Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XX. 1860-1863.

An Episode.--Abhorrence of Slavery.--Fugitive Slave Law.--Free Soil Question.--Republican Battle Hymn.--Votes for Mr. Lincoln.--Triumph.--Bombardment of Fort Sumter.--Shock felt in St. Luke's.--Response to Call for Volunteers.--Resident Physician and Surgeon enlisted.--Other Enlistments from Hospital.--Interest in his Soldier Boys.--National Hymn and Choral March.--A Christmas Morning Address.--A Hundred Thousand Men to be drafted.--Riots.--Colored Orphan Asylum burned.--St. Luke's threatened.--Two Days of Peril.--Dr. Muhlenberg and the Rioters.--The Vigilance Committee.--President's Proclamation for a General Thanksgiving.--The President's Hymn.

THE election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States, was an event of great interest to Dr. Muhlenberg, and through some of its issues formed a rather remarkable episode, both in his own life and in that of the Hospital.

He never gave himself to politics, as such. But the cause of the slave had always been sacred with him, though not to taking part in the methods of the early abolitionists. The Dred-Scott decision, and the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, moved him deeply. He had been used, from time to time, to help over the border one and another poor fugitive who found him out, and of late years had been assisted in this by a noble-minded Sister, who, having inherited a fortune from slave-holding ancestors, delighted in an opportunity of any thing like restitution. So when this law passed, commanding all good citizens to aid in the arrest of all such fugitives, he, in company with many others, was disgusted and indignant.

From his youth he entertained a deep-seated abhorrence of slavery. In a sermon preached in Philadelphia in 1820, on the death of two missionaries from African fever, though only twenty-four years old, and long before slavery had become the subject of political agitation, or even of secular discussion, he condemns it on high moral grounds as "an immense national evil," at the same time glancing at the danger of the element in the event of civil discord.

Following the Fugitive Slave Law came the so-called "Free Soil" question. Dr. Muhlenberg entered eagerly into its merits, so much so, that, during the ensuing presidential election, he composed and made the music for a spirited election song, or "Republican Battle Hymn," thinking to publish it in furtherance of the cause. Upon reflection he refrained from doing this, and laid the composition quietly aside among his papers, with the following memorandum:

"This remains as an evidence of the zeal I felt for the election of Mr. Lincoln. The vote I gave I have not yet repented of (Nov. 29th, 1861), but I allowed myself to be more interested in politics than was good for me."

The following is the hymn, which has never until now appeared in print, and as a part of Dr. Muhlenberg's history ought not to be lost.


"A Republican Battle Hymn, written for the Presidential Election of l860.

"Freemen, now's your day for doing;
Grand the issues in your hand;
Risk them not by feint pursuing,
Peal the watchword through the land--
On for Freedom, God, our Country, and the Right

"Not with arms of deadly rattle,
Nor with bribe or trick the fight;
All we ask is honest battle;
Armed enough with Truth and Light
On for Freedom, etc.

"'Might is Right,' let them assever,
Who have learned the tyrant's creed;
Right is Might, our creed forever,
True in purpose, firm in deed.
On for Freedom, etc.

"What tho' Slavery hold its quarters,
There to have its fated reign;
Hot, in all our lands and waters,
Not an inch of new domain.
On for Freedom, etc.

"By our Mountains, Heavenward reaching,
Field and forest without bound,
By the free waves, round us preaching,
Here, God meant no bondage ground--
On for Freedom, etc.

"By our Banner's Constellation,
By our Eagle in the skies,
By our Father's Proclamation,
By their spirit and their cries--
On for Freedom, etc.

"On for Freedom! on, victorious!
Hail anew our Empire's day,
Hail the flag, and Union glorious,
Triumphing in righteous sway.
On for Freedom, God, our Country, and our Right."

