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Civil War Poetry

Table of Contents

  1. March into Virginia, Ending in the First Manassas by Herman Melville
  2. Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe
  3. Luther's Hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier
  4. Shiloh: A Requiem by Herman Melville
  5. Barbara Frietchie by John Greenleaf Whittier
  6. The Pride of Battery B by Frank H. Gassaway
  7. The Battle Autumn of 1862 by John Greenleaf Whittier
  8. Fredericksburg by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
  9. The Angel of Marye's Heights by Walter A. Clark
  10. Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  11. Stonewall Jackson's Way by John Williamson Palmer
  12. The Colored Soldiers by Laurence Dunbar
  13. The Charge of Pickett's Brigade by Anonymous
  14. Gettysburg by James Jeffrey Roche
  15. Robert Gould Shaw by Paul Laurence Dunbar
  16. Sheridan's Ride by Thomas Buchanan Read
  17. The Dying Soldiers by Anonymous
  18. O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
  19. More Cruel Than War by W.S. Hawkins
  20. Robert E. Lee by Julia Ward Howe
  21. The Blue and the Gray by Francis Miles Finch
  22. A Nameless Grave by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  1. March into Virginia, Ending in the First Manassas (July, 1861)

    by Herman Melville

    Did all the lets and bars appear
    To every just or larger end,
    Whence should come the trust and cheer?
    Youth must its ignorant impulse lend—
    Age finds place in the rear.
    All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,
    The champions and enthusiasts of the state:
    Turbid ardors and vain joys
    Not barrenly abate—
    Stimulants to the power mature,
    Preparatives of fate.

    Who here forecasteth the event?
    What heart but spurns at precedent
    And warnings of the wise,
    Contemned foreclosures of surprise?
    The banners play, the bugles call,
    The air is blue and prodigal.
    No berrying party, pleasure-wooed,
    No picnic party in the May,
    Ever went less loth than they
    Into that leafy neighborhood.
    In Bacchic glee they file toward Fate,
    Moloch’s uninitiate;
    Expectancy, and glad surmise
    Of battle’s unknown mysteries.

    All they feel is this: ’tis glory,
    A rapture sharp, though transitory,
    Yet lasting in belaureled story.
    So they gayly go to fight,
    Chatting left and laughing right.

    But some who this blithe mood present,
    As on in lightsome files they fare,
    Shall die experienced ere three days be spent—
    Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare;
    Or shame survive, and, like to adamant,
    Thy after shock, Manassas, share.

  2. Battle Hymn of the Republic

    By Julia Ward Howe, 1861

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
    His truth is marching on.
    Chorus:
    Glory, glory, hallelujah!
    Glory, glory, hallelujah!
    Glory, glory, hallelujah!
    His truth is marching on.

    I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
    They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
    I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
    His day is marching on.
    Chorus

    I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
    "As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
    Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
    Since God is marching on."
    Chorus

    He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
    He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
    Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
    Our God is marching on.
    Chorus

    In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
    With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
    As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
    While God is marching on.
    Chorus

    He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
    He is Wisdom to the mighty,
    He is Succour to the brave,
    So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
    Our God is marching on.
    Chorus

    “We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written, but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.”

    – Robert Gould Shaw, Colonel of the 54th Massachusetts

  3. Luther's Hymn (Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott)

    by John Greenleaf Whittier

    We wait beneath the furnace-blast
    The pangs of transformation;
    Not painlessly doth God recast
    And mould anew the nation.
    Hot burns the fire
    Where wrongs expire;
    Nor spares the hand
    That from the land
    Uproots the ancient evil.

    The hand-breadth cloud the sages feared
    Its bloody rain is dropping;
    The poison plant the fathers spared
    All else is overtopping.
    East, West, South, North,
    It curses the earth;
    All justice dies,
    And fraud and lies
    Live only in its shadow.

    What gives the wheat-field blades of steel?
    What points the rebel cannon?
    What sets the roaring rabble's heel
    On the old star-spangled pennon?
    What breaks the oath
    Of the men o' the South?
    What whets the knife
    For the Union's life?--
    Hark to the answer: Slavery!

    Then waste no blows on lesser foes
    In strife unworthy freemen.
    God lifts to-day the veil, and shows
    The features of the demon
    O North and South,
    Its victims both,
    Can ye not cry,
    "Let slavery die!"
    And union find in freedom?

