Although nearly a third of a century has passed since the civil war, its battleflags are still the objects of popular love and devotion. And so we find a common patriotic impulse spontaneously moving towards their preservation. The legislature of Iowa has enacted this sentiment into law. Animated by the same spirit, private citizens and survivors of regiments having such flags in their custody have cheerfully added them to those heretofore held by the adjutant-general of the state.
The citizens of Iowa are now assembled to formally transfer to the keeping of the commonwealth as among its most sacred possessions the flags that Iowa courage and Iowa patriotism followed in defense of the union. To the safe keeping of our great commonwealth we entrust these banners. Their cost is priceless, and their history glorious beyond expression. As a soldier in the past and as a citizen and civilian in the present, to me has been accorded the honor of speaking for these mute trophies. Upon a soil dedicated to liberty forever, we meet to recall the memories with which these emblems shall be associated in history. Memories arise, tender, sad, fierce, exulting; but leading up in the end to forgiveness, reconciliation, unity and peace. These dumb memorials of the past are more eloquent than any spoken words. In their holy presence partisanship is silent and only sentiments of patriotism, wide as the nation itself, may rise to the lips. The nation is no longer welded by bands of iron and shafts of steel. The silken threads of these flags soothe and bind us together heart and soul as they rustle gently as the wings of doves in the free wind of heaven. The motto of Iowa, inscribed by one of Iowa's honest sons upon the great monument of Washington, never spoke the sentiments of her people more fully than they do to-day: "Iowa: Her affections, like the rivers of her borders, flow to an inseparable union."
As we meet here to-day, to Almighty God our hearts should be lifted in quiet but earnest gratitude. Let us have no malice and indulge in no mere exultation over the victories which render this celebration possible. To the erring states that sought to rend that flag, to the brethren who sought to substitute two rival and hostile nations for the friendly union of the states, we give the old flag as their emblem as well as ours. Many a star has been shot from the colors before us, but the states those stars represent never in fact have lost their true and rightful places in the union. It still remains an indissoluble union of indestructible states. With high and patriotic spirit let us trace the history of our star-spangled banner. Flags are chosen to speak for those who carry them. We shoot at a hostile standard and salute a friendly one. The stars and stripes were chosen as the national ensign, September 3, 1777, and in eight days afterwards floated over the victorious field of Brandywine and soon after graced the surrender of Burgoyne. They cheered Washington at Valley Forge and waved proudly over Yorktown when independence triumphed at the last. This flag of thirteen stripes and a union with blue with as many white stars as there are states in the union, took its present precise form April 4, 1818. But new as it is, it is already ancient among the banners of the world. It is older than the present flags of France, Spain, England and Germany. But if we measure its age by the deeds that it glorifies, it would run back into an antiquity remote indeed. It was carried to the utmost southern point by American enterprise when the Antarctic continent at the south pole was discovered. It has been planted at the highest latitude on the edge of the open sea that looks forever in solemn silence at the motionless polar star. It has been borne by a Stanley to the sources of the Congo and the Nile, where it greeted the enduring, daring and patient Livingston in the chosen scenes of his self-sacrificing attempt to Christianize the very depths of degradation and human slavery. Over the sea, in every port, it has gladdened the sky. It has been planted alike on earth's wildest and most inaccessible peak, and upon the sea's remotest and most solitary shore.
A stranger may look upon these emblems and say: "What are they anyhow? Nothing but flags--nothing but a few pieces of silk--some red and white stripes--some white stars in a blue field--and that is all."
"A primrose by the river's brim,
A yellow primrose is to him;
And it is nothing more!"
We do not analyze a tear, but think rather of the emotions of joy or grief that bid it flow. The stripes, the stars, the silk or the bunting, are the material things a flag is made of, but the love, the hopes, the memories of the people, which are symbolized by their national banner, are the true flag after all. They constitute its soul. A woven or embroidered eagle, a cross, a crown, a dragon, a lion, or some imaginary beast or bird taken from the field of heraldry became the badges of the nations of the olden time. But the new and bright republic in its day of early hope and faith appealed to heaven, and looking up into the sky chose the stars themselves as the emblem of the land of the free and home of the brave.
