This article appeared in the New York Times, September 13, 1877
The Country’s Defenders
Soldiers’ Monument At Dayton.
Visit of President Hayes and the Board of Managers of the National Home – unveiling of the statue by the president – speeches of Secretary m’Crary, President Hayes, Gen. Butler, and others – an imposing scene – 30,000 persons assembled.
DAYTON, Ohio, Sept. 12 – Long before the hour at which the procession was to move toward the Soldiers’ Home crowds of people had gathered along the route and about the residence of Mr. Anderson, where the president is stopping. At 8:30 the military companies assembled and escorted the President to the Home. At the north gate, at 9:30, they were received by the Brown Guards and escorted to head-quarter, while a salute of 21 guns was fired. A review and inspection of nearly 3,000 veterans took place at 10 o’clock, after which the President was conducted to the grand stand, where Col. Brown, Governor of the Home, read a short address of welcome, after which Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, President of the Board of Managers, spoke. In the course of his remarks he said:
You represent those who fought for the Union, for the Constitution, for the laws, and for the country to become a nation powerful enough to repel all assaults upon its liberties, and strong enough, under God, to protect every man on its own soil and under its own flag. You bear a relation to this Government such as no other body of men under the heavens does bear. Kings and Princes are accustomed to take banners and trophies captured in war, works of art perhaps seized and carried away, and hang the banners up and pile up the trophies, and show the works of art as memorials of the battles of their soldiers: but our Government, coming from the people and of the people, a part of which you were and are, had other trophies of their war for the nation’s life to show. You, my comrades, are the national trophies which the Republic of America exhibits to the world of their battles and their victories. They have brought you here together, and say to all men: “See how a Republic cares for her disabled veterans. These are our jewels.” [Cheers.] I have on other occasions when I have met you commented upon matters of discipline and administration, but I sav here now for the information of all concerned, we have received as a board, although we invited it, no single complaint out of the 3,500 men gathered here, of any administration of your commandant or your officers. Not one, not one!
Gen. Butler then introduced the President, who arose and spoke briefly as follows:
Comrades and fellow-citizens: This greeting I know is not a personal compliment. This large assemblage of the disabled veterans of the Volunteer Army of the Union and of citizens who sympathize with them manifest by this welcome their respect for the office which for the time being has devolved upon me, and their patriotic attachment to the Government of the United States. These brave men fought and suffered to restore their Union of their fathers, and to make perpetual the edifice of constitutional liberty which their fathers built. Their services and sacrifices will always be remembered with affection and gratitude, and good men and women will pray that the Supreme Ruler of the universe will forever have them, one and all, in his special care and keeping.
At the close of the President’s remarks, Gen. Butler introduced Secretary of War McCrary, who said:
Veteran Soldiers: I know not how to express the feelings which are excited as I stand for the time in the presence of more than 3,000 disabled soldiers of the Republic. Indeed. I fear I shall not be able to say what I feel. We are told that “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;” but I think there is an exception to that on some occasions, when from the very abundance of the heart the mouth will not speak at all. I cannot address you as your President had done, as comrades, for I did not have the honor to share with you in the service sacrifices and suffering incident to your career in the army, and by which you conferred imperishable glory upon yourselves and your country; but I may speak to you as a citizen, and my address you as fellow-citizens, as we all belong together in that great brotherhood of American citizens; but you were soldiers as well as citizens, and when you returned to the walks of peace you resumed again your place among the citizens of the United States. As a citizen, speaking what I know to be the sentiment of a great body of the people, I beg to assure you that you are one and all the recipients of the earnest sympathy and deep gratitude not only of the Government of the United States, but of all the people for whom you bled and suffered as soldiers. An officer of the Government, I am glad that the law devolved upon me the duty to have some share in the work of securing to you, not a charity, not a bounty, but some small part of the debt which the Government of the United States owes you. It is a debt which can never be fully paid. Your Government, however generous, cannot restore the lost limb or shattered constitution which you gave in defense of the nation; but it is a solemn duty of the United States, a duty which I know the patriotic people will see faithfully fulfilled, to confer upon you as far as possible all those comforts which you would but for your disability have been able to provide for yourselves. I am glad that the Government had dealt with you so kindly. I am glad to see here, all about, evidence that it has made you as comfortable and happy as possible. I am sure this line of policy will be pursued. I am sure Congress and the United States Government will never see you neglected. I know the people would not permit it. Now, I must not detain you, and therefore let me say in conclusion that I trust and believe your country will remember you with earnest gratitude to the last days of your lives. The people will honor you, the Government will take care of you, and I trust and believe heaven will bless you. [Applause.]
Short addresses were made by Chief-Justice Waite, Gen. Martindale, of New York, and Judge Bond, of Baltimore, after which the audience were dismissed for dinner.