    What though the cast-out spirit tear
    The nation in his going?
    We who have shared the guilt must share
    The pang of his o'erthrowing!
    Whate'er the loss,
    Whate'er the cross,
    Shall they complain
    Of present pain
    Who trust in God's hereafter?

    For who that leans on His right arm
    Was ever yet forsaken?
    What righteous cause can suffer harm
    If He its part has taken?
    Though wild and loud,
    And dark the cloud,
    Behind its folds
    His hand upholds
    The calm sky of to-morrow!

    Above the maddening cry for blood,
    Above the wild war-drumming,
    Let Freedom's voice be heard, with good
    The evil overcoming.
    Give prayer and purse
    To stay the Curse
    Whose wrong we share,
    Whose shame we bear,
    Whose end shall gladden Heaven!

    In vain the bells of war shall ring
    Of triumphs and revenges,
    While still is spared the evil thing
    That severs and estranges.
    But blest the ear
    That yet shall hear
    The jubilant bell
    That rings the knell
    Of Slavery forever!

    Then let the selfish lip be dumb,
    And hushed the breath of sighing;
    Before the joy of peace must come
    The pains of purifying.
    God give us grace
    Each in his place
    To bear his lot,
    And, murmuring not,
    Endure and wait and labor!

  4. Shiloh: A Requiem

    by Herman Melville

    Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
    The swallows fly low
    Over the field in clouded days,
    The forest-field of Shiloh—
    Over the field where April rain
    Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
    Through the pause of night
    That followed the Sunday fight
    Around the church of Shiloh—
    The church so lone, the log-built one,
    That echoed to many a parting groan
    And natural prayer
    Of dying foemen mingled there—
    Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
    Fame or country least their care:
    (What like a bullet can undeceive!)
    But now they lie low,
    While over them the swallows skim,
    And all is hushed at Shiloh.

  5. Barbara Frietchie

    by John Greenleaf Whittier

    Up from the meadows rich with corn,
    Clear in the cool September morn,

    The clustered spires of Frederick stand
    Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

    Round about them orchards sweep,
    Apple— and peach-tree fruited deep,

    Fair as a garden of the Lord
    To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

    On that pleasant morn of the early fall
    When Lee marched over the mountain wall,—

    Over the mountains winding down,
    Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

    Forty flags with their silver stars,
    Forty flags with their crimson bars,

    Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
    Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

    Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
    Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

    Bravest of all in Frederick town,
    She took up the flag the men hauled down;

    In her attic window the staff she set,
    To show that one heart was loyal yet.

    Up the street came the rebel tread,
    Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

    Under his slouched hat left and right
    He glanced: the old flag met his sight.

    “Halt!”— the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
    “Fire!”— out blazed the rifle-blast.

    It shivered the window, pane and sash;
    It rent the banner with seam and gash.

    Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
    Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf;

    She leaned far out on the window-sill,
    And shook it forth with a royal will.

    “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
    But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

    A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
    Over the face of the leader came;

    The nobler nature within him stirred
    To life at that woman’s deed and word:

    “Who touches a hair of yon gray head
    Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

    All day long through Frederick street
    Sounded the tread of marching feet:

    All day long that free flag tost
    Over the heads of the rebel host.

    Ever its torn folds rose and fell
    On the loyal winds that loved it well;

    And through the hill-gaps sunset light
    Shone over it with a warm good-night.

    Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
    And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

    Honor to her! and let a tear
    Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.

    Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave
    Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

    Peace and order and beauty draw
    Round thy symbol of light and law;

    And ever the stars above look down
    On thy stars below in Frederick town!

  6. The Pride of Battery B

    by Frank H. Gassaway. This poem is a “gem of the purest ray serene.’” It recounts an incident of the late civil war. A little orphan child, a war waif, adopted by a battery of the Southern troops, is so distressed by the failure of the tobacco supplies of her whilom guardians, that she escapes from her tent, and, crossing to the enemy’s entrenchment, begs a supply from the Yankee soldiers. The latter send her back well supplied with the weed so dear to the soldier’s heart, and during the rest of the engagement the gunners on the Yankee side refuse to direct their shells in the vicinity of the child’s detachment. This poem has enjoyed remarkable popularity, and has been widely copied in England and elsewhere.

    South Mountain towered on our right, far off the river lay,
    And over on the wooded height we held their lines at bay.
    At last the mutt’ring guns were stilled; the day died slow and wan;
    At last the gunners’ pipes were filled, the Sergeant’s yarns began.
    When,—as the wind a moment blew aside the fragrant flood
    Our brierwoods raised,—within our view a little maiden stood.

