Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CUSTER'S LAST CHARGE [JUNE 25, 1876], by FREDERICK WHITTAKER

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CUSTER'S LAST CHARGE [JUNE 25, 1876], by            
First Line: Dead! Is it possible? He, the bold rider
Last Line: Needed but that death to render it full.
Subject(s): Custer, George Armstrong (1839-1876); Little Bighorn, Battle Of; Patriotism

DEAD! Is it possible? He, the bold rider,
Custer, our hero, the first in the fight,
Charming the bullets of yore to fly wider,
Far from our battle-king's ringlets of light!
Dead, our young chieftain, and dead, all forsaken!
No one to tell us the way of his fall!
Slain in the desert, and never to waken,
Never, not even to victory's call!

Proud for his fame that last day that he met them!
All the night long he had been on their track,
Scorning their traps and the men that had set them,
Wild for a charge that should never give back.
There on the hilltop he halted and saw them, --
Lodges all loosened and ready to fly;
Hurrying scouts with the tidings to awe them,
Told of his coming before he was nigh.

All the wide valley was full of their forces,
Gathered to cover the lodges' retreat! --
Warriors running in haste to their horses,
Thousands of enemies close to his feet!
Down in the valleys the ages had hollowed,
There lay the Sitting Bull's camp for a prey!
Numbers! What recked he? What recked those who followed --
Men who had fought ten to one ere that day?

Out swept the squadrons, the fated three hundred,
Into the battle-line steady and full;
Then down the hillside exultingly thundered,
Into the hordes of the old Sitting Bull!
Wild Ogalallah, Arapahoe, Cheyenne,
Wild Horse's braves, and the rest of their crew,
Shrank from that charge like a herd from a lion, --
Then closed around, the grim horde of wild

Right to their centre he charged, and then facing --
Hark to those yells! and around them, O see!
Over the hilltops the Indians come racing,
Coming as fast as the waves of the sea!
Red was the circle of fire around them;
No hope of victory, no ray of light,
Shot through that terrible black cloud without them,
Brooding in death over Custer's last fight.

Then did he blench? Did he die like a craven,
Begging those torturing fiends for his life?
Was there a soldier who carried the Seven
Flinched like a coward or fled from the strife?
No, by the blood of our Custer, no quailing!
There in the midst of the Indians they close,
Hemmed in by thousands, but ever assailing,
Fighting like tigers, all 'bayed amid foes!

Thicker and thicker the bullets came singing;
Down go the horses and riders and all;
Swiftly the warriors round them were ringing,
Circling like buzzards awaiting their fall.
See the wild steeds of the mountain and prairie,
Savage eyes gleaming from forests of mane;
Quivering lances with pennons so airy,
War-painted warriors charging amain.

Backward, again and again, they were driven,
Shrinking to close with the lost little band;
Never a cap that had worn the bright Seven
Bowed till its wearer was dead on the strand.
Closer and closer the death circle growing,
Ever the leader's voice, clarion clear,
Rang out his words of encouragement glowing,
"We can but die once, boys, -- we'll sell our lives dear!"

Dearly they sold them like Berserkers raging,
Facing the death that encircled them round;
Death's bitter pangs by their vengeance assuaging,
Marking their tracks by their dead on the ground.
Comrades, our children shall yet tell their story, --
Custer's last charge on the old Sitting
And ages shall swear that the cup of his glory
Needed but that death to render it full.

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