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Friday, September 02, 2016

Poetry Friday--Civil War Poetry

On this date in 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman entered the city of Atlanta. The Battle of Atlanta took place on July 22 and led to General John B. Hood's retreat from the city. They burned a munitions train as they fled and Sherman would capture the city and finally burn Atlanta to the ground in November. Of course, everyone remembers the burning of Atlanta from the 1938 film Gone With the Wind [DVD GON].

Words For the Hour: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller [811.008 WOR] collects poetry of the Civil War from the great poets of the time such as Walt Whitman and John Greenleaf Whittier, but it also includes poems gleaned from newspapers and magazines of the time.

The poem I've selected for today is by S. A. Jonas. It is a poem that could have been written by either side of the conflict and tears at the heart with the injustices of war and rank:
Only a Soldier's Grave

Only a soldier's grave! Pass by,
For soldiers, like other mortals, die.
Parents had he--they are far away;
No sister weeps o'er the soldier's clay;
No brother comes, with tearful eye;
It's only a soldier's grave--pass by.

True, he was loving, and young, and brave,
Though no glowing epitaph honors his grave;
No proud recital of virtues known,
Of griefs endured, or triumphs won;
No tablet of marble, or obelisk high;--
Only a soldier's grave:--pass by.

Yet bravely he wielded his sword in fight,
And he gave his life in the cause of right!
When his hope was high, and his youthful dream
As warm as the sunlight on yonder stream;
His heart unvexed by sorrow or sigh;--
Yet, 'tis only a soldier's grave:--pass by.

Yet, we should mark it--the soldier's grave,
Some one may seek him in hope to save!
Some of the dear ones, far away,
Would bear him home to his native clay:
'Twere sad, indeed, should they wander nigh,
Find not the hillock, and pass him by.

Visit Penny and Her Jots for this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up.


  1. A sad tribute to all the young men lost. A sad reminder of our country's divisions.

    1. "And he gave his life in the cause of right" And amazingly each side believes it is right.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. It's heartbreaking to think of an unmarked grave and of loved ones far away missing their child, brother, husband, father.

    1. And the idea of not knowing the fate of the child, which could lead to a life wasted in wishing.

  3. "...his youthful dream
    As warm as the sunlight on yonder stream...."

    So sad, to think that this kind of loss still is going on all over the world, and there seems no way to stop it. Young soldiers with dreams as warm as sunlight - it hurts. Thanks for the heads-up about the book, Diane.

    1. I found the poems interesting in that so many of them came from newspapers. It was a time when poems in papers were the norm. Imagine that!

  4. Such sadness in this poem. Such loss. I live just southwest of Atlanta. When Sherman left he pretty much destroyed everything from Atlanta to Savannah. However, he refused to let his soldiers burn anything in the little town of Macon, Georgia, hometown of his roommate from West Point. Even in war, friends hold a dear place in the heart.

    1. Cruelty can be tempered, but there's not much comfort in that.

  5. I couldn't help but contrast this with the young people who died in the Florida night club and called their parents on their cell phones to relay last words of love.

  6. So sad. I reread Cold Mountain this summer - it's full of scenes of the waste of the Civil War.

  7. I'm so grateful to know about this book as I am in the middle of a Civil War project!! Perfect timing. Thank you. xo

  8. I live in Manassas, VA. And, I wonder sometimes....what it was like here after the battles. There was such a belief in valor but the reality was loss...gaping loss. How many places do we pass each day that held the last moments of a sacred life?