    A tiny tot of six or seven, from fireside fresh she seemed
    (Of such a little one in heaven one soldier often dreamed).
    And, as we stared, her little hand went to her curly head
    In grave salute: “And who are you?” at length the Sergeant said.
    “And where’s your home?” he growled again. Shelispedout,“Who is me?
    Why, don’t you know? I’m little Jane, the Pride of Battery ‘B.’
    My home? Why, that was burned away, and pa and ma are dead,
    And so, so I ride the guns all day along with Sergeant Ned.
    And I’ve a drum that’s not a toy, a cap with feathers, too,
    And I march beside the drummer boy on Sundays at review;
    But now our ’bacca’s all give out, the men can’t have their smoke,
    And so they’re cross—why, even Ned won’t play with me and joke,
    And the big Colonel said to-day—I hate to hear him swear—
    He’d give a leg for a good pipe like the Yanks had over there
    And so I thought when beat the drum and the big guns were still,
    I’d creep beneath the tent and come out here across the hill,
    And beg, good Mister Yankee men, you’d give me some tobac;
    Please do—when we get some again I’ll surely bring it back.
    Indeed I will, for Ned—says he—if I do what I say,
    I’ll be a general yet, maybe, and ride a prancing bay.”
    We brimmed her tiny apron o’er; you should have heard her laugh
    As each man from his scanty store shook out a generous half.
    To kiss the little mouth stooped down a score of grimy men,
    Until the Sergeant’s husky voice said “’Tention, squad and then
    We gave her escort, till good night the pretty waif we bid.
    And watched her toddle out of sight—or else ’twas tears that hid
    Her tiny form—nor turned about a man, nor spoke a word,
    ’Till after while a far, hoarse shout upon the wind was heard!
    We sent it hack—then cast sad eye upon the scene around,
    A baby’s hand had touched the tie that brothers once had bound.
    That’s all—save when the dawn awoke again the work of hell,
    And through the sullen clouds of smoke the screaming missiles fell;
    Our General often rubbed his glass and marveled much to see
    Not a single shell that whole day fell in the lines of Battery “B.”

  7. The Battle Autumn of 1862

    by John Greenleaf Whittier

    The flags of war like storm-birds fly,
    The charging trumpets blow;
    Yet rolls no thunder in the sky,
    No earthquake strives below.

    And, calm and patient, Nature keeps
    Her ancient promise well,
    Though o’er her bloom and greenness sweeps
    The battle’s breath of hell.

    And still she walks in golden hours
    Through harvest-happy farms,
    And still she wears her fruits and flowers
    Like jewels on her arms.

    What mean the gladness of the plain,
    This joy of eve and morn,
    The mirth that shakes the beard of grain
    And yellow locks of corn?

    Ah! eyes may well be full of tears,
    And hearts with hate are hot;
    But even-paced come round the years,
    And Nature changes not.

    She meets with smiles our bitter grief,
    With songs our groans of pain;
    She mocks with tint of flower and leaf
    The war-field’s crimson stain.

    Still, in the cannon’s pause, we hear
    Her sweet thanksgiving-psalm;
    Too near to God for doubt or fear,
    She shares the eternal calm.

    She knows the seed lies safe below
    The fires that blast and burn;
    For all the tears of blood we sow
    She waits the rich return.

    She sees with clearer eye than ours
    The good of suffering born,—
    The hearts that blossom like her flowers,
    And ripen like her corn.

    Oh, give to us, in times like these,
    The vision of her eyes;
    And make her fields and fruited trees
    Our golden prophecies!

    Oh, give to us her finer ear!
    Above this stormy din,
    We too would hear the bells of cheer
    Ring peace and freedom in.

  8. Fredericksburg

    by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

    The increasing moonlight drifts across my bed,
    And on the churchyard by the road, I know
    It falls as white and noiselessly as snow...
    'T was such a night two weary summers fled;
    The stars, as now, were waning overhead.
    Listen! Again the shrill-lipped bugles blow
    Where the swift currents of the river flow
    Past Fredericksburg: far off the heavens are red
    With sudden conflagration: on yon height,
    Linstock in hand, the gunners hold their breath:
    A signal-rocket pierces the dense night,
    Flings its spent stars upon the town beneath:
    Hark!— the artillery massing on the right,
    Hark!— the black squadrons wheeling down to Death!

