Capt. Ayres G. Barker
Transcribed by Sylvia Harper Nelson
Contributed by Seward R. Osborne
Captain Ayers G. Barker, Company K, 120th New York
Volunteer Infantry. He was killed in action on July 2, 1863, the same day
that Pvt. Edgar Baker was mortally wounded while fighting on the opposite
side. The two were likely schooled together in Greene County. Seward R.
In Memory of
Capt. Ayers C. Barker,
(120th. Reg. N.Y.S.V.,)
(Late of Greenville, N.Y.,)
Killed at the Battle of Gettysburgh, July 2d, 1863
REV. C. M. EGGLESTON
Of the New York Conference, in the Presbyterian Church, at
Greenville, July 26, 1863
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
Dedrick, Printer, Union Office,
"Behold, I die: But God shall be with you, and bring you again to the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword." Gen. XLVIII. 21-22.
This was the language of Jacob, or Israel to his son Joseph when about to die. You remember this most interesting history--how Joseph was envied and sold--how he was advanced from prison to be Egypt's lord--how when the famine grew sore in Canaan, Jacob sent to Egypt for bread--how he finally removed thither upon the invitation of Joseph, and lived under his protection; dying at a ripe age in a strange land. You also know how he charged Joseph to bury him near Sheckem in Canaan--carrying him up hence, that he might sleep with his fathers; a feeling still shared, as is here evidenced in the journey made and the expense incurred, to bring the lifeless body of our departed friend and brother home, to rest among his kindred. Some may feel that it makes no difference to them where their body lies when left to moulder back to dust; but I am slow to believe that such a feeling is general. Besides, when, we may have no choice--if worthy--those who love us will be likely to have one. In general, surviving friends demand the satisfaction and solace of knowing the resting place of their honored dead, that they may raise a suitable record to their memory--plant their grave with Amaranth, and water it with their tears, as they “go to the grave to weep there."
Allusion is made in our text, v. 22, to the oath taken by Joseph not to bury his father in Egypt. The portion here said to be given Joseph above his brethren, was undoubtedly the parcel of ground near Sheckem, which Jacob purchased of Hamor, the prince of the country, as recorded in Gen. XXXII, 19, and in which both Jacob and Joseph were buried. That this parcel fell to Joseph and his sons, is evident from John IV. 5, and Joshua XX 7.
We often hear much and often think much about an inheritance for our children, but if there is anything truly our own to give, it is our grave or anything we should be anxious and careful to bequeath them, it is an honorable grave.
'Tis well that men shown brave and true
Should sleep in honored graves,
And be long mourned; since
Earth is poor without them.
While traitors, outlaws and
In infamy are buried and covered with disgrace,
Amid the prayers of offspring that their names may rot.
We have before us some of the awful work of war. A man slain in his prime--cut off in a moment while possessed of a strong constitution and enjoying vigorous health. Still it has been the way, man in his sin and folly, when associated as tribes or nationalities, has ever finally settled irreconcilable disputes. Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, David, in short nearly fill the ancient worthies practiced it, and the New Testament scriptures more than intimate that wars are not soon to cease under the Gospel. The Prince of Peace himself has said: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, I came not to send peace but a sword," and has further spoken of “wars and rumors of wars;" of "nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;" which should disturb the peace of the world in the then distant future. So we are to conclude that the time for the Millennial glory has not yet come--that we are rather living in an age when we must at times both hear and heed another direction of our Lord: "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." That the arbitrament of the sword will be ultimately abandoned, I do not question; but never till the Gospel, in its renewing and sanctifying energies, has been more generally preached and embraced. Then we may look for "the wolf to dwell with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid--and a little child shall load them." Then men shall “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." May God hasten that happy day.
But great as are the evils of war, there are others greater. So our Revolutionary Fathers thought--whom we now love to honor--when they took up arms, and fought amid suffering and carnage the battles for our independence. And so we should think--more confidently even than now--had they failed to do it, and so reduced their country to a dependency, and their posterity to perpetual serfdom. These sanguinary conflicts have some alleviating circumstances. They are generally of comparatively brief continuance--the most important matters being decided in a few brief years--while the benefits which result are often untold in measure, and of sufficient duration to reach through several generations. Besides, its chief burdens are borne by a few from among the masses. All females, the old, the young, and the enfeebled, though capable of enjoying a government, are not called upon to defend it, and even from among those who take the risks; not a few return to enjoy the fruit of their labors; so that it often requires only a few thousand to suffer and yield a few brief years they otherwise might live, to secure to millions of their countrymen, indefinite peace, untold happiness, and unlimited prosperity; while some in every conflict--be it said to their shame--treasure up wealth on the misfortunes and blood of others. To prove that these alleviating circumstances exist in fact, instead of fancy, we refer you with pride to the fruits of our Revolutionary struggle; but coming generations will doubtless point to the glorious results of our present war for a fuller confirmation of these important truths, and we greatly fear of man's insatiable cupidity also. Hence he who would magnify the present evils of a sanguinary conflict--involving issues of the greatest conceivable magnitude and importance--so as to demand an unconditional cessation of hostilities--averting danger, and the calamities of war for his generation, regardless of consequences to the next, would thereby prove himself' unworthy a country of his own to defend, or posterity to provide for.
