MY friend conceived the soul hereafter dwells
In any heaven the inmost heart desires,
The heart, which craves delight, at pain rebels,
And balks, or obeys the soul till life expires.
He deemed that all the eternal Force contrives
Is wrought to revigorate its own control,
And that its alchemy some strength derives
From every tested and unflagging soul.
He deemed a spirit which avails to guide
A human heart, gives proof of energy
To be received in That which never bides,
But ever toils for what can never be—
A perfect All—toward which the Eternal strives
To urge forever every atom’s range,
The Ideal, which never unto Form arrives,
Because new concept emanates from change.
He deemed the inmost heart is what aligns
Man’s aspiration, noble or impure,
And that immortal Tolerance assigns
Each soul what Aspiration would secure.
And if it choose what highest souls would rue—
Some endless round of mortal joys inane—
Such fate befits what souls could not subdue
The heart’s poor shrinking from the chrism of pain.
My friend reviewed, nigh death, how staunch the soul
Had waged in him a conflict, never done,
To rule the dual self that fought control,
Spirit and flesh inextricably one.
His passionless judgment pondered well the past,
Patient, relentless, ere he spoke sincere,—
“Through all the strife my soul prevailed at last,
It rules my inmost heart’s desire here;
“My Will craves not some paradise of zest
Where mortal joys eternally renew,
Nor blank nirvana, nor elysian rest,
Nor palaced pomp to bombast fancy true;
“It yearns no whit to swell some choiring strain
In endless amplitudes of useless praise;
It dares to aspire to share the immortal pain
Of toil in mouldering Form from phase to phase.
“To me, of old, such fate some terror bore,
But now great gladness in my spirit glows,
While death clings round me friendlier than before,
To loose the soul that mounts beyond repose.”
Yet, at the end, from seeming death he stirred
As one whose sleep is broke by sudden shine,
And whispered Christ, as if the soul had heard
Tidings of some exceeding sweet design.
The Vision At Shiloh
SHROUDED on Shiloh field in night and rain,
This body rested from the first’s day’s fight;
Fallen face down, both hands on rifle clutched,
A Shape of sprawling members, blank of thought
As was the April mud in which it lay.
Comrade, you deem that I shall surely lie
Torpid, forgetful, nevermore to march
After the flush of morning pales in day;
But I remember how I rose again
From Shiloh field to march three mighty years,
Until mine eyes beheld in Richmond streets
Our Father Abraham, homely conqueror,
So Son-of-Manlike, fashioned mild and meek,
Averse from triumph, close to common men,
Chief of a Nation mercifully strong.
In boyhood many a time I’d seen his face,
Knew well the accents of his voice serene,
Loved the kind twinkle of his sad-eyed smile,
Yet never once beheld him save with awe,
For that mysterious sense of unity
With the External Fortitude, which flowed
As from his gaze into my yearning heart.
The peace our Father’s four years’ Calvary wrought
Has bustled through his huge two-oceaned land
How busily since Shiloh’s blood-drenched field
Gave up from death this body men called me.—
Oh, paths of peace were, truly, pleasant ways!
The kindliest Nation earth has ever known
Gave to their veterans grateful preference
In every labor, mart, and council hall,
Which nobleness shall a thousand fold be paid
By soldier hearts in every future Age.
Myself was one whom Fortune favored much,
Children and children’s children, troops of friends
Have cheered this firelit chamber silken hung
Where now I rest me easy at the last,
In confidence that Shiloh’s miracle
Of Vision and of Song did true forecast
Repose in bliss surpassing mortal dream.
The night outside is black as Shiloh’s night,
Save for electric-litten streaks of rain;
My dripping eaves declare November’s shower
Falling as fast as early April’s did
When first this time-worn body grew aware
Of Death’s reluctant yielding to the Soul.
Utter oblivion could not be from Sleep
While battle roared, and dreaded evening fell,
And sullen foemen kept the plain unsearched,
And rain tempestuous stormed to midnight’s gloom.
Oh, let me talk! I’ve seldom told the tale,
And I care nothing if my strength be strained.
Our generation ever held that Strength
Was given only that it might be tried.
What matters it if so my term of hours
Ere second resurrection be forestalled?
First did this body dimly sense its form
As something vaguely unified in Space;
Powerless, motionless, unaware of aught
Save merely numbness, while a smothering nose
And mumbling lips and tongue mechanical
Strove for they knew not what, which was to breathe—
Strove as by instinct uncontrolled of Mind,
Which nowise ordered hands enormous-like
To fumble baffled till they slowly learned
The fast-clutched rifle which bewildered them
Was such a thing as fingers could let go.
Then, to restore the breath, the forearms come
Beneath the brow, and raised the face from mud;
Yet all was numbness, but for tiny blows
Patting behind the neck, and prankily
Creeping at random down the cheeks and hair.
I did not guess them pellets of cold rain
Until a stab came up as from the ground
Into my wounded breast. Then Mind awoke
To wetness, night, and all the agonies
That dogged resolution rose to bear.
Shocked Memory cried, That stroke one instant past
Was shrapnel shell! The reasoning power replied,
It laid the body dead on Shiloh field.
Then staunch the Soul, I live—and God is here.