  9. The Angel of Marye's Heights

    by Walter A. Clark

    A sunken road and a wall of stone
    And Cobb's grim line of grey
    Lay still at the base of Marye's hill
    On the morn of a winter's day.

    And crowning the frowning crest above
    Sleep Alexander's guns,
    While gleaming fair in the sunlit air
    The Rappahannock runs.

    On the plains below, the blue lines glow,
    And the bugle rings out clear,
    As with bated breath they march to death
    And a soldier's honored bier.

    For the slumbering guns awake to life
    And the screaming shell and ball
    From the front and flanks crash through the ranks
    And leave them where they fall.

    And the grey stone wall is ringed with fire
    And the pitiless leaden hail
    Drives back the foe to the plains below,
    Shattered and crippled and frail.

    Again and again a new line forms
    And the gallant charge is made,
    And again and again they fall like grain
    In the sweep of the reaper's blade.

    And then from out of the battle smoke,
    There falls on the lead swept air,
    From the whitening lips that are ready to die
    The piteous moan and the plaintive cry
    For "Water" everywhere.

    And into the presence of Kershaw brave,
    There comes a fair faced lad,
    With quivering lips, as his cap he tips,
    "I can't stand this," he said.

    "Stand what?" the general sternly said,
    As he looked on the field of slaughter;
    "To see those poor boys dying out there,
    With no one to help them, no one to care
    And crying for 'Water! Water!'

    "If you'll let me go, I'll give them some."
    "Why, boy, you're simply mad;
    They'll kill you as soon as you scale the wall
    In this terrible storm of shell and ball,"
    The general kindly said.

    "Please let me go," the lad replied.
    "May the Lord protect you, then,"
    And over the wall in the hissing air,
    He carried comfort to grim despair,
    And balm to the stricken men.

    And as he straightened the mangled limbs
    On their earthen bed of pain,
    The whitening lips all eagerly quaffed
    From the canteen's mouth the cooling draught
    And blessed him again and again.

    Like Daniel of old in the lions' den,
    He walked through the murderous air,
    With never a breath of the leaden storm
    To touch or to tear his grey clad form,
    For the hand of God was there.

    And I am sure in the Book of Gold,
    Where the blessèd Angel writes
    The names that are blest of God and men,
    He wrote that day with his shining pen,
    Then smiled and lovingly wrote again
    "The Angel of Marye's Heights."

  10. Christmas Bells

    By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    I heard the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
    The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
    The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
    The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
    “There is no peace on earth," I said;
    “For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

  11. Stonewall Jackson's Way

    by John Williamson Palmer

    Come, stack arms, men! Pile on the rails,
    Stir up the camp-fire bright;
    No matter if the canteen fails,
    We'll make a roaring night.
    Here Shenandoah brawls along,
    There burly Blue Ridge echoes strong,
    To swell the brigade's rousing song
    Of "Stonewall Jackson's way."

    We see him now, — the old slouched hat
    Cocked o'er his eye askew;
    The shrewd, dry smile, the speech so pat,
    So calm, so blunt, so true.
    The "Blue-Light Elder" knows 'em well;
    Says he, "That's Banks, — he's fond of shell;
    Lord save his soul! we'll give him hell,
    That's "Stonewall Jackson's way."

    Silence! ground arms! kneel all! caps off!
    Old "Blue Light's" going to pray.
    Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!
    Attention! it's his way.
    Appealing from his native sod,
    "Hear us, hear us Almighty God,
    Lay bare Thine arm; stretch forth Thy rod!"
    That's "Stonewall Jackson's way."

    He's in the saddle now. Fall in!
    Steady! the whole brigade!
    Hill's at the ford cut off; we'll win
    His way out, ball and blade!
    What matter if our shoes are worn?
    What matter if our feet are torn?
    "Quick-step! we're with him before morn!"
    That's "Stonewall Jackson's way."

    The sun's bright lances rout the mists
    Of morning, and, by George!
    Here's Longstreet struggling in the lists,
    Hemmed in an ugly gorge.
    Pope and his Yankees, whipped before,
    "Bayonets and grape!" hear Stonewall roar;
    "Charge, Stuart! Pay off Ashby's score!"
    In "Stonewall Jackson's way."

    Ah! Maiden, wait and watch and yearn
    For news of Stonewall's band!
    Ah! Widow, read, with eyes that burn,
    That ring upon thy hand.
    Ah! Wife, sew on, pray on, hope on;
    Thy life shall not be all forlorn;
    The foe had better ne'er been born
    That gets in "Stonewall's way."

