REUNION OF TENTH RESERVES
Oration of Hon. J.S. McCalmont.
Following is the oration of Hon. J. S. McCalmont delivered at the Reunion of the Tenth Reserves, held in Mercer, on Tuesday, May 19, ’74.
“The days come and go so rapidly that it seems but a short time since I last addressed you at the reunion two years ago. It then occurred to me that I would be excused thereafter from serving an orator, and be allowed the privilege of participating, without anxiety or care, in the future meetings. This appeared evident from from the fact that were so many of yours members well fitted for the special task. It surprised me to see my name in the papers as the orator designated for this occasion. I wrote to the alternate, my friend Col. Knox, urging him to take my place, but he could not promise to be here.
Without further preface, rather than disappoint you, I endeavored to prepare a few thoughts for the occasion; but a sad bereavement, of which you have doubtless heard mention, and which has come sore to my heart, has almost wholly unfitted me for the duties of this occasion.
You come together again a portion of the survivors of more than a thousand and men, mostly young, all full of vigor and patriotism, who, thirteen years ago hastened to rally around their country’s flag.
They went to save the Union of these States; and in spite of all fears and forebodings that object was, we hope, permanently accomplished.
You bore an humble, though important part in the work, and you have lived to enjoy the plaudits of your country.
The animosities engendered by the war have in a great measure subsided. The spirit of charity all over the land is such that is safe to say, there is more earnest and cordial attachment to the Union of 1874 than to the Union as it was in 1860.
The names of your comrades have been put upon the roll of fame. You feel justly proud that you were soldiers, not for holidays or dress parades merely, but you went through all the stirring scenes by flood and field. Ignorant of tactics, you set diligently to work, advancing step by step from the lowest round of the ladder. You cooked your own food, washed your own dishes, made your own beds and policed your own camps. You dwelt in tents sometimes of brushwood and often slept in the open air with the cold ground for your couch and the starry vault for your canopy.
There is no fiction or exaggeration in describing the hardships of your life or the heroism of your services. Time would not suffice to recount your trials. I know but few of them. Beginning with Camp Wilkins; the march to Bedford; back again to Harrisburg; the tedious hours standing in the sun under arms at Harrisburg on the day of the first battle of Bull Run; the weary days and nights following getting to Washington; the vexation of not getting quick transportation; the loss of our mail; the trouble with our chaplain mail carrier; the disagreeable marches and picketings on the Potomac during that warm and wet summer; the long and seemingly useless marches, through heavy drenching rains, and waters waist deep; the numerous night alarms, without any cause; the movement to Camp Pierpont and lenghalt there; the reconnoisance towards Leesburg: the disaster at Ball’s Bluff; the gloomy depression caused thereby ; the disapation thereof for a time by the victory at Drainsville; the weary winter and disagreeable, cold spring of 1862, with its useless exposure to pelting rains and hail, are vivid in my recollection.
But it was only the beginning of your trials. You went through them all with wonderful endurance.
The troubles were not without their compensations. It was not always gloomy. There was something to keep you busy-much to cheer you. The sociability of your companions; the freedom from worldly cares; the light amusements of the camps; the stories told round the camp fires; the many curious incidents necessarily occurring among so many men; and the foraging expeditions of which you heard, served to while away the time. Even the alarms and turning out of the guards and regiment by night as well as by day, and the duties which seemed hard, of cutting and carrying your own firewood, relieved the tendiousness and monotony of camp life.
Do you remember the good music? What a good band, and what a fine corps of drummers and fifers. How they could play and beat the tattoo and the reveille. Don’t you sometimes in the morning now hear the spirit-stirring roll of the drum and the whistle of the ear-pearcing fife, and awaken to the find that is but and awaken, and you hear perhaps only the morning call of the robin redbreast to his lovely mate.