Visions came lightning-quick, clear, unconfused,—
The City tumult in my childish ears,
Our tremulous Church at Sumter’s bulletin,
Me naked in the cold recruiting room
Stripped to the hurrying Doctor’s callous test;—
All the innumerable recollections flashed
On to that battle-moment when my chum
Charging beside me on red Shiloh field
Gasped out, “Oh, John,” clutched horribly his throat,
Frowned on his bloodied hands, stared wild at me
Who, in that moment, felt the stroke, and fell.
Was Harry nigh? I groped in puddled grass
Seeking his comrade corpse, and sought in vain.
The wound might not have killed him! Could I turn,
And so gain ground to search a little more?
Yes—but the agony! Yet turn I did,
And, groping farther, felt a little bush.
It seemed more friendly to the finger hold
Than emptiness, or muddy earth, or grass;
So there I lay, face up, in absolute night
Whose stillness deepened with the lessening rain.
How long, O Lord, how long the darkness held!
Despite the feverish wound my body chilled,
And oft my desperate fingers strove to loose
The soaking blanket roll which trenched my back
As if it lay diagonal on a ridge.
It may be true that slight delirium touched
My brain that night, for when a little wind
Came rustling through the bushes of the plain,
And drizzling ceased, how clearly my closed eyes
Could see within the house where I was born!
There sister voices conned their lesson books,
And Mother’s dress was trailing on the stair
As she were coming up to comfort me,
While in my heart an expectation flowed
Of some inexplicable joy anear,
Angelic, shining-robed, austerely fair.
With that I opened wondering eyes—and Lo
The heavenly host of stars o’er Shiloh field!
And oh the glory of them, and the peace,
The promise, the ethereal hope renewed!
Up rose my soul, supreme past bodily grief,
To rest enraptured as of Heaven assured.
In that blest trance my gaze became intent
On beams I deemed at first a rising moon,
Until mine eyes conceived the luminous space
Haloed a tall and human-seeming Form,
Of countenance uplifted unto God,
And palms breast-clasped as if entreating Him.
In vain my straining sight sought certainty
Whose was the sorrowing figure which I dreamed
To wear a visage as if Christ were come
In pity for the carnage of that plain.
It seemed that nigh that Presence rose a voice
Most heavenly pure of note, and manlike strong;
“When I can read my title clear,” it sang
Triumphantly, “To mansions in the skies,”
Lifting the hymn in exultation high
Till other voices took it—wounded men
Lying, like me, in pain and close to death;
Myself chimed in, while all about me rang
The soldier chanting of that prostrate host,
Northern and Southern, one united choir
Solemnly glad in Man’s supernal dream.*
Comrade, when that high service of great song
Died down, there was no semblance of a moon!
And if indeed one rode the April sky
That wonder-night, I never yet have learned.
But I do know most surely this strange thing,—
That when, in Richmond, Father Abraham,
After three years grassed newly Shiloh plain,
Beheld my veteran men relieve his guard,
I saw the triumph in my countenance
Did grieve afresh his sad and infinite eyes
Which gazed with gentle meaning into mine
The while his silent lips seemed fashioning
For me alone, “Remember Shiloh Choir.”
Then clear I knew his brooding tenderness
Bewailed our vanquished brethren, waked from years
Of dreadful dream he was their enemy;
The exultation vanished from my heart,
A choking pity took me in the throat,
And forth I rushed to join the ranks of Blue
Fighting, as saviours, flames in Richmond Town,
The while his kindly look seemed blessing me.
Now in the contemplation of his eyes
I lie content as stretched on Shiloh field,
Dreaming triumphant, waiting for the dawn.
There it broke fair, till shattering musketry
And cheers of charging Blue right onward swept
So far, it seemed that utter silence fell,
And I lay waiting very peacefully,
As now, for friendly hands to bear me home.
The Many Mansioned House
THERE looms, upon the enormous round
Where nations come and nations go,
A many-mansioned house, whose bound
Ranges so wide that none may know
Its temperate lands of corn and vine,
Its solitudes of Arctic gloom,
Its wealth of forest, plain, and mine,
Its jungle world of tropic bloom.
Yet so its architects devise
That still its boundary walls extend,
And still its guardian forts arise,
And still its builders see no end
Of plan, or labor, or the call
By which the Master of their Fate
Urges to lay the advancing wall
Of Law beyond the farthest gate.
The mortar oft is red with blood
Of men within and men without,
For hate’s incessant storm and flood
Rage round each uttermost redoubt,
And bullets sing, and shrieks are loud,
And bordering voices curse the hour
That sees the builders onward crowd,
True to the Master Mind, whose power
Impels them build by plumb and line
To give the blood-stained wall increase
And forward push the huge design
Within whose mansions dwelleth peace.
The Master Mind is in no place,
It hath no settled rank nor name,
Its mood, as moulded by the race,
Shifts often, yet remains the same
To meditate what millions think,
And shape the deed to fit their thought,
Now raising high who seemed to sink,
Now flinging down their choice as naught.
It lauds what sons obey its calls
When time has come for hands to smite,
And when the hour to cease befalls
It chastens them it did requite;
Yet still so chooses that the change
From war to peace and peace to war
Confirms the mansions in their range,
And builds the far-built wall more far.
