I wanted to take a moment to post a few lines from an address given by Frederick Hitchcock, a Major with the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, who was present for Pennsylvania Day at Antietam and the dedication for the 132nd Pennsylvania Monument on September 17, 1904. I think you will find the words to be very moving; they certainly fit well with our nation's Memorial Day commemorations this weekend. The 132nd Pennsylvania was one of the many "green" regiments in the Union army at the Battle of Antietam. These men received their baptism by fire on the hills and fields surrounding Bloody Lane on September 17, 1862. Out of roughly 750 present, the 132nd Pennsylvania suffered 152 casualties. Years later, as the survivors gathered once again to commemorate and honor the sacrifices of their comrades in arms, Major Hitchcock delivered these remarks. He began with introductions, thank yous, and other pleasantries; once he finished with setting the scene, Hitchcock set out upon the primary purpose of his speech, to remember the sacrifices of so many soldiers so long ago....
132nd Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam
The richest possession of any people is its heritage of noble deeds and heroic sacrifices.
Human freedom has ever been attained and maintained at the cost of blood and treasure. The world is full of the graves of patriotic martyrs. Our comrades who fell here, joined the illustrious throng of the world’s heroes. Their noble spirit was well voiced by the intrepid former Captain of the Revolution, Nathan Hale, when he said, standing under the halter in the very shadow of death, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
Heroism knows no rank or station. It exalts all to the highest plane… And when amidst the wild clangor of war, or upon the lonely picket line, in hospital or prison pen, a noble life is immolated upon the altar of Liberty, the supreme sacrifice has been made, the spirit is the same. In every instance the hero has earned immortal honor. Heroism needs no label to proclaim its quality. Wherever found it exemplifies the richest and noblest characteristics of humanity. It is said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Not less true is it, that the blood of patriots always and everywhere has been the seed of civil and religious liberty….
If, like our forefathers, it was ours to pass through ‘days which tried men’s souls,” in the service of our country, like them we have been permitted to reap richly of the harvest of victory, and far over and beyond them, we have seen our beloved country emerge from her struggle for life, purged of the cancer of slavery which produced it, and advance gloriously step by step to the very forefront of the nations, until today “Old Glory” not a stripe erased nor a star dimmed, the Emblem of liberty, the hope of humanity, kisses the morning breeze all around the world.
But my comrades and fellow citizens we may not rest upon past achievements… It was ours to be faithful and true here, let it still be ours to remain faithful and true yonder. The final battle for our country has not yet been won. Her hundred and twenty-eight years of existence are, let us hope, scarcely more than her infancy. If she is to enjoy a nation’s life, she is no only on the borderland of her youth. Her future is in the hands of her sons today, one may well pause with fear, when he beholds the shoals and rocks which loom upon in the track of our ship of state, but far be it from me, under the inspiration of these scenes, to utter one discordant note of prophecy. The blood shed here shall not have been poured out in vain. Her sons of the future will rise and meet new dangers as they appear, and our country shall move grandly forward meeting the coming generation with the message of old Liberty Bell still voicing her destiny, now swelling into a grander anthem, and proclaiming liberty throughout the wide world ‘to all the inhabitants thereof.’”
Hitchcock went on to describe the statue, which depicts a lone color bearer holding the American flag, moving forward toward the guns of the enemy:
And now in concluding this grateful service, we leave this mute but eloquent statue, a representation of one of the color bearers of this regiment, still holding aloft his flag though the staff has been shot away. The scene is true to life.Let it speak to coming generations of duty well done. Let its radiant heroic figure be a type of the true American citizen-soldier—ever inch a man, true to his country; ever ready to bare his breast to her foes; undismayed by difficulties; undaunted by danger and unyielding in duty, though death be the cost.
Hitchcock's address reminds us of the character of the American soldiers whom we honor this Memorial Day: "undismayed by difficulties, undaunted by danger, and unyielding in duty, though death be the cost."