His journal has the following minutes of the election:

"Tuesday, Nov. 6th, 1860. Went early to vote for Lincoln at Sixty-first Street and Second Avenue, but finding I should have to wait some hours before my turn would come, returned. In the afternoon W----- came for me, and I tried it again. By the favor of the police, I got in by the exit door, the crowd assenting to this in that I was an 'old man.' So I did my duty, as I felt and believed it was. I am no party politician, but I am much interested in the success of the Republicans as opposed to slavery. I have not voted for years before, and but seldom in my life."

"Wednesday, Nov. 7th. Lincoln elected! huzza! I am glad I share in the victory. And why? I have no interest in the Republican success, save that I believe it a triumph of humanity--of principle--over mammon."

Few were unaware of the threats of the South as to secession, and a resort to arms in case Mr. Lincoln should be elected, and although between the latter's election and his inauguration, an independent confederacy declared itself, with a provisional president at its head, the nation at large continued to believe it impossible that the Union in this nineteenth century should be plunged in the horrors of internecine war. The bombardment of Fort Sumter, on the 12th of April, 1861, was as the shock of an earthquake throughout the North, and profoundly felt even within the quiet walls of St. Luke's Hospital. Many hearts stood still with awe. Quickly following this, on the 19th of the same month, was the assault in the streets of Baltimore on the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, and the first blood was spilt. Then all knew it meant deadly conflict, and there was an instant rebound. The war spirit spread like wild-fire throughout the land. The president's call for seventy-five thousand men was answered by three times that number, and among these first volunteers were the resident physician of St. Luke's, and also, most unexpectedly to Dr. Muhlenberg, three young men of the Institution, recent convalescents, in whom he had taken the deepest spiritual interest, and for two of whom he entertained a peculiar regard. [The late patriotic and noble-minded Dr. Edward B. Dalton, who became Inspector of the Medical Department of the Army of the Potomac, and Chief Medical Officer of Depot Field Hospitals. Later, he was Medical Director of the Ninth Corps and Brevet Colonel of Volunteers.]

He had not the remotest idea of their intention beforehand. They offered themselves for enlistment on a Sunday evening, and all three agreed that it was the Doctor's manner of reading the first lesson in Chapel that morning which incited them to take the step. It was the third Sunday after Easter, and the appointed lesson for the day was from the Prophet Joel, the third chapter, beginning at the ninth verse. With the military ardor everywhere prevailing, penetrating the land to its remotest and most peaceful haunts, it is not surprising that "the boys" were stirred by the opening words of the lesson, read as Dr. Muhlenberg would read them: "Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears, let the weak say, I am strong."

Only those who ever heard Dr. Muhlenberg read the Scriptures can appreciate all that might be conveyed, tinder the circumstances, by this passage of Holy Writ. "A chapter of the Bible read by Dr. Muhlenberg," said one, "instructs me more than a sermon."

Dr. Muhlenberg's journal contains some interesting memoranda in connection with these young volunteers:

"April 23d, 1861. A new thing in my life. Parted with three of my sons in the Lord for the war--A, S., and H. On Sunday evening the three had leave to go to a lecture by our former patient, M-----, a convert from Romanism. Between nine and ten o'clock they came into my room, Dr. Cruse being with me, to say they had enlisted. I reproved them very sharply for having done so without speaking to me. They went away rather crestfallen, having expected I would only applaud their patriotism. Next morning I saw them one by one, telling them if they had spoken their wishes to me, I would have held them only till I could see what regiment would be best for them. However, of course they should have my blessing. . . ."

He thought none of them sufficiently robust for the service, but they said they were "all right," and besides, did he not read from the Bible, "Let the weak say, I am strong"? They had the best of the argument "They went to their regiment," Dr. Muhlenberg writes, (Col. Duryea's Advance Guard) "to drill, and in the evening came back, leave for which they obtained with difficulty, but S. wanted to be baptized. I had often spoken to him on the subject, but he was to ask for it himself, as he now did. I had some talk with him till near eleven, and put a gold cross around his neck to be worn next his person. He kissed me fervently. The next morning he was in my room earlier than usual for his accustomed duties. At six o'clock I baptized him in the Chapel, A. and H., his brother volunteers standing as witnesses. Then I breakfasted with the three in the housekeeper's room, and a little later they were gone--the Sisters and others of the household detaining them awhile in the corridor with their farewells."

