John Boyle O'Reilly
At Fredericksburg—dec. 13, 1862 - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly
GOD send us peace, and keep red strife away;
But should it come, God send us men and steel!
The land is dead that dare not face the day
When foreign danger threats the common weal.
Defenders strong are they that homes defend;
From ready arms the spoiler keeps afar.
Well blest the country that has sons to lend
From trades of peace to learn the trade of war.
Thrice blest the nation that has every son
A soldier, ready for the warning sound;
Who marches homeward when the fight is done,
To swing the hammer and to till the ground.
Call back that morning, with its lurid light,
When through our land the awful war-bell tolled;
When lips were mute, and women's faces white
As the pale cloud that out from Sumter rolled.
Call back that morn: an instant all were dumb,
As if the shot had struck the Nation's life;
Then cleared the smoke, and rolled the calling drum,
And men streamed in to meet the coming strife,
They closed the ledger and they stilled the loom.
The plow left rusting in the prairie farm;
They saw but ' Union' in the gathering gloom;
The tearless women helped the men to arm;
Brigades from towns—each village sent its band:
German and Irish—every race and faith;
There was no question then of native land,
But—love the Flag and follow it to death.
No need to tell their tale: through every age
The splendid story shall be sung and said;
But let me draw one picture from the page—
For words of song embalm the hero dead.
The smooth hill is bare, and the cannons are planted,
Like Gorgon fates shading its terrible brow;
The word has been passed that the stormers are wanted,
And Burnside's battalions are mustering now.
The armies stand by to behold the dread meeting;
The work must be done by a desperate few;
The black-mouthed guns on the height give them greeting—
From gun-mouth to plain every grass blade in view.
Strong earthworks are there, and the rifles behind them
Are Georgia militia—an Irish brigade—
Their caps have green badges, as if to remind them
Of all the brave record their country has made.
The stormers go forward—the Federals cheer them;
They breast the smooth hillside—the black mouths are dumb;
The riflemen lie in the works till they near them,
And cover the stormers as upward they come.
Was ever a death-march so grand and so solemn?
At last, the dark summit with flame is enlined;
The great guns belch doom on the sacrificed column,
That reels from the height, leaving hundreds behind.
The armies are hushed—there is no cause for cheering:
The fall of brave men to brave men is a pain.
Again come the stormers! and as they are nearing
The flame-sheeted rifle-lines, reel back again.
And so till full noon come the Federal masses—
Flung back from the height, as the cliff flings a wave;
Brigade on brigade to the death-struggle passes,
No wavering rank till it steps on the grave.
Then comes a brief lull, and the smoke-pall is lifted,
The green of the hillside no longer is seen;
The dead soldiers lie as the sea-weed is drifted,
The earthworks still held by the badges of green.
Have they quailed? is the word. No: again they are forming—
Again comes a column to death and defeat!
What is it in these who shall now do the storming
That makes every Georgian spring to his feet?
' O God! what a pity!' they cry in their cover,
As rifles are readied and bayonets made tight;
''Tis Meagher and his fellows! their caps have green clover;
'Tis Greek to Greek now for the rest of the fight!'
Twelve hundred the column, their rent flag before them,
With Meagher at their head, they have dashed at the hill!
Their foemen are proud of the country that bore them;
But, Irish in love, they are enemies still.
Out rings the fierce word, ' Let them have it! ' the rifles
Are emptied point-blank in the hearts of the foe:
It is gueen against green, but a principle stifles
The Irishman's love in the Georgian's blow.
The column has reeled, but it is not defeated;
In front of the guns they re-form and attack;
Six times they have done it, and six times retreated;
Twelve hundred they came, and two hundred go back.
Two hundred go back with the chivalrous story;
The wild day is closed in the night's solemn shroud;
A thousand lie dead, but their death was a glory
That calls not for tears—the Green Badges are proud!
Bright honor be theirs who for honor were fearless,
Who charged for their fl:ig to the grim cannon's mouth;
And honor to them who were true, though not tearless,—
Who bravely that day kept the cause of the South.
The quarrel is done—God avert such another;
The lesson it brought we should evermore heed:
Who loveth the Flag is a man and a brother,
No matter what birth or what race or what creed.
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