Within the many mansions dwell
Nations diverse of tongue and blood,—
Races whose primal anthems tell
How Ganges grew a sacred flood,
Tribes long fore-fathered when the birds
Of Egypt saw Osiris pass,
They that were ancient when the herds
Of Abraham cropped Chaldean grass,
People whose shepherd-priesthoods saw
The might of Nineveh begin,
And folk whose slaves baked mud and straw
Mid Babylon’s revelling fume of sin;
Blacks that have served in every age
Since first the yoke of Ham they wore,
Yellows who set the printed page
Ere Homer sang from shore to shore,
Swart Browns whose glittering kreeses held
In dread the far-isled Asian seas,
Fierce Reds who waged from primal eld
Their stealthy warfare of the trees;
Men of the jaguar-haunted swamp
Whose mountain masters dwelt in pride
Of golden-citied Aztec pomp
Ages ere Montezuma died;
Builders whose blood was in the hands
That propped the circled Druid stones,
And Odin-fathered men, whose bands
Storming all winds, laid warrior bones
Round all the Roman mid-world sea,
And held the Cæsars’ might in scorn,
And kept the Viking liberty
That fairer freedom might be born.
The wall defendeth all alike,
The Master Mind on all ordains:—
Within my bound no sword shall strike,
Nor fetter bind, save law arraigns;
No prisoner here shall feel the rack,
No infant be to slavery born,
The wage shall labor’s sweat not lack,
Nor skill of just reward be shorn.
The king and hind alike shall stand
Within the peril of my law,
And though it change at time’s demand
Shall every change be held in awe.
Here every voice may freely speak
Wisdom or folly as it choose,
And though the strong must lead the weak,
The weak may yet the strong refuse;
Thus shall no change be wrought before
The wise who seek a better way
Can win, to share their vision, more
Than praise the wise who wish delay,—
That so the Master Mind be strong
Through every drift of time and change,
To fashion either right or wrong
At will, within the mansions’ range.
Of what is wrong and what is right
The Master Mind doth ceaseless hear,
Listens intent to counselling might,
Pity or fury, hope or fear,
Sways to the evil, yet repents,
Sways to the good, yet half denies,
Follows revenge, but quick relents,
And makes its wondering foes allies;
In memory sees its frenzied hours,
And holds those fury-fits in scorn;
In gentlest aspiration towers,
Or grovels as of faith forlorn,
Yet never, never loses quite
The thought, the hope, the glory-dream,
That beacon of supernal light,
The shining, holy Grail-like beam,
The Ideal—in which alone it dares
Advance the circuit of the wall—
The faith that yet shall happy shares
Of circumstance be won for all,—
This is the vision of its law,
This is the Asgard of its dream—
That what the world yet never saw
Of justice shall arise supreme.
The Master Mind proclaims as free
Alike, all creeds that men may name,
All worships they devise to be
Their help in hope, or ease in shame;
In Buddha, Mahmoud, Moses, Christ,
Outspokenly may any trust,
Or he whom no belief enticed
May hold the soul a dream of dust,
Yet all alike be free to teach,
And all alike be free to shun,
Because the law of freeman’s speech
Impartial guardeth every one;
If but all rites of blood be banned,
Then may each life select its God,
And every congregation stand
Past dread of persecution’s rod,—
Lo now! Is thus not Jesus set
Transcendent o’er the broad domain—
The gentle Christ whose anguished sweat
Bled for a world-wide mercy’s reign?
Yet in many Mansions flaunt,
As if they deem their place secure,
Legion, whose Christ-defying vaunt
How long, O Lord, dost Thou endure!
Belshazzar’s Feast is multiplied,
Mammon holds fabulous parade,
Thousands of Minotaurs divide
The procurers’ tribute of the maid,
Circe enchants her votary swine,
Moloch, though veiled his fire, consumes,
And all the man-made Gods assign
Their victims self-elected dooms.
In large, the suffering and the sin
(Full well the Master Mind doth know),
From luxury and want begin,
And through unequal portions flow.
This ancient wrong doth worst defeat
The immortal yearning of His plea
To save the little, wandering feet,—
“Suffer the children come to me”;
Wherefore, on streets that Mammon makes
The Master Mind bends ruthless eye,
Yet calm withholds the blow that breaks,
And leaves that stroke to by and by,
Since faithful memory, backward cast,
Beholds how much hath freedom won,
And lest a pomp-destroying blast
Might shrivel many a guiltless one,
And since it knows that freedom’s plan
To build secure alone is skilled,
And that firm-grounded gain for man
Is only by what man hath willed.—
Hence waits the Master Mind, in trust
That yet the hour shall Mammon rue,
Since, as the mansions grow, so must
Freedom upraise The Christ anew.
But whether He prevail at last,
Or whether all shall pass away,
Even as Rome’s great Empire passed
When wrought the purpose of its day,
Still must the builders heed the call
By which the Master of all Fate
Ordains they lay the advancing wall
Of peace beyond the farthest gate.
And, oh! the Master Mind may well
In pride of gentleness rejoice
That in the Mansions none may quell
The lilt of any nation’s voice;
But every race may sing their joy,
May hymn their pride, their glories boast
To listeners glad without alloy—
The primal, wall-extending host,
The founding, freedom-loving race
Whose generous-visioning mind doth see
No worth in holding foremost place,
Save in an Empire of the Free.
Father Abraham Lincoln
My private shrine. The Gettysburg Address
Framed in with all authentic photographs
Of him from whom the New Religion flows.
Homely? That’s it. A perfect homeliness.
Homely as Home itself that countenance
Benign, immortal sweet, his very soul,
The steadfast, common, great American.
