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Herman Melville

(1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891 / New York City, New York)

Rebel Color-Bearers At Shiloh


_A plea against the vindictive cry raised by civilians
shortly after the surrender at Appomattox_

The color-bearers facing death
White in the whirling sulphurous wreath,
Stand boldly out before the line;
Right and left their glances go,
Proud of each other, glorying in their show;
Their battle-flags about them blow,
And fold them as in flame divine:
Such living robes are only seen
Round martyrs burning on the green--
And martyrs for the Wrong have been.

Perish their Cause! but mark the men--
Mark the planted statues, then
Draw trigger on them if you can.

The leader of a patriot-band
Even so could view rebels who so could stand;
And this when peril pressed him sore,
Left aidless in the shivered front of war--
Skulkers behind, defiant foes before,
And fighting with a broken brand.
The challenge in that courage rare--
Courage defenseless, proudly bare--
Never could tempt him; he could dare
Strike up the leveled rifle there.

Sunday at Shiloh, and the day
When Stonewall charged--McClellan's
crimson May,
And Chickamauga's wave of death,
And of the Wilderness the cypress wreath--
All these have passed away.
The life in the veins of Treason lags,
Her daring color-bearers drop their flags,
And yield. _Now_ shall we fire?
Can poor spite be?
Shall nobleness in victory less aspire
Than in reverse? Spare Spleen her ire,
And think how Grant met Lee.

Submitted: Saturday, April 17, 2010

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