What should we think of our ancestors, if with the means to insure our freedom, they, as pusillanimous cowards, had failed to employ them, and so left us enslaved? And if any so magnify the evils of our present conflict, as to be ready to accept any less than honorable terms of peace, it would be well for them to ask what posterity will think of us, if, with many times more means to save this counry to them than our fathers had to secure it for us; we prove such "ignoble sons of nobler sires,” as to allow them to come upon the stage of action enfeebled and dismembered, fit only for a prey to other powers. Who among us could ever bear the storm of indignation and reproach which would inevitably overtake us, should we allow this fair fabric, reared at such sacrifice by our fathers, to crumble in pieces on our hands, when we possess such abundant means not only to preserve, but to strengthen and beautify it. And shall we stiffer our own loved America -- "at the very mention of which name, hearts boat quicker the world over"--through our indifference, or cowardice to prove an inglorious failure; and so again firmly establish the now tottering thrones of despotism--rivet anew the chains of tyranny upon its then hopeless subjects, and clearly demonstrate to the world that man is incapable of self government? No! we will not sit quietly down and calmly await this ruin. For one, I have no desire to outlive my country. Rather, let me, like others, die in her defense, than be one to bear the scorn and reproach that must certainly follow her failure.
Farther, if any war is justifiable, it is one prosecuted in self defense. War for conquest, I believe good morals will unqualifiedly condemn, and war for independence can be justified only on the ground of protection against unjust and insufferable oppression. War in self defense, when forced upon a people, is generally far more justifiable than either. This country has, at various times, been visited with the scourge of war. It has had a war for independence, and wars for conquest. But all these, now their horrors are past, (and we must remember each one had its horrors--this is not the first conflict that has cost treasure and blood, then, as now, the land was filled with mourning, and to this was often added extreme suffering, from which we are now happily exempt--wives were made widows, and children were left fatherless)--but again, we say, all these, now their horrors are past, are generally justified-many of them are glorified as grand achievements. What then must be the verdict of an intelligent people in coming years, when tire smoke of battle has cleared away from before their sight, as to the justifiableness of a conflict waged in self defense, to avert a blow aimed at our national life. For the utterance of such sentiments, some of you may count me a fool; others may go further still and call me a villain; but appealing from you to posterity, whose decision I have no fear to abide, I willingly nail my colors to the mast. Believing as I do that this battle must be fought by us or by our children, I confess myself holly unwilling, to transfer it. Wherever our proud banner waves, I see upon it "stripes for rebels till they see the stars;" but that none may question or mistake its meaning, I would indelibly inscribe upon its folds:
"Strike till the last armed foe expires,
Strike for your altars and your fires,
Strike for the green graves of your sires,
God and your native land.”
But our text whispers comfort to bereft friends. “Behold I die!" How solemn and saddening this assertion. But how true of our brother, and how certain in reference to us all. Yet how consoling amid bereavement, the promise, "God shall be with you." Confide in him, and trust his faithful word, and he will be with you to guide, defend, sustain and bless.
"When nature's streams are dry,
They fullness is the same;
With this will I be satisfied,
And glory in they name.”
Who made my heaven secure,
Will here, all good provide:
While Christ is rich, can I be poor,
What can I want beside.”
Our Redeemer is a faithful guide--a sure rock of refuge--an infinite and abiding source of happiness. Possessed of this unfailing portion, when bereft, we are not alone, but are enabled with joy to sing :
"Jesus, my all in all thou art
My rest in toil, my ease in pain;
The balm to heal my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain.
In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power,
In grief my joy and sea of love,
My life in death, my heaven above."
Secure this portion, and retain it. Commit to God your ways, and “He will guide you with His counsel, and afterward receive you to glory.”
