Open main menu

 * * *

What shall be the monument o'er gallant Ellsworth's grave?
How shall we commemorate the life he freely gave,
Resolved that o'er our country no disloyal flag shall wave
As his soul goes marching on?

Not of bronze or marble was his monument to be,
But a thousand stalwart soldiers, just as true of heart as he,
To bear the starry banner from the mountains to the sea,
Just fifty years ago.

So this old town hear the rhythmic cadence of the soldiers' feet;
Down the hill that fronts the State-house, through the old historic street
Comes the long majestic column and the August sunbeams strike
On a thousand polished rifles slanted every one alike.
Just a thousand sturdy soldiers with a unison superb,
Kept their accurate alignments stretching straight from curb to curb.
The serene, phlegmatic city felt a sympathetic thrill,
For the thousand youthful warriors marching down the State-street hill.
Many a radiant eye was watching for the soldier's hasty glance,
Not directed, as per tactics, "fifteen paces in advance",
Many a photograph was buttoned next the soldier's faithful heart,
Whose original, reluctant that her hero should depart,
Waved farewell, perhaps the last one, with her gently little hand,
While "The girl I left behind me" was the theme of Schreiber's band.

All the line of march was bordered with a patriotic throng,
And its hearty cheers resounded as the column strode along.
Pouring out the pent-up feeling of the newly-wakened North,
Bidding them "Remember Ellsworth," and "God bless the Forty-fourth!"

Trim and shining, neat and spotless, were the uniforms they wore,
Stately stept the stalwart standard bearer proud because he bore
High in air the starry symbol of our loved but troubled land,
Just received, with consecration from a loyal woman's hand;
While a vow had been recorded by the whole ten hundred men:
"Never shall that flag be lowered till we bring it back again,
And we'll keep it from dishonor, by the help of God. Amen."

So the Forty-fourth departed as the heroes of the hour,
But their deeds were only promist, ‘twas the bud but now the flower.
All the records of the ages they were ready to surpass
Like the self-sufficient students of the graduating class.
But their history was unwritten, all their laurels were unwon,
There were trials yet in waiting for the boys of ‘sixty-one.
They must learn to suffer hunger, laugh at labor and privation,
They must stand and take their chances, whether death or mutiliation,
Of the prison worse that either with its torture and starvation.

Not to march to Schreiber's music with its strains to stir the blood,
But to struggle worn and weary through the thick Virginia mud,
Where the only music listened for would be the Rebel yell,
With the bullet's angry whining and the screaming of the shell.
To lie down with muscles aching from the strains upon the back,
In the slumber of exhaustion at the hasty bivouac;
And when kindly sleep administers her soothing medicine
To be wakened by the hoarse command. "Second relief, fall in!"
Shivering with the chill miasma, on the lonely picket posts,
Vainly peering into darkness after visionary hosts.

Wading swamps and building bridges, digging ditches, felling trees,
Till the overburdened body falls a victim to disease.
Then in hospital to linger on the harsh straw mattress lying,
Far from mother's care and nursing near the dead, among the dying.
This is what awaits the soldier, this, what he enlisted for,
Not the pride, parade and pomp the circumstance of glorious war!

Was our regiment found wasting in this stern and bitter trial?
Ask us not; not ours to give you affirmation or denial.
We refer you for the answer to that dear old dingy rag,
That forlorn and tattered remnant of the consecrated flag
Which was borne in all its splendor by the thousand stalwart men,
Down the hill that fronts the State house; eight score brought this back again.

Let those colors tell the story of the Forty-fourth's career,
Plainer than the poet's rhyming can convey it to the ear.
They have marked its line of battle, facing victory or defeat,
They have rallied it in column for advance or for retreat,
Over many a field of conflict, during many a long campaign,
Never dropping, save at moments when the color guard was slain.

As a second consecration, even holier and higher,
They at Hanover were christened with the red baptism of fire.
They were in those seven days' fighting which began at Malvern Hill,
Till the headlong rebel onslaught we repulsed at Gaines' Mill.
Following brave Fitz-John Porter whom his own Fifth Army Corps
Through the long years of injustice only honored all the more.
On the crest of Little Round Top firm as any of its rocks,
They withstood those swarming Texans in their overwhelming shocks.
There we lost our gallant Vincent; never knightlier hero bore
On his breast the cross of Malta, symbol of the old Fifth Corps.
Vincent! In hoc signo vinces, thy triumphant sacrifice
Links thy name with our immortal Christian hero Rice.
Did those colors ever falter? Were they ever seen to yield?
When the Third Brigade call sounded: Follow "Dan–Dan–Butterfield!"
Was the Forty-fourth a failure? Were its promises but brags?
Do not ask of us the question, read the answer in our flags.

Fifty years have passed above us, we have lived our lives since then,
And the "boys" who marched so gaily, now are sober, serious men.
"On the world's broad field of battle" we have waged another strife,
And have found our rest but broken "in the bivouac of life."
We are standing by the river, over on the other shore
We shall meet when taps have sounded all our comrades gone before;
And we've gathered now as pilgrims from the breadth of all the land,
Just to see old comrades' faces and to graps them by the hand,
By the flashing torch of memory smouldering campfires to relight,
Bid the fifty years to vanish and be boys again to-night.

Go revisit some old earthwork in the peaceful Southern land
Where the demon of destruction once let loose his iron hand;
You can hardly trace its outlines, scarcely recognize the scene,
Time has rounded off the corners and has cushioned them with green.
So the magic touch of memory softens with a golden haze
All the rough and rugged landscape of those fast-receding days.
We've forgotten all our sorrows, we remember all the joys
Of the days when we were soldiers, for in those days we were boys!