Sunday, November 13, 2011

I See... A Veteran's Day Dedication: Oration at Valley Forge


The Mormon Third Eye has always pushed the envelope of what should be posted in traditionally short-attention span blogs. Today it opens the envelope. To celebrate Veteran's Day, I have included below an extremely long yet stirring oration delivered in July 1878, at the 100th anniversary of Washington's Army occupation of Valley Forge in the winter of 1778. This is the first time I have highlighted the words of others, but I could not ignore it, for it sees Valley Forge as the Mormon Third Eye sees it.

Centuries ago, before Americans drowned in the heart-numbing flood of entertainment media, the masses were moved by long, riveting speeches called “orations.” This was a skill much more difficult to master than today's break dancing or wave surfing, and much more relevant to inspiring mankind. What follows is my edited version of the “Oration at Valley Forge.” I double dog dare you to read to the very end. I promise you that if you do, you would not have done it in vain, and you will walk away from the computer with a deeper appreciation for why we celebrate Veteran's Day.

Oration at Valley Forge, July 19th 1878

by Henry Armitt Brown

It is an honor to be here today. It is a privilege to behold this anniversary. This unusual spectacle, these solemn services, these flags and decorations, this tuneful choir, this military array, this distinguished

company, this multitude darkening all the hill-side, proclaim the general interest and attest its magnitude. And it is proper to commemorate this time. One hundred years ago this country was the scene of extraordinary events and very honorable actions. We feel the influence of them in our institutions and our daily lives, and it is both natural and right for us to seek, by some means, to mark their hundredth anniversaries.

Those moments are passing quickly. Lexington, Bunker Hill, Germantown, Saratoga, have gone by already. Monmouth, Stony Point, Eutaw, and Yorktown are close at hand. It is eminently fit that we should gather here.

I cannot add to what has already been said about this place. The deeds which have made it famous have passed into history. The page on which they are recorded is written. We can neither add to it nor take away. The heroic dead who suffered here are far beyond our reach. No human eulogy can make their glory greater, no failure to do them justice make it less. Theirs is a perfect fame,—safe, certain, and complete. Their trials here secured the happiness of a continent; their labors have borne fruit in the free institutions of a powerful nation; their examples give hope to every race and clime ; their names live on the lips of a grateful people; their memory is cherished in their children's hearts, and shall endure forever. It is not for their sakes, then, but for our own, that we have assembled here today.

This anniversary, if I understand it right, has a purpose of its own. It is duty that has brought us here. The spirit appropriate to this hour is one of humility rather than of pride, of reverence rather than of exultation. We come, it is true, the representatives of forty millions of free men by ways our fathers never dreamed of, from regions of which they never heard. We come in the midst of plenty, under a sky of peace, power in our right hand and the keys of knowledge in our left.

But we are here to learn rather than to teach; to worship, not to glorify. We come to contemplate the sources of our country's greatness; to commune with the honored past; to remind ourselves and show our children that joy can come out of sorrow, happiness out of suffering, light out of darkness, life out of death.

Such is the meaning of this anniversary. I cannot do it justice. Would that there could come to some one in this multitude a tongue of fire,—an inspiration born of the time itself, that, standing in this place and speaking with the voice of olden time, he might tell us in fitting language of our fathers! But it cannot be. Not even now. Not even here. Perhaps we do not need it. Some of us bear their blood, and all alike enjoy the happiness their valor and endurance won. And if my voice be feeble, we have but to look around. The hills that saw them suffer look down on us; the ground that thrilled beneath their feet we tread to-day; their unmarked graves still lie in yonder field; the breastworks which they built to shelter them surround us here!

Dumb witnesses of the heroic past, ye need no tongues! Face to face with you we see it all;—this soft breeze changes to an icy blast; these trees drop the glory of the summer, and the earth beneath our feet is wrapped in snow. Beside us is a village of log huts; along that ridge smoulder the fires of the camp. The sun has sunk, the stars glitter in the inky sky, the camp is hushed, the fires are out, the night is still. All are in slumber save when a lamp glimmers in a cottage window, and a passing shadow shows a tall figure pacing to and fro. The cold silence is unbroken, save when on yonder rampart, crunching the crisp snow with wounded feet, a ragged sentinel keeps watch for Liberty!

