest inspirations of patriotism, ever uttered nobler sentiments than these. Indiana and Kentucky, it is true, are separated by a broad river, but in their history it has proved only a thread of light and beauty, across which their hands and their hearts have ever been clasped in friendship and in faith. In those stirring conflicts for principle which have arisen in their past, they have stood together on more than one bloody field shoulder to shoulder, they have borne onward through the thickest of the fight, that glorious banner, whose stars, I trust, will never grow dim; and now, your presence here to-day is a gladdening assurance that, in the momentous contest on whose threshold we stand, these States so long allied, will not be divided. For myself, I must be pardoned for saying, that next to our own beloved Kentucky, my bosom most overflows toward the noble State under whose hospitable shelter we have met to-day. It was my fortune to pass my childhood and youth on my father's farm upon the banks of yonder river, and in the light of the morning and of the evening sun my eyes rested upon the free homes and grand forests of Indiana. I played upon her hills, and fished in her streams, and mingled with her people, when I was too young to know, what I trust I shall never be old enough to learn — that this great country of ours has either North or South, East or West, in the affections and faith of its true and loyal citizens.

Soldiers: when Napoleon was about to spur on his legions to combat on the sands of an African desert, pointing them to the Egyptian pyramids that loomed up against the far-off horizon, he exclaimed, “From yonder summits forty centuries look down upon you.” The thought was sublime and electric; but you have even more than this. When you shall confront those infuriated hosts, whose battle-cry is, “Down with the Government of the United States,” let your answering shout be, “The Government as our fathers made it;” and when you strike, remember that not only do the good and the great of the past look down upon you from heights infinitely above those of Egyptian pyramids, but that uncounted generations yet to come are looking up to you, and claiming at your hands the unimpaired transmission to them of that priceless heritage which has been committed to our keeping. I say its unimpaired transmission — in all the amplitude of its outlines, in all the symmetry of its matchless proportions, in all the palpitating fulness of its blessings; not a miserably shrivelled and shattered thing, charred by the fires and torn by the tempests of revolution, and all over polluted and scarred by the bloody poniards of traitors.

Soldiers: you have come up to your present exalted position over many obstacles and through many chilling discouragements. You now proclaim to the world that the battles which are about to be fought in defence of our common country, its institutions and its homes, are your battles, and that you are determined to share with your fellow-citizens of other States alike their dangers and their laurels; and sure I am that this determination has been in nothing shaken by the recent sad reverse of arms whose shadow is still resting upon our spirits. The country has indeed lost a battle, but it has not lost its honor, nor its courage, nor its hopes, nor its resolution to conquer. One of those chances to which the fortunes of war are ever subject, and against which the most consummate generalship cannot at all times provide, has given a momentary advantage to the forces of the rebellion. Grouchy did not pursue the column of Bulow, and thus Waterloo was won for Wellington at the very moment that victory,with her laurelled wreath, seemed stooping over the head of Napoleon. So Patterson did not pursue Johnston, and the overwhelming concentration of rebel troops that in consequence ensued was probably the true cause why the army of the United States was driven back, excellent as was its discipline, and self-sacrificing as had been its feats of valor. Panics, from slight and seemingly insignificant causes, have occurred in the best drilled and bravest of armies, and they prove neither the want of discipline nor of courage on the part of the soldiers. This check has taught us invaluable lessons, which we could not have learned from victory,while the dauntless daring displayed by our volunteers is full of promise for the future. Not to mention the intrepid bearing of other regiments, who can doubt our future when he recalls the brilliant charges of the New York Sixty-Ninth and of the Minnesota First, and of the Fire Zouaves? Leonidas himself, while surveying the Persian host, that, like a troubled sea, swept onward to the pass where he stood, would have been proud of the leadership of such men. We shall [454] rapidly recover from this discomfiture, which, after all, will serve only to nerve to yet more extraordinary exertions the nineteen millions of people who have sworn that this republic shall not perish; and perish it will not, perish it cannot, while this oath remains. When we look away to that scene of carnage, all strewed with the bodies of patriotic men who courted death for themselves that their country might live, and then look upon the homes which their fall has rendered desolate forever, we realize — what I think the popular heart in its forbearance has never completely comprehended — the unspeakable and hellish atrocity of this rebellion. It is a perfect saturnalia of demoniac passion. From the reddened waters of Bull Run, and from the gory field of Manassas, there is now going up an appeal to God and to millions of exasperated men against those fiends in human shape, who, drunken with the orgies of an infernal ambition, are filling to its brim the cup of a nation's sorrows. Woe, woe, I say, to these traitors when this appeal shall be answered!

I must offer you my sincere congratulations on the leadership of that true patriot and soldier, around whose standard you have gathered. When others hesitated, he was decided; when others faltered, he was bold. The Government laid its hand upon his loyal bosom and found it burning with the inextinguishable fires of patriotism at a time when so many others, from the best motives in the world, were carefully packing themselves away to keep in the ices of neutrality. I honor him, Kentucky will honor him, the nation will honor him.

When you move, as soon you may, to the seat of war, Kentucky, despite the whispered caution of politicians, will cheer you on, and will hang with prayerful solicitude over you, alike upon your march and amid the heady currents of battle. Loyal men everywhere are exclaiming “God speed you,” and “All hail to your courage and patriotism.” Glory beckons you onward and upward, and could the illustrious dead hear you in the graves where they sleep, your every footfall, as you advance to your country's battle-fields, would be music to their ears.

I am grateful to you all, but especially to our fair countrywomen, for this distinguished reception. It can never be forgotten that it was from a Spartan mother that came those words of heroic patriotism which have never been equalled by any that have fallen from the lips of man. For more than twenty centuries the deepening shadows have fallen upon the rivers and the seas, upon the mountains and the plains of the past, and yet, from the midst of all this gloom, these words still gleam out upon us like lightning from a summer's cloud. For more than two thousand years the earth has been convulsed and shaken to its moral foundations; nations and generations of nations have risen and perished by slow decay or amid the shock of battles, and the wail of our stricken race has gone up over the sepulchres alike of men and of empires; yet above all this these words have floated down to us, and still float abroad upon the airs of the world like some kindling strain of music, ever caught up and ever repeated with flashing eyes, and heard with wildly pulsating hearts. Such is the power of patriotism, and such the spell its truthful expression exerts over the great spirit of humanity. To woman, ever timid in the sunshine, but ever brave in the storm, we offer our thanks for this, and we feel that we must shut our ears to the voices of her love and veil our souls from the illuminations of her presence, before we can cease to be willing to live and to die in defence of those institutions which, more than all others that have existed, have given to her that position of dignity and moral power which the shining impress she bears from her Creator's hands so fully entitles her to occupy.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Wellington (1)
George Washington (1)
William Tell (1)
Rousseau (1)
Robert Patterson (1)
Louis Napoleon (1)
Leonidas (1)
Joseph E. Johnston (1)
Joseph Holt (1)
Jo Holt (1)
Grouchy (1)
Doc (1)
Cincinnatus (1)
Bulow (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 31st, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: