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Shaw Farewell Address to Company K
October 8, 1861
Web Author's Notes:
The following is a farewell address given by Ben Roy Shaw to the members of Company K, 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, on October 8, 1861, shortly before they left with the regiment for the war. The address was repeated at what is believed to have been a 16th OVI reunion or event some years later, the location of which remains unknown. It could be assumed the location may be at or near Wooster, Ohio, in Wayne County, since from that area is where men from Company K were raised. Additional information about the author, Shaw, has yet to be obtained.

The reader will note that, even though the author was, apparently, unable to participate in the active military, he had rather strong opinions about those who were able bodied but unwilling to join the military in defence of their nation.

The text was taken from the book Songs In The Night, produced the author, Ben Roy Shaw, published by Clapper's Steam Printing House, Wooster, Ohio, in 1887. Little additional information about the author or the circumstances of the original address has been found.

Farewell Address. By Ben Roy Shaw Delivered to the members of Co. K, 16th Reg't. 0. V. I., Oct. 8th, 1861. Given here by request of some of the surviving members.


No ordinary occasion has called together in our quiet village so large a concourse of citizens, manifesting as they do, such mingled emotions of hope and sorrow, of love and sympathy. What means this vast assemblage of sorrowing. hearts and anxious faces? What mean these stifled sighs and startling tears ?--have we met to pay our last tribute of respect to the remains of an honored friend? No, we have come up hither from every quarter, old men and matrons, young men and maidens, impelled by common interests, our patriotic love, and deep, undying devotion to the principles of our republican institutions, to render honor to whom honor is due, to cheer and animate, to thank and bless our gallant, self-sacrificing sons and brothers who have so nobly responded to the call of freedom, and enrolled their names among her brave defenders. We have come to speak to you, words of love and endearment, of counsel and encouragement, and to bid you, in the name of Freedom's God, a sad but hopeful farewell.

I am no orator, as you well know. I am the humblest man among you, unlearned and unpretending, and wholly unaccustomed to public speaking, and no other occasion could have furnished a sufficient impulse to inspire me with self-confidence to address an intelligent audience like this. But when our gracious government is threatened with overthrow by armed invaders, when our starred banner is trailed in the dust and trampled upon by traitors, when hoards of vandal hirelings with proud usurpers at their head, are marching to destroy our Capital and lay waste our beautiful cities, to desecrate our homes, and transform our faithful mothers and fair daughters into menial slaves, every school-boy should be an orator, and every honest man, whose circumstances do not strictly forbid it, should be a willing soldier.

And now brave volunteers, if I know the sentiment of my own heart, I realize my sad and humiliating misfortune more deeply and keenly at this time than ever before, for the very reason that it denies me the privilege of sharing with you on freedom's battle-field, its toils, its perils, its glories, and the prayers often thousand holy mothers for your safety and success. And although I am thus sternly forbidden to accompany you on your high and holy mission, yet I wish to give you the assurance of my warmest sympathy for the good cause in which you have engaged, and my heart-felt admiration of your conduct, in thus setting a noble and praiseworthy example for all true patriots.

And here let me pledge you, that during your absence I will toil in my humble sphere to the best of my poor ability, for the encouragement of that cause, which you so freely and magnanimously offer your life-blood to maintain; and on your long and toilsome marches my heart's best blessings shall go with you.

There is no one too humble to render valuable and efficient service to his country in these perilous times.

The most obscure and illiterate possess some influence if they will but use it in a right direction.

We have all a work to do, a duty to perform, a country to save. He who does not love his country does not love his children, his parents, nor his God. And he who is not willing to peril his life in defense of that country, when it is invaded by enemies, is unworthy the proud title of an American citizen.