The close of 1777 marked the gloomiest period of the Revolution. The early enthusiasm of the struggle had passed away. The doubts which the first excitements banished had returned. The novelty of war had gone, and its terrors become awfully familiar. Fire and sword had devastated some of the best parts of the country, its cities were half ruined, its fields laid waste, its resources drained, its best blood poured out in sacrifice. The struggle now had become one of endurance, and while liberty and independence seemed as far off as ever, men began to appreciate the tremendous cost at which they were to be purchased. While a few hundred ill-armed, half-clad Americans guarded the Highlands of the Hudson, a well-equipped garrison, several thousand strong, lived in luxury in the city of New York.

Nor could the threatened penalty of death restrain the evil. Want began to be widely felt, and the frequent proclamations of the British, accompanied with Tory intrigue and abundant gold, to have effect. To some, even of the wisest, the case was desperate. Even the elements seemed to combine against the cause. The fate of America hung on the courage, the fortitude, and the patriotism of eleven thousand iiall-clothed, half-armed, hungry Continentals.,.who discomforted but not discouraged, beaten but not disheartened, suffering but steadfast still lay on their firelocks on the frozen ridges of Whitemarsh, a British army nineteen thousand five hundred strong, of veteran troops, perfectly equipped, freshly recruited from Europe and flushed with recent victory, marched into winter-quarters in the chief city. Who can forget the day that followed?

A sense of something dreadful about to happen hangs over the town. A third of the houses are shut and empty. Shops are unopened, and busy rumor flies about the streets. Early in the morning the sidewalks are filled with a quiet, anxious crowd. The women watch behind bowed windows with half-curious, half-frightened looks. The men, solemn and subdued,whisper in groups, " Will they come to-day?" "Are they here already? '


The wind is cold and piercing on the old Gulf Road, and the snow-flakes have begun to fall. Who is this that toils up yonder hill, his footsteps stained with blood? 'His bare feet peep through his worn-out shoes, his legs nearly naked from the tattered remains of an only pair of stockings, his breeches not enough to cover his nakedness, his shirt hanging in strings, his hair dishevelled, his face wan and thin, his look hungry, his whole appearance that of a man forsaken and neglected. On his shoulder he carries a rusty gun, and the hand that grasps the stock is blue with cold. His comrade is no better off, nor he who follows, for both are barefoot, and the ruts of the rough country road are deep and frozen hard. A fourth comes into view, and still another. A dozen are in sight. Twenty have reached the ridge and there are more to come. See them as they mount the hill that slopes eastward into the great valley. A thousand are in sight, but they are but the vanguard of the motley company that winds down the road until

it is lost in the cloud of snow-flakes that have hidden the Gulf hills. Yonder are horsemen in tattered uniforms, and behind them cannon lumbering slowly over the frozen road, half dragged, half pushed by men. They who appear to be in authority have coats of every make and color. Not half have shirts, a third are barefoot, many are in rags.

Nor are their arms the same. Cow-horns and tin boxes they carry for want of pouches. A few have swords, fewer still bayonets. Muskets, carbines, fowling-pieces, and rifles are to be seen together side by side.

Are these soldiers that huddle together and bow their heads as they face the biting wind? Is this an army that comes straggling through the valley in the blinding snow? No martial music leads them in triumph into a captured capital; no city full of good cheer and warm and comfortable homes awaits their coming; no sound keeps time to their steps save the icy wind rattling the leafless branches and the dull tread of their weary feet on the frozen ground. In yonder forest must they find their shelter, and on the northern slope of these inhospitable hills their place of refuge.

Trials that rarely have failed to break the fortitude of men await them here. False friends shall endeavor to undermine their virtue and secret enemies to shake their faith; the Congress whom they serve shall prove helpless to protect them, and their country herself seen unmindful of their sufferings; Cold shall share their habitations and Hunger enter in and be their constant guest; Disease shall infest their huts by day and Famine stand guard with them through the night; Frost shall lock their camp with icy fetters and the snows cover it as with a garment; the storms of winter shall be pitiless,—but all in vain. Danger shall not frighten nor temptation have power to seduce them. Doubt shall not shake their love of country nor suffering overcome their fortitude. The powers of evil shall not prevail against them, for they are the Continental Army, and these are the hills of Valley Forge !

