Speech of General Richard J. Ogleesby.
Gen. Oglesby entered the Hall during the progress of the meeting, having just arrived from his home at Decatur, Illinois, where he has been detained for several months past in consequence of the wound which he received in the battle of Corinth in October last. On being introduced to the audience he was received with enthusiastic applause which continued for some time. — After quiet had been restored, he spoke as follows:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: As a citizen and a soldier, entirely relieved from the dominion of party, simply and purely as an honest Union man, sincerely and earnestly devoted to my country, do I come before this assembly of American citizens to-night. At present I am unfit for the duties of the field; and, I thought the next best thing to opposing treason in the field would be to go to a good Union meeting. [Cheers.] Although I am in poor health, I am at all times, whilst I have the energy to do so, willing to contribute my feeble support to our unfortunate but glorious cause and country. I am glad that you are surrounded with able speakers to-night. There has never been a time in our State when we have been without them.
This is the first time I have attempted to appear before an audience for some time in this capacity, and I feel more like failing than succeeding. I have the inspiration of our cause and feel it deeply. [Cheers.] I do not know what kind of talk you have had lately, nor how you feel: but he that looks at me sees nothing more than a citizen of Illinois, and of the United States, who is willing, at all hazards, to struggle to the end for the Stars and Stripes. [Loud cheers.]
I shall not probably be very regular in my talk, but there are two or three cardinal points to which I wish to call your attention. If there is anything that we need more than another, it is deep, pure and unsullied patriotism —[Cheers,] an earnest, self-sacrifising patriotism. Until we can bring ourselves to the point of feeling ready to sacrifice everything for country, we will not succeed in putting down this rebellion. We must be willing to sacrifice business, comfort, and even life, for our country. [Cheers.]
We cannot continually apply our attention to accumulating wealth. We must be willing to forego for a time, our former prosperity — which has heretofore so richly blessed us. We must be willing to undergo hardships and forego pleasures, and whatever tends to divert our attention from crushing this wicked, causeless, and infernal conspiracy against our national life. Until we bring ourselves to this point we cannot hope for success.
I am pained to hear that some have talked of concession and compromise with the armed traitors who are waging war against us. I regret that any American citizen should have had his faith shaken, either in the justice of our cause or the prospect of our complete success and especially do I regret, that opposition to the Government should have been counselled, and that there should have been complaints against taxation. We hear the distant murmuring of an unpleasant voice against taxation for the purpose of carrying on this war.
Where is the sordid wretch who free, narrow and contracted views will say it is wrong to pay taxes to prosecute this war? Where is a human who, if you make him believe he is slight to lose his prospects and position and the blessings he has enjoyed under this Government, would not give one tenth of his annual earnings. Yes, one tenth of all he is worth to prevent such a result? I ask no prosperity, unless I have a country and Government under which no prosperity can be enjoyed. [Cheers.] Where is the man who would not be willing to give the tenth of all he is worth to save the nation? Is there any man who would not be willing to give one tenth of his possessions for so sacred of purpose as preserving this nation, around which lusters so glorious a history — whose institutions have been the admiration of modern civilization? We shall never be required to pay such a tax as that even if the war should last for ten years. How groundless then this complaint.
How dark the prospect that overlong this country two years ago! I was here in the Senate at that time, and well do I remember the general anxiety over the threatened conspiracy to strike at the liberty of a free people and involve this happy nation in civil strike. I was here when that great and good man, who now administers this Government, left the city of Springfield to assume the most responsible duties that have ever devolved upon any human-being. There was scarcely a man in this broad State who did not sympathize with him in the responsible position to which the suffrages of the people had called him. Everybody then felt that he was a true noble and honest man. Has any person in the United States of America ever seen a single thing which has led them to suspect his honor or integrity? [No, no, no!] Is not honest Abraham Lincoln, of 1860, the same honest man? [Yes, yes!] Has he not devoted his time, night and day, to the interests of his country, under circumstances of difficulty such as never surrounded anybody before? I have read of no such situation in all history. He entered the national capital whilst it was full of traitors — and their foot-prints may still be seen there. But with all the evil influences surrounding him and the traitorous conspiracies against him, he has gone on in the pursuit of a solitary purpose; and that purpose has been to bring about a glorious and honorable peace, with the Union preserved and the rights and liberties of the people fully maintained. He may have erred in some respects, but I am slow — and I mean to be slow-to condemn any solitary thing that he has done. [cheers] Let me say this to you — and I say it in no spirit of implied accusation against any gentleman in the world — I am slow to condemn him, and I think every patriot ought to be slow to condemn him. [cheers.]
