Send-off Speech to the 122d Regiment
1862 — Presentation of a “Beautiful Flag” by the ladies of Fayetteville to the 122d Regiment Volunteer Infantry, “the “Onondagas,” Beard’s Hall, Fayetteville NY
MRS PRESIDENT: It has been said, “all that a man hath will he give for his life:” but at the present time there are hundreds and thousands of men who willingly take their lives into their hands and march boldly forth to battle, for there are things dearer than life, there are things without which life would be valueless, there are things rather than lose which, we would los life itself.
And what is this for which men so willingly hazard their lives? It is not territory, nor power, nor the subjugation of a people, but it is to uphold liberty, and to maintain the government. It has been sometimes said by semi-traitors that the poor men fight for the benefit of the rich, but this is not true, for side by side by side with the poor main the ranks of the army, stand rich men, whose wealth counts by hundreds of thousands, and who sprang to arms as privates upon the President’s call for aid.
The United States Government is emphatically the poor man’s government. The rich can buy immunity and obtain favor under any form of government, but in no other land on the globe but this, do rich and poor stand on a political level. The man who lives in a log hut, — the man who is this year a rail-splitter, may next year sit in the Presidential chair. Every poor man who fights in the army fights for himself, — he fights to sustain his own rights, and more than that, the fate of unborn millions of poor men will be decided in this war.
In the hands of every soldier lies the destiny of some other being; he fights not for himself alone, but for us all, and for the nations of Europe, Asia and Africa. — What will be your fate, — what will be the fate of us all if the North is defeated, for the war of the North and the South is a war of principles. On the one hand, Liberty and the Union, and the poor man’s rights forever, and on the other Slavery and the aristocratic dominion of a few, over both the black man and the poor white man.
Let the soldiers, when they are on the battle field, remember what I say now: You are fighting for your own liberty, and let every blow be dealt with a stalwart hand, for should liberty fail, despotism will arise in its stead; and houses or lands, or money, or even life itself, will not be worth what they now are.
Let Liberty be your watch-word and your war-cry alike. Unless liberty is attained — the broadest, the deepest, the highest liberty for all, — not for one set alone, on clique alone, but for man and woman, black and white, Irish, Germans, Americans, and negroes, there an be no permanent peace.
There can be no permanent peace until the cause of the war is destroyed. And what cause the war? Slavery! And nothing else. That is the corner stone and the key-stone of the whole. The cries of down-trodden millions arising to the throne of God. Let each one of you feel the fate of the world to be upon your shoulders, and fight for yourselves and us, and the future.
This present rebellion is the tenth specific attempt that has been made to defy the authority of the Federal Government. Three of these occurred within twenty years of our Declaration of Independence, and the fourth when Missouri sought admission into the Union. There were threats of disunion; the North was warned to remember Caesar and Rome, and was told seas of blood would be shed. The hollow peace known to statesmen as the Missouri compromise then smoothed the outward surface. Slavery was the cause of that trouble, and from that hour to this, the peace patched up has been a hollow one, for the constant seething of a compressed volcano has run through the nation until the present outbreak. Liberty and slavery are as unlike each other as light and darkness, and as dissimilar as God and Satan.
In our various wars, the flag of the Union has ever been successful: God gran it may be so now. Our is called the Flag of the Free. When this war is over may none but freemen dwell under it. No other flag on earth has so proud a name — none so glorious an origin.
“When Freedom from her mountain height
Unfurled her banner to the air,
She tore the azure robe of night
And set the stars of glory there,
She mingled with the glorious dies [dyes]
The milky baldric of the skies,
And striped its pure, celestial white
With streakings of the morning light;
Then from his mansion in the sun
She called her eagle-bearer down,
And gave into his mighty hand
The symbol of her chosen land.”
The flag of the Union has formed them in combination of the various flags used during the Revolutionary War, the principal flag of the old Continental army being crimson, the New England flag used at Bunker Hill, blue, and the flag of the gloating batteries, white — but it did not burst in all its significant splendor at once upon the world; it received its present form from successive steps.
The first striped flag raised upon the American continent was hoisted by the celebrated John Paul Jones on board the man-of-war Alfred, in the Delaware river, in December 1775. The new continental army was organized the first of January, 1776, a few days after this, and that day the striped flag was unfurled at Cambridge. But it was not until June 1777, a year and a half after our declaration of independence, that Congress definitely decided upon its form of thirteen alternate red and white stripes, and thirteen white stars upon a blue field. For some time after this, a new stripe was added upon the admission of each new State into the Union, until its rapidly increased bulk and ungraceful form compelled a new act of Congress, the year of which I have forgotten, by which the number of stripes was reduced to the original thirteen, and a star ordered to be added upon the admission of each new State into the Union. The thirteen stripes show the original number of United Colonies, and the starts the present number of States. The idea was taken from the constellation Lyra which in the hands of Orpheus signifies harmony, and the stars were first arranged in a circle to signify the perpetuity of the Union the whole was designed to represent the new constellation of States arising in the West, and the colors of the fag were equally significant; the red denoting daring, the white purity, and the blue truth.
Col. [Silas] Titus, say to the One Hundred and Twenty-Second regiment to whom this flag in my hand will soon belong, that they will emphatically be our regiment. Say to them that we feel we are giving the flag into worthy hands, who will never disgrace it, but who will drive the enemy before them as dust files before a tornado, and who will aid in bringing justice and liberty triumphant over the land Tell them that we shall watch the flag with pride in their success, their honor will be our honor, their success will be our joy, and when they return in peace, the Union restored, Slavery forever blasted, and liberty triumphant over this continent, we will welcome them as a band of heroes, and this flag preserved here forever, will be the trophy of their bravery and their victory.
Say to Company C that theirs is the post of danger and also the post of honor, for where danger is, there lies the opportunity for valiant deeds. Say to them, never surrender your flag, but carry it proudly, remembering that it signifies bravery, purity, truth, — remembering that it is the emblem of Home, Government, Country, and Liberty.
“Then success to the Flag of the Nation,
May its folds all around us be spread.
It is blazoned with deeds of the valiant,
And sacred with names of the dead.
The stars are the symbols of Union,
May they ever in purity wave,
The white is the emblem of honor,
The red is the blood of the brave.
Then success to the flag of the Nation,
May it sweep o’er the land and the sea,
Oh! whenever its splendor is darting,
Be it darted to nought but the free.
Soldiers! ‘keep the bright glories unsullied,
Sustain it on ocean and shore,
Rear it high, a broad beacon of freedom
To the world until time is no more.’”
Col. Titus, we have the pleasure in entrusting this flag, — the emblem of all we hold dear and holy on earth, — to so gallant an officer as your deeds have shown you to be, and through you to the brave men you will command.
Source: The “War Scrap Book” of Matilda Joslyn Gage: Witness to Rebellion, ed. Peter Svenson (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press), 2019, pp. 378-382.