|from The Webster Times,
General Charles Devens
Prepared by E. D. Clemans (of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry)
In the death of the late Gen, Charles Devens Webster feels that she has lost one that was closely identified with the town in the early days of the war of 1861-65. At the first call for three months men, Webster was one of the very first towns in the state to arouse her young men at the country’s call, and sent $5000 as her contribution to assist in the work. On the 19th of April, 1861, the very first to move in the matter was the departure of Isaac T. Hooten, Chas. N. Shumway and E. D. Clemans. They went to Worcester, and enrolled themselves in the Third Battalion of Rifles, and here comes the first act whereby Webster feels justly proud of her love for the dead general. He commanded the battalion and all through the early days of the outbreak. He was ever watchful of his men. In the journey of the troops from Worcester on Saturday night, April 19, they were accompanied to New York by U. S. Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson, who with the major (Devens) made some stirring speeches to the command in the large armory of the 7th State Militia of New York. The troops at the first battle of Bull Run after the time of enlistment had expired, the Major called his little body of 350 men in line, and after a speech full of loyalty, voted to a man to volunteer their services and with extra ammunition were ready to embark for Washington. The command was then at Fort McHenry, Md.
After he came back, Aug. 2nd, he was commissioned as colonel of the 15th Mass. regiment, and left Worcester, Aug. 8th, 1861. In this regiment was the “Slater Guards,” Co. I, of Webster, 101 men, who received as recruits later on, some 60 men. While the regiment was awaiting orders at Kalorama Heights, D. C., an order came from Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, detailing the 15th Regiment as guard for the forts in and around Washington.
The general at dress parade had the order read by the adjutant, and then in a speech, one of the best efforts of his life, in which he stated he came out to fight for his country, and not to guard any city, ect., he called for a vote of the regiment as to the order. Every man voted to go with the brave Devens, and everybody knows well what the record of the brave, old Worcester county Mass. 15th, has in the archives at Washington.
The speech of Col. Devens to his regiment after the battle of Ball’s Bluff ranks with President Lincoln’s second inaugural and Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg as one of the greatest efforts of American oratory. When he was made Brevet General he took leave of his regiment in front of Yorktown,, in April 1862, and in his farewell to the boys, he wept like a child. He was the idol of the 15th regiment, and many a Webster boy in blue will never forget his first commander.
Through the winter of ’61-2 at Poolesville, Md., he drilled the regiment which in battle saved them many times from getting demoralized, and won for them words of praise from the corps commander. On one occasion when the regiment lost 400 from out of 625 men, at the battle of Antietam, an officer came up on the field of battle two days after, and said: “Here is where the 15th held the key to the center, and this ground covered with the 15th’s dead tells how bravely she stood the flank fire of the enemy, and saved the day at that point.”
Senator Hoar says of Devens, his former law partner: “Unless we except Mr. Whittier, I should think Gen. Devens was the most beloved citizen of Massachusetts at his death, and the man who, above all others is entitled to the affection of her people. He was a gallant soldier. and a very able and admirable lawyer, one of the very best of the attorney generals of the United States and a man of wonderful oratoric powers. He never cultivated his oratoric gifts as Mr.Everett and Mr. Choate did, by special culture adapted to them, but he had a wonderful power of stirring audiences when he was himself deeply moved by a great subject. I think his speech to his regiment after the battle of Balls Bluff deserves to be ranked with President Lincoln’s second inaugural and Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg as one of the greatest specimens of the loftiest American oratory. And he was a man of the most genial and loving heart. He was fond of youth. probably no military officer ever attached the young men under his command to him more than Devens did, and no officer was ever more careful of the life and health of the young who served under him or was fonder of them. He was like a father. I don’t think a father ever was more devoted to the welfare of an only son than Devens was to the welfare of the youth who were under his immediate command. in the war.”
“I suppose but for his advanced age and the fact that his health was beginning to fail, he would have been appointed chief justice of Massachusetts. I have heard the judges of the supreme court of the united states, some of them very recently, speak with great admiration of the way in which he fulfilled the duties of attorney general of the United States. He had a very modest estimate of his best powers. While he was a very good judge, courteous, patient, industrious, with an admirable common sense, presided in his court with great dignity and impartiality, yet the sphere of --- for which he was best fitted was that of an advocate and political leader. If when he came home from the war, instead of accepting his seat on the bench had he entered upon the practice of his profession in Boston, he would have commanded a business which would have been as good as that of anybody in the state and would have commanded any place in the public service that the party in power had to bestow. he would very easily become governor very easily become senator if he had been so minded. There is no example of the volunteer soldier which Massachusetts has furnished more brilliant or conspicuous than his, and there is no name in our history from the very beginning which deserves to be more permanently remembered and cherished in the hearts of the people.”
“My own personal lose in his death, I will not undertake to describe. We were in partnership from the autumn of 1836, until he started, leaving a case half finished in the court house, at the news of the attack on Ft. Sumter. we renewed our partnership for a short time on his return from the war. During all that time our affection was never broken or clouded. I did not see so much of him of late years. We were both busy men, and our paths of duty were far apart. But I was sure in everything that came to me, whether of joy or sorrow, of the sympathy of his large and loving heart.”