In view of the costly sacrifices which the war demanded of those united to the soldier by the nearest and dearest ties, the foregoing may seem hardly worth recording, for the three newly enlisted were of humble station, and two of them, at least, with no nearer home ties than those of the Hospital. But such was Dr. Muhlenberg's life in those days, and, as already shown, any youth, however obscure, whose heart he could touch spiritually, became forthwith to him a dear child. Certainly he took scarcely less than an own father's interest in all that concerned these three youths, thus sent on their perilous way. He followed them throughout their term of service with parental solicitude, sent them clothing and other supplies, and wrote constantly to the chaplain of the regiment regarding their highest interests, for which he greatly feared, amid the demoralizing influences of camp life.

The regiment was stationed for a month at Fort Schuyler, and Dr. Muhlenberg drove out there with some friends to see the boys on the eve of their final departure. He took them excellent marching shoes, and other fatherly gifts. Some of the men carried fine revolvers. Dr. M. notes: "S. did not ask me for one, and I could not, in conscience, offer it. I leave him with such weapons as the government puts into his hands....." "We saw the battalion drill," he adds, "with which the ladies were highly gratified. The show had not, for me, even a transient charm."

Later, he writes: "This war, this war! How do I feel about it? Alternately with horror, and then with a conviction that it is so righteous, I am glad to have my boys in it. It ought not to cost me nothing. . . . The whole city is wild with a military delirium. I have always been almost a Quaker; but I have fallen into the universal sentiment--that there must be fighting, at least in defence of the government, the Capital must be held. . . . But oh, the demoniacal passions which the war spirit engenders--I falter in the thought. But if ever there was a just war, this is one. For our country, and against the slave power--that curse which proclaims that it means to be perpetual! If the war relieves the country of that, I shall rejoice, should all my boys fall in battle."

They all came safely through the service, however, but not without some honorable wounds.

The spirit of the Christian patriot was stronger within Dr. Muhlenberg than he knew. In the year that his boys went to the front, and perhaps stimulated unconsciously by that fact, he took the music of the discarded election hymn, given on a previous page, and wrote some stirring verses fitted to its measure, which he called a "National Hymn and Choral March." This was printed in one of the church papers of the time, but in the multitude of war lyrics that then came into being, quickly passed out of sight. The piece is dated September, 1861. The music was arranged for men's voices.


"Praise to his right hand that made us--
Nation, Soil, and Empire One,
And while that right hand shall aid us,
Spoil the hallowed work shall none.
God be nigh,
Speed the cry--
Union, Law, and Liberty!

"Heirs of freedom, could we cower?
Give the way to traitor rage?
Stand and see a slave-born power,
Bend our glorious heritage?
God be nigh, etc.

"This we've armed for, not defiant.
Not athirst for vengeful strife,
But on Duty's sword reliant,
Strike we for the Nation's life.
God be nigh, etc.

"Conflict dire--yet heaven's probation,
Bracing into one our might:
Strength is born of tribulation;
Right is sure to come out right
God be nigh, etc.

"To the Lord of Hosts, hosanna!
Rebel madness, pray him cease:
Make undimmed our starlit banner.
Float again o'er realms of peace.
God be nigh, etc,

"Praise him, praise him, ever giving,
First or last, the just award:
Praise him, praise him, ever living
Our sole King and Sovereign Lord.
God be nigh. Speed the cry--
Union, Law, and Liberty--"

With this spirited martial hymn should be named his constant, unfeigned sympathy with the inevitable suffering of the war, in whichever section of the land. In the Chapel, at the evening household service, there was the never omitted remembrance of the wounded the bereaved, the stricken, of both North and South, with the petition that aid and comfort for all might be supplied in measures commensurate to the woes to be relieved; and any thing like excited discussions on military topics was rigidly interdicted in the house,

A friend, and then parishioner of the Church of the Holy Communion, gives the following as to Dr. Muhlenberg's spirit amid the fierce agitation of those terrible days:

