Curious and obscure historical notes – John W. Foster’s speech

During the dawn of the 20th century a bold, and from a modern perspective very curious, speech was made at Indianapolis by a then famous American military man, politican, and diplomat who was active from the Civil War era right up to the time of the speech. John W. Foster was the ancestor of several quite significant historical figures, notably being the grandfather of Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles. Among other historically important stations he was the chief outside legal representative of the Qing Imperial court during the final years of the Empress Dowager, of the major American interests in the UK, U.S. Ambassador to Spain, Russia, and Mexico, and one of the main figures advancing the growth of the state of Indiana. Although the events recollected have since faded away into the sands of time I believe there are some valuable insights in this speech. The full transcript is made from a book in the public domain.

INDIANA SOLDIERS’ MONUMENT

Some years after the close of the Civil War the Legislature of Indiana determined to erect a monument at Indianapolis, “designed to glorify the heroic epoch of the Republic and to commemorate the valor and fortitude of Indiana’s Soldiers and Sailors in the War of the Rebellion and other wars.”

The corner-stone of this monument was laid in 1887 with appropriate services, including an oration by President Ben- jamin Harrison. It was completed and dedicated In 1902. It stands upon a terrace 1 10 feet in diameter, with a foundation of 69 by 53 feet, the height of the monument from the street level is 284 feet, and is crowned by a Victory statue of 38 feet. On subordinate pedestals occupying positions in the four segments are bronze statues of Governor Morton, Governor Whitcomb, General William Henry Harrison, and General George Rogers Clark. It is claimed to be the largest and most expensive soldiers’ monument in the United States, and one of the grandest achievements of architectural and sculptural art in the world.

The dedication services on the completion of the monument were held on May 15, 1902, attended by military and civic delegations from all parts of the State, parades, salutes, dedica- tion exercises, and Illuminations, occupying the entire day and evening. The dedication address follows.

Address of John W. Foster, delivered at the Dedication of Soldiers’ Monument, at Indianapolis May 15, 1902

Mr. Chairman, Governor Durbin, Comrades and Fellow Citizens: We are gathered to-day inspired by mingled feelings of joy and sadness, of pride and sorrow. To the generation who have come upon the stage of public life since the scenes were enacted which are glorified in this noble monument, it may well be an occasion of exultation, for they see only the blessings conferred upon the State and Nation by the deeds of the heroic dead whose memory we are assembled to honor. But to those of us who were their comrades in service, there arises the sad recollection of the carnage of battle and the wasting experience of the hospital. While the stirring notes of martial music, the booming of cannon, and the waving of flags awaken the enthusiasm and the patriotic pride of the people, there are many mothers and widows to whom this brilliant scene is but the reopening of the fountain not yet dried up by two score years of weeping.

It is for no idle purpose I recall the solemn phase of the pageantry of these dedication exercises, for it cannot fail to impress more deeply upon us the debt we owe to the men for whom this magnificent memorial has been raised.

It commemorates the sacrifice of twenty-five thousand men — Indiana’s contribution to the cause of the Union. A fearful price this Nation paid for its life. A veritable army is this, larger than any gathered under Washington or Scott. In those dark days, when our comrades were pouring out their life’s blood on a hundred battlefields, when new calls were made for more men to fill the depleted ranks, when the scales hung trembling between success and failure, it seemed sometimes as if the State could not endure the fearful slaughter. But the triumph of the right came at last. And time has healed the scars of war. We can now look back upon the scene as one only of heroic deeds.

It was highly appropriate that on the apex of this shaft there should be placed the emblem of Victory. Never in the history of human warfare has there been a triumph more significant of blessing to mankind. The Goddess of Victory crowns this monument, but it is not in exultation over a fallen foe. I thank God that in the dedication services today there is no feeling of bitterness toward the men who fought against our dead comrades. We rejoice to know that they are loyal citizens with us of a common country. We must not, however, belittle the sacrifice of our honored dead. Right, humanity, and progress were on the side of the Union armies, and it was chiefly for this reason we have reared this noble pile of bronze and marble.