It is one of the rights of an American citizen to criticize the acts of their officials. It is one of the rights of the citizens of a fine government to discuss the public acts of our public men; but we have no right to offer catious opposition to the legally constituted authorities. I cherish all the rights of an American citizen, and expect to live for them, and die having the country in the possession of them. [cheers.] I should think I exhibited a most captious spirit if I complained in dishonorable language daily against this administration; I should feel greatly belittled, should I pursue such a curse with my opinions of its intentions and purposes. I speak for myself and nobody else. I belong to no political party in these times. I belong to no party higher or lower than the great, grand Union party. [cheers.]
I know of but one thing that can make a man feel better than to love his country; and that is to fight and gain a victory for that country. In the midst of deadly strife: when the enemies' positions are taken and the flag of the army of the Union is vitoriously planted upon the works and more sublime than any other. It is a feeling that none can know and enjoy but those who have participated in it. When we fight and defeat our enemy, we defeat a brave and determined foe. Ever since the war began I have always characterized our enemies as good fighters and determined men; but it is their chief and nearly their only excellence. I know, as I have said, of but one higher feeling than love of country: that of gaining a victory for one's country. It makes a man feel better than any earthly joy. When the conflict is over, the feeling is sublime. When in the midst of battle we see men standing arm to arm and shoulder to shoulder, differing in politics but united in love of country, covered with the blood of battle, then we know such men love country better than party. That man who has been spared by God to see the hour he can offer his blood for his country has been more blessed than you have not been allowed twe sacrifice.
There is at such a time no partisan feeling — it elevates a man above all thought of party. It is exalted patriotism to peril your life for your country. But, sir, the men who will hesitate and complain, and throw difficulties in the way of carrying on this war, draw upon themselves the suspicion of loyal men and the curses of soldiers. [Cheers.] If there are any citizens in Illinois to-day who are willing to throw anything in the way of the success of the Administration and the army — hear me semi-traitors — you will sink yourselves to a damnation so deep as to be eternally beyond the reach of recovery. [Tremendous, long continued, and repeated applause.]
Let me tell you, fellow-citizens, in all kindness of spirit, that the public heart is right, and is for fighting out this war to an honorable and glorious issue; and you cannot take any permanent advantage of temporary discouragements and despondency. If, for a while, in this country, the chief element of greatness and goodness seems to subside — seems to give way — it is only temporary, and will soon manifest itself again with vastly increased power. [Cheers.] Sometimes the zeal of American citizens seems to flag, and a stranger might suppose their courage was failing, and that they would abandon cherished projects. We are somewhat mercurial in our dispositions, but when this great American people are at last forced to the point of decision, they will uniformly, invariably and forever decide the question right, [cheers,] upon the side of virtue, justice and integrity. [Cheers.] Although reverses have come, and we have sometimes felt willing to hesitate, let me tell you it is a temporary feeling, and the Northern man who thinks he can build a party on it is deceived.
If you have flippant speakers with ironical tongues who, because they have liberty to do so under our constitution, oppose the war because they have not the hearts and courage to go before the enemies' cannon — if there are such skulking about Springfield they are deceived in their vocation when they think they are leading the people away from the support of the war. [Cheers.] If there are none such here, then my remarks are out of place. If there are, then my remarks are in place. A voice — "there are some here, and they want to be United States Senators."
Allow me as the result of my observations to remark, in all kindness, and I ask you not to forget the lesson. It is a simple one. There is nothing which elevates the soldier so much as the conscious feeling that his friends at home and the public sentiment of the country supports and applauds him in his vocation and for his bold daring. The soldier is very sensitive to the opinions of those he leaves behind him. In the hour of deadly conflict, the feeling that he is supported is invaluable. The reproach of cowardice to a soldier is terrible. A personal pride springs up in battle, that leads one to dare as much as another, and aid as much as another, in gaining the victory. And that feeling is a powerful incentive to deeds of valor. [Here an alarm of fire occurred that produced a temporary sensation.] Don't you understand the alarm, it is an attempt to break up this meeting. I will explain it to you. It is the "fire in the rear." [Cheers and laughter. Quiet was soon restored, and very few, if any left the hall.]
In all seriousness, let me return to what I was saying about the soldier. There is nothing which so much elevates him, as the knowledge that he is supported and honored by his friends behind him. And that there is nothing that so saddens and discourages him, as censure of his purpose or his courage. It falls like a pall upon him. The imputation of cowardice upon a soldier to a nightmare from which he never recovers. When he feels that a sentiment is being cultivated behind him calculated to dishonor and rob him of his laurels, as a soldier he is discouraged and ready — not to law down his arms; let none flatter themselves with this hope; but he loses his original feelings as a soldier. If you say any thing derogatory to the avocation of any man, himself believing it to be honorable, you only increase his ardor and determination to pursue it. You may change his feeling but not his purpose to follow it. And citizen, therefore, of this country, not loyal to its best interests, who seeks by insinuation or reproach to east obloquy upon the army in the noble effort to suppress the rebellion and save the Union, is culpable under this charge, and is not a man to be trusted.