"I remember one early Christmas service, long before it was light, when the morning star was shilling overhead, and the whole earth beneath was fast asleep. It was at the time when the sad war fever was at its height; when those who were loyal and on the right side, were at least wrong in the bitterness they felt towards the South--when nobody had dared to talk of compassion for the other side, or Christian brotherhood, or communion in the church of Christ; when nothing but hate seemed to be the right and proper thing. Just at the full passionate high-tide of this wretched feeling, in the hush of a holy Christmas dawn, we sat still, after the carols, to receive our Pastor's Christmas greeting. He took for his subject the Prince of peace. After enlarging on the Feast of the Nativity, as a feast of good will, and showing us how the blessed Christmas-tide was sent to us as a time of reconciliation and Christmas greeting to our estranged brethren, his countenance became suddenly illuminated, and he seemed to be carried away from us in one of his flights of holiest feeling; lowering his voice and raising his head slightly, he said:

"'The Prince of peace makes a royal feast for us on his natal day. One table, One bread, One cup, for all alike. East and West, North and South, for loyalists and rebels, masters and slaves. Rebels! At that board what are we all, North and South, but rebels?--pardoned rebels, receiving anew the pledges of our pardon, and adoring the condescension of our Prince in stooping to us with the overtures of peace. And what but rebels should we now be, save for the constraints of his love? Slaves! What are we but emancipated slaves, the freed-men of grace, yet serving the Master of choice, of sweet choice, while he takes us to his bosom as brothers.'

"As I write these words now (1877), after the lapse of thirteen years, they seem nothing more than, a right and natural utterance from the pulpit; then they sounded strangely sweet to our ears, and thrilled our hearts like the Gospel of Peace, heard for the first time in a heathen land. After the service, when we all advanced to the chancel steps to shake hands with our Pastor, as was the custom in the Church of the Holy Communion, I thanked him for those moving words, and ventured to ask for a copy of them. He seemed to hesitate at first, but when he heard that I wanted them to melt the too hard loyalty of a friend, he readily acceded to my request, and the next day they came to me in his own handwriting, not the whole, but the desired portion of the beautiful sermon,"

In the year 1862, one hundred of the beds of St Luke's Hospital were appropriated by request to sick and wounded volunteers. The government desired the use of all the beds, but provision had to be reserved for the sick women and children. A large and inexhaustible field for patriotic and Christian service was thus opened to Pastor, physicians, Sisters, associations, and individual friends of the Hospital; and a great amount of good was done, particularly by Dr. Muhlenberg in his personal influence with the soldiers, numbers of whom became very dear to him.

In 1863 a hundred thousand men were called for by conscription, exciting the signal resistance of certain classes, especially in the city of New York. Then came the two terrible days of July 13th and 14th, when "the proudest city of the land "was seen "convulsed with riots," and

"Men who dared their simple duty do
Met arson, death, rapine, on every hand,
And men, who had no fault save that their God
Had given them a skin of dusky hue,
trader the feet of reckless fiends were trod;
And treason shook the city, through and through."

St. Luke's had her full share of the peril and anxiety of those disgraceful days. The first near alarm was the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum, which stood in a large garden between Forty-third and Forty-fourth Streets, on the west side of the Fifth Avenue and had two hundred and twenty little children within its walls at the beginning of the assault. To make sure, of their work of destruction, the infuriated men had piled the lighter furniture together and drenched the floors with inflammable material before applying the match. The volumes of dense black smoke rose up to the sky, full in view of the Hospital windows, then came the flames, and in less than half an hour the building fell. Later in the day, pillaging women and boys were seen straggling up the Avenue loaded with iron cribs, tables, or whatever else they could make booty of.

[The household escaped as by a miracle. An eye-witness thus describes it:

["At the sound of the bell, the long line of terrified little children filed quietly down-stairs and through the halls into the very body of the mob, who literally filled the enclosure, and whose savage yells and inhuman threats thrilled like a death-note on every heart. .... The human mass swayed back, as though impelled by an unseen power; not a hand was raised to molest them, and without sustaining the slightest injury, children and care-takers reached the station house in Thirty-fifth Street, where for three days they were crowded in the halls and cells of the building, with the bleeding, dying ruffians who had been taken by the police."--Charities of New York.]

