Sunday, April 5, 2009

Twentieth Tennessee Regiment Volunteer Infantry, C.S.A. , First Reunion

On the second Thursday in September, 1877, the Twentieth Tennessee held its first re-union in McCavock's Grove, near Franklin, Tenn. About two hundred members of the regiment were present, together with a vast concourse of the citizens of Franklin and the adjacent section, estimated at between 6,000 and 7,000 people.

The first speaker on this occasion was the former surgeon of the regiment, Dr. Deering J. Roberts, who on being introduced delivered the following 'address, summarizing the history of the regiment, which was published in the Nashville Daily American of the next day.

" Felow-comrades of the past, ladies and gentlemen: Permit me to preface my remarks by begging your kind indulgence for one who is more given to practice than to preaching. More than fifteen years ago the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment, in company with the rest of Crittenden's command, marched out from its encampment at Mill Springs, to meet the enemy, and one of the most sanguinary struggles that history has to record took place — an engagement memorable to all of us as being the forerunner of all the disaster, sorrow, and trouble that afterward overspread our grand old Commonwealth. You of the Twentieth, with your comrades, marched to the battle on that day in high spirits, colors flying, and hearts beating tumultously wild with that excitement that only brave men can feel. Many, for the first time, were to hear the terrific roar of the enemy's artillery, the murderous whistling of the minnie bullet; to behold for the first time in battle array the invaders of our country; to contend in a struggle for life with' their fellow-beings. How manfully the Twentieth stood its ground, history has already recorded. How bravely they fought on that occasion, became a household word throughout the land. Overpowered by an enemy superior both in numbers and equipments, they contested every foot of the ground, made charge after charge, until over half their number lay dead or wounded on the field, and then stubbornly and sullenly falling back to their encampments. Look at them again during those fearful days that succeeded, when stern necessity has demanded, and in obedience to their orders, behold them on their first retreat from Middle Tennessee, leaving behind them mothers, fathers, sisters, wives, homes, everything that man holds dear. Their hearts cannot but be sad, their minds enveloped in gloom; but without a murmur of disapprobation, they leave all to give their hearty support, their strong right hand, aye, even their lives if necessary, to sustain the government they were assisting to erect.

Behold them on the eventful field of Shiloh. From 8 o'clock on the morning of the first day till night had spread her sable pall over the field of the dead and dying on the second and most fatal day of that sanguinary engagement, right nobly did they sustain their already brightening reputation, having a large proportion of their officers and men killed and wounded; their grand old patriarchal Colonel, captured, and his two gallant sons dead on the field. See them again, in the poisonous swamps around Vicksburg, for months under the continual cannonading of the fleets above, and below that fated city, until the shriek of the terrific shell became as familiar as the nightly hum of the mosquito. And at Baton Rouge, while dashing through the Federal encampment, did the bright sun on the 5th of August, 1862, gild their colors with new honors, as they drove the boys in blue through the streets of the little town, over the river's bank, right down to the water's edge, where they cowered in terror under the powerful guns of their fleet.

At Murfreesboro, again, we see this little band, its ranks becoming thinned by disease and death, in the attack on the center on Wednesday evening, when Hollister, Cator, and .their comrades gave up all for your sake and mine, and went to join that gallant band led by Peyton and E. Shields, on whose muster-roll was subsequently added the names of L. Greenfield and others whom I know are ineffaceably enshrined in more hearts than are here to-day; and in the hottest of that ever-to-be-remembered charge of the day following of the gallant Breckinridge on Friday, when Bragg was a good dog, but hold-fast would have been better. At Hoover's Gap the ground was reddened with their best blood. Claybrooke, Callender, and others here laid down their lives for what they believed right. On the second retreat from Middle Tennessee, a great portion of the time in the post of honor bringing up the rear of our army, skirmishing with the enemy's advance, they are once more forced to leave their homes.

