Charleston is a much different city than prior to Union-occupation. From church pulpits where biblical apologies for black slavery rang out for generations, abolitionists and Unionists now proclaim racially progressive messages and celebrate Northern victory over the Southern rebellion, even though the great conflict is not quite over just yet. To bring closure, Confederate General Robert E. Lee will need to be defeated, and it does appear that that very day is drawing nigh.
Today in the Citadel Square Baptist Church, the chaplain of the 127th New York Regiment, Samuel B. Willis, preaches a sermon entitled “Voices from the Dead.”
A tribute and remembrance of the lives lost in the 127th, the message from Willis assures those yet living that their fallen comrades did not die in vain. It is a refrain that is echoing across the nation, and will for many years: the war was terrible and the cost high, but human freedom is a sacred right that must be preserved and protected.
Willis closes with these words:
The vacant seats in my regimental congregation, create a feeling of sadness. Many voices which we have heard in the exhortation, prayer, and praise, are now silent in the grave. Those dear comrades have made their last appeal on earth. They have heaved their last sigh over the sins and woes of fallen humanity. Their last prayer has ascended from our midst to the throne of infinite mercy. God has now wiped away all tears from their eyes. They have fought their last battle, and now sleep their last sleep.
But we will think of them in glory. In thought we will follow their ascending spirits to the shadow of the Throne of God and the Lamb ; and listen to that anthem of redemption, which they will sing forever, ” Unto him that loved them, and washed them from their sins, in his His own blood.
In the meantime, remember, they beckon you on in the same pathway by which they have reached their celestial home. Be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Be faithful to every trust. To the Flag of our Union, which is now floating over the graves of our brave brothers — be ever true, as the magnet to the pole. Our departed comrades are in the advance of us ; but we are on the way. They have entered the rest of heaven ; while we have only entered the Palmetto City. They have gained their palms of victory ; while we are militant here below. Before its is a great warfare. While sustaining a good military character, as soldiers of your country ; be ever true to the orders of the Captain of your salvation, who as such was himself made” perfect through sufferings/ Lift up your eyes ; and you may see before you, the triumphant issue of the warfare — the victory of law, and order, and union, over treason and rebellion — of truth, over error — the victory of the spirit, over your sins — of faith, over the world, and the triumphs of the Cross, over all the realms of death, and ruins of the fall.
Source: Samuel B. Willis, “Voices from the dead : a sermon preached March 26, 1865, in the Citadel Square Baptist Church, Charleston, S.C., before the 127th Regiment, N.Y. Vols.,” New York: T. Daniels, 1865 (link)