It is a gladness in my aging heart
These eyes three times beheld himself alive,
Ungainly, jointed loose, rail-fence-like, queer
In garb that hung with scarecrow shapelessness—
Absolute figure of The States half-made,
Turning from toil and joke to sacred war.
MY heart has smiles and tears, remembering how
The boy, fourteen, round-cheeked and downy-lipped,
With Philadelphia cheese-cake freshly bit,
Halted to stare on marbled Chestnut Street;
He could not gulp the richness in his maw,
Because that black-frock-coated countryman
Of bulged umbrella, rusty stovepipe hat,
Five yards ahead, and coming rapidly,
Could be none other than the President,
From caricatures familiar as the day.
A sudden twinkle lit his downcast eyes,
Marking the cheese-cake and the staring boy;
Tickled to note the checked gastronomy,
Passing, he asked, “Good, sonny?” in a tone
Applausive more than questioning, full of fun,
Yet half-embracive, as your mother’s voice,
And smiled so comrade-like the wondering lad
Glowed with a sense of being chosen chum
To Father Abraham Lincoln, President.
Such was the miracle his spirit wrought
In millions while he lived. And still it lives.
He stalked along, unguarded, all alone,
That central soul of unremitting war,
A common man level with common Man.
The heart-warmed, wondering boy stared after him,
And wonders yet to-day on how it chanced
The mighty, well-loved, martyr President
Went rambling on unknown in broadest day
On crowded street, as if by nimbus hid
From all except the cheese-caked worshipper
He sonnied, smiled on, joked at fatherly.
That night the streets of Philadelphia thronged;
No end of faces; one great human cross,
As far each way as lamp-post boys could see,
Packed Ninth and Chestnut, waiting Father Abe;
The Continental’s balcony on high
Glowed Stars and Stripes, with crape for all the dead
“We cannot dedicate, nor consecrate.”
On chime of eight precise, gaunt, bare of head,
They saw his tallness in the balcony-flare,
And straightway all the murmurous street grew still,
Till silence absolute as death befell.
And in that perfect silence one clear voice
Inspired began, from out the multitude, [Page 40]
The song of all the songs of all the war,
Simple, ecstatic, sacrificial, strong—
“We’re coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand
And neighboring voices took the long refrain
While some more distant raised the opening words,
Till to and fro and far and near at once,
Never in chorus, chanting as by groups,
Here ending, there beginning, some halfway,
All sang at once, and all renewing all
In pledge and passion of the mighty song,
Their different words and clashing cadences
Wondrously merging in a sound supreme,
As if the inmost meaning of the hymn
Harmonious rolled in one unending vow
While all the singers gazed on Lincoln’s face.
Hands gripping balcony-rail, he stooped and saw
And listened motionless, with such a look
The boy upon the lamp-post clearly knew
“The heavens were opened unto him,”
“The spirit of God descending like a dove”—
Until the mystery of the general soul
Wrought to unwonted sense of unison
Moved all to silence for the homely words
Of Father Abraham Lincoln to his kind—
Words clear as Light itself, so plain—so plain
None deemed him other than their fellow man.
Once more. A boy in blue at sixteen years,
Mid groups of blue along the crazy road
Of corduroy astretch from City Point,
Toward yonder spire in fatal Petersburg,
Beyond what trenches, rifle-pits, and forts,
What woeful far-front grave-mounds sunken down
To puddles over pickets shot on post—
What cemeteries shingle-marked with names
Of companies and regiments and corps
Of mouldering bones and rags of blue and gray,
And belts and buttons, rain and wind exposed—
Mired army wagons—forms of swollen mules—
Springfields and Enfields, broken-stocked, stuck up
Or strown, all rusting—parked artillery—
Brush shelter stables—lines and lines of huts,
Tent-covered winter quarters, sticks and mud
For chimneys to the many thousand smokes
Whose dropping cinders black-rimmed million holes
Through veteran canvas ludicrously patched—
Squares of parade all mud—and mud, and mud,
With mingled grass and chips and refuse cans
Strown myriad far about the plain of war,
Whose scrub-oak roots for scanty fires were grubbed,
And one sole house, and never fence remained
Where fifty leagues of corn-land smiled before.
Belated March—a lowering, rainless day
With glints of shine; the veteran tents of Meade
Gave forth their veteran boys in crowds of blue,
Infantry, cavalry, gunners, engineers,
Easterner, Westerner, Yankee, Irish, “Dutch,”
Canuck, all sorts and sizes, frowsed, unkempt,
Unwashed, half-smoked, profane exceedingly,
Moody or jokeful, formidable, free
From fear of colonels as of corporals,
Each volunteer the child of his own whim,
And every man heart-sworn American
Trudging the mud to view the cavalcade
Of Father Abraham Lincoln to The Front.
He, Chief Commander of all Union hosts,
Of more than thrice three hundred thousand more,
Rode half a horseneck first, since Grant on right
And Meade on left kept reining back their bays;
Full uniformed were they and all their train,
Sheridan, Humphreys, Warren, Hazen, Kautz,
Barlow, McLaughlen, Ord, and thirty more,
Blazing for once in feathers and in gold.
Old Abe, all black, bestrode the famous steed,
Grant’s pacing black—and sure since war began
No host of war had such Commander seen!
