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Friday, July 21, 2017

Poetry Friday--First Battle

On this day in 1861, one of the first battles of the American Civil War took place. The North referred to it as the First Battle of Bull Run, the South called it the Battle of First Manassas. As you may have suspected, there followed a second battle on the spot in August 1862.

Up to the point of the first battle, many thought the civil war would be over quickly, and relatively easily. On July 21, some actually assumed they could head out to the battle scene and watch while they ate a picnic lunch. What a mistaken assumption that was!

I highly recommend the children's novel, Bull Run, by Paul Fleischman [F FLE]. In this slim volume,

Northerners, Southerners, generals, couriers, dreaming boys and worried sisters describe the glory, the horror, the thrill, and the disillusionment of the first battle of the Civil War.

The battle was also the subject of this poem written by Herman Melville:
The March into Virginia Ending in the First Manassas (July, 1861)

Did all the lets and bars appear
     To every just or larger end,
Whence should come the trust and cheer?
     Youth must its ignorant impulse lend—
Age finds place in the rear.
     All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,
The champions and enthusiasts of the state:
     Turbid ardors and vain joys
          not barrenly abate—
Stimulants to the power mature,
     Preparatives of fate.

Who here forecasteth the event?
What heart but spurns at precedent
And warnings of the wise,
Contemned foreclosures of surprise?
The banners play, the bugles call,
The air is blue and prodigal.
     No berrying party, pleasure-wooed,
No picnic party in the May,
Ever went less loth than they
     Into that leafy neighborhood.
In Bacchic glee they file toward Fate,
Moloch’s uninitiate;
Expectancy, and glad surmise
Of battle’s unknown mysteries.

All they feel is this: ’tis glory,
A rapture sharp, though transitory,
Yet lasting in belaureled story.
So they gayly go to fight,
Chatting left and laughing right.

But some who this blithe mood present,
     As on in lightsome files they fare,
Shall die experienced ere three days be spent—
     Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare;
Or shame survive, and, like to adamant,
     Thy after shock, Manassas, share.

For more poems of the Civil War, look for "Words for the Hour": A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry [811.008 WOR].

The Poetry Friday Round-Up is being hosted this week by The Logonauts!


  1. I was always amazed and slightly horrified at the way people a procedure this first battle so gaily. I imagine they were even more horrified afterwards.

  2. Melville might have been a very different poet were it not for the Civil War. I like that he made the people in it come alive, as they must have been to him.