What the victory they gained signifies to this Nation, to this continent, and to all peoples, has been so often, so exhaustively, and so eloquently told, that I hesitate to even allude to it. But my observation in foreign lands has so forcibly impressed on me one of the inestimable blessings which has been secured to us and to future generations by the triumph of the Union arms, that I deem this a fitting occasion to call it to mind.

Scarcely second in importance to the maintenance of republican government in its purity and vigor and the extirpation of slavery, are the reign of peace and deliverance from standing armies, which the unbroken Union guarantees to us and to our children. It requires no vivid imagination to conceive of some of the results which would have followed a division of the states — a frontier lined with fortifications, bristling with cannon and garrisoned by a hostile soldiery; conscription and taxa- tion such as had never been known before; constant alarms of war; and political and international complications which would have put an end to our boasted American policy and Monroe Doctrine.

One of the things which most attracts the attention of foreigners who visit our shores is the absence of soldiers about our public buildings, in our cities, and along the thoroughfares of commerce. And those who have never seen our country can scarcely realize that it is possible to carry on a government of order and stability without a constant show of military force. In all the nations of Europe it has been for so many generations the continous practice to maintain standing armies, that it is considered a necessary and normal part of the system of political organizations. The existence of rival and neighboring nations, constantly on the alert to protect themselves from encroachment on their territory and to maintain their own integrity, and the recent advances in military science and war-like equipment, have caused a great increase in the armies, enormously enlarged the expenditures, and compelled a rigorous enforcement of the most exacting and burdensome term of service; until to-day, in this high noon of Christian civilization, Europe is one vast military camp, and, with such tension in the international relations, that the slightest incident may set its armies in battle array — the merest spark light the fires of war and envelop the continent, if not the whole world, in the conflagration.

Germany and France maintain an army on a peace footing of about a half-million of men each, Russia of three quarters of a million, and other Continental powers armies of relatively large proportions. The term of military service required in each is from three to four years. To support these enormous burdens the nations of Europe have imposed upon their inhabitants the most oppressive taxation, and, besides, have multiplied their public debts to the utmost extent of their national credit. But great as these exactions are, they are as nothing compared to the heavy demands made for the personal military service of the people. To take from the best energies of every young man’s life from three to four years, just at the time when he is ready to lay the foundations of his career and establish his domestic relations, is a tax which can scarcely be estimated in money value, and is a burden upon the inhabitants so heavy and so irritating that they stagger under its weight and would rebel against it, did they dare resist the iron tyranny of military rule.

Thanks to the soldiers who fought triumphantly for the maintenance of our Union of States, and that there might continue to be one great and supreme nation on this continent, we are released from this curse of a large standing army, we are free from its burdensome taxation and debt, our young men are permitted to devote the flower of their lives to useful industry and domestic enjoyment, and our free institutions are not menaced by military oppression. To conquer a peace such as the world has not heretofore seen, and to secure a reign of prosperity and plenty which no other people of the present or the past has enjoyed, did the men of Indiana fight and die.

We are here to honor the soldier and the sailor; but it is well to recall that ours is not a warlike people, and I pray God they never may be. An event which greatly attracted the attention of Europe was that when our Civil War was over the vast armies of near two millions of men quietly laid down their arms and, without outlawry or marauding, retired to their homes to renew their peaceful avocations. They had not become professional soldiers. They were citizens of a great republic, and felt their responsibilities as such.

In all, our foreign wars have occupied less than five years in a period of one hundred and twenty of our independence. Our greatest achievements as a nation have been in the domain of peace. The one aggressive war in which we have been engaged was that with Mexico, and it was the unrighteous cause of slavery which led us to depart from the line of justice in that instance. It is to be hoped that no evil influence or ambition will ever again lead us into acts of unjustifiable aggression. In the Spanish War, I think I speak the sentiment of the great majority of my countrymen when I say, it was a feeling of humanity which occasioned that conflict. It brought with it results which we could not anticipate and which many of our people lament. It has led to the expulsion of Spain and its bad system of government from this hemisphere, certainly not an untoward event. If it was a desire to benefit our fellow men that led us into that contest, I feel sure the same spirit will control our conduct toward the millions of people on the other side of the globe whom the fortunes of war have so unexpectedly brought into our dominion.