If there are those who would discourage the efforts of the people to save the country — who seek, by malicious and half concealed treason, to mislead the honest sentiments of good men, to encourage our rebellious foe — to distroy, under the influence of factious hatred, the existing Government — their doom is fixed. The future is a dark cloud to them. If they at last succeed, and destroy the country, they are ruined with us; and if we save the country, they are ruined without us. We must keep up this war. Lay not a straw in the road of the President, even though he does not act in accordance with your ideas. If he commits errors, I am willing to forgive him. I must not expect that in every act for driving on the ponderous wheels of this Government, he will do just as I should happen to think best. If he commits a wrong I have a right to speak of that wrong, and even to remonstrate against it; but I have no right to become continual in my denunciation of it, and to encourage the people to withdraw their support, to break up the Government and bring anarchy upon the country. If I do, I shall draw upon myself the just suspicion of all good men.
Has not our patriotic Governor given all his power and influence for the support of the Government and the putting down of the rebellion? Who has read his late and profoundly sensible message, and not felt his spirit renewed? Look at the statement it makes about our soldiers, and what has been done for their comfort. He has been untiring in his efforts to support the Government. With an unusual energy he has devoted himself to raising and equipping our armies. Whilst he has been untiring in his efforts to support the war he has been equally generous in his devoted sympathy for the soldier. That man who is ready to malign him for this noble conduct, does it from traitorous motives. [Tremendous applause.] I am not saying this as a partisan; I am not making a partisan speech. But I love the cause of the Union and all who are true to its interests, and untiring in their efforts for its salvation. If I may offer up a prayer at the foot of the celestial throne, may it be, My God, do not let me survive the desolation of this government. I hope the day will never come, when I shall live in this land divided. Then we shall have no vocation. Our families will be without homes. Our character will be gone. Our "Stars and Stripes will be gone," and we will be an ignominious and contemptible people, unable to maintain the charge which God and Washington gave to us. Make yourselves more patriotic. Help the Administration to put down traitors, and if any part of the country from which he now receives support becomes traitorous; help to put that down. The man who has the ability to speak would do his country a good service to go over this State and address the people upon this subject, and the importance of carrying on this war to a glorious peace.
But the people will come out all right. They may be misled and discouraged for a timo, but they will always come out right.
You want to know about the proclamation, and what the army thinks about it. I do not know the sentiment of the army. No man knows the sentiment of so large a body of men. — [Here the speaker seemed considerably exhausted and spoke with difficulty.] A friend of mine has suggested what I know to be true, that it is not well for me to speak long. There are one or two things I want to speak about and then I will sit down. This proclamation is a great thing, perhaps the greatest thing that has occurred in this century. It is too big for us to realize. When we fully comprehend what it is we shall like it better than we do now. It is a tremendous thing, well calculated to arouse the deep and bitter feelings of those attached to the institution of slavery, and who have forgotten that treason meets with such rewards. I am willing to be tolerant towards men who differ with me. There are some who think that the slaveholders have certain rights, and speak with very great bitterness against the proclamation. I have nothing against it. As an officer, if I am ever able to go back again, I shall execute it whenever it comes in my way to do so. [Cheers.] I know a great many Generals who will execute it. I know none who will not. It is a great blow against the rebellion. [Cheers.] No soldier in the army, zealously struggling to do his duty, marching forward to meet the enemy, will stop to discuss this proclamation. He feels the tremendous force of war; his life is constantly at stake; he offers everything to save his family, his home and his country. He meets the foe in the field — that foe which spares neither pains nor conscience to destroy him and omits no opportunity to take his life and devastate his country. So circumstanced, the soldier will recognize every rule of civilized warfare to meet and defeat that enemy. Certainly, if the rebel in arms against our country may slay the soldier, take and devastate his property, burn his supplies, destroy his means of daily subsistence, take and eat his rations — it will not be difficult to satisfy our soldiers that they, in turn, may assist in depriving the proud rebel of the services of his slave — by whose labor he is daily fed and supported in his work of death, devastation and treason. This is my opinion of the sentiment of the soldier. He may reason differently from the man who is not under arms, and does not intend to be, in this war.