Loose-reined he let the steady pacer walk;
Those rail-like legs, that forked the saddle, thrust
Prodigious spattered boots anear the mud,
Preposterous his parted coat-tails hung,
In negligence his lounging body stooped,
Tipping the antic-solemn stovepipe hat;
It seemed some old-time circuit preacher turned
From Grant to Meade and back again to Grant,
Attentive, questioning, pondering, deep concerned—
The common Civil Power directing War.
He, travesty of every point of horsemanship,
They, so bedizened, riding soldier stern—
The contrast past all telling comical—
And Father Abraham wholly unaware!
Too much by far for soldier gravity—
A breeze of laughter travelling as he passed,
Rose sudden to a gale that stormed his ear.
The President turned and gazed and understood
All in one moment, slightly shook his head,
Not warningly, but with a cheerful glee,
And sympathy and love, as if he spoke:
“You scalawags, you scamps, but have your fun!”
Pushed up the stovepipe hat, and all around
Bestowed his warming, right paternal smile,
As if his soul embraced us all at once.
Then strangely fell all laughter. Some men choked,
And some grew inarticulate with tears;
A thousand veteran children thrilled as one,
And not a man of all the throng knew why;
Some called his name, some blessed his holy heart
And then, inspired with pentecostal tongues,
We cheered so wildly for Old Father Abe
That all the bearded generals flamed in joy!
What was the miracle? His miracle.
Was Father Abraham just a son of Man,
As Jesus seemed to common Nazarenes?
Shall Father Abraham Lincoln yet prevail,
And his Republic come to stay at last?
Kind Age, unenvious Youth, democracy,
None lower than the first in comradeship,
However differing in mental force,
The higher intellect set free to Serve,
All undistracted by the woeful need
To grab or pander lest its children want;
Old trivial gewgaws of the peacock past
Smiled to the nothingness of desuetude,
With strutful Rank, with pinchbeck Pageantry,
With apish separative-cant of Class,
With inhumane conventions, all designed
To sanctify the immemorial robbery
Of Man by men; with mockful mummeries,
Called Law, to save the one perennial Wrong—
That fundamental social crime which fate
All babes alike to Inequality,
And so condemns the many million minds
(That might, with happier nurture, finely serve)
To share, through life, the harmful hates or scorns
The accursed System breeds, which still most hurts
The few who fancy it their benefit,
Shutting them lifelong from the happiness
Of such close sympathy with all their kind
As feels the universal God, or Soul,
Alive to love in every human heart.
Was it for this our Mother’s sons were slain?
Shall Father Abraham not prevail again?
We who are marching to the small-flagged graves
We earned by fight to free our fathers’ slaves,
We who by Lincoln’s hero soul were sworn,
We go more sadly toward our earthly bourne
To join our comrade host of long ago,
Since, oh so clearly, do our old hearts know
We shall not witness what we longed to see—
Our own dear children minded to be free.
Why let democracy be flouted down?
Why let your money-mongers more renown
Their golden idol than the Common Weal,
Flaunting the gains of liberty-to-steal,
Fouling the promise of the heights we trod
With Freedom’s sacrifice to Lincoln’s God?
Was it for this he wept his children slain?
Or shall our Father’s spirit rise again?
A Veteran Cavalryman's Tale
LOW in the fertile vale by Tunstall’s Run
A rainy rifle skirmish closed the day.
Beyond the April-swollen, narrow stream,
Lee’s stubborn rearguard veteran raggedies
Lay prone amid last year’s tobacco stalks,
Shooting hot Enfields straight from red-mud pools,
While from their rear four angry howitzers,
High set on Armistead’s Plantation Hill,
Flamed shrieking shell o’erhead across the bridge
That Custer raged to seize before black night
Should close his daylong toil in mud and rain.
Thrice did we gallop vainly at the planks,
Then vainly strove on foot the pass to win,
Till through the drizzling dark but flashes showed
The points where sullen rifles opposite rang,
And back we straggled, stumbling up the slope
Where Union buglers shrilled the bivouac.
Ninety unanswering voices told our loss,
While silence ruled so deep we heard the rain’s
Small rataplan on ponchos and on hats,
Until the crackling rail-fence Company fires
Lighted the piney length of Custer’s Ridge.
That night John Woolston served as orderly,
The John who strokes to-day his white old beard
And sees himself, scarce downy of the lips,
Eyeing young long-haired Custer through the smoke
Across a flaming pyre, that steaming slaves
Of Tunstall fed afresh with Tunstall rails.
Down in the shrouded vale about the Run
Three score of boys John Woolston knew in life
Lay scattered round an old-hoed, red-mud field,
Peaceful with scores of veteran boys in gray,
Whose bodily particles were resurrect
As corn for bread, and leaf for smokers’ pipes,
Before the Americans of now were born
To share, through common-soldier sacrifice,
The comrade Union of the States to-day.
A rail-heap seated Custer with his aide,
Their drowsing bugler opposite leaned on John,
While overhead the swaying boughs of pine
Creaked in an upward-rushing draught of warmth,
And from our solitary surgeons’ tent
Came smothered ecstasies of mortal pain,
And in the outer darkness horses stamped
And bit and squealed and enviously eyed
The huddling regiments about the fires,
Pipes lit, hats slouched to fend the rain and glare.
As Woolston watched lean Custer’s martial face,
It seemed the hero heard not flame nor bough,
Nor marked the groans, nor knew at what he stared,
So deep intent his mind ranged o’er the Run
And up the opposite-sloping Arm’stead hill,
As questioning if the murderous howitzers
Would hold the bridge at dawn, or march by night,
And so, perchance, next eve, afar repeat
The dusky fight, and cost him ninety more
He would fain range about the field of fields
Where lion Lee, enringed, must stand at bay,
Choosing to greatly die, or greatlier yield.