  12. The Colored Soldiers

    by Paul Laurence Dunbar

    If the muse were mine to tempt it
    And my feeble voice were strong,
    If my tongue were trained to measures,
    I would sing a stirring song.
    I would sing a song heroic
    Of those noble sons of Ham,
    Of the gallant colored soldiers
    Who fought for Uncle Sam!

    In the early days you scorned them,
    And with many a flip and flout
    Said "These battles are the white man's,
    And the whites will fight them out."
    Up the hills you fought and faltered,
    In the vales you strove and bled,
    While your ears still heard the thunder
    Of the foes' advancing tread.

    Then distress fell on the nation,
    And the flag was drooping low;
    Should the dust pollute your banner?
    No! the nation shouted, No!
    So when War, in savage triumph,
    Spread abroad his funeral pall —
    Then you called the colored soldiers,
    And they answered to your call.

    And like hounds unleashed and eager
    For the life blood of the prey,
    Spring they forth and bore them bravely
    In the thickest of the fray.
    And where'er the fight was hottest,
    Where the bullets fastest fell,
    There they pressed unblanched and fearless
    At the very mouth of hell.

    Ah, they rallied to the standard
    To uphold it by their might;
    None were stronger in the labors,
    None were braver in the fight.
    From the blazing breach of Wagner
    To the plains of Olustee,
    They were foremost in the fight
    Of the battles of the free.

    And at Pillow! God have mercy
    On the deeds committed there,
    And the souls of those poor victims
    Sent to Thee without a prayer.
    Let the fulness of Thy pity
    O'er the hot wrought spirits sway
    Of the gallant colored soldiers
    Who fell fighting on that day!

    Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom,
    And they won it dearly, too;
    For the life blood of their thousands
    Did the southern fields bedew.
    In the darkness of their bondage,
    In the depths of slavery's night,
    Their muskets flashed the dawning,
    And they fought their way to light.

    They were comrades then and brothers.
    Are they more or less to-day?
    They were good to stop a bullet
    And to front the fearful fray.
    They were citizens and soldiers,
    When rebellion raised its head;
    And the traits that made them worthy,—
    Ah! those virtues are not dead.

    They have shared your nightly vigils,
    They have shared your daily toil;
    And their blood with yours commingling
    Has enriched the Southern soil.
    They have slept and marched and suffered
    'Neath the same dark skies as you,
    They have met as fierce a foeman,
    And have been as brave and true.

    And their deeds shall find a record
    In the registry of Fame;
    For their blood has cleansed completely
    Every blot of Slavery's shame.
    So all honor and all glory
    To those noble sons of Ham —
    The gallant colored soldiers
    Who fought for Uncle Sam!

  13. The Charge of Pickett's Brigade

    by Anonymous

    In Gettysburg at break of day
    The hosts of war are held in leash
    To gird them for the coming fray,
    E'er brazen-throated monsters flame,
    Mad hounds of death that tear and maim.
    Ho, boys in blue,
    And gray so true,
    Fate calls to-day the roll of fame.

    On Cemetery Hill was done
    The clangor of four hundred guns;
    Through drifting smoke the morning sun
    Shone down a line of battled gray
    Where Pickett's waiting soldiers lay.
    Virginians all,
    Heed glory's call,
    You die at Gettysburg to-day,

    'Twas Pickett's veteran brigade,
    Great Lee had named; he knew them well;
    Oft had their steel the battle stayed.
    O warriors of the eagle plume,
    Fate points for you the hour of doom.
    Ring rebel yell,
    War cry and knell!
    The stars, to-night, will set in gloom.

    O Pickett's men, ye sons of fate,
    Awe-stricken nations bide your deeds.
    For you the centuries did wait,
    While wrong had writ her lengthening scroll
    And God had set the judgment roll.
    A thousand years
    Shall wait in tears,
    And one swift hour bring to goal.

    The charge is done, a cause is lost;
    But Pickett's men heed not the din
    Of ragged columns battle tost;
    For fame enshrouds them on the field,
    And pierced, Virginia, is thy shield.
    But stars and bars
    Shall drape thy scars;
    No cause is lost till honor yield.

  14. Gettysburg

    by James Jeffrey Roche

    There was no union in the land,
    Though wise men labored long
    With links of clay and ropes of sand
    To bind the right and wrong.

    There was no temper in the blade
    That once could cleave a chain;
    Its edge was dull with touch of trade
    And clogged with rust of gain.