On Chickamauga's deathly banks, what colors are those now rushing forward in the headlong charge; now resisting an impetuous attack of the enemy, stubbornly holding them at bay; now being driven sullenly back, fighting and dealing death at every step? Yet, again, with a rush and a yell, forward is now the cry, and forward is the watch-word as they dash madly and impetuously over the enemy's breast-works. Surely that peculiar but beautiful flag is the one presented to this gallant command by one of Kentucky's most noble and gifted daughters. That white and crimson silk once enveloped the fair form of one of Kentucky's fairest maidens, when she plighted her troth at the altar with the noble soldier, statesman, and patriot, who himself knew that it could but receive additional honor in the hands in which she placed it. Look at their record at Mission Ridge. There they have left a name that will live through years to come. I quote from General Bragg's official report: " To Bate's brigade (of which this command was an integral part) is due the credit of having saved the Army of Tennessee from total rout and destruction." Again see them, after having been twice forcibly expelled from their homes, exiled from the land they loved so well, driven from point to point, their bodies scarred and bruised, their colors tattered and torn, but never dishonored; the beardless boy of two years ago now transformed into the robust soldier, the middle-aged man, the lines of care and thought deepened by his own and his country's trials — for more than one hundred miles of North Georgia's rugged soil did they contend every inch of the way; toiling and delving by night and righting by day, hastily snatching a mouthful of the hastily prepared and meagre food in occasional momentary lulls of the incessant skirmishing from Dalton to Atlanta, culminating in the brilliant charge on the twenty-second of July, when General McPherson fell and his followers recoiled from the living breastworks formed in part by this command ; and at Jonesboro, on the 3 1st of August, last but most fearful of all the engagements from Dalton down. Leonidas and his Spartans in the rocky defile of Thermopylae deserved not greater fame than did Hardee and his little corps when they measured swords with the whole of Sherman's grand army. From early morn till past mid-day did these heroes contend in a hand to hand struggle with a numerical opposition of more than ten to one; and when give way they did, it was not to superior valor, but to mere brutal weight, were they forced to succumb, and not then, until the point for which they strove so hard was accomplished. The other two corps d'armee and the Georgia militia were enabled to escape from the net the wily Sherman was weaving around them; and was so severely punished by the nettle Hardee that he thought within his grasp, that he gave Hood ample time, without further molestation to put his troops in order and mature his future plans. Here fell my old school-mate " Bob " Allison, he with whom I conned my " Liber Primus" and " Caesar's Commentaries." Only a private in Company C, yet he was a man in every sense of the word. No cenotaph could be raised too high to honor the names of such as he. One of the bravest of the brave — the truest of the true. Here also we lost our gallant major, John F. Guthrie, and if I am not becoming wearisome, I hope you will permit me to read you an extract from a little sheet that I know is familiar to some of you.

Here Dr. Roberts read an obituary published in the Chattanooga Rebel, printed at that time (Sept. 9, 1864) at Griffin, Ga., eulogizing this gallant officer and Christian gentleman, who, starting out as a private in Company B, had, at the time of his death, atained the rank of major of this heroic command.

But, to continue, shall we follow the lame Texan in his weary march through North Georgia and Alabama, across the Tennessee, until we find them on this hallowed ground? It is unnecessary for me to mention, surely in this historic locality, the brilliant action that here occurred on the last day of November, 1864. The very walls of the houses of your beautiful little town know that part of history only too well. Was the Twentieth here ? The soil of these grand old hills can exclaim with one accord: " We were moistened with some of its best blood." The gallant " Todd Carter," my old mess-mate, whose spicy communications in the Southern press under the nom de plume of " Mint Julep," was rapidly making fame in the field of literature, here breathed his last in his father's house, under his own roof tree that he had so successfully assisted to wrest from the occupancy of the enemy. Fit companion for the heroic souls of Cleburne, Strahl, and others of that stamp, he accompanied them on their last journey to receive the reward meted out to them from the hand of their Creator. And Bill Shy, noble spirit, who was ever the reverse of his name on the field of battle, though elsewhere as modest as a girl, he, too, in the trenches in front of our Capital city, on the 15th of December following, although then the colonel commanding this gallant wreck, with his hand tightly clasped on a fallen soldier's musket, closed his eyes on the terrible storm that was again to envelop his home in its last dark embrace. For the third and last time had this sorely-tried little band to turn their backs on their homes and everything that man holds dear, this time leaving their boy commander, whose trio of stars they had assisted to enwreath with a general's rank, a captive in the hands of the enemy, severely wounded by the stroke of a sabre on that imposing brow, that marred not his physical appearance in after life, but I sadly fear had much to do in shattering that wonderful intellect under whose powerful impulse the boy-soldier had attained a general's command. Think, if you please, of the manly, aye, the peerless form, the matchless courage and unvarying coolness, under the hottest fire, of one of Tennessee's bravest sons. Think of him in subsequent affliction, and hear him, as excitedly he walks the wards of an asylum, in maddened frenzy exclaim:—