And I fear there is too much listlessness and apathy on the part of some of our young men. I fear they are deceiving themselves with the false illusion that our enemies are not seeking to destroy our Government and make our freemen slaves. I fear they do not realize the necessity of immediate and united action. So the poor, good-natured, chicken-hearted, affectionate fellows remain quietly at home, clinging to their dear sister's crinoline, and making desperate charges upon the good things of their mother's pantry, with no better reason than their miserly love of riches, or their pusillanimous dread of secession bullets, while thousands of noble hearted patriotic young men are away upon the battle-plain fighting for their liberties. They do not seem to possess enough manly dignity and intelligence to appreciate the blessings of a free government, nor sufficient penetration to perceive that when the struggle is over they will meet the justly merited scorn of their countrymen. And when we urge them to volunteer, they reply with a very self-complaisant air, "0,it would kill my mother," "it would make my sister crazy," or "it would alienate the affections of my sweet-heart."--What wonderful specimens of affection and gallantry! And when we tell them their philosophy is false, that their friends are no better than the friends of all the noble patriots who are now offering themselves upon the altar of their country; that their attachments are no stronger; that their loved ones will be true to them in their absence, and love them better on their return for proving themselves worthy of that love; that their mothers and sisters will not droop and die, but will live on in patriotic pride till they return crowned with honor; they excuse themselves from the duty and responsibility that every true American should feel, by telling us the war was unnecessary; that it was caused by our refusal to compromise. It is not the part of wisdom, expedience, or patriotism, to stop at this hour and ask what caused the war. That question has been discussed too much already. It is sufficient for us to know that war has come upon us with all its dread realities, and it is our duty to prosecute it vigorously till our country is safe. But we are asked what caused the war. It requires no argument to answer the question. It was simply a refusal on the part of a minority, to submit to the rule of a majority. Our Government is a Republic -- Its fundamental principle is, that a majority shall rule. We have strictly adhered to this principle for upwards of four score years, and peace and prosperity have been the happy results. But less than a year ago a large minority refused to submit to a large majority, and they rebelled. This was the direct and immediate cause of the war. Who will deny it? -- But we are told there was a cause back of this. What was it? It was the restless ambition of political demagogues -- it was sin--it was slavery.

The Devil rebelled in Heaven, and there was a cause back of that. It was sin. What made him sin? You may answer that question who wish to apologize for secession.

But I will say in this connection, that secessionists are at least one degree worse than that old fallen angel. Here is the evidence. He rebelled against the authorities of Heaven. He is a rebel. They rebelled against the authorities of the United States. They are rebels. So far they are equal. But we are nowhere informed that the Devil had taken the oath of allegiance and sworn to support the Constitution of Heaven; whereas, Davis, Wigfall, Floyd, Toombs, and their associates were all in high office; their oath to support the Constitution was fresh upon their lips while they were plotting to destroy the Government they had thus sworn to support; and they stand perjured traitors before God and man. They struck the first blow, they fired the first gun, they forced the war upon us, and our cause is just and holy.

Let this thought, brave volunteers, nerve your hearts and strengthen your arms, to deal blows thick and fast at traitors on the field of conflict. Remember you are going to fight for the perpetuation of our free institutions, and for the honor of that flag which Washington bore through a seven years' struggle for independence. Remember you are going to secure free homes to the loved ones you are leaving, and to yourselves and children when you shall return from the conflict with victory perched upon our standard. And when you meet the enemy in deadly combat, remember he is fighting to rob you of your liberty, that sacred inheritance purchased for you by the life-blood of your fathers. Remember he is fighting to extend the blighting, withering curse of slavery over the whole domain of the free North; to build up here a proud and haughty aristocracy, and to reduce you and your children to a condition little better than absolute slavery. Who has the effrontery to say that this is not the ultimate object of these base rebel leaders, these boasted knights of chivalry? Have they not pronounced you "greasy mechanics," "mud-sills of society," unfit to exercise the right of suffrage, and unworthy to associate with high-minded, talented gentlemen? Have they not boasted that "the slave-driver should crack his whip on Bunker Hill?" Shall he? Never! Let the united response of twenty million of people be, never! never! Then go, brave men, and unite your destinies with the marshalled thousands already in the field, and win for yourselves and your country imperishable glory. And while you are thus absent, let us hope that all true men who remain at home, will be active and vigilant in the same good cause. We have traitors among us, who are clamoring for peace and compromise with armed rebellion.

