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June 27, 1862.



The battle's last, long thunders rolled;
The witness-cloud to heaven was swept;
And night, the ghostly seer and old,
Around our blood-drenched borders crept:
Upon our arms we slept.


We slept: but night, that ancient seer,
Conned o'er us his prophetic lore;
And whispered low in many an ear,
"Thou art, but thou shalt be no more
When next the cannons roar."


Sleep, that should lift the rugged cross
From staggering souls, but deepened pain,
With conscious sense of coming loss,
That like a wind preceding rain
Blew cold across the brain.


But ah, the rain to come! No noise
Within our guarded limits ran;
But heavy hands shook slumber's poise,
And wearily, in rear and van,
Our dark retreat began.


The stars, with crimson torches, sought
Their darkened pathways through the skies,
When woke our challenge-guns, and brought
From wary foemen's batteries
The boom of quick replies;


As if fresh slaughter to prelude:
The while--by stratagem discreet--
Receding, pausing, scarce pursued,
With no disorder of defeat,
So moved our slow retreat.


But when the sun his sword unsheathed,
And smote us sore, at bay we stood--
To God, the Just, our lives bequeathed;
Planted our guns by vale and wood,
To wait the rain of blood.


It came! Full soon the war-fiend came--
Stern as hell's king, and fiery-browed!
We saw him smite, with hands of flame,
The solemn battle-harp and proud,
Where rose the sulphurous cloud.


Behind our potent guns we stood--
Therefrom the awful war-bolts flew;
Bomb following bomb, full many a rood
They plowed the smoking woodlands through,
And what beside--God knew.


We waited till the hour approved,
To hurl our forces undismayed,
Where Death in all his grandeur moved;
God's cause and Liberty's to aid
By bayonet, ball, or blade.


There, fires that leap when patriots fall,
All startling sights that cowards shun;
All sounds that hurtle and appall--
The bursting shell, the roaring gun--
O'er all, the seething sun!


Full closely swarmed the traitor horde;
Across the hill their bullets sang;
Along our yielding van they poured--
Their shouts like peals of victory rang--
Then, at the word, we sprang.


Sweeping into the front we came;
Awhile along the hill-side bent,
Charged through the deep ravine, to claim
Its walls, for none but heroes meant--
God with us, as we went.


Then did War's crashing music roll!
Then did the fire of battle-wrath
Rush hot through every loyal soul;
And where we swept, o'er all the path,
Was agony and scath.


The leaden hail smote left and right;
The air was like a furnace red;
The sky was dizzy with the sight;
The sun was reeling overhead:
You could not count our dead.


We saw their broken columns swerve;
They shook and faltered at the test;
New vigor shot through every nerve,
And hand to hand and breast to breast,
The glorious charge we pressed.


We drove them from the gory banks--
Through forest-aisles their courses urged;
By field and wood their eddying ranks,
Like storm-tossed billows backward surged,
By Northern valor scourged.

* * * * *

The battle's last, long thunders rolled;
And down the vaulted skies, once more,
Came night, the ghostly seer and old,
To read fulfillment of his lore,
In streams of stiffening gore.


And we, with weak and gasping breath,
With hearts that bled for comrades slain,
Reeled, shuddering, from the hill of death,
And laid us down to sleep again,
The soldier's sleep of pain.


But every step upon the ground,
And every whisper stealing near,
Smote us anew with crashing sound,
As if the cannons rent the ear,
So loud the dead might hear.


The stars their darkest pathways trod,
When we once more, with staggering feet,
Low whispering to ourselves and God,
"Only the sleep of death is sweet!"
Began our long retreat.