" I'm adrift on life's ocean, and wildly I sweep Aimless and helmless, its fathomless deep; The wild wind assails me, it threatningly storms — The clouds roll round me in hideous forms." But let us draw the veil on that sad picture — too sad for the joy and jesting of this occasion — and follow me one step farther. Again crossing the Tennessee River, in obedience to orders and what they considerd their duty, across the little remnant of territory left to our Confederacy, through Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, to an obscure little hamlet in the old North State, that grand old State that claims to be the mother of Tennessee, at Bentonville, after Lee's surrender and the fall of Richmond, was the last despairing blow struck by the shattered remnant of the Army of Tennessee and the Twentieth Regiment. I have followed rapidly the steps of this command in its gigantic struggle ; looking on its shifting scenes, its varying fortunes. My aim has been to draw but an outline of the mighty wrestle. Of this great American Revolution the world will always doubtless differ in their views; parties will hold opposing opinions, and during the life-time of the present generation, those opinions will be colored by partisan feeling. What men will not differ about, however — what all will agree upon — is the reluctance with which these men of Middle Tennessee entered upon the struggle, and the constancy and courage which they brought to the long, bitter, and terrible ordeal. Right or wrong, they were brave, were they not ? Ask their desolated fields, their vacant firesides, their broken hearts. Prostrate, panting, bleeding at every pore, they were faithful to the last in the defense of their principles, and rather than yield those principles, dear as their heart's blood, they bared their bosoms for four years of destroying war. Before that dread and sombre tribunal they dared all, risked all, suffered all — and lost all? No! Their stainless escutcheon is still left them, and their broken swords, which no taint of bad faith or dishonor ever tarnished.

On the 26th-day of April, 1865, the soldiers of the Twentieth stretched the hand of friendship to the foe they had fought so long. In accordance with the terms of the military convention entered into on that day between Gen. Jos. E. Johnston and General Sherman they took a solemn obligation not to take up arms against the United States Government, and were permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observed said obligation and obeyed the laws in force where they might reside. How that agreement has been observed by both parties I leave you to decide. One lesson which we may learn from the past is, that no uprising of a great people is wholly based on falsehood or delusion. Their errors are, at most, but half truths, and the opposing parties in the conflict are never either wholly in the wrong. The gallant knights in the fable, who fought about the shield, one side of which was of silver and one of gold, were both right, but neither could see the side the other saw until they met after the strife. So in our civil war, the North fought for a united country, from ocean to ocea% from the lakes to the Gulf, and shed its blood to oppose the right of secession. So far as the South was concerned, the question of negro slavery was but an incident of the strife. The great principle of individualism which asserts itself in local self-government, and which in a republic like ours must be jealously guarded as the bulwark of our liberties, was the mainspring of Southern valor. Nor was the precious blood shed in its defense poured out in vain. The doctrine of State rights, under the Constitution, which seemed in danger of being forgotten, is once more in the ascendant, guiding the policy of the government and transforming political parties. " War," says Dean Paul Ritcher, " is the moulting time of humanity." The eagle, when shedding his plumage is sick and his pinions droop, but when his time is over he plumes his wings for a higher flight. This each one of you must feel to-day is the attitude of our common country as it enters a new era of its existence, and to this consummation every act of sacrifice and self-devotion, all the patriotic blood shed on our battle-fields, whether by the wearers of the blue or the gray, has contributed.

And now, to these ladies here, permit me to assure you from my inmost heart that the debt of gratitude incurred whilst I had the honor to be with you in those sad closing days of '64, can never be repaid. Day after day I witnessed the fair daughters of Williamson bending o'er the rude couches extemporized for our wounded, and whether the sufferer was from the far away everglades of the land of flowers, or the pine ridge or sandy savannahs of Georgia, those fair hands ministered as tenderly, lovingly, and impartially as to the wounded scion that sprang from these historic blue-grass hills and dales. They treated them all as brothers, as brothers who had fallen in their defense.

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