A Sampler of Civil War Literature
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"In the Wilderness"
Military Background

November 5, 1864, page 718 (2)

All day long the battle raged,
With clang of guns and bugle’s breath,
In the tangled swamps of the Wilderness,
Through dusky thickets dim with death,
All day the fierce tide surged and swung,
With crash and shriek and cannon’s tone,
While far along the glimmering lines
Proudly our golden eagles shone.

The rifle-pits swarmed black with men,
And like the sheeted August rain,
A stinging storm of iron hail
Beat on our steadfast line in vain.
And up the mid-May’s blinding blue,
That spans life’s infinite, poor desire
With the great calm of God, the shells
Made trailing, long-drawn arcs of fire.

Our batteries crowned the slanting ridge—
Too dense the woods for gunner’s aim—
Save her and there a random shot,
From brazen lips no answer came.
And grim with smoke and powder-stain
The strong-limbed, dusty cannoniers
Leaned, eager, on their idle guns,
And heard their distant comrade’s cheers.

Far to the rear the sandy road
Ran northward to the distant town;
No battle-clamor stirred the air,
And the land wore its spring-time crown
Of beauty, song, and blossom’s flush,
While young leaves made a tender gloom
Where robins sang and roadside banks
Were whitened with the clover’s bloom.

Under a brown-stemmed chestnut-tree,
That made a green tent overhead,
A young boy, on the cool, soft grass,
Stretched shattered limbs that ached and bled;
Full young to wear a soldier’s blue,
And share a patriot’s toils and fears,
Yet strong in that large growth of soul
That comes not with the added years.

And as he lay in helpless pain,
His marching days forever done,
He reached a feeble hand and plucked
The violets dreaming in the sun,
Meekly, in blue-eyed families,
And at their fragrance in his heart
A mist of memories rose, that made
Quick tears to manly eyelids start.

The low swell of New England hills—
The old home-farm—the orchard, fair
With wreaths of tinted apple-blooms,
And just beyond, the meadow where
He found the first spring violets
In happy, boyish days long-gone,
But unforgot, ere through the land
War’s fiery trumpet had been blown.

His gray-haired mother, on her knees
Praying the dear God night and day
For him, her bright-eyed, latest born—
God bless and keep him safe always!
A thought of home and mother-love,
And through the mid-May’s shining calm
A great peace folded softly down,
Like the low music of a psalm,

On his tired heart in infinite rest;
And centered in the calm divine
Of happy Nature’s sweet, blind trust,
He saw Faith’s golden promise shine,
That He who made those simple flowers
To blossom in the Wilderness
Would look upon His helpless child
With eyes of pitying tenderness.

 

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