At 2:30 o’clock, from the platform were the unveiling ceremonies took place, a most impressive scene was presented. At least 20,000 people were crowded into the space of a city square, among them 2,000 ladies, and on the surrounding slopes, for two squares distance, half as many more. Four military companies escorted the President and his party to the stand. On the platform several hundred distinguished visitors and prominent citizens of this and other cities, and about 100 ladies were seated. After prayer, a chorus of 200 voices, led by Otto Singer, of Cincinnati, sang “Freedom’s Anthem,” by Beethoven, accompanied by a horn band, with grand effect. At 3 o’clock President Hayes was presented to the immense concourse, and was received with great cheers. In pulling the canvas off the statue the cord broke. Judge Bond, of the United States Circuit Court, from Baltimore, remarked: “Mr. President, that is the first failure of the Administration.” Which was received in profound silence. The President remained standing some minutes while a long ladder was procured, and the unveiling was completed amid cheers.
Hon. L. B. Gunckel, Local Manager of the Soldiers’ Home, made a statement of the way in which this monument had been designed, completed, and paid for. It was mainly the result of efforts of the officers and veteran soldiers of the Home, and was designed to perpetuate the memory of valorous deeds of common soldiers, and bear down to future ages the story of this wonderful institution. It is not only paid for, but there is a surplus of $1,185.52 in the treasury, with which to ornament the surroundings.
Gen. J. D. Cox, of Toledo, then delivered an eloquent oration. He said hopes had been entertained of meeting here representatives from the other side of the late war. Although they were not here, it was believed an era of national brotherhood was again dawning on us. He said many good and true things about the soldiers in the ranks as compared with the officers that were warmly applauded.
The formal ceremonies have closed, Col. Brown, Commandant of the Home, was about to dismiss the audience when many calls were made for “Butler, Ben. Butler.” The General was presented, and greeted with much enthusiasm. He said:
Ladies and Gentlemen: I am not willing to mar the beautiful exercises of this occasion by anything that I can say to you. Every motion of my heart, every thought of my mind, every pulsation of my intellect, goes out on this occasion to the grand statue which records the deeds of the noblest, the best, the bravest of mankind, the private soldier of the Volunteer Army of the Republic. [Cheers.] It was well enough for men bearing the epaulets and insignia of rank, with the knowledge that to them should be given a place in history if they did well in the performance of their duty, with the proud incentive of enrolling their names in history among the patriots who deserve well of their country, and to who their country, as ages roll on, will point as models for their children and their children’s children for future generations; but to the private soldier, for whom there was to be no such name, no such history; who left the plow, the counter, the college, and other seats of learning, that he might do his duty, where was the incentive? Look back to 1861, when the cry came up from Sumter that the flag of the Union had been fired upon, and when the word went over the broad land calling every true son of America to do his duty – what was there except the love of country, the love of liberty, devotion to duty, bravery and purity of motive, to lead the private soldier in the ranks to offer his breast to the bullets of the foe? [Applause.] To him, individually, there was no monument; for him, most probably, there was but a little grave of those who trod the whole Southern country, through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and along the line to Vicksburg, thence through Louisiana to Mobile and through the Carolinas to the sea, until hecatombs lay slaughtered on the banks of the Potomac, to them no individual monument shall be raised; but to them as represntatives of their country all honor, all glory, all praise that heaven shall give to mortal man belong to them and to them only. [Great cheers.]
As the General retired there went up a general and lively call for another view of President Hayes, and he was prevailed to step forward. He said:
My friends: A few unpremeditated sentences, a little plain soldier talk is that you will expect. This monument reminds me, and, as I mention it, will remind very many in this great audience of the first soldiers’ monuments that we erected in 1861; you all remember what they were. All who took part in those first battles of the great conflict remember, and can never forget, the feelings of sadness with which we saw the remains of our dead comrades gathered up and placed in their last resting-place. They were gathered up, you know, by the parties detailed to bury the dead, carefully, respectfully, tenderly, and when the shallow grave had been dug, and in their uniforms they had been laid away and covered, then their comrades looked about to see what memento they could leave. They left little fragments, frail fragments of cracker-boxes, marking with a pencil the name, the regiment, and company of the dead comrade, hoping that they could in some way be useful, little dreaming at the time that to the private soldier should be erected with granite and marble and brass such structures as we now behold. And behold the change! Instead of that little fragment, perishable and fragile, we have these enduring monuments forever to gaze upon. How glorious the change! Does it now remind us of the growth in the sentiment of all mankind, of the appreciation of the work that these men did? Then we hardly knew what was to be the result of it all, but now we know that these men were fighting the battle of freedom for all mankind. Now we know that they have saved to liberty and to peace the best part of the best continent on the globe. [Cheers.] As this work compares with the frail cracker-box memorials, so does the work which they have done compare with any conception of it which we then could have had. Forever hereafter we shall remember the American private soldier as have established a free nation, where every man has an equal chance and a fair start in the race of life. [Applause] This is the work of the American private soldier, and as that monument teaches many lessons, let us not forger this one. It is a monument th reminds us that many are still living of that great army who are the victims of that war. Some have lost limbs, some have lost those habits and characteristics which enable men to succeed in life wherever they are. Let us remember always the debt to the dead American soldier, which can best be paid by kindness and regard to the living American soldier. [Continued applause.]
At the close of the President’s address the audience was dismissed with a benediction by Dr. Pearne. Great credit is due to Col. Brown, Governor of the Home, Chaplain Earnshaw, Dr. Weaver, surgeon, and Major Thomas for their successful efforts to make the gathering pleasant to the visitors.
In the evening the grounds were beautifully lighted in honor of the guests.