    The sand and clay must shrink away
    Before the lava tide:
    By blows and blood and fire assay
    The metal must be tried.

    Here sledge and anvil met, and when
    The furnace fiercest roared,
    God's undiscerning workingmen
    Reforged His people's sword.

    Enough for them to ask and know
    The moment's duty clear—
    The bayonets flashed it there below,
    The guns proclaimed it here:

    To do and dare, and die at need,
    But while life lasts, to fight—
    For right or wrong a simple creed,
    But simplest for the right.

    They faltered not who stood that day
    And held this post of dread;
    Nor cowards they who wore the gray
    Until the gray was red.

    For every wreath the victor wears
    The vanquished half may claim;
    Every monument declares
    A common pride and fame.

    We raise no altar stones to Hate,
    Who never bowed to fear:
    No province crouches at our gate,
    To shame our triumph here.

    Here standing by a dead wrong's grave
    The blindest now may see,
    The blow that liberates the slave
    But sets the master free!

    When ills beset the nation's life
    Too dangerous to bear,
    The sword must be the surgeon's knife,
    Too merciful to spare.

    O Soldier of our common land,
    'Tis thine to bear that blade
    Loose in the sheath, or firm in hand,
    But ever unafraid.

    When foreign foes assail our right,
    One nation trusts to thee—
    To wield it well in worthy fight-
    The sword of Meade and Lee.

  15. Robert Gould Shaw

    by Paul Laurence Dunbar

    Why was it that the thunder voice of Fate
    Should call thee, studious, from the classic groves,
    Where calm-eyed Pallas with still footsteps roves,
    And charge thee seek the turmoil of the State?
    What bade thee hear the voice and rise elate,
    Leave home and kindred and thy spicy loaves,
    To lead th' unlettered and despised droves
    To manhood's home and thunder at the gate?

    Far better the slow blaze of Learning's light,
    The cool and quiet of her dearer fane,
    Than this hot terror of a hopeless fight,
    This cold endurance of the final pain,—
    Since thou and those who with thee died for right
    Have died, the Present teaches, but in vain!

    “There they march, warm-blooded champions of a better day for man. There on horseback among them, in his very habit as he lived, sits the blue-eyed child of fortune, upon whose happy youth every divinity had smiled”

    – William James
    Excerpt from the oration at the unveiling of the Shaw Monument.
  16. Sheridan's Ride

    by Thomas Buchanan Read

    Up from the South, at break of day,
    Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay,
    The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
    Like a herald in haste to the chieftain's door,
    The terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,
    Telling the battle was on once more,
    And Sheridan twenty miles away.

    And wider still those billows of war
    Thundered along the horizon's bar;
    And louder yet into Winchester rolled
    The roar of that red sea uncontrolled,
    Making the blood of the listener cold,
    As he thought of the stake in that fiery fray,
    With Sheridan twenty miles away.

    But there is a road from Winchester town,
    A good, broad highway leading down:
    And there, through the flush of the morning light,
    A steed as black as the steeds of night
    Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight;
    As if he knew the terrible need,
    He stretched away with his utmost speed.
    Hills rose and fell, but his heart was gay,
    With Sheridan fifteen miles away.

    Still sprang from those swift hoofs, thundering south,
    The dust like smoke from the cannon's mouth,
    Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster,
    Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster.
    The heart of the steed and the heart of the master
    Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls,
    Impatient to be where the battle-field calls;
    Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play,
    With Sheridan only ten miles away.

    Under his spurning feet, the road
    Like an arrowy Alpine river flowed,
    And the landscape sped away behind
    Like an ocean flying before the wind;
    And the steed, like a barque fed with furnace ire,
    Swept on, with his wild eye full of fire;
    But, lo! he is nearing his heart's desire;
    He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray,
    With Sheridan only five miles away.

    The first that the general saw were the groups
    Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops;
    What was to be done? what to do?—a glance told him both.
    Then striking his spurs with a terrible oath,
    He dashed down the line, 'mid a storm of huzzas,
    And the wave of retreat checked its course there, because
    The sight of the master compelled it to pause.
    With foam and with dust the black charger was gray;
    By the flash of his eye, and his red nostril's play,
    He seemed to the whole great army to say:
    "I have brought you Sheridan all the way
    From Winchester down to save the day."

    Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!
    Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!
    And when their statues are placed on high
    Under the dome of the Union sky,
    The American soldier's Temple of Fame,
    There, with the glorious general's name,
    Be it said, in letters both bold and bright:
    "Here is the steed that saved the day
    By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
    From Winchester—twenty miles away!"

  17. The Dying Soldiers

    by Anonymous

    A waste of land, a sodden plain,
    A lurid sunset sky,
    With clouds that fled and faded fast
    In ghostly phantasy;
    A field upturned by trampling feet,
    A field uppiled with slain,
    With horse and rider blent in death
    Upon the battle plain.

    The dying and the dead lie low;
    For them, no more shall rise
    The evening moon, nor midnight stars,
    Nor day light's soft surprise:
    They will not wake to tenderest call,
    Nor see again each home,
    Where waiting hearts shall throb and break,
    When this day's tidings come.

    Two soldiers, lying as they fell
    Upon the reddened clay—
    In daytime, foes; at night, in peace
    Breathing their lives away!
    Brave hearts had stirred each manly breast;
    Fate only, made them foes;
    And lying, dying, side by side,
    A softened feeling rose.

    "Our time is short," one faint voice said;
    "To-day we've done our best
    On different sides: what matters now?
    To-morrow we shall rest!
    Life lies behind. I might not care
    For only my own sake;
    But far away are other hearts,
    That this day's work will break.

    "Among New Hampshire's snowy hills,
    There pray for me to-night
    A woman, and a little girl
    With hair like golden light;"
    And at the thought, broke forth, at last,
    The cry of anguish wild,
    That would not longer be repressed
    "O God, my wife, my child!"

    "And," said the other dying man,
    "Across the Georgia plain,
    There watch and wait for me loved ones
    I ne'er shall see again:
    A little girl, with dark, bright eyes,
    Each day waits at the door;
    Her father's step, her father's kiss,
    Will never greet her more.

    "To-day we sought each other's lives:
    Death levels all that now;
    For soon before God's mercy seat
    Together we shall bow.
    Forgive each other while we may;
    Life's but a weary game,
    And, right or wrong, the morning sun
    Will find us, dead, the same."

    The dying lips the pardon breathe;
    The dying hands entwine;
    The last ray fades, and over all
    The stars from heaven shine;
    And the little girl with golden hair,
    And one with dark eyes bright,
    On Hampshire's hills, and Georgia's plain,
    Were fatherless that night!

  18. More Cruel Than War

    by W.S. Hawkins. (During the Civil War, a Southern prisoner at Camp Chase in Ohio lay sick in the hospital. He confided to a friend, Colonel Hawkins of Tennessee, that he was grieving because his fiancee, a Nashville girl, had not written to him. The soldier died soon afterward, Colonel Hawkins having promised to open and answer any mail that came for him. This poem is in reply to a letter from his friend's fiancee, in which she curtly broke the engagement.)

    Your letter, lady, came too late,
    For heaven had claimed its own;
    Ah, sudden change—from prison bars
    Unto the great white throne;
    And yet I think he would have stayed,
    To live for his disdain,
    Could he have read the careless words
    Which you have sent in vain.

    So full of patience did he wait,
    Through many a weary hour,
    That o'er his simple soldier-faith
    Not even death had power;
    And you—did others whisper low
    Their homage in your ear,
    As though among their shallow throng
    His spirit had a peer?

    I would that you were by me now,
    To draw the sheet aside
    And see how pure the look he wore
    The moment when he died.
    The sorrow that you gave to him
    Had left its weary trace,
    As 'twere the shadow of the cross
    Upon his pallid face.

    "Her love," he said, "could change for me
    The winter's cold to spring."
    Ah, trust of fickle maiden's love,
    Thou art a bitter thing!
    For when these valleys, bright in May,
    Once more with blossoms wave,
    The northern violets shall blow
    Above his humble grave.

    Your dole of scanty words had been
    But one more pang to bear
    For him who kissed unto the last
    Your tress of golden hair;
    I did not put it where he said,
    For when the angels come,
    I would not have them find the sign
    Of falsehood in the tomb.

    I've read your letter, and I know
    The wiles that you have wrought
    To win that trusting heart of his,
    And gained it—cruel thought!
    What lavish wealth men sometimes give
    For what is worthless all
    What manly bosoms beat for them
    In folly's falsest thrall!

    You shall not pity him, for now
    His sorrow has an end;
    Yet would that you could stand with me
    Beside my fallen friend!
    And I forgive you for his sake,
    As he—if he be forgiven—
    May e'en be pleading grace for you
    Before the court of Heaven.