At Whitemarsh they lay, half clad, on frozen ground. By the middle of December they were in want of the necessaries of life. Washington: " I am now convinced beyond a doubt that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place in that line this army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things,—starve, dissolve, or disperse in order to obtain subsistence."

But no change was destined to take place for many suffering weeks to come. The cold grew more and more intense, and provisions scarcer every day. Soon all were alike in want. The colonels were often reduced to two rations, and sometimes even to one. The army frequently remained whole days without provisions, We have lately been in an alarming state for want of provisions, The army has been in great distress. The troops are getting naked. They were seven days without meat, and several days without bread. They are still in danger of starving. Hundreds of horses have already starved to death. The painful testimony is full and uncontradicted.

Some brigades had been four days without meat, and that even the common soldiers had been at his quarters to make known their wants. Should the enemy attack the camp successfully, your artillery would undoubtedly fall into their hands for want of horses to remove it. But these are smaller and tolerable evils when compared with the imminent danger of your troops perishing with famine or dispersing in search of food. For some days past there has been little less than a famine in the camp. A part of the army has been a week without any kind of flesh, and the rest three or four days.

Famished for want of food, they were no better off for clothes. The unfortunate soldiers were in want of nor shoes, The men are literally naked, some of them in the fullest extent of the word. 'Tis a melancholy consideration, that hundreds of our men are unfit for duty only for want of clothes and shoes. We have (besides a number of men confined to hospitals for want of shoes, and others in farm-houses on the same account), by a field return, this day made, no less than two thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight men now in camp unfit for duty, because they are barefoot and everything." They had neither coats, hats, shirts, otherwise naked. Our numbers since the 4th instant, from the hardships and exposures they have undergone (many having been obliged for want of blankets to sit up all night by fires instead of taking rest in a natural and common way), have decreased two thousand men. By the 1st of February that number had grown to four thousand, and there were fit for duty but five thousand and twelve, or one-half the men in camp.

Naked and starving in an unusually rigorous winter, they fell sick by hundreds. From want of clothes their feet and legs froze till they became black, and it was often necessary to amputate them. Through a want of straw or materials to raise them from the wet earth sickness and mortality have spread through their quarters to an astonishing degree. The small-pox has broken out. Notwithstanding the diligence of the physicians and surgeons, of whom we hear no complaint, the sick and dead has increased one-third in the last week's return, which was one-third greater than the week preceding, and from the present inclement weather will probably increase in a much greater proportion.

What man is there whose soul would not shrink within him? Who would not be disheartened from persevering in the best of causes—the cause of his country—when such discouragements as these lie in his way which his country might remedy if it would?"


Americans, who have gathered on the broad bosom of these hills to-day, if heroic deeds can consecrate a spot of earth, if the living be still sensible of the example of the dead, if courage -be yet a common virtue and patience in suffering be still honorable in your sight, if freedom be any longer precious and faith in humanity be not banished from among you, if love of country still find a refuge among the hearts of men, " take your shoes from off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground."


And what shall I say of him who bears on his heart the weight of all? Who can measure the anxieties that afflict his mind? Who weigh the burdens that he has to bear? Who but himself can ever know the responsibilities that rest upon his soul? Behold him in yonder cottage, his lamp burning steadily through half the winter night, his brain never at rest, his hand always busy, his pen ever at work; a patriot, forgetful of nothing but himself; this is he whose extraordinary virtues only have kept the army from disbanding and saved his country's cause. Modest in the midst of pride, wise in the midst of folly, calm in the midst of passion, cheerful in the midst of gloom, steadfast among the wavering, hopeful among the despondent, bold among the timid, prudent among the rash, generous among the selfish, true among the faithless, greatest among good men and best among the great,—such was George Washington at Valley Forge.

But the darkest hour of night is just before the day. In the middle of February Washington described the dreadful situation of the army and " the miserable prospects before it " as '' more alarming " than can possibly be conceived, and as occasioning him more distress " than he had felt " since the commencement of the war. selfish, true among the faithless, greatest among good men and best among the great,—such was George Washington at Valley Forge.

