Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CROSSING AT FREDERICKSBURG, by GEORGE HENRY BOKER



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THE CROSSING AT FREDERICKSBURG, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I lay in my tent at mid-day
Last Line: "and one more for michigan!"
Subject(s): American Civil War; Fredericksburg, Battle Of (1862); United States - History


I LAY in my tent at mid-day,
Too full of pain to die,
When I heard the voice of Burnside,
And an answering shout reply.

I heard the voice of the General, --
'T was firm, though low and sad;
But the roar that followed his question
Laughed out till the hills were glad.

"O comrade, open the curtain,
And see where our men are bound,
For my heart is still in my bosom
At that terrible, mirthful sound.

"And hark what the General orders,
For I could not catch his words;
But what means that hurry and movement,
That clash of muskets and swords?"

"Lie still, lie still, my Captain,
'T is a call for volunteers;
And the noise that vexes your fever
Is only our soldiers' cheers."

"Where go they?" "Across the river."
"O God! and must I lie still,
While that drum and that measured trampling
Move from me far down the hill?

"How many?" "I judge, four hundred."
"Who are they? I'll know to a man."
"Our own Nineteenth and Twentieth,
And the Seventh Michigan."

"Oh, to go, but to go with my comrades!
Tear the curtain away from the hook;
For I'll see them march down to their glory,
If I perish by the look!"

They leaped in the rocking shallops.
Ten offered where one could go;
And the breeze was alive with laughter
Till the boatmen began to row.

Then the shore, where the rebels harbored,
Was fringed with a gush of flame,
And buzzing, like bees, o'er the water
The swarms of their bullets came.

In silence, how dread and solemn!
With courage, how grand and true!
Steadily, steadily onward
The line of the shallops drew.

Not a whisper! Each man was conscious
He stood in the sight of death;
So he bowed to the awful presence,
And treasured his living breath.

'Twixt death in the air above them,
And death in the waves below,
Through balls and grape and shrapnel
They moved -- my God, how slow!

And many a brave, stout fellow,
Who sprang in the boats with mirth,
Ere they made that fatal crossing
Was a load of lifeless earth.

And many a brave, stout fellow,
Whose limbs with strength were rife,
Was torn and crushed and shattered, --
A hopeless wreck for life.

But yet the boats moved onward;
Through fire and lead they drove,
With the dark, still mass within them,
And the floating stars above.

So loud and near it sounded,
I started at the shout,
As the keels ground on the gravel,
And the eager men burst out.

Cheer after cheer we sent them,
As only armies can, --
Cheers for old Massachusetts,
Cheers for young Michigan!

They formed in line of battle;
Not a man was out of place.
Then with levelled steel they hurled them
Straight in the rebels' face.

"Oh, help me, help me, comrade!
For tears my eyelids drown,
As I see their smoking banners
Stream up the smoking town.

"And see the noisy workmen
O'er the lengthening bridges run,
And the troops that swarm to cross them
When the rapid work be done.

"For the old heat, or a new one,
Flames up in every vein;
And with fever or with passion
I am faint as death again.

"If this is death, I care not!
Hear me, men, from rear to van! --
One more cheer for Massachusetts,
And one more for Michigan!"





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