In the capitals of Europe the stranger looks upon the crown jewels as typical of the pride and glory of ancient monarchies. But here the pilgrim finds no material things so prized as the country's flag, and none so dear as the battleflag of the republic. The splendid capital of two millions of people will hold no treasure more worthy of its keeping than the banners we deposit here to-day.
At one time they gleamed in the sunlight fresh and beautiful, their colors as bright as the flowers of the prairies, and he who looked upon their array could realize how "terrible was an army with banners." But to-day they are dearer than when bright and gorgeous they were intrusted to the keeping of the young soldiers of our state. They have been carried without dishonor, they are returned without disgrace; on their silken folds are inscribed the names of many battles in which they have been borne in defense of national existence, and the record is one in which all who participated may take an honest pride. Those names are crumbling with decay, but the results of these battles are projected into the history of the world, and countless ages will yet feel their influence. The victory was not the triumph of Iowa, nor of the North, but of the whole union and in the future of our united country the stars of the south will shine with the same lustre as those of the north.
From the center to the sea the true American looks only for what is best for all of our common and reunited family.
The riotous anarchist may raise his voice and defy the power of the government for a day, but the mighty nation, serene in its strength, confident in its honor, erect in its justice, calls for peace and obedience and its order is obeyed.
To the youth here let me say: Do you know what these flags mean? They mean a nation saved, its unity upheld; its honor preserved, its power unbroken, and all men in its borders forever free. Do you know, my young friend, how many men have died defending these colors? Around these banners as centers have raged the tempests of fire in the greatest battles. From 1861 to 1865 Iowa was not the mighty commonwealth of 2,000,000 souls that she is to-day. Her railways and her cities were only in embryo. But from her sparsely settled prairies 76,242 men enlisted in the army of the union. Nine regiments of cavalry and four batteries of artillery bore these guidons. Forty-eight regiments of white and one of black infantry carried the name and fame of Iowa in great campaigns and battles of the rebellion. Before the war ended 12,368 men, the youngest, the strongest and bravest, lay in their graves, and 8,848 were shot in the defense of these very flags which you honor to-day. Disease has made fierce havoc in those ranks in the days of peace, and now age is striking its certain blows upon the grey-headed column that still remains. Thousands of miles of weary, dusty and dangerous march are here recorded. Through the pestilence of the swamp, by the deadly ambush, in every campaign the standard of the Iowa soldier was borne where duty called. In the clouds of Lookout Mountain, and the fogs of Yazoo, by the Shenandoah and the Missisippi; under Sheridan or Grant; under Hooker or Dodge; under Rice or Crocker; under Sherman or Canby; under Wilson or Noble; under A. J. Smith or Steele; under the gallant leaders that I cannot take the time to name, wherever danger lurked and men of courage were needed, Iowa men were given the post of honor. Some Iowa flags were captured but their loss was never coupled with dishonor. Their capture cost the captors dear. So glorious was our defense that our enemies, now our brethren, have sent them back to be carried in this memorial of peace.
And here they are to-day on this anniversary of the battle of Wilson's Creek, and a day that brings a flush of honest pride to the cheek of every citizen of the Hawkeye state, and recalls a gallant regiment voluntarily remaining beyond its term of enlistment to stand by Lyon on the bloody field to teach the world what Iowa troops are made of. We look with full heart and swimming eyes upon these colors in their last march.
Rains have drenched them,
Powder smoke has stained them,
Storms have tried and torn them,
The tooth of time has eaten them,
Age has faded them.
But the glory of the deeds they commemorate will never fade from earth. They are but fragments of silk, frayed, soiled and torn in a hundred battles and marches, but they represent those scenes by flood and field where the struggle for peace and union were fought, and fought to the end. The very stars in their courses fought for union and liberty. When soldiers defy death they drive him into the ranks of the enemy, and men defy death when they fight under the banner of their choice for the land they love. To the dead who fell by land and sea we give honor to-day. This festival of the flags is one of special honor to the dead, and to none more so than those gallant men whose last resting place is unknown. In a single tomb at Arlington are deposited the remains of over 2,000 of these unknown heroes.
When Iowa's beautiful monument, in honor of her soldiers, arises near this capitol, let there be inscribed a tablet to her unknown dead. With the soldiers of foreign birth who laid down or hazarded their lives for the land of their adoption, and with the black man who dared death for the government which had done him nothing but wrong, we share to-day the honors of victory and the benefits of a free and united country.