There all day he drilled the men, and at nightfall galloped back to the hut in which he had made his quarters, to draw up regulations and draft instructions for the inspectors under him. And thus day after day, patient, careful, laborious, and persevering, in a few months he transformed this untrained yeomanry into a disciplined and effective army. There have been more brilliant services rendered to America than these, but few perhaps more valuable and worthier of remembrance. Like many another who labored for us, our busy age has seemed to pass thee by. But here, at last, when after a century, Americans gather to review their country's history, shall they recall thy unselfish services with gratitude, and thy memory with honor.


Such, then, is the history of this famous place. To my mind it has a glory all its own. The actions which have made it famous stand by themselves. It is not simply because they were heroic. Brave deeds have sanctified innumerable places in every land. The men of our revolution were not more brave than their French allies, or their German cousins, or their English brethren. Courage belongs alike to all men. Nor were they the only men in history who suffered. Others have borne trial as bravely, endured with the same patience, died with as perfect a devotion. But it is not given to all men to die in the best of causes or win the greatest victories. It was the rare fortune of those who were assembled here a hundred years ago that, having in their keeping the most momentous things that were ever intrusted to a people, they were at once both faithful and victorious. The army that was encamped here was but a handful, but what host ever defended so much? And what spot of Earth has had a farther reaching and happier influence on the human race than this?


My countrymen:—For a century the eyes of struggling nations have turned towards this spot, and lips in every language have blessed the memory of Valley Forge! The tide of battle never ebbed and flowed upon these banks; these hills never trembled beneath the tread of charging squadrons nor echoed the thunders of contending cannon. The blood that stained this ground did not rush forth in the joyous frenzy of the fight; it fell drop by drop from the heart of a suffering people. They who once encamped here in the snow fought not for conquest, not for power, not for glory, not for their country only, not for themselves alone. They served here for posterity ; they suffered here for the human race; they bore here the cross of all the peoples; they died here that Freedom might be the heritage of all. It was Humanity which they defended; it was Liberty herself that they had in keeping,

And here, in the heart of America, they were safe. The last of many struggles was almost won; the best of many centuries was about to break ; the time was already come when from these shores the light of a new civilization should flash across the sea, and from this place a voice of triumph make the Old World tremble, when, from her chosen refuge in the West, the Spirit of Liberty should go forth to meet the rising sun and set the people free!


Americans:—A hundred years have passed away, and that civihzation and that liberty are still your heritage. But think not that such an inheritance can be kept safe without exertion. It is the burden of your happiness that with it Privilege and Duty go hand-in-hand together. You cannot shirk the present and enjoy in the future the blessings of the past. Yesterday begot to-day, and to-day is the parent of tomorrow. The old time may be secure, but the new time is uncertain. The dead are safe; it is the privilege of the living to be in peril. A country is benefited by great actions only so long as her children are able to repeat them. The memory of this spot shall be an everlasting honor for our fathers, but we can make it an eternal shame for ourselves if we choose to do so. The glory of Lexington and Bunker Hill and Saratoga and Valley Forge belongs not to you and me, but we can make it ours if we will. It is well for us to keep these anniversaries of great events; it is well for us to meet by thousands on these historic spots ; it is well to walk by those unknown graves or follow the windings of the breastworks that encircle yonder hill ; it is well for us to gather beneath yon little fort, which the storms of so many winters have tenderly spared to look down on us to-day; it is well to commemorate the past with song and eulogy and pleasant festival,—but it is not enough. If they could return whose forms have been passing in imagination before our eyes; if in the presence of this holy hour the dead could rise and lips dumb for a century find again a tongue, might they not say to us:

You do well, countrymen, to commemorate this time; you do well to honor those who yielded up their lives in glory here. Theirs was a perfect sacrifice, and the debt you owe them you can never pay. Your lines have fallen in a happier time. The boundaries of your Union stretch from sea to sea. You enjoy all the blessings which Providence can bestow,—a peace we never knew, a wealth we never hoped for, a power of which we never dreamed.

