The One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Illinois Regiment marched into the Chicago from Camp Douglas. They were greeted by members of the Eighty-sixth Illinois Regiment lining the streets to cheer them home. The soldiers, friends and families filled the hall as I spoke to them:
FELLOW-SOLDIERS: I regret that it has fallen to my task to speak to you, because I would rather that others should do what is more common to them and less so to me. But, my fellow-soldiers, it gives me pleasure to assure you that what the what the President of this Fair has told you just now is true: that a hearty welcome awaits you wherever you go, not only in Chicago, but wherever you go. They are men who think you want bread and meat. Your faces and my knowledge tells me that you would prefer, by far, to see the waving handkerchiefs and the manifestation of a kindly spirit, than all the bread and meat that fill the storehouses of Chicago. These soldiers who are now before me know where bread and meat grows, and can help themselves. All we ask, and all we have ever asked, is a silent, generous acknowledgment of our services when rendered in the cause, of our country.
My fellow soldiers you who now are before me, can “a tale unfold,” when you get home, that will interest the people far more than anything I could say were I to talk all day. Just recall back where you were last year, ye who are now within the bearing of my voice. You remember Kenesaw Mountain and Little Kenesaw! It is not a year since you stormed it yourselves. You, the very men who are now before me where I lost my old partner and my old friend Dan McCook. That was on the 27th of June, 1864, and here in June, 1865, you stand in a hall of Chicago, surrounded by the bright colors, by the ladies and children of your homes. Then you were lying in the mud and on the rock and dirt, and you saw before you an enemy that we know we had to whip. We didn’t exactly know how to do it. Then we were patient; we reconnoitered; we watched their flanks; we studied their ground; and we finally assaulted and failed, But we did not wait even then, for in three days more we had Johnston and his army running, and we did not give him a chance to stop until he had put the Chattahoochee River between him and us. That is the lesson which all must study. Temporary defeat is nothing when the mind is not affected. If you are not conquered, you never can be conquered, for when the mind is clear in purpose and determined to succeed, no temporary check will cause a failure. In fact, it but stimulates to further exertion. You will remember well, that although checked on the 27th of June, by the Fourth of July we stood on the banks of the Chattahoochee and shouted our defiance to Johnston across that river, and told him and his men that they would have to go further than Atlanta, for we meant to go on. You remember how the pickets across the river told us they had had reinforcements! Yes they had had reinforcements! What reinforcements had they? Do you remember? They had one “of our corps: SCHOFIELD’s, corps. Before Johnston knew or dreamed of it, I had reinforced his side of the Chattahoochee by Schofield’s Twenty-second corps.
Then, my fellow-soldiers, I want you to learn the lesson that no matter how we are today or tomorrow, that thus keeping the purpose clear in the mind, in the end we will succeed, whether in the military life, the private career or the family circle. Let no temporary disaster appal you; let no temporary defeat alarm you. But, let your purpose in his be clear and steadfast, keeping in view the object you desire in life; and, just as surely as you are standing before me in health and strength, so surely you will succeed.
The past is now gone. You have returned to your homes or to the State of your homes, in health. Looking at your forms with your tawny faces and broad shoulders, I ask, What fear you? Nothing! Your home is near, but there comes a task to you. It is the task of the future. The past is gone and it may soon be forgotten: but the future is before you, and that is more glorious than the past. Look at your own State of Illinois. Look at this city, hardly as old as any of you; twenty-five years ago a little military garrison was here, a two company post, and now it is a city with its palaces, its railroads, its carriages, its wealth, and all the luxuries of life. Those few years ago a little military post of two companies was all that the government had here to vindicate her authority; and now here is a State with two millions of people, and a city almost second in the United States of America stands on the level shores of Lake Michigan. What is here today is but an exemplar of what may occur in your whole state by patience and industry. You are the men to direct that patience and industry. You are able to do it. You have system, discipline and organization drilled in the mind, which is far more, my boys, than battalion drills, with which you have been badgered so much. You have that discipline which is mere important in life than your double column formations.
If I have been instrumental in teaching you this,in maintaining discipline, order and good government in the army which I had the honor to command, I will feel more honored in future than in gaining battles and winning cities; for in discipline and system, in the high tone of honor which pervades your mind, must be built up the empire of America. Well, boys, you are now all back home. I do not wish to speak to you, but I know there are others here to speak to you; but I believe there are none here that desire to speak. They desire that you should walk about and see whatever can be seen, and accept what is given in heartiness and in the full belief that your welcome home is sincere and heartfelt. I know it is genuine, for I myself have experienced it. I know all desire you to feel that you are back in your homes, with none to make you afraid: no more rebels, no more picket-firing, no more shooting! That, you have disposed of forever.