Suggestive programs for special day exercises/Memorial Day/How They came back from the War

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I never realized what this country was and is, as on the day when I first saw some of these gentlemen of the army and navy. It was when, at the close of the war, our armies came back and marched in review before the President’s stand at Washington. I do not care whether a man was a republican or a democrat, a Northern man or a Southern man, if he had any emotion of nature he could not look upon it without weeping. God knew that the day was stupendous, and he cleared the heavens of cloud and mist and chill, and sprung the blue sky as a triumphal arch for the returning warrior’s to pass under. From Arlington Heights the spring foliage shook out its welcome as the hosts came over the hills, and the sparkling waters of the Potomac tossed their gold to the feet of the battalions as they came to the Long Bridge and in an almost interminable line passed over. The Capitol never seemed so majestic as that morning, snowy white, looking down upon the tides of men that came surging down, billow after billow. Passing in silence, yet I heard in every step the thunder of conflicts through which they had waded, and seemed to see dripping from their smoke-blackened flags the blood of our country’s martyrs. For the best part of two days we stood and watched the filing on of what seemed endless battalions, brigade after brigade, division after division, host after host, rank beyond rank; ever moving, ever passing; marching—tramp, tramp, tramp—thousands after thousands, battery front, arms shouldered, columns solid, shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel, charger to charger, nostril to nostril.

Commanders on horses whose manes were entwined with roses and necks enchained with garlands, fractious at the shouts that ran along the line, increasing from the clapping of children clothed in white standing on the steps of the Capitol, to the tumultuous vociferation of hundreds of thousands of enraptured multitudes, crying Huzza! Huzza I Gleaming muskets, thundering parks of artillery, rumbling pontoon wagons, ambulances from whose wheels seemed to sound out the groans of the crushed and the dying that they had carried. These men came from balmy Minnesota, those from Illinois prairies. These were often hummed to sleep by the pines of Oregon, those were New England lumbermen. Those came out of the coal-shafts of Pennsylvania. Side by side, in one great cause, consecrated through fire and storm and darkness, brothers in peril on the way home from Chancellorsville, Kenesaw Mountain, and Fredericksburg, in lines that seemed infinite they passed on.

We gazed and wept and wondered, lifting up our heads to see if the end had come; but no! looking from one end of that long avenue to the other, we saw them yet in solid column, battery front, host beyond host, wheel to wheel, charger to charger, nostril to nostril, coming as it were from under the Capitol. Forward! Forward! Their bayonets caught in the sun, glimmered and flashed and blazed, till they seemed, like one long river of silver, ever and anon changed into a river of fire. No end to the procession, no rest for the eyes. We turned our heads from the scene, unable longer to look. We felt disposed to stop our ears, but still we heard it, marching, marching—tramp, tramp, tramp! But hush—uncover every head I Here they pass, the remnant of ten men of a full regiment. Silence! Widowhood and orphanage look on, and wring their hands. But wheel into line; all ye people! North, South, East, West—all decades, all centuries, all milleniums. Forward, the whole line! Huzza! Huzza!