Yet think not that these things only can make a nation great. We laid the foundations of your happiness in a time of trouble, in days of sorrow and perplexity, of doubt, distress, and danger, of cold and hunger, of suffering and want. We built it up by virtue, by courage, by self-sacrifice, by unfailing patriotism, by unceasing vigilance. By those things alone did we win your liberties; by them only can you hope to keep them. Do you revere our names? Then follow our example. Are you proud of our achievements?

Then try to imitate them. Do you honor our memories? Then do as we have done. You yourselves owe something to America better than all those things which you spread before her with such lavish hand,—something which she needs as much in her prosperity today as ever in the sharpest crisis of her fate. For you have duties to perform as well as we. It was ours to create; it is yours to preserve. It was ours to found; it is yours to perpetuate. It was ours to organize; it is yours to purify! And what nobler spectacle can you present to mankind to-day than that of a people honest, steadfast, and secure,—mindful of the lessons of experience,—true to the teachings of history,-—led by the loftiest examples, and bound together to protect their institutions at the close of the century, as their fathers were to win them at the beginning, by the ties of " Virtue, Honor, and Love of Country,"—by that Virtue which makes perfect the happiness of a people, —by that Honor which constitutes the chief greatness of a State,—by that Patriotism which survives all things, braves all things, endures all things, achieves all things, and which, though it find a refuge nowhere else, should live in the heart of every true American?

My countrymen :—The century that has gone by has changed the face of nature and wrought a revolution in the habits of mankind. We today behold the dawn of an extraordinary age. Freed from the chains of ancient thought and superstition, man has begun to win the most extraordinary victories in the domain of science. One by one he has dispelled the doubts of the ancient world. Nothing is too difficult for his hand to attempt,—no region too remote,—no place too sacred for his daring eye to penetrate. He has robbed the Earth of her secrets, and sought to solve the mysteries of the Heavens! He has secured and chained to his service the elemental forces of nature; he has made the fire his steed; the winds his ministers; the seas his pathway; the lightning his messenger. He has descended into the bowels of the earth, and walked in safety on the bottom of the sea. He has raised his head above the clouds, and made the impalpable air his resting place. He has tried to analyze the stars, count the constellations, and weigh the sun. He has advanced with such astounding speed that, breathless, we have reached a moment when it seems as if distance had been annihilated, time made as naught, the invisible seen,

the inaudible heard, the unspeakable spoken, the intangible felt, the impossible accomplished. And already we knock at the door of a new century which promises to be infinitely brighter and more enlightened and happier than this. But in all this blaze of light which illuminates the present and casts its reflection into the distant recesses of the past, there is not a single ray that shoots into the future. Not one step have we taken toward the solution of the mystery of life. That remains to-day as dark and unfathomable as it was ten thousand years ago.

We know that we are more fortunate than our fathers. We believe that our children shall be happier than we. We know that this century is more enlightened than the last. We hope that the time to come will be better and more glorious than this. We think, we believe, we hope, but we do not know. Across that threshold we may not pass; behind that veil we may not penetrate. Into that country it may not be for us to go. It may be vouchsafed to us to behold it, wonderingly, from afar, but never to enter in. It matters not. The age in which we live is but a link in the endless and eternal chain. Our lives are like the sands upon the shore; our voices like the breath of this summer breeze that stirs the leaf for a moment and is forgotten.

Whence we have come and whither we shall go not one of us can tell. And the last survivor of this mighty multitude shall stay but a little while. But in the impenetrable To Be the endless generations are advancing to take our places as we fall. For them as for us shall the Earth roll on, and the seasons come and go, the snowflakes fall, the flowers bloom, and the harvests be gathered in. For them as for us shall the sun, like the life of man, rise out of darkness in the morning and sink into darkness in the night. For them as for us shall the years march by in the sublime procession of the ages. And here, in this place of Sacrifice, in this vale of Humiliation, in this valley of the Shadow of that Death out of which the Life of America rose regenerate and free, let us believe with an abiding faith that to them Union will seem as dear, and Liberty as sweet, and Progress as glorious as they were to our fathers, and are to you and me, and that the Institutions which have made us happy, preserved by the virtue of our children, shall bless the remotest generations of the time to come. And unto Him who holds in the hollow of His hand the fate of nations, and yet marks the sparrow's fall, let us lift up our hearts this day, and into His eternal care commend ourselves, our children, and our country.

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