Our text further declares that God shall "bring you again unto the land of your fathers." Here it is predicted, more than two hundred years before its fulfillment, that Israel shall come up from Egypt to possess the land of Canaan; but all this time it was carefully remembered that they might not love Egypt too well when it favored them, nor fear it to much when it frowned upon them. And these words should afford us comfort when our friends are laid low in death. The good are then gathered home to the land of their pious fathers. Death causes separation here, but re-union among the blest in heaven--a reunion that shall be happy and peaceful as well as eternal.
Take these comforting assurances to your heart. The son, the husband, the father, has gone; but God can make up the loss you have sustained by the more special manifestation of himself to your hearts. Besides, if perseveringly godly, we shall all soon be brought through the Jordan of death, under the Captain of our salvation, to the heavenly Canaan, where we can unite with redeemed ones gone before in praising God forever. Surely, then, if God will be with us to stay up our hearty amid sorrow and cares, while left behind on earth, and will shortly receive us to join the departed who have gone to a better land, we ought not to mourn as those that have no hope.
And allow me here to inquire whether this portion of our text may not, with great propriety, be applied, in an extended sense, to our national conflict. "God shall be with you"- his hand is yet to be as clearly seen in preserving and perpetuating us, as it has been in the planting and establishment of our Republic. Firmly believing this, I am able here to rest our cause. "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge." I am glad that I do not lean enough toward infidelity to assert with some that God has nothing to do with this conflict. Do such mean to say that God sits indifferent to human affairs? That his guiding and overruling hand is nowhere to be looked for or acknowledged in the world's history, because made up almost entirely of human crimes, wars and revolutions? Then why select this struggle as someway insignificant? That this conflict is contradistinguished from others, we readily admit; but it is on precisely opposite ground from what all such persons would insinuate; for history, through all its long and bloody page of wars, has failed to record a single one, concerning which it might not with far greater propriety be said: God surveyed it with indifference. This world, of ours has never borne up under the shock of a conflict so grand in its proportions--involving so deeply the interests of mankind the world over, and watched by them with such earnest solicitude, or a conflict so closely allied to the speedy and universal triumph of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ--and to say that God is indifferent to our country now, is, in effect, to say that God has never acted a part in the world's history. This not being so, I again confidently say: "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."
Though now, for a season, in justice for our sins deeply humbled, and severely chastised, I feel happy in the expectation--almost as certain to my mind as realization could make it--that our posterity are to enjoy in peace and unity; the "land of their fathers" in all its length and breadth--its richness and variety--its very extent, contributing alike to their mutual wealth, safety and happiness.
Finally, our text speaks of a portion bequeathed to Joseph "above his brethren," secured to him by the valor of his father, who re-took it "from the Amorite with his sword."
Here, we hope to show that our sacrifices are not even now in vain; that as a partial return for them, we are permitted to enjoy a portion above our brethren. "Well," says one, "that must be the freedom of the slave." A little too fast, my good friend, that is not exactly what I meant. But since you have been pleased to present it, I will indulge you in a brief soliloquy.
We will suppose you to stand over the grave of our departed brother. But previous to this, we will suppose that you have, in addition to your own person, a family, a home, and an estate. All is peace and harmony; but suddenly a powerful foe lurks upon your border--a foe, that at first strikes at your country's life, and afterwards thirsts for your heart's blood—a foe that would now glory in insulting your wife and enslaving your children--pillaging your house and reducing it to ashes--destroying your crops--removing your land-marks, and in making your estate resound to the tread of armed men, or a camping ground for an insolent and invading foe.-- That about the time this danger threatens, the country calls "to arms," and your good friend, over whose grave you stand, feeling, as well he may, that all is at stake, rushes to the rescue, and braves the sufferings and danger of a three months' campaign; thereby leaving you in peace and security, to enjoy your home and friends, amid pleasure and abundance.
And suppose, again, that under another call, he rallies others to his standard, and they together and for nearly a full year, with pointed steel and iron will--bearing their breasts to the leaden hail--stand guard between you and all harm; allowing you to enjoy your accustomed security and happiness, and the privilege to pursue your everyday employment, with perhaps unparalleled success, for all this length of time; that families all around you are enjoying these same immunities under their protection, who must be otherwise equally exposed; and finally, that your friend, struggling to the death, reddens the soil with his heart's blood, which otherwise might have been your own, and sinks into the grave. And now, standing above his mouldering dust, I overhear you saying: "He was a brave man--a true hero; but what a pity he could not have been sacrificed in a better cause. Had he laid down his life, in the least degree, to benefit me or my family, I should feel that I owed him a debt of gratitude. Had he but sacrificed his life to secure even the least good to any living white man, it would have in part repaid the outlay; but to die for the negro, solely for the negro--I'll not be such a fool--I'll die here first."