At last he shook his aide. “Get up! Go bring
A prisoner here.” And when the head-hurt man
In butternut stood boldly to his eyes,
He asked one word alone: “Your general’s name?”
“My general’s name!” stared Butternut, then proud,
As ’t were a cubit added to his height,
He spoke,—“My general’s name is R. E. Lee!”
“I mean who fights Lee’s rearguard?” Custer said,
“Who held the bridge to-night? His name alone.”
And then the bitter man in butternut
Smiled ghastly grim, and smacked as tasting blood;
“It’s General Henry Tunstall, his own self,
And if you find our ‘Fighting Tunce’ alive
When daylight comes, there’ll be red hell to pay
For every plank that spans that trifling bridge.”
“Good man!” said Custer. “Spoke right soldierly!
Here—take this cloak—to save your wound from rain”:
And gave the brave the poncho that he wore.
Then up flamed Butternut: “Say, General,
You’re Yank, and yet, by God, you’re white clean through.
And so I kind of feel to tell you why
Them planks will cost you so almighty dear.
You’re camped to-night on ‘Fighting Tunce’s’ land;
Cross yonder, on the hill his guns defend,
Is where his lady lives, his promised wife,—
God bless her heart!—Miss Mary Armistead.
She’s there herself to-night—she’d never run.
Her widowed father fell at Fredericksburg,
Three brothers died in arms, one limps with Lee.
Herself has worked their darkies right along
Four years, to raise our army pork and pone,
And she herself not twenty-four to-day!
Will Tunstall fight for her? Say, General,
Your heart can guess what hell you’ll face at day.”
“You’re right, my man,” said Custer. “That will do.”
And off they marched the ponchoed prisoner.
“By heaven!” spoke Custer then, and faced his aide,
“I know why Tunstall’s gunners spared the bridge.
It’s ten to one he means to swarm across,
After his hungry Johnnies get some rest,
To strike us here and hard before the dawn.
His heart was forged in fire and enterprise!
His bully-boys will back his wildest dare!
Lieutenant—pick me out two first-rate men—
Morton for one, if ‘Praying Mort’ ’s alive—
Tell them I go myself to post vedettes.
Now—mind—I want a pair of wideawakes.—
You, Orderly, go saddle up my bay.”
“I want to go with Morton,” blurted John.
“You! Call yourself a wideawake, my lad?”
“Yes, sir,” said Woolston.—
“But you’re just a boy.”
“Well, General, Uncle Sam enlisted me
For man, all right.” Then Custer smiled, and mused.
“Farm boy?” he asked.—
“Exactly what I am.”
“All right,” he said. “If once I see he’s keen,
A likely farm boy’s just the man for me.
When back his aide returned the General spoke:
“It’s barely possible we march to-night.
You’ll see that every man about the fires
Splits torch stuff plenty from the pitchy rails.”
And with the words he reined toward Arm’stead’s Hill.
Down hill, beyond the flares, beyond the pines,
Beyond his foothill pickets, through the rain,
He led as if his eyes beheld the way;
Yet they, who followed close his bay’s fast walk
By sound alone, saw not their horses’ heads,
Saw not the hand held up to blotch the gloom.
No breath of wind. The ear heard only hoofs
Splashing and squattering in the puddle field,
Or heard the saddle-leathers scarcely creak,
Or little clanks of curbing bit and chain.
Scattered about whatever way they trod
Must be the clay that marched but yesterday,
And nervously John listened, lest some soul
Faint lingering in the dark immensity
Might call its longing not to die alone.
Sudden a crash, a plunge, a kicking horse,
Then “Praying Morton” whispering cautiously:
“A post-hole, General! My horse is done.
His off fore-leg is broke, as sure as faith!
Oh, what a dispensation of the Lord—”
“Hish-sh. Save the rest!” said Custer. “Broke is broke!
Get back to camp whatever way you can.”
“Me, General! What use to post the boy?
You, Woolston, you get back. I’ll take your horse.”
“Not much, you won’t,” said Woolston angrily.
And Custer chuckled crisply in the dark.
“Enough,” he ordered. “Morton, get you back!
Be cautious when you near my picket post,
Or else they’ll whang to hit your pious voice,
And I may lose a first-rate soldier man.”
Then Morton, prayerful, mild, and mollified:
“The merciful man would end a beast in pain—
“No, too much noise. You get right back!
Horses, like men, must bear the luck of war.”
Again the plashing hoofs through endless drip,
Until the solid footing of their beasts
Bespoke them trampling in a turnpike road,
And Custer reined with: “Hish-sh, my man—come here.
Now listen.” Then John’s ears became aware
Of small articulations in the dark,
Queer laughters, as of countless impish glee,
And one pervasive, low, incessant hum,
All strange till Custer spoke: “You hear the Run?
All right! Now, mind exactly what I say.
But no. First hold my horse. I’ll feel the bridge.
Maybe I’ll draw their fire; but stay right here.”
On foot he went, and came, so stealthily
John could not hear the steps ten feet away.
“All right!” He mounted. “Not one plank removed.”
Then, communing rather with himself than John:
“No picket there! It’s strange! But surely Tunce
Would smash the bridge unless he meant to cross
And rip right back at me in dark or dawn.