You took delight in the martial band, but, aslas! When the players were becoming perfect in their parts, and most cheering in their performance, it was disbanded as useless and the only music thereafter for you was the shrill treble of the bullets and the deep bass of the cannon’s roar.
You will excuse me to-day if I pass over some incidents which might be proper for me at another time, and the recollection of which might serve to cheer you; but my heart is filled with so sad and recent a sorrow; so great the loss to me of one who had been a soldier better than myself; my bosom friend and dearly beloved brother, that I can only express the emotions of grief.
At first when you went out, you remember how the death of one your comrades affected you. He lost his life by accident. How tenderly we buried him with the honors of war. The whole regiment followed the little escort with muffled drums and reversed arms, and there were moistened eyes as the last volley was fired over the lonely grave.
Afterwards death was too busy with you to allow you to pay such respect to fallen comrades. As they began to drop off one by one in the hospitals, and afterwards by scores on the battle fields, all the respect you could pay was a quick sympathizing glance, and a tearful regret that the day was over. You had often to leave your comrades by strange and unfriendly hands,
As you rested at Camp Pierpont you remember the great soldiers that were around and close to you. There were McCall, Meade, Reynolds, Hancock, Ord, Jackson, and Bayard, like his namesake, the French chevalier of old “without fear and without reproach;” names afterward famous in history. Two fell heroically at Fredricksburg; another at Gettysburg; another afterward leading the army of the Potomac, now gone to his rest; two others now high in command in the regular army.
General M’Call, though getting old and feeble, yet how gallantly he maintained himself, and nursed the honor of the Reserves. He was keenly alive to any injustice done them. When Gen. McClellan after the Seven Day’s fight made his report to Washington, reflecting unintentionally perhaps, on the conduct of the Reserves at New Market, Gen. M’Call, at his own expense, published a review of those operations. In it I find the following from Gen. Meade. In a letter to Gen. M’Call, dated Warrenton, Va., Nov. 7, 1862, he said:
“It was only the stubborn resistance offered by our division (the Pennsylvania Reserves, prolonging the contest till after dark, and checking till that time the advance of the enemy, that enabled the concentration during the night of the whole army on the James River, which saved it.”
It is, perhaps exclusively a subject for your historian, but I cannot forebear alluding to the record of your services.
Among the killed, of officers and non commissioned, we see the names of Adjutant Gaither; Captains, J.S. Hinchman, J.P. Smith, Daniel W. Mayes and Samuel Miller; Lieut’s G.S. Knee, H.B. Fox; Sergeants, John Gundy, Jas Hughes, Thomas Paxton, W.H. Rowland, Thos. O. Rodgers, Ira Johnson, Hiram Kile, and B.B. Strickland; Corporals, C. G. Ogle, J. M. Wimer, Jas. McAdams, Wm. Glass, R.N. Lang, R.N. McPake, Allen W. Corbett, Thos. Vousden, T.S. Wray, Wm. Paden, H.L. Sawhill, Jas. G. Page, Edwin B. Pier and Charles W. Crawford.
Time will not suffice to give the names of the hosts of privates equally deserving.
There were 118 privates, and 29 officers, in all 147 killed in battle, and 160 and more wounded in battle. Of 182 discharged on surgeon’s certificate, omitted in the rolls to be stated for what cause, it is safe to say that very many were from wounds received in battle, and nearly all the remainder for disease contracted by severe exposure in the service.
The places where they were killed and wounded illustrates the battles in which you were engaged. I find they were either wounded or killed at Drainsville, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, White Oak Swamp, Charles City X Roads, New Market X Roads, Manassas Junction, Groveton, Bristoe Station, 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Betheseda Church, Laurel Hill, North Anna, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House.
Some were taken prisoners and died in rebel prisons. Some missing in battle and never heard of more. Over their graves, gathered now in the national cemeteries, only the word “Unknown.” They sleep their last sleep; they have fought their last battles. But they shall rise again when the last trump shall sound. Let their memory be ever green.
