Pieces People Ask For/The Soldier's Dream


It was the ninth of April — historic month and day!
The day of Lee's surrender—a score of years away.
The sick-room veiled in midnight; no sound disturbed the air,
Except the sufferer's breathing, reclining in his chair.

The savior of his country lay face to face with Death,
"Whose lean and hungry fingers confined his choking breath:
A panoramic vision illumed his dreamy sight,—
The vision of a lifetime, from dawn to waning light.

A child of sunny summers, beside his mother's knee,
A youth of earnest purpose, his half-shut eyelids see;
A grave and silent soldier, the pride of the parade,
He rides, as if a Cossack, 'gainst Montezuma's blade;

A sturdy, sunburnt farmer, within his rustic home,
Beside his blazing hearthstone, who never cares to roam
Except where boon companions, with pipes and foaming beer,
Tell tales of wild adventure, sing songs of hearty cheer.

But hark ! the bugle calleth! Its clarions wake the farms,—
"Your country is in danger! To arms, my sons, to arms!"
The streets are black with soldiers; their bristling bayonets gleam,
A hundred thousand marching, as flows a mountain stream.

The dreamer in his vision descries a battle-field;
He hears the cannon echo, he sees battalions yield;
He sees the blue-coats rally, he sees the gray-coats fall,
The ghastly dead and dying, the "stars and bars" their pall

Along the queen of rivers, against, her trembling shore,
Volcanic flames are belching, and volleying thunders roar:
Hot shot and shell are crashing, while lurid smoke and flame
Are from a fortress leaping,—a fortress known to fame.

Again the picture changes! The Capitol is seen,
Where rolls the broad Potomac through the banks of ever green:
Not now fraternal kindness disports in festive garb,
But brother, armed 'gainst brother, spurs on his fiery barb.

Brigades and solid squadrons are marching out of camp;
He hears their stirring music, he hears their steady tramp:
The Wilderness the arena, a nation's life the prize,
Their watchword, "On to Richmond!" He hears their battle-cries.

For days, for weeks together, repulsed, defeated, slain,
As sands restrain old ocean, their ranks roll back again,
Till rising higher, higher, with loud, exultant roar,
The foaming, raging billows sweep o'er the crumbling shore.

Now he sees a planter's dwelling in Appomattox vale:
The earth is piled in breastworks, 'tis rent with iron hail;
What villages of canvas for men in blue or gray,
What lines of halting columns, in grave or grim array!

Within appear two chieftains, of heroes full a score,
The victors and the vanquished: thank God