We are proud of the record which our country has made in the settlement of disputes with foreign nations by the peaceful method of arbitration. It is possible that all matters of difference cannot be adjusted in that way, but it offers a remedy which commends itself to the lover of peace and good-will among men, and it is our boast that we have resorted to it more often than any other nation.

It is not incumbent on me to give any account of this structure, so perfect in art, so appropriate in design, embracing all arms of the military service on land and sea. I must, however, as a comrade of those whose fame it perpetuates, bear cheerful testimony to the generosity of a grateful people, who have reared this costly column. It is in keeping also with the munificence of the Federal Government in all that relates to the memory and the welfare of those who fought to secure the Union of these States. In the National Capital and throughout the land, in every city, and in almost every town, there are monuments to the Union soldiers, and the important battlefields have been turned into public parks consecrated to the Nation’s dead.

And no government has been so liberal in its provisions for the surviving veterans. Listen to a few eloquent figures. At the close of the War for the Union our national debt amounted to the stupendous sum of $2,700,000,000. And yet there has been paid out of the National Treasury, since that date, for pensions an amount equal to that sum. Before the Spanish War the pension roll amounted to two fifths of the entire expenses of the Government, and it is even now, with the large increase of both the civil and military list, one fourth of the total. The payments on this account for the last year were about $140,000,000. There are now on the roll, nearly forty years after the war, 997,735 pensioners. Of the amount paid out, the pensioners from Indiana receive $10,291,000 every year, and the Indian- ians on the list number 66,974. The two great martial nations of Europe are France and Germany, but their expenditures for military pensions are only one fifth and one sixth of ours. In addition to these unparalleled disbursements, vast sums have been expended for the establishment and maintenance of Soldiers’ Homes in various parts of the country. Surely the old soldier cannot charge his Government with ingratitude.

This day constitutes the culmination of the history of Indiana. This imposing monument, peerless of its kind among the nations, the gift of a rich and prosperous Commonwealth, the testimonial of a grateful people to the men who gave their lives to save the Union and perpetuate free institutions, stands today, with the quaternion of soldiers and statesmen about it, a memorial of past achievement, an evidence of present accomplishment in government, society, and industry, an assurance of future prosperity and happiness. It was a wise discernment of the memorable epochs in the history of the State which cause to be associated with this central monument the statues of the two soldiers and the two statesmen who adorn this artistic Circle.

Of all the soldiers who were famous in the War of the Revolution, few have rendered more imperishable services to the country than General George Rogers Clark. I have not the time to dwell upon his military career. You recall the repeated journeys he made across the mountains from his Kentucky home to implore the Revolutionary authorities to furnish him the means to save the great Northwest to the new nation. The story of his voyage down the Ohio with a mere handful of resolute patriots, his capture of Kaskaskia, his marvelous march in the dead of winter to the assault and capture of Vincennes, are among the most thrilling narratives of that heroic struggle; yet history has failed to give him due credit for his great achievement. But for his expedition, it is safe to say that the Northwest would have remained British territory, and Indiana would today be a crown colony or a Canadian province, rather than a free commonwealth of an independent people. Had the United States been confined in its territorial extent to the Atlantic seaboard, as our ally France wished it to be, the young republic might have survived as a shriveled and sickly nation under the guardianship of France; but the vast expansion to the Northwest, across the Mississippi, to the Pacific Coast, and to the Islands of the Orient never could have taken place. As we look upon that dashing figure, moulded in bronze, let us not forget the great debt we and all this Nation owe to the intrepid soldier who conquered the Northwest.