How few of us are here, and if all the survivors were here how few now remain. Thousands, then nearly all young, in the vigor of early manhood, since cut off in the bloom and flower of their youth – a sacrifice to their country. Soon decoration day will come again. Let the choicest honors be paid to the memory of the brave.
The toils, the marches, the weary delays are all over. The camp fires have gone out. When you quit the service you were not anxious to return and many of you so wor and weary that you thought you would never forget the hardships of the service, and that nothing would ever induce you to enter it again. But after a brief spell, finding no comrades around you to cheer your lonely hours, the reminiscences of the past, in imagination, arouse in you the wonted fires, and forgetting all the hardships, you feel eager to snuff the breeze of war, and buckle on anew the armor in fresh contests with foreign foes. But away with such desires! War is evil; not lightly to be thought of; nor to be sought by man. Do right; seek peace and leave the making of the battle to the over-ruling hand of God.
You cannot but take an interest in the meetings of the Tenth. It might be wondered why we should have separate reunions. The thought so struck me. But I see some reasons for it. The society of the army of the Potomac meets in the larger cities.
The Pennsylvania Reserve association meets at a distance from you, and it would be too inconvenient and expensive for many to attend. But in your regiment there were companies from Clarion, Venango, Mercer Crawford Warren, Beaver, Washington, and Somerset, and the people of those counties will, I know, be glad to give you an occasional welcome. If it be found that once a year is too often to meet, you can meet less frequently; but keep up your organization. The survivors of your regiments have become scattered over the country, some occupying honorable offices, and many in useful positions in life.
And now how much cause have we to be thankful for these kind receptions by the people. How it cheers our hearts! Although we have seen hard time, yet in the last decade, how much has beed added to our happiness here in the country by the outlays of capital, started, perhaps, by the activities of war.
The telegraph and railroad come to our doors; the daily newspapers gather up the news from all quarters of the globe and distribute it to us at so little expense that we all can partake. Whilst a bountiful Providence stored for us ages ago, among the rocks, the oil now brought forth so abundantly, that the poorest can prolong his day with pleasure far into the shades of night.
Citizens of Mercer, I cannot close these feeble remarks without mention of my pleasure at meeting you. Had it not been for my desire to see you after a long absence, and to render to you thanks for passed kindness and invitations, I would have declined the part I have undertaken today.
Amid the pain of today for the loss of so many who will never again return, I am most profoundly impressed at your generous treatment of the survivors and the kindly feelings shown upon this occasion.
It was here that I was, twenty-one years ago, then young and a stranger, supported with enthusiasm for a highly honorable office, and it was here thirteen years ago, on the fall of Fort Sumter, then in feeble health, that I first realized the terrible necessity of war; of retiring from the bench and entering the service of the country.
I returned no more to you. Many of your sons and brothers were with me. The responsibility of taking care of them and putting them in the way for honorable mention was very great. They were, many of them, your proudest jewels. And if by my connection with them, I have reaped any of the glories of their actions, it is more than I have deserved, and I owe it to your kind partiality.
Hereafter it is not likely we shall meet again in these relations. By the time the reunion of the Tenth occurs again in Mercer, many changes will have taken place. Even if these reunions can be kept up, they may be held in the different counties where the companies were raised, and it will take a number of years to go the round. But let the memories of this day be precious.
“I pause, and the moral comes home to my heart,
Behold how of earth all our glories depart,
Our visions are baseless, our hopes but a gleam,
Our staff but a reed, our life but a dream,
Then, Oh! Let us look, let our prospects allure
To scenes that can fade not, to realms that endure,
To glories, to blessings that triumph sublime
O’er the blightings of change and the rains of time.”
Brendon is a history buff who loves American History, especially the American Civil War. He is also a direct descendant of William H. Wagner of the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves. Member of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves Co. A (Reenacting Unit). Creator of The Blue & Gray Historian on Instagram and Facebook. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.