From the Muscatine Journal
E. F. Brockway Writes Interesting Letter to Journal.
TELLS OF OLD SOLDIERS’ DAY
He as President of the Iowa State Agricultural Society Was Largely Responsible for the Inauguration of the Day.
The appended letter has been received from E.F. Brockway, of Letts, and contains some reminisce of interest, especially to soldiers of the Civil War and those who are interested in the scarred veterans who fought in the bloody strife. /The letter follows:
In the year 1880 I became vice president of the Iowa State Agricultural Society and soon after I began to plan for an old soldiers day, but was promptly opposed by two or three individual members of the board who were not known as friends of the soldiers, and never had been and said that the soldier was no better than any other man. But I stubbornly kept up the battle until nearly three years later when our president Charles Porter died and I became president, it fell to my lot to give the annual address.
I made the unusual recommendations and among other new plans strongly recommended a Soldiers day. There were many soldiers in that great audience which consisted of one or two delegates from each county and three times as many people as there were delegates. The idea was loudly cheered, and at the close of the meeting a resolution was offered and carried that the state fair board establish a Soldiers’ day.
I was happy and the soldiers were invited as our guest, free for a day and a day was set. It was a lovely day, I met the adjutant general who had charged of the tents and helped him to select the nicest grove on the grounds and did all that I could to make them comfortable.
Governor Kirkwood and other noted men were invited to address the boys and soon began to pour in until there were fifteen hundred. The tents were in the form of a hollow square. Each tent numbered and marked with the name of some regiment and several tents for soldiers from other states.
Governor Delivers Address.
A large box answered the purpose for which speakers stand. At two o clock p.m. the governor climbed onto the platform, he was in his happiest frame of mind, beaming with gladness and jolly as a care-free school boy.
These grizzly old veterans stood around and looked up to the old war governor with the kindly reverence and love that they would have for a father they had not seen in many years, and he greeted them as “My boys.” Many of them he had not seen since in camp when the regiments were formed, and occasionally at the front where there was serious trouble. He was beginning to show age but his mind was clear and active. He told them of his love for them and assured them that as long as they lived and as long as they conducted themselves as good citizens he would honor and love them and be their friend.
He told of the hardships and the difficulties informing the first regiments, how he and two other men had borrowed, I think, forty thousand dollars to feed and cloth them until they were in the U.S. service. He said that he had been in the first camp about two weeks and away from his office and felt he must return for a few days. So he left his best men in full charge and was gone even longer that he expected and when he got back to camp his best man had gone. When he returned he rated them good and said, “Didn’t I tell you to stay right here until I came back? Come, explain yourself, sir, and tell me why you did it?”
Joke on Henry C. Dean.
I stood on the outer edge of the crowd beside the great unwashed Henry Clay Dean, who like me, was evidently enjoying the talk very much because he had let his cob pipe go out for at least the twentieth time.
I saw the governor glance over our way and knew by the twinkle in his eye that there was fun ahead. His best man, who was a Cal (Somebody) replied “Well governor you see it was this way..; We came here together and you finally got so dusty and dirty you could stay no longer and had to go home for clean linen. You told me stay and I thought I would but it got dustier and dirtier until my clothes were a sight and I could stand it no longer. I was afraid I would be taken for Henry Clay Dean!”
Many of the boys knew Dean and glanced our way and a great laugh went up at his expense, but Dean enjoyed it as well as they did and lit his pipe again.
An Interesting Incident.
On returning to the office after the governor’s address I found a large number of visitors sitting on the porch and presently a lady asked, “What is all the cheering about up in the grove?” I told her it was a state reunion of the soldiers of the rebellion. She asked if a certain regiment was represented. She said her husband was a member of that regiment and was killed 16 years ago. She never could learn anything about it nor where he was buried.
She went to the camp and returned in a couple of hours and told me had found one who was in her husbands company who was beside him when he fell, help bury him and told her all about it. I felt in this one little incident that I was well paid for all my trouble in getting soldiers day established.
Iowa’s Grand Old Man.
I often met Gov. Kirkwood at the state fair. He always knew me and would say, “Here is my good friend from Washington. Now tell me all about my old friend down there Jonathan Wilson,” and then forgetting that he had ever told me before he would tell me the story of his grand entry into Washington but told in his way I never tired of it.
He, in that day was Iowa’s grand old man, even as Gladstone was England’s grand old man of the people. Much of the Lincoln type and well worthy of a place in the hall of fame and a beautiful monument on the campus of his home city.