Next, three policemen were brought in as patients, badly wounded in their endeavors to quell the mob. Then came at noon a fearful stentorian voice from the basement corridor, and resounding through the story above, crying, "Turn out, turn out by six o'clock, or we'll burn ye in your beds!" Dr. Muhlenberg and others hastened below. A huge, hatless and coatless laborer, his shirt sleeves rolled up to the armpits, and bare-breasted, red with liquor and rage, had entered by the lower door, and was striding back and forth the long hall, bellowing over and over these words. Dr. Muhlenberg and some of the gentle-women of the house tried in turn to pacify him, but they might as well have attempted to hush the roaring tempest. After awhile he left, and it was with a blank, helpless look that one face met another.

Dr. Muhlenberg quietly directed that his papers and whatever documents of value there were in the house should be at once put together and sent in a carriage to the Sisters' House for safety, and some measures were considered for the removal of the little children and sickest women in the event of an assault. There was an ominous provision of weapons for such a purpose, close at hand just then. The area surrounding the building was strewed with spiked iron rods by the hundred, prepared for guarding the windows of the entire basement story, and in mid-road, were piled at intervals, heaps of stone cubes for paving the streets,--convenient, easily-hurled missiles for stalwart men. The Pastor moved amongst it all like the man of God that he was. There were young men in the house, loyal and high spirited, who could not help remonstrating respectfully with Dr. Muhlenberg at his passiveness--"Doctor, you're not going to have us stand still and see this beautiful Hospital destroyed like the Orphan Asylum yonder, are you? Let us send to General Wool for a piece of ordnance and some soldiers." The Pastor had no confidence in any such measures of defence, disapproved of them indeed, but he was almost alone in his opinion, and when, as with the Prophet Elisha, "they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Go."

Some time before this the city cars had ceased running, the telegraph wires were cut, and St. Luke's was almost isolated. A horse for the messenger to General Wool was borrowed of a plain, timid neighbor not far distant, who, to protect himself, had affixed a huge sign on his house of "Opposition to the Draft." He came over to the Hospital, kindly, but as half afraid of being seen so doing, to warn the authorities that it was a serious thing to have taken in those injured policemen, the rioters threatened to come down upon the Institution for it, and that being the fact, he could not endanger himself by assisting beyond lending the horse. After a long delay, the messenger sent in quest of military protection returned. There were neither troops nor artillery unoccupied, but if matters came to an extremity, they could come down again. Dr. Muhlenberg was relieved. There was only one kind of defence he cared to lean on.

There was a stifling oppressive stillness in the suspended traffic of the street, and now and again from the window could be seen men and women assailing the few carriages that passed up or down Fifth Avenue. The sultry afternoon wore away; what would six o'clock bring? Knots of ill-looking men were seen standing about the neighborhood, and a low tavern about twenty rods to the north of St. Luke's on the Fifth Avenue seemed to be a rendezvous for orders, and between the two, long low whistles were from time to- time exchanged. All things moved on in a kind of breathless order in the house. Six o'clock came, and at half past the Chapel bell rang as usual, and the household gathered for their evening worship. The patients had been carefully guarded from alarm, but to the rest of the family the service occupied a period of surpassingly intense emotion. The Pastor's voice, in place of its usual flexibility and richness, had an almost sepulchral sound as he turned to St Peter's second epistle, third chapter, and read of the coming of the day of the Lord as a thief in the night; a suitable hymn and prayers followed. The hour passed. A few ill-looking men had stepped over the low wooden fence that then enclosed the grounds, and a woman, occupying a basement room at the eastern end, overheard two of them, who sat on the grass close under her window, talking together as though surprised no attack were in progress.

"Wasn't it to be at that hour?"

Again: "Have they been warned?"