The only argument that such men are capable of appreciating, is a comfortable coat of tar and feathers; although I would not be understood as advocating this mode of procedure; and yet, I confess I have but little patience with those who favor or encourage this accursed doctrine of secession, byword or deed. It is lamentable, but not strange, that some among us, bearing the image of men, should have allowed political feuds and party prejudice to obliterate from their minds every sentiment of honor or patriotism; but, that one of these bright beings, whom the poet calls "stars of creation, images of love," should be found in our community sympathizing with this infamous rebellion, is indeed a matter of surprise. Yet, we have reason to believe there are some of this class of ladies among us, who avail themselves of every opportunity to discourage their friends and neighbors from enlisting in the service of their country, when it is toppling upon the brink of ruin. But we console ourselves with the reflection that their number is small, and their influence very limited. For them, we have no word of counsel; but if one of their unfortunate husbands is present, and on his return home to-night his courage should be tested by the appearance of half a dozen hobgoblins in the road before him, we would advise him to speak to them in the language of one of our old revolutionary soldiers on a similar occasion. His wife was slightly tinctured with toryism, and besides, was not the most amiable and agreeable companion. Contrary to her wishes, he had served his country through the war, which had just closed, and had acquired the reputation of being a stranger to fear. But a few of his young neighbors determined to test his courage; so, wrapping themselves in sheets one dark night, they stationed themselves by the roadside, in a piece of woods where they knew the old gentleman would have to pass on his return from town. On his approach, they glided softly into the road before him. Stopping a few paces distant, and looking at them for a moment, he said, very deliberately, "Well, if you are angels I know you won't hurt me; and if you are men, God knows I don't fear the face of clay; and if you are devils, come along home with me, I married your sister." But pardon this digression.

I am here in behalf of this large audience, and especially these noble fathers and mothers, who have so freely given up their sons to fight our country's battles. I am here to tender to you their sympathies, their thanks, their blessings and their prayers; and to assure you, the hope and pride of their firesides, that you have endeared yourselves to them ten-fold, by proving that you are brave sons, worthy the name of true Americans, who will never allow yourselves to act the part of dastardly, cringing slaves. And when far away upon the field of honor, I charge you by the love you bear your parents, for their kind care and counsels, and by the memory of all the sacred associations that will then cluster around the saddened homes you now are leaving, be a noble band of brothers, true to each other at all times, and under all the trying circumstances through which you maybe called to pass. Though to your enemies you are the death-dealing instruments of justice, be to your friends the ministering angels of mercy. And when one of your number is visited with sickness and suffering, be ever ready to bestow upon him the kindness and counsel of a father, the attention and tenderness of a brother. Make him feel that you are endeavoring to supply him with the best possible substitute, for what will surely then be the most earnest desire of his heart, the kind care of a faithful mother, the soothing accents of a gentle sister, or the tender sympathies of a loving wife. And whether upon the tented plain, or on the field of blood, where death-winged messengers are flying, let the memory of these loved ones, and the joys and endearments of your far-off home, inspire your hearts with resolution and courage, to perform all your responsible duties in a manner becoming the dignity and honor of true men and brave soldiers. And we trust that the struggle will be short and decisive; that ere another Spring shall dawn, our glorious old flag will float from the dome of every State capitol in the South, and wave triumphantly above the scarred and smoky walls of Sumter; that the Goddess of Liberty will hover again over a brave and free people, whom the lawless hordes of tyrants vainly strove to conquer; and that you will return crowned with fadeless laurels, bringing hearts as free from stain as the dear old flag you have rescued from the ruthless . hands of traitors; and the ladies, with open arms, happy hearts and smiling faces, will welcome you back to free, glad homes, and strew your pathway with flowers. And if any among you are destined never to return, your friends and neighbors will rear to your memories a monument of marble that shall be as enduring as your native hills; and upon it shall be inscribed your glorious deeds, in characters that shall bid defiance to Time's corroding fingers; and beside it shall be planted the cypress and the willow, beneath whose sacred shade our children's children shall come in future ages, to venerate your name and bless your memories. Then go, brave men, and take with you our farewell blessing; and though our bosoms are wrung with anguish at this sad parting, we will fill the vacant chambers in our hearts with patriotic love, and live on sunny hopes till you return.

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