Had the slave States in rebellion remained in the Union, I never would have disturbed the relation of master and slave. I would not have done it for my right arm. This was the doctrine of the party to which I belonged in 1860. In my protestations of non-intervention with slavery in the States, I was honest and so was the party. I never would have touched their slaves, had they remained loyal to the Union and the Constitution. But when they threw off their allegiance to the Government, and declared that separation was final — in the language of their rebel chief, "final and eternal" — and that they would not come back into the Union if we should offer them white paper on which to write their own terms — when they have conspired against us and tried to destroy our national existence and blast forever our hopes and the hopes of the civilized world in a Republican form of government — when they have tried to dishonor us before the world — when they have tried to array the despotisms of Europe against us — they have forfeited all claim to protection from this Government. [Cheers.] I have no love for such men and I am in favor of resorting to every means for conquering them known to civilized warfare. If the President's proclamation will do it, in God's name let it roll on. [Tremendous applause.] Because of this gigantic stroke at the power of the rebels, should I become disloyal and manifest sympathy for them, and become a vile traitor to the country on whose preservation depends the brightest hopes of the present and future ages? The proclamation is harmless to the loyal, to the friends of this Government, but terrible to its enemies. [Tremendous applause.]
Lately I am told that New England is losing favor with a class of gentlemen who are over zealous for State rights and wonderfully given to fault-finding. I love New England, and will stand by her as long as she has a rocky foundation, and spins cotton. Massachusetts so much denounced these few days past, has a noble people. That man is a miscreant who will abuse and villify them. I admire the Eastern States. I do not want to separate from the East or any other part of the country. I am opposed to the whole doctrine of secession, and want to preserve this land in its entirety. I am opposed to anything or anybody who proposes to divide this nation. Whoever makes or encourages such a proposition is an enemy to me and to my country, and to the whole human race.
I exceedingly dislike those disparaging comparisons between the parts borne by the different States in this war for the Union. Where is the man who to-day does not feel proud of his home in Illinois? How nobly she has bared her breast to the storm! What sacrifice has she not made? In most of the battles her worthy sons have taken an honorable part. Almost every fireside laments in solemn grief the loss of dear relatives, and mingle their sorrows with those of the wounded who, with shattered frames, still survive. And yet she is ready with a firm and unshaken confidence in the justice of our cause, to go on to the bitter end, contributing her full share to the very last moment of the bitter strife. You are all satisfied with the gallantry and courage of our troops. But do not fall into the notion that Illinois has done more than her part, or that her troops have been more brave than others. Glorious Iowa and Wisconsin, noble Indiana and Ohio, and all the other States, fighting in the common cause, have fully equaled our own brave soldiers in the field, in the fight, and in forbearance shown to the common foe. We have a united and brave enemy to meet, who do not fail to resort to every means of war to defeat us. Whilst we have adhered strictly to the rules of war and treated them traitors as they are, with every consideration due to men engaged in honorable warfare — they have sometimes shamefully forgotten those duties to our armies. They fight to ruin; we, to save. They fight for disorganization and dissolution; we, for established institutions, for law and order, and to maintain the best government under the sun.
Although we have had reverses and defeats, and at times lost advantages already won, we have taught them a solemn lesson. No longer you hear the impudent insinuation "ten to one" — "five to one" — "two to one." Oh no, we have whipped that out of them. They have learned that a Yankee is a man sharp in trade, but terrible in fight — knows as well the use of steel as the value of silver — who will sacrifice his last nutmeg to whip a rebel. The nonsense of the war is over, so is the blister. It is now only a question of time and endurance. Fear not; we shall whip them — we shall subdue them — we shall recover the Territory with them if possible; without them, if necessary. They cannot forever withstand the avenging spirit of an outraged and long suffering people, we shall as certainly succeed as that there is a heaven above us, and earth beneath us, and human beings within the sound of my voice. The end will come when all that are left of them will again be citizens of the United States, upon our own terms and conditions. Conventions will not do it. It cannot be done under an armistice. Nothing but hard fighting and a good thrashing will save them. Not confederate but united we shall stand, under the green, vigorous and everlasting constitution of the United States. They will fight us hard and the carnage will be terrible. It is awful to witness, but upon our side it is for country, for liberty, for Union, for freedom, for history and for our blessed posterity for all time to come and we will never fail unless the public sentiment becomes perverted and I, believe in God, it never will. [Cheers.] I earnestly desire to see the rebellion crushed and peace and happiness restored to this once happy and prosperous but now unfortunate and distracted nation, and no sacrifice that I can make will be spared. I will stake property, life, and all upon the altar of my country. This country is worth the greatest sacrifice that can be made.
You may count on me to the utmost extent of my ability. It may be said that I helped to bring about this war. I dont think I did much to bring it on. I may have pitched in a rail or two, or something of that kind. [Laughter.] Whether I had anything to do with bringing it on or not, if my life is spared and my health restored, I intend to have something to do with winding it up. [Tremendous and long continued applause amid which the speaker retired from the stage.]