The second period of the history of Indiana is fitly represented by General William Henry Harrison, the territorial Governor and the defender of the frontier. He stands for the men who laid the foundations of our government and society, and freed the territory from the ruthless savage.

In Governor Whitcomb we have a typical Indlanian of the early period of statehood. A farmer’s son, he had his share, as a boy and young man, of the privations of frontier life, the Herculean labor of clearing away the forests, and bringing the land under cultivation. At the same period of time Indiana was nurturing another young man in like experience and labors of frontier life —that matchless American, Abraham Lincoln. In this era of abounding prosperity and luxurious living, we are too apt to forget that they rest upon the tolls and trials of our fathers. Whitcomb showed the stuff of which he was made by supporting himself at school and college by his own manual labor. He filled many public offices with usefulness and honor, and had the distinction of occupying the gubernatorial chair during the Mexican War, in which Indiana soldiers did their full share toward the victories which gained for us the wide domain stretching to the Pacific.

For the fourth period of the history of Indiana, which records the contest for the preservation of the Union, there could be but one man whose statue should be a companion piece to this superb monument. No soldier, no citizen, no man high or low, could take rank in point of heroic service, of tireless labors, of commanding influence, of exposure to dangers, of courage, self- denial and suffering, with Oliver P. Morton. He was a man endowed with rare intellectuality, and made a high place for himself in the Nation as a statesman, but to the people of Indiana, and especially to the old soldiers, he will be remembered as the Great War Governor.

It is fitting that the name of another son of Indiana should be mentioned on this occasion. His statue is not in this Circle, but will soon adorn another portion of this beautiful capital. When the corner-stone of this edifice was laid thirteen years ago he took part in the exercises, and, but for his untimely death, would doubtless have been called to occupy my place in this day’s dedication. Benjamin Harrison has the distinction of being one of the first to inspire this great undertaking now so happily consummated. He himself was a gallant soldier and would have rejoiced to participate in this pageant. In every department of public and private life he did his work well, and we are proud to honor him as President and citizen.

It is a pleasing service to thus recall the names of some of our public men. I heartily believe in State pride. I believe in local attachments. The associations which cluster about the home are the dearest and the best. If we as Indianians have not, in times past, been as conspicuous as some of our neighbors for our State pride, it was not because we loved Indiana less, but the Union more; and since we have forever settled the question of State rights, I see no reason why we should not on all proper occasions and with the vehemence of domestic loyalty exalt our State, and boast of its resources, its merits, and its memories. Among these there are none which constitute a nobler heritage or awaken more enthusiastic pride than the services and attainments of our public men.

I have not dwelt at any length upon the wonderful prosperity which our country is now enjoying, as one of the direct results of the preservation of the Union. We all rejoice in our present high and honorable position among the nations of the earth, and we may well look forward to a continuance of this era of peace and prosperity. But in the day of our exaltation we should remember that no people of the earth have proved to be indestructible as a nation. Every country may carry within itself the seeds of its own dissolution. We need not revert to the history of Rome, Greece, Egypt, or Assyria to learn of the decay and death of empires. The archaeologist tells us that in the territory covered by the State of Indiana, there once existed, at a period so remote that no legend of them remained among the aborigines at the discovery by Columbus, a great and powerful people who built populous cities, were possessed of a high grade of military science, were advanced in the arts, founded dynasties, had an educated priesthood, and were of a heroic frame.

I have not time to moralize upon this, but I venture a few practical suggestions which may appeal to us as citizens of a great nation whose prosperity and happiness we desire may continue through all time. If we would realize this expectation we must have an honest government. Federal, State, and local. I have given the figures which show the enormous expenditures for pensions. It is common rumor that this sum has been swelled by perjury and fraud. Every faithful soldier who receives a pension from the Government justly regards it as a badge of honor. He should watch with jealous care that no deserter, no skulker, no unworthy camp-follower, through the cunning of dishonest claim agents, should have the same badge of honor. So, also, bribery and corruption in our public and municipal bodies, may soon destroy the foundations of our national life. All good citizens should denounce and combine to punish every attempt at corruption.