    To-night the cold winds whistle by,
    As I my vigil keep
    Within the prison dead-house, where
    Few mourners come to weep.
    A rude plank coffin holds his form;
    Yet death exalts his face,
    And I would rather see him thus
    Than clasped in your embrace.

    To-night your home may shine with light
    And ring with merry song,
    And you be smiling as your soul
    Had done no deadly wrong;
    Your hand so fair that none would think
    It penned these words of pain;
    Your skin so white—would God your heart
    Were half as free from stain.

    I'd rather be my comrade dead
    Than you in life supreme;
    For yours the sinner's waking dread,
    And his the martyr's dream!
    Whom serve we in this life we serve
    In that which is to come;
    He chose his way, you—yours; let God
    Pronounce the fitting doom.

  19. O Captain! My Captain!

    by Walt Whitman

    O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
    The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
    The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
    While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

    But O heart! heart! heart!
    O the bleeding drops of red,
    Where on the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

    O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
    Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
    For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
    For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

    O captain! dear father!
    This arm beneath your head;
    It is some dream that on the deck,
    You've fallen cold and dead.

    My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
    My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
    The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
    From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
    But I, with mournful tread,
    Walk the deck my captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

  20. Robert E. Lee

    by Julia Ward Howe

    A gallant foeman in the fight,
    A brother when the fight was o'er,
    The hand that led the host with might
    The blessed torch of learning bore.

    No shriek of shells nor roll of drums,
    No challenge fierce, resounding far,
    When reconciling Wisdom comes
    To heal the cruel wounds of war.

    Thought may the minds of men divide,
    Love makes the heart of nations one,
    And so, the soldier grave beside,
    We honor thee, Virginia's son.

  21. The Blue and the Gray

    by Francis Miles Finch. NOTE.—The above touching little poem first appeared in the "Atlantic Monthly" in September, 1867. It commemorates the noble action on the part of the women at Columbus, Miss., who in decorating the graves strewed flowers impartially on those of the Confederate and of the Federal soldiers.

    By the flow of the inland river,
    Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
    Where the blades of the grave grass quiver,
    Asleep are the ranks of the dead;—
    Under the sod and the dew,
    Waiting the judgment day;
    Under the one, the Blue;
    Under the other, the Gray.

    These, in the robings of glory,
    Those, in the gloom of defeat,
    All, with the battle blood gory,
    In the dusk of eternity meet;—
    Under the sod and the dew,
    Waiting the judgment day;
    Under the laurel, the Blue;
    Under the willow, the Gray.

    From the silence of sorrowful hours,
    The desolate mourners go,
    Lovingly laden with flowers,
    Alike for the friend and the foe;—
    Under the sod and the dew,
    Waiting the judgment day;
    Under the roses, the Blue;
    Under the lilies, the Gray.

    So, with an equal splendor,
    The morning sun rays fall,
    With a touch, impartially tender,
    On the blossoms blooming for all;—
    Under the sod and the dew,
    Waiting the judgment day;
    Broidered with gold, the Blue;
    Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

    So, when the summer calleth,
    On forest and field of grain,
    With an equal murmur falleth
    The cooling drip of the rain;—
    Under the sod and the dew,
    Waiting the judgment day;
    Wet with the rain, the Blue;
    Wet with the rain, the Gray.

    Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
    The generous deed was done:
    In the storm of the years that are fading,
    No braver battle was won;—
    Under the sod and the dew,
    Waiting the judgment day;
    Under the blossoms, the Blue;
    Under the garlands, the Gray.

    No more shall the war cry sever,
    Or the winding rivers be red;
    They banish our anger forever,
    When they laurel the graves of our dead;—
    Under the sod and the dew,
    Waiting the judgment day;
    Love and tears, for the Blue;
    Tears and love, for the Gray.

  22. A Nameless Grave

    by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    “A Soldier of the Union mustered out,”
    Is the inscription on an unknown grave
    At Newport News, beside the salt-sea wave,
    Nameless and dateless; sentinel or scout
    Shot down in skirmish, or disastrous rout
    Of battle, when the loud artillery drave
    Its iron wedges through the ranks of brave
    And doomed battalions, storming the redoubt.
    Thou unknown hero sleeping by the sea
    In thy forgotten grave! with secret shame
    I feel my pulses beat, my forehead burn,
    When I remember thou hast given for me
    All that thou hadst, thy life, thy very name,
    And I can give thee nothing in return.