A nation's emblem should be appropriate. Ours is the stars of heaven. The confederacy chose the southern cross to adorn its battleflag, a constellation invisible even from the most southern limits of the United States. Australia, with inverted seasons and alien sky, might well adopt this group of stars as its standard, but it was not a fitting symbol for any part of the American union. To the men who fought against us then we now extend the hand of fellowship. For their gallant dead we sorrow as well as for our own.
"Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day,
Under the laurel the blue,
Under the willow the gray."
Theirs was a misplaced sentiment which put the state against the nation. Our soldiers loved Iowa no less, but they loved the nation more, and we rejoice that we are brothers once again. Out of all this turmoil and strife good has come in the providence of God. From the body of the lion honey was taken, and from the tunnel at Andersonville, dug by our soldiers in an unavailing attempt at freedom, flows now a perpetual spring amid the graves of a national cemetery. And in the recent domestic troubles through which we have just passed, the quiet loyalty of the states so lately arrayed against the government has been a gratifying and pleasing spectacle.
But while we forgive and accept the erring states back again into the power as well as the benefits of peace and unity, we will never fail to teach that the cause of the union and liberty was then and will be forever right. Let us forgive but remember.
To the prisoner of war nothing was so dear as the flag of his country, and on returning from the hostile lines its sight has cheered many a soldier's heart, and made him forget his hunger and his rags. Let me recall an incident. On the fourth day of July, 1863, when Pemberton was marching out with the disarmed defenders of Vicksburg, when Meade was following up his victory at Gettysburg, and the hills of Helena were echoing with the repulse of Price and Holmes, the prisoners at Libby wanted to celebrate the day of independence. Surrounded by guards on all sides, to celebrate the Fourth of July had its difficulties, and among them was the fact that no flag floated in Richmond but the hated confederate standard. To celebrate independence day without the stars and stripes seemed like a hollow mockery. The old flag must be had at all hazards, and three soldiers, one wearing a red shirt, another a white, and a third a blue one, stripped themselves in the cause of patriotism and the day was celebrated with no feature omitted. The captive ensign fluttering within the prison walls spoke of home, of country and liberty. The materials were humble, but the flag was worthy of taking its place among the sacred memorials we are about to deposit here to-day.
By the presence of these colors I am reminded of the tender memory of Nathaniel B. Baker, adjutant-general of Iowa, and of the story he used to tell. To him is mainly due the gathering and preservation of these sacred relics. One day in the early years after the war as he was sitting in his office, which was decorated by these battleflags, a lady dressed in deep mourning came in and asked to see the flag of the Twentieth Iowa. The general pointed it out to her and she stood for awhile in silence and meditation. It hung above her reach. "May I touch it?" she said, and General Baker moved a table below it, upon which she climbed and, pressing the silken folds to her bosom and lips, she burst into tears and said: "Pardon my emotion general, but my only boy died under this flag."
Here I am told (for I have not counted them) we have 138 flags of all kinds. They are about to be delivered to the governor of Iowa and his successors in office as a sacred trust. Henceforth they will remain as a memorial of the past and an encouragement for the future. In many a church and abbey in the old world hang the moldering relics of bygone years and our young nation now treasures up her memorials of these contests none the less brave.
The Iowa of 1860 with her 674,913 people has now become a commonwealth of 2,000,000 souls. In our prairie state are nearly half as many English-speaking people as trod the planet in the days of Shakespeare. Our state is young but the possibilities of her future fill our hearts with hope and worthy pride. No blood or treasure has been spared to build and cement Iowa, the beautiful, as a part of the great temple of national unity. We have no anticipation of her future that we do not merge into that greater glory, the sisterhood of all the states. To-day closes a chapter of the record of the war. We deposit these silent yet eloquent memorials forever in the capitol. To the governor of our commonwealth we deliver them for the sacred keeping of coming generations, of a grateful, and honest, a patriotic and a Christian people. And now as we lift our hearts in silent gratitude to Almighty God, let us one and all say, "God bless, God bless Old Glory forever."
Last update: Sun Dec 24 00:57:33 CST 1995