Memorial Day Oration.
MAY 30, 1913
James Shera Montgomery, D. D.
(PASTOR METROPOLITAN M. E. CHURCH)
WASHINGTON, D. C.
Arlington Cemetery, Virginia
PRINTED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF THE POTOMAC. G. A. R.
"O Beautiful ! my Country ! ours once more
Smoothing thy gold of war-disheveled hair
O'er such sweet brows as never other wore,
And letting thy set lips,
Freed from wrath's pale eclipse,
The rosy edges of her smile lay bare,
What words divine of lover or of poet
Could tell our love and make thee know it,
Among the nations bright beyond compare
What were our lives without thee?
What all our lives to save thee?
We reck not what we gave thee?
We will not dare to doubt thee,
But ask whatever else, and we will dare!"
The War! The War! Shall we recall its animosities? No!
May the bitter enmities and the hot antagonisms of the fiercest conflict that ever swept across the breast of any nation be forgotten, and may we cherish with the better angels of our nature "malice toward none and charity to all" with the will of God and the conscience of the Republic as our guide and inspiration.
Rather let this day arrest the whole country in its commercial march and learn anew how great the scope and how terrible the character of that war. May these emphasize our form of government, the safeguard of popular sovereignty, the protection of the rights of citizens and the promotion of the general welfare of our Nation, and how appalling the cost of the privileges and the opportunities of our united country.
The statistician tells us that there were 2,731 battles.
The slain of the Union Army on battlefield were: Officers, 5,221 ; enlisted men, 90,868; died of disease, 183,287; a grand total of 279,376.
The killed,wounded and captured, including both the American and British armies, during the War of the Revolution, were about 22,000 men.
The loss to either the Union or Confederate army at Gettysburg or the Wilderness exceeded this number. From the discovery of America to the Rebellion, the slain in battle in our country, in all our wars, were less than the combined death returns of the two armies at Shiloh.
At Racour (1746) the lost was two and one-half per cent of those engaged; at Lignitz (1760) Frederick the Great lost six and one-half per cent; at Wagram (1809), where the intrepid McDonald, under the Emperor's eye, charged the Austrian center, the lost was scarcely five per cent; at Austerlitz —the battle of the three emperors— with its "sun of promise." where Napoleon prevailed against the combined Russian despotism and Austrian tyranny, his loss reached only about fifteen per cent; at Waterloo, where set Napoleon's star, the Iron Duke Wellington lost about twelve per cent.
Gettysburg, the turning point of the War, where the thoughtful Meade wrung victory from a brave and chivalrous foe that battled for another destiny, and the Wilderness, and Spottsylvania, where death was like a monster from hell, each shows losses above thirty per cent.
This is enough!
Here was the spirit of the Cavalier and the fidelity of Cromwell's ironsides battling for supremacy. It is now too late to say what ought to have been done, or what might have been done, but let this be said: We cannot measure the gallantry of our heroes on this, our Nation's funeral day — is written on the page of history in letters of divine illumination -- for is is inestimable by any standard that we possess. Even the rarest gift of eloquence cannot compass the task. The fillets that once set upon their youthful brows have long ago blossomed into enduring fame, and it remains for some bard, inspired by the majesty of his theme, to unite their deeds to immortal verse and song, and both shall become immortal.
"He speaks not well who doth his time deplore,
Naming it new, little and obscure,
Ignoble and unfit for lofty deeds.
All times were modern in the times of them,
And this no more than others. Do thy part
Here in the living day, as did the great
Who made old days immortal ! So shall men.
Gazing long back to this far-looming hour,
Say : 'Then the time when men were truly men;
Though wars grew less, their spirits met the test
Of new conditions; conquering civic wrong;
Saving the State anew by virtuous lives
Guarding the country's honor as their own,
And their own as their country's and their sons.'
The above is a small part of the total speech. But to me, a combat veteran, this section rang true, was both painful and hopeful, and reminded me that we should never give up the quest for world peace versus endless warfare that shreds the lives of those among us who honor their Nation and sacrifice their lives while so many others sit back and idly do nothing more than await the outcome.
Or instead, regard the defense of their Nation as someone else’s problem, one they believe they are too busy or worse too important, to engage. Until, of course, comes the day when the enemy might prevail, and then I am certain, those same men and women, will blame the loss on those of us who wear the uniform and the scars of patriotism.
Larry Schliessmann (AKA Marlowe Black)