I trust I have missed my mark. But if one such is here, I could only wish that palsied tongue might speak once more—as I should almost think it might under such an insult--and administer such a rebuke as ought, in justice, to be given. I consider it an indignity sufficient to call forth our patriot dead to pursue, with relentless fury, the vilifiers of their fair name, until they sink, unmourned, into unhonored graves. God forbid that I should ever speak any other than well of those who meet death in defending me, my family, and my country. I feel toward our valiant soldiers, as I can only feel toward men who have periled their lives in my behalf; and when I meet a sun-burned veteran, I do not stop to ask whether he is covered with vermin or filth-whether he is learned or illiterate, nor even whether he is sunken in morals--only assure me that he has been true to his country's flag, and stood up nobly to defend it against traitorous hands, and I feel instinctively to uncover my head before him. And be assured, no appeal for relief could sooner reach my heart than one coming from him, or from his suffering family.
This slavery question has been thrown in, I have sometimes feared, by mistake; but it has been thus far so inoperative in itself, toward the slave, as not, in the aggregate to amount to "the dust of the balance." It is so viewed all along the border. But far away--where alone it can be seen--it is magnified on the platform, and through the press, until it culminates in such acts and atrocities as our Metropolis has been made to witness--barbarities toward the innocent, such as would cause the heathen themselves to blush. Let an outraged and intelligent people decide which is the more guilty--the ignorant and impassioned perpetrators, or the cowardly leaders, who ingloriously withdrew, after laboring so persistently and successfully upon such a false and groundless issue to infuriate them.
You may already see the "portion" I feel we have "above our brethren"--whether in our army or in the South--if brethren the latter can be called. It is comparative freedom from invasion, and security in our person, homes and property--guarding our civil rights, and preserving our religious liberties, together with the hope that undisturbed peace and unity may be the inheritance of our children to the latest generation--the enjoyment of these, with their numberless concomitants, I attribute to our army standing between us and harm. And we should feel that our country makes only a reasonable demand, when it asks for its altar even such sacrifices as this family has now been called upon to make--to the end that we may share these countless and inestimable blessings and privileges ourselves, and transmit them, in all their purity and abundance, both to our posterity and the world.
Do not, then, for a moment, think your sacrifice in vain. Stand up, and say with pride: I have given a son, a father, a husband, a friend, as the case may be, for my country. And though some, from design or ignorance, may, perchance, speak lightly of the cause, as unworthy your noble sacrifice; and thus attempt to assassinate hearts, nobler than ever beat within their own breasts; bear it cheerfully, expecting the gratitude of' your country--the sympathy and prayers of all the good--the thanks and homage of posterity, and above all the blessing of your Heavenly Father.
I commend you to God, and his grace, praying that ho may sustain and bless you, and cause this bereavement to "work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Of the deceased, I need add but little. He was far better known to you than me. But I am sure that no act of his life, however noble or virtuous, can eclipse his patriotic death, as communicated by his companions in arms. One of them writes under date of July 15th.
"Capt. Barker was shot dead on the spot. He was shot in the head. I helped to bring him off the field, and bury his body. Barker was as brave as a lion. He did not fear death. He sacrificed his life to crush this cruel rebellion. He died a brave and noble death. When he was shot, he swung his sword high in air, and told his men to be calm, and take good aim. He died a true American soldier--fighting for God and his country.
Another writes July 17.
“The company that numbered 100 men, and once commanded by Capt. Barker, now numbers 11, beside 1st and 2nd Lieutenants. My good Captain is no more. He was shot while leading his men to victory or death."
No further testimony is needed to show that Capt. Barker died a devoted patriot. We lament his early fall, but shall ever cherish his memory, as one who has done what he could to save his country's cause.
Allow me to conclude with the following befitting stanzas, for which I am indebted to a soldier--a soldier of our army, of course, as nowhere else could a private be found of sufficient ability to write them::
"Our brother lies sleeping the soldier's
Naught breaketh his slumber, so tranquil, so deep,
Never more shall the war cry, resounding, " to arms,"
Awake the brave sleeper--death heeds no alarms."
Our brother lies sleeping the patriot's last sleep,
And guardian angels a watch near him keep;
To save our loved country, his life he has given,
The offering, we trust, is accepted in heaven."
"Sweetly sleep, soldier brother, and
calm he thy rest,
Our sorrow and anguish cannot be expressed;
For thy safe return, we had hoped, but in vain,
Never on earth shall we meet thee again."
“But, oh! one sweet hope presses home to
It lightens our sorrow, and bids grief depart
"Tis the blest hope of meeting once more,
In heaven above us, where partings are o'er.”
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