"Yes," said the others, and they moved off.

Night came on, a night of horrors. Yells and shrieks, at no great distance, with now and again the report of a street howitzer, or the rattle of musketry, filled the darkness. Only the patients and the subordinates of the household thought of going to bed, neither that night, nor on the night following. Early the next morning Dr. Muhlenberg sent two trusty, intelligent men as scouts, to mingle among the leaders of the mob and learn if possible what was proposed for St. Luke's. They succeeded in worming out of the rioters that the Hospital was on their list for destruction, but that "another place had to be attended to first."

Before these wicked men found themselves at leisure for the attack, the current of feeling was entirely turned. It came about somewhat remarkably.

On the afternoon of the second day, a young rioter, who had been shot by a soldier, was brought by a posse of the mob to the Hospital gate, with a request for admission. Dr. Muhlenberg went immediately out and received the patient. His mates carried him into the ward. He was dangerously hurt, and the surgeons were quickly about him. His miserable old mother followed to the bedside, bewailing piteously that her son was shot down like a wild beast, and he. so innocent.

"What was he doing?" asked Dr. Muhlenberg.

"Nothing at all, at all, your riverence, but just standing on the doorstep with a bit of a brick-bat in his hand."

The man attended to, the Pastor returned to the crowd, and going among them in his simple dignity, said that the doors of the Hospital were freely opened to every wounded man needing help, whoever or whatever he might be, but that in doing such charity it was not expected that the house should be threatened with fire and storm. He was interrupted by cries of "No, no, certainly not. Long live St. Luke's Hospital! God bless Dr. Muhlenberg! Not a hair of his head shall be hurt. We'll stand by him," etc., etc. "Thank you, thank you," the venerable man replied, and then raising his hand, brought them to silence again. They listened respectfully, as, in his own clear, kindly way, lie told them that what they were doing was altogether wrong. There might be two opinions about the draft They were not obliged to think it good, but it was their duty, if they disliked it, to use peaceable measures to get it changed, etc., etc. It is impossible to do\ justice to. the sensible, forcible address he made them, standing bare-headed in their midst, for they seemed drawn to him and gathered around him. Then, whether by the force of his personal influence upon them, or through the proverbial fickleness of a mob, an entire revulsion took place. They renewed their vivas for St. Luke's and its Pastor, and offered to get reinforcements and form themselves into a vigilance committee for the protection of the Institution--which, under an official personage of the vicinity, they did. In considerable force they patrolled the neighborhood all night, and once every hour halted on the Hospital grounds with a terrifying hurrah to assure the inmates of their safety, and also to regale themselves with ale and other stimulants. It was not a very comfortable guard, but there was infinite relief in the vastly changed situation, and on the third day the tumult was beginning to ebb out.

During the months immediately succeeding these events, prospects so greatly brightened for the North that the president was encouraged to issue a proclamation recommending a General Thanksgiving on the 26th of November (1863), as an expression of national gratitude for so much of success. The proclamation touched a responsive chord in Dr. Muhlenberg's muse, and a Thanksgiving Hymn with accompanying music soon came into being. As the piece was suggested by Mr. Lincoln's call upon the nation to give thanks, Dr. Muhlenberg instinctively spoke of it as "the President's Hymn" but would not permanently affix such a title without Mr. Lincoln's approbation. Mr. Minturn saw the piece, was greatly pleased with it, and sent a copy to the president, with whom he was personally acquainted, telling him Dr. Muhlenberg's involuntary thought as to its title, and asking on his own account, if it should be thus called. Mr. Lincoln telegraphed back: "So let it be," and therefore so it was. The President's Hymn completed happily Dr. Muhlenberg's music and verse of the war period. The stirring joyous song with its refrain,

"Give thanks all ye people; give thanks to the LORD,
Alleluias of freedom, let freemen accord,"

is familiar to many. The hymn was very generally sung on the occasion for which it was prepared, in the Episcopal and other churches. The proceeds of the sale of the piece with its music, such as they were, went to the widows and orphans of soldiers.

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