As we should have an honest government, so we should have a pure government. I have spoken of State pride. Alore than once I have been made to blush when away from home to hear the charge that the elections in Indiana were sometimes corrupt. I trust I may entertain the hope that there is exaggeration in this, and that our errors of the past no longer exist. It is a sure sign of national decay in a republican government, when the fountain head of power, the ballot, becomes corrupt.

While we must have an honest and pure government to insure the perpetuation of our institutions, we should also have an efficient government. And this I think can best be brought about by the universal application of the system of competi- tive civil service. I know that many an Indiana politician has mocked at it as the dream of the idealist, but it is the only democratic method of filling the offices where all applicants stand upon a common level, and the only way of securing the best results in administration.

I have entered upon a fruitful theme, but must not pursue it further. I have suggested three points which seem appropriate for our consideration today, when we are gathered to honor the soldiers who died that our country might live. We owe it to them to so act as citizens that they shall not have offered up their lives in vain. Let us cherish their memory, and in our day and generation do what we can to perpetuate for the people in the ages to come the blessings of free institutions among men. Should we thus prove true to our trust, this imposing memorial, so patriotic in design, and so perfect in execution, will stand in future years as a testimonial, not only to the fallen heroes of the war, but also to the faithful citizens, who handed down unimpaired their heritage of republican government to mankind.

Below is his record of military service that seems to back up his claims:

MILITARY SERVICE OF JOHN W. FOSTER

War Department

The Adjutant-General’s Office

Statement of the Military Service of

John W. Foster

Lieutenant-Colonel, Twenty-fifth Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and Colonel, Sixty-fifth and One Hundred and Thirty-sixth Regiments, Indiana Volunteer Infantry

The records show that John W. Foster was mustered into serv ice August 19, 1861, as major, Twenty-fifth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, to serve three years. He was subsequently commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the regiment and is recognized by the War Department as having been in the military service of the United States as of that grade and organization from April 30, 1862. He was mustered out of service as lieutenant-colonel to date August 24, 1862, to accept promotion. He was mustered into service as colonel, Sixty-fifth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, to date August 24, 1862, to serve three years. He was in command of the District of Western Kentucky, Department of Ohio, with headquarters at Henderson, Kentucky, in October and November, 1862, and in March, April, and May, 1863, but the records do not show either the date on which he assumed command or the date on which he was relieved therefrom. From August 21, 1863, to September 5, 1863, and from September 7, 1863, to October 18, 1863, he was in command of the Second Brigade, Fourth Division, Twenty-third Army Corps. The designation of the brigade was changed to the Fourth Brigade, same division, October 18, 1863, Colonel Foster remaining in command to November 3, 1863. This brigade was assigned to the Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Ohio, Novem- ber 3, 1863, and Colonel Foster commanded the Second Brigade of that division from November 3 to November —, 1863, and he commanded the Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Ohio, from November —, 1863, to January —, 1864, exact dates not shown. He was honorably discharged March 12, 1864, as colonel, upon tender of resignation.

The records further show that John W. Foster was mustered into service as colonel. One Hundred Thirty-sixth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, May 23, 1864, to serve one hundred days, and that he was mustered out of service with the regiment as colonel September 2, 1864, at Indianapolis, Indiana.

In the operations February 12-16, 1862, resulting in the capture of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, Major Foster was com- mended by his brigade commander for “the fearless and energetic manner” in which he discharged his duties. His conduct was said to be “worthy of the highest commendation.”

At the battle of Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, April 6-7, 1862, the command of his regiment devolved upon Major Foster on the first day. The brigade commander, in his official report of that battle, stated with reference to Major Foster as follows: “The command devolved on Major Foster, who proved himself every way worthy of it. He was active, brave, and energetic, inspiring his men with courage and confidence. His worthy example was felt by all around him.”

Official statement furnished to Hon. John W. Foster, 1323 Eighteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., October 13, 191 5.

By authority of the Secretary of War:

P. C. Marth

Adjutant-General

In charge of office