Now, private—mind exactly what I say;
You’ll listen here for trampers on the bridge,
And if you hear them reach the mud this side,
With others following on the planks behind,
You’ll get right back—stick to the turnpike, mind—
And tell my challenging road-guard picket post
They’re coming strong. That’s all you’ve got to do
Unless—” he paused—“unless some negro comes
Bringing the news they’re falling back on Lee;
Then—if he’s sure—you’ll fire four carbine shots
Right quick—and stay until you see me come.
“I do. I’m not to shoot
In case they’re coming on. But if they’re off,
I’ll fire four shots as fast as I can pull.”
“That’s right. Be sure you keep your wits awake.
Listen for prowlers—both your ears well skinned.”
John heard the spattering bay’s fast-walking hoofs
Fainter and fainter through the steady pour,
And then no sound, except the beating rain’s
Small pit-a-pat on poncho, and the Run
Drifting its babbling through the blinding mirk.
How long he sat, no guessing in the slow
Monotony of night, that never changed
Save when the burdened horse replaced his hoofs,
Or seemed to raise or droop his weary head,
Or when some shiver shook the weary boy,
Though sheltered dry from aching neck to spurs:
A shiver at the dream of dead men nigh,
Beaten with rain, and merging with the mud,
And staring up with open, sightless eyes
That served as little cups for tiny pools
That trickled in and out incessantly;
A shiver at the thought of home and bed,
And mother tucking in her boy at night,
And how she’d shiver could she see him there—
Longing more sore than John to wrap him warm;
A shiver from the tense expectancy
Of warning sounds, while yet no sound he heard
Save springtime water lapping on the pier,
Or tumbling often from the clayey banks
Lumps that splashed lifelike in the turbid flood.
His aching ears were strained for other sounds,
And still toward Arm’stead’s Hill they ached and strained,
While, in the evening fight of memory,
Again he saw the broad Plantation House
Whene’er a brassy howitzer spouted flame,
Suddenly lighting up its firing men,
Who vanished dim again in streaking rain;
And then, once more, the Enfields in the vale
Thrust cores of fire, until some lightning piece
Again lit all the Arm’stead buildings clear.
From visioning swift that wide Plantation House
John’s mind went peering through its fancied rooms.
And who were there? And did they sleep, or wake?
Until he found Miss Mary Armistead
And General Henry Tunstall in the dream.
It seemed those lovers could not, could not part,
But murmured low of parting in the dawn,
Since he must march and fight, and she must stay
To hold the home, whatever war might send—
And they might never, never meet again.
So good she looked, described by Butternut’s
“God bless her heart,” and he so soldier bold
In “fire and enterprise,” by Custer’s words,—
So true and sorrowful they talked in dream,
Of Love and Life that walk the ways of Death,—
The dreamer’s under lip went quivering.
Until the startled horse put up his head
And stood, John knew, stark stiff with listening
To that kalatta-klank beyond the Run,
As if some cowbell clattered far away
Once, twice, and thrice, to cease as suddenly.
Then John, once more keen Yankee soldier boy,
Gathered his rein, half threw his carbine breech,
Made sure again of cartridge ready there,
Felt for the flap of holster at his thigh,
Listened alert for that most dubious bell,—
Thinking of bushwhackers in campfire tales
Impressively related to recruits;
How, in deep night, some lone vedette might hear
An innocent-seeming klatta-klatta-klank,
And never dream but that some roaming cow
Ranged through the covering woodland nigh his post,—
Till—suddenly—a bullet laid him low!
Or, perhaps, guerillas crept before the bell,
Their footsteps deadened by its klatta-klank,
Till, rushing in, they clubbed the youngster down,
So “gobbling” him unheard, a prisoner,
Then, sneaking through the gap, on sleeping posts,
They killed, and killed, and killed—so horridly
That green recruities’ hairs would stand on end.
John, shrewdly discounting the veteran yarns,
Yet knew full well that klatta-klatta-klank,
Which came again, might mean the enemy
Intent on stratagem to search the dark,
Tempting some shot or challenge to reveal
If any Union picket held the bridge.
Or else the steady-coming, clanging knell
Might signify some party far advanced,
Creeping all noiselessly, and listening keen
For any sound of Custer, horse or man.
Even it might be that the ridgy road
Ten yards, or five, or three from where he sat,
Concealed some foeman hungry for a move
That might betray precisely where their rush
Should be, to seize his tightened bridle-rein,
Or grasp the poncho’s skirt to pull him down.
John half inclined to lift the neck-yoke off
And lay the armless cloak on saddle-bow,
Lest it encumber him in sudden fight,
Or give the foremost foe a strangling hold.
Yet sat he motionless, since such a sound
As slicking glaze might guide an enemy.
And still the klatta-klatta-klank came on.
It surely neared the bridge! Yet John sat still,
With Custer’s orders clearly in his brain,
Waiting to learn the meaning of the thing.
It trod the planks. It moved with solid hoofs,
Hoofs that declared to farm-bred Woolston’s ear
Most unmistakably an actual cow!
But then! Oh, mystery! For rolling wheels
Rumbled upon the planking of the Run!
As up went Woolston’s horse’s head asnort,
Upon the bridge the other beast stood still.
The clanking ceased. Again no mortal sound
Blent with the tittering tumult of the stream.
Until a clear young voice of lady tone
Inquired in startled accents,—“Who goes there?”
Yet John, in utter wonder, spoke no word.
“If there’s a Yankee cavalry picket there,”
The voice proclaimed, “I wish to pass the line.”
And still the Yankee knew not what to say,
Since Custer’s orders covered not the case,
And since, alas, the wondrous lady voice
Might possibly denote some stratagem.
And yet—suppose ’t was only just a girl!
John sickened with a sense of foolishness.
“Go on,” she cried, and seemed to slap her beast,
Which moved some doubtful steps, and stopped again.
Then calmly scornful came the lady tones:—
“Oh, Mister Yankee picket, have no fear
To speak right up. No dangerous man am I.
Only a woman. And she’s got no gun,
No pistol, bayonet, knife, or anything.
And all she asks is just to pass your line,
A prisoner if you like.” But there she broke,
Or choked, and wailed, “O God, it’s life or death!
Oh, soldier, soldier, let me pass the line.”
So John, half desperate, called, “Young lady, come.
I don’t care what the orders are. Come on.”
“Get up,” she slapped again. But then she called:—
“My cow won’t move! She sees you, I suppose,
All armed and threatening in the middle road.
Please go away. Or ride a bit aside;
Perhaps then she’ll come. Yes, now she moves along.
You’ll pass me through?—But are there surgeons there
Where, hours ago, I saw your campfires glow?
If not, I may as well turn back again.”
“No need,” said John. “We’ve got a surgeon there.
But what’s the trouble, Miss? Yourself been hurt?”
“The trouble is I’ve got a soldier here
With desperate wounds—if still alive he be.
Oh, help me save him.” And she broke again.
“Why, Miss,” said Woolston, melting at the heart,
“Was there no surgeon on the Arm’stead Hill
To help your wounded live?”
“No, none,” she said,
“No man remained. At eve the negroes fled,
Or followed close behind the wagon train
He urged, with every soldier, back toward Lee.
We two were left alone. I thought you’d come.
For hours and hours I waited, all in vain.
His life was flowing fast. One chance remained.
We women placed him in our best barouche,
The only vehicle our rearguard spared.
Alone I hitched this cow, the only beast
I kept from rations for our starving men.
I led her here. Oh, soldier, help me soon
To pass your lines, and reach a surgeon’s care.”
Then Custer’s orders flashed again to John;—
“Hold hard one moment, Miss, I’ve got to shoot.”
The carbine rang. “Thank God, that’s done,” said John.
“We’ll wait right here. A surgeon’s sure to come
With Custer’s march, for march I guess he will.
He’ll turn you round, I think, and see you home.
I s’pose your name’s Miss Mary Armistead?
I hope that’s not your General wounded there.”
She could but choke, or weep, and spoke no word.
It seemed long hours they waited silently,
Save once John heard the hidden carriage creak,
And guessed she rose beside the dying man
Beneath the drumlike pattering, sheltering hood.
At last, the bugles blared on Custer’s Ridge.
Then, far away, a lengthening stream of flare
Came round the distant, curtaining screen of pines,
And down the hill the torches, borne on high
By fifteen hundred horsemen, formed a slope
Of flame that moved behind the bugles’ call,
Till on the level road a fiery front
Tossing, yet solid-seeming, walked along.
And in the van rode Custer, beardless, tall,
His long hair dabbled in the streaming rain.
John rode to meet him. There he called the halt,
And came, with twenty torches, round the chaise.
Then first they saw Miss Mary Armistead,
Her honorable, fearless, lifted eyes
Gazing on Custer’s bare and bended head,
While General Henry Tunstall’s countenance,
Supported close within her sheltering arm,
Leaned unto hers in pallid soldier death.
“Madam,” said Custer, “would that I had known
The bravest of the brave lay needing aid.
Lady, the great heroic name he won
Held me from marching onward to your hill,
Held me expecting from him night attack,
Till now in vain we bring a surgeon’s help,—
And words are useless. Yet again I say—
Because a soldier’s heart compels the due—
He lived the bravest of the bravest brave
That ever faced the odds of mighty war.
May God sustain yourself for years and years
The living shrine of Tunstall’s memory.”
She bowed her noble head, but answered naught.
Then past the chariot streamed our wondering men
Behind tall Custer in the foremost front,
Trampling as thunder on the bridging planks,
Their torches gleaming on the swirling Run;
A tossing, swaying column o’er the flat,
A fiery slope of fours abreast the hill,
And on, unresting on, through night and rain,
Remorseless, urgent, yet most merciful,
Because the Nation’s life demanded war,
Relentless, hurrying swift to force an end,
And banish night, and bring a peaceful dawn.
But old John Woolston sees across the years,
Beneath the black, cavernous carriage hood,
Flaring in torchlight, Tunstall’s face of death
Beside a lovely, living, haloed face,
Heroic, calm, ineffably composed
With pride unconquerable in valiant deeds,
With trust in God our Lord unspeakable—
The sainted Woman of the Perished Cause,
The chastened soul of that Confederacy
Which marches on, no less than John Brown’s soul,
Inspiring, calling on the Nation’s heart,
Urging it dauntlessly to front stark death
For what ideals the Nation’s heart holds true.
Straight rain streaks downward through the torches’ flare,
And solemn through the ancient darkness sound
The small, bewildered, lingering, million tones
Of atoms streaming to the eternal sea.