So shook the mighty North the sudden roar
Of Treason thundering on the April air—
An earthquake shock that jarred the granite hills
And westward rolled against th’ eternal walls
Rock-built Titanic—for a moment shook:
Uprose a giant and with iron hands
Grasped his huge hammer, claspt his belt of steel,
And o’er the Midgard-monster mighty Thor
Loomed for the combat.
Peace—O blessed Peace!
The war-worn veterans hailed thee with a shout
Of Alleluias;—homeward wound the trains,
And homeward marched the bayonet-bristling columns
To “Hail Columbia” from a thousand horns—
Marched to the jubilee of chiming bells,
Marched to the joyful peals of cannon, marched
With blazing banners and victorious songs
Into the outstretched arms of love and home.
But there be columns—columns of the dead
That slumber on an hundred battle-fields—
No bugle-blast shall waken till the trump
Of the Archangel. O the loved and lost!
For them no jubilee of chiming bells;
For them no cannon-peal of victory;
For them no outstretched arms of love and home.
God’s peace be with them. Heroes who went down,
Wearing their stars, live in the nation’s songs
And stories—there be greater heroes still,
That molder in unnumbered nameless graves
Erst bleached unburied on the fields of fame
Won by their valor. Who will sing of these—
Sing of the patriot-deeds on field and flood—
Of these—the truer heroes—all unsung?
Where sleeps the modest bard in Quaker gray
Who blew the pibroch ere the battle lowered,
Then pitched his tent upon the balmy beach?
“Snow-bound,” I ween, among his native hills.
And where the master hand that swept the lyre
Till wrinkled critics cried “Excelsior”?
Gathering the “Aftermath” in frosted fields.
Then, timid Muse, no longer shake thy wings
For airy realms and fold again in fear;
A broken flight is better than no flight;
Be thine the task, as best you may, to sing
The deeds of one who sleeps at Gettysburg
Among the thousands in a common grave.
The story of his life I bid you tell
As it was told one windy winter night
To veterans gathered around the festal board,
Fighting old battles over where the field
Ran red with wine, and all the battle-blare
Was merry laughter and the merry songs—
Told when the songs were sung by him who heard
The pith of it from the dying soldier’s lips—
His Captain—tell it as the Captain told.
“Well, comrades, let us fight one battle more;
Let the cock crow—we’ll guard the camp till morn.
And—since the singers and the merry ones
Are hors de combat—fill the cups again;
Nod if you must, but listen to a tale
Romantic—but the warp thereof is truth.
When the old Flag on Sumter’s sea-girt walls
From its proud perch a fluttering ruin fell,
I swore an oath as big as Bunker Hill;
For I was younger then, nor battle-scarred,
And full of patriot-faith and patriot-fire.