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Historical and biographical sketches/14 Charles Frederick Taylor



CHARLES FREDERICK TAYLOR.[1]




Comrades and friends: It is a custom in Eastern lands for the believers in Allah, to make an annual visit to the grave of their prophet. To this shrine the adherents of the true faith come with each passing year, to lay their offerings upon his tomb, and gather new inspiration and new courage, to contend against the difficulties with which the pathway to the happy realms above is beset. Their fervor, which may have lost something from contact with the world, is again enkindled. Their zeal, if it has become in aught diminished, is here renewed and they depart with the weapons of their faith burnished, and with their nerves braced to continue the good fight they have commenced. You and I, comrades, have come from a distance to the grave lying here at our feet, upon a similar errand. After an absence of a year, we have returned to scatter flowers over him whose name has been given to our Post — to recall, in a few words, as we stand here in sorrow together, the scenes of his life, and to learn from his example new lessons of virtue and self denial.

There were many things which made the sacrifice of this life unusually great. Had he been disposed to follow other promptings than those of duty, it would have been easy to have found many reasons why he should not expose himself to the dangers of the field, and the privations of the camp. At the time of the commencement of the war, he had scarcely attained the age of manhood. There are some men who snuff the scent of battle from afar, and take delight in carnage and destruction. There are some to whom, rejoicing in the possession and exercise of physical strength, the struggle and the contest are a gratification. But he was a student, whose intellect had been trained in the schools of Europe, and whose hours of leisure were given to the retirement of the closet. He was one whose talent, encouraged by the world wide celebrity, merited and won by an older brother,[2] would naturally seek to gain its laurels in the quiet paths of literature, rather than amid the storm and tumult of war. His youth had been spent and his ideas formed among a people whose creed it is that wrath is oftener turned aside by a soft answer than conquered by heavy blows. The doctrines of his ancestry, and the early teachings of the good mother who bent over his cradle, were those of peace.

But the time came when considerations such as these were as the green withes that bound Sampson. The books over which he had pored in the past — ambition that was pointing ahead to the smiling future — even the cherished opinions of his forefathers were forgotten. A blow had had been given at Charleston, and his country was calling upon her sons to come to the rescue. These placid valleys that seventy years before he was born had been trodden by the revolutionary armies, were again disturbed. The Quaker hills that had echoed with the thunders of the battle of Brandywine, now rang with a bugle blast from the Potomac. The summons was answered by the tap of the drum and the tread of the hurrying feet. The dragon's teeth had been scattered widely, and from every nook and corner of this broad land, sprang forth armed men. The Friend in his drab coat, and using his plain speech, stood side by side with the Celt in his check shirt, muttering coarse oaths, and the faces of both were turned toward the South.

There was much in the cause to awaken the sympathies of the stern moralists of the community about Kennett, for, down at the bottom of the contest, lay the principle of justice to the lowly and freedom to the enthralled. Men of their faith, for standing by the friendless and oppressed, had suffered martyrdom in the South, and insult and contumely in the North, and now the struggle had come.

The first name signed upon the muster roll of Kennett was that of Charles Frederick Taylor. The earnestness and patriotism he had exhibited, led to his selection as captain, and ere many days had elapsed his company was in Harrisburg and incorporated with the “Bucktail” regiment. The “Bucktails” won, unaided and alone, the first victory of the Army of the Potomac, and on their banner were inscribed all the brilliant engagements in which it participated. Against that army the rebel horde hurled its whole strength and the Pennsylvania Reserves were ever in the front. During those two earliest years of the war, when there were the hardest fighting and most suffering, when the blows fell thick and fast, and both the combatants fresh and eager for the fray were straining every nerve to gain the ascendancy, this youthful hero experienced all the vicissitudes of a soldier's career.

At one time he was leading his command in the brunt of the fight, and at another, was suffering from squalor and hunger amid the loathsomeness of a southern, dungeon. Ere long he was commanding the regiment, and had won the proud distinction of being the youngest commissioned Colonel in the army of the Potomac. And now, after years of strife and bloodshed, the turning point was reached. The hill of difficulty had been climbed to the summit, and a crisis approached big with the fate of America — it may be of the coming generations of the world. Lee had marched his army into Pennsylvania, and upon the field of Gettysburg, was to be determined whether the record of this republic should be rolled up and laid away among the things of the past, or whether there was still a mission for it to fulfill. In one of the most desperate struggles of that ever memorable engagement, Col. Taylor was at the head of his regiment leading a charge; his soul was fired and his eyes were flashing with the consciousness of the success which he foresaw was at hand; his sword pointed to the rebels in the front and the victory which lay beyond; words of triumph were upon his lips and — here he lies.

The triumph was for you and me, comrades, but not for him — unless it be that those who have passed the immortal gates still sometimes look back to rejoice in the good deeds they have done on earth. He did not live to see the fruition of that which his last thoughts seem to have anticipated. His career was short, and yet if those of us who may reach the alloted three score years and ten, should be able to point to a page as complete and unstained as that which bears his story, we may well be satisfied. He died too soon for the aged mother, whose light hands still often rest upon his grave, too soon, for the friends who still, as the evening shades deepen, talk in low tones of the brave heart that is gone — but not until the truth, beauty and nobleness of his character had made impressions that will last through time.

  1. Address at Longwood Cemetery, Kennett Square, upon Decoration Day, May 30th, 1871.
  2. Mr. Bayard Taylor.