“Soldiers and Countrymen: We have met this evening perhaps for the last time. We have shared the toil of march, the peril of flight, and the dismay of the retreat; alike we have endured the cold and hunger, the contumely of the internal foe and the courage of foreign oppression. We have sat, night after night, beside the campfire; we have together heard the roll of the reveille which called us to duty, or the beat of the tattoo which gave the signal for the hardy sleep of the soldier with the earth for his bed and knapsack for his pillow.
And now, soldiers and brethren, we have met in the peaceful valley on the eve of battle while the sunlight is dying away behind yonder heights, the sunlight that, tomorrow morn, will glimmer on scenes of blood. We have met amid the whitening tents of our encampment, in time of terror and gloom, have gathered together, God grant it may not be the last time.
It is a solemn moment, Brethren, does not the voice of nature seem to echo the sympathies of the hour? The flag of our country droops heavily from yonder staff; the breeze has died away along the green plains of Chadd’s Ford–the heights of the Brandywine arise gloomily beyond yonder stream–all nature pauses in solemn silence, on the eve of tomorrow.
‘They that take the sword shall perish by the sword.’ And have they not taken the sword?
Let the desolated plain, the bloodtrodden valley, the burned farmhouse, the sacked village and the ravaged town answer–let the whitening bones of the farmer strewn along the fields of his homestead answer–let the starving mother with her babe clinging to the withered breast that can afford no sustenance–let her answer with the death-rattle ringing with the murmuring tones that mark the last struggle of life- let the dying mother and her babe answer. It was but a day past and our land slept in the quiet of peace. War was not here–wrong was not here. Fraud and war, misery and want dwelt not among us. From the eternal solitude of the green woods arose the smoke of the settlers’ cabins, golden fields of corn looked forth from amid the waste of the wilderness and the glad music of human voices awoke the silence of the forest.
Now, behold the change! Under the shadow of a pretext, under the sanctity of the name of God, invoking the Redeemer to their aid, these foreign hirelings slay our people. They throng our towns, they darken our plains, and now encompass our post on the lovely plain of Chadd’s Ford.
‘They that take the sword shall perish by the sword.’ Brethren, think me not unworthy of belief when I tell you the doom of the British is near, when I tell you that beyond the cloud that now enshrouds us, I see gathering, thick and fast, the darker cloud and the blacker storm of Divine retribution. They may conquer us tomorrow; might and wrong may prevail, and we may be driven from this field–but the hour of God’s own vengeance will come.
Aye, if in the vast solitudes of eternal space, if in the heart of the boundless universe, there throbs the being of an awful God, quick to avenge and sure to punish guilt, then will George of Brunswick feel the vengeance of the eternal Jehovah. A blight will be upon his life, a blight will be upon his children and upon his people. Great God, how dread the punishment! A crowded populace, peopling the dense towns where the man of money thrives while the laborer starves, want striding among the people in all its forms of terror; an ignorant and God-defying priesthood chuckling over the miseries of millions, a proud and merciless nobility adding wrong to wrong and heaping insult upon robbery and fraud; crime and want linked hard in hand and tempting men to deeds of woe and death– these are a part of the doom and retribution that comes upon the English throne and the English people.
Soldiers, I look around upon your familiar faces with a strange interest. Tomorrow morning we will go forth to battle, for I need not tell you that your unworthy minister will march with you, invoking God’s aid in the fight–we will march forth to battle! Need I exhort you to fight the good fight, to fight for your homesteads, for your wives and children? I might urge you by galling memories of British wrongs; I might paint all this again in the vivid colors of the terrible reality, if I thought your courage needed such wild excitement. But I know you are strong in the might of the Lord. You will march forth to battle on the morrow with light hearts and determined spirits, though the duty of avenging the dead may rest heavy on your souls.
And in the hour of battle, when all around is lit by the lurid cannonade-glare, and the piercing musket-flash, when the wounded strew the ground, and the dead litter your path, then remember that God is with you; God the awful and infinite fights for you and will triumph.
You have taken the sword, but not in the spirit of wrong and ravage. You have taken the sword for your homes, your wives, your little ones; for truth, for justice and right, and to you the promise is: Be of good cheer, your foes have taken the sword in defiance of all that man holds dear; they shall perish by the sword.
And now farewell! Many of us may fall tomorrow. God rest the souls of the fallen! Many of us may live to tell the story, and in the memory of all will ever linger the quiet scene of this autumnal night.
Solemn twilight advances over the valley, the woods of the opposite heights fling their long shadows over the green of the meadow; around us are the tents of the Continental host, the suppressed bustle of the camp, the hurried tramp of the soldiers to and fro among the tents, the stillness and awe that mark the eve of battle.
When we meet again, may the shadows of twilight be flung over a peaceful land. God in Heaven grant it.
Let us pray.
Great Father, we bow before thee, we invoke thy blessing, we deprecate thy wrath, we thee return thanks for the past, we ask thy aid for the future; for we are in times of trouble, 0 Lord, and sore beset by foes, merciless and unpitying. The sword gleams over our land, the dust of the sod is dampened with the blood of our neighbors and friends. 0 God of mercy, we pray thy blessing upon the American arms. Make the man of our hearts strong in thy wisdom; bless, we beseech thee, with renewed life and strength, our hope and thy instrument, even George Washington. Shower thy counsels on the Honorable the Continental Congress. Visit the tents of our host, comfort the soldier in his wounds and afflictions; nerve him for the fight and prepare him for the hour of death.
And in the hour of defeat, 0 God of hosts, do thou be our stay, and in the hour of triumph be thou our guide. Teach us to be merciful. Though the memory of galling wrongs be at our hearts knocking for admittance, that they may fill us with the desire of revenge, yet let us, 0 Lord, spare the vanquished, though they never spared us. In the hour of death do thou guide us to the abode prepared for the blest. So shall we return thanks to thee through Christ our Redeemer. God prosper the cause. Amen.“
As we remember all that have fallen, like Trout, on both September 11, 1777 and September 11, 2001, and realize that some took up the sword and donned a soldier’s uniform to fight for independence, others took up a hatchet, first-aid kit, and donned a paramedic or firefighter uniform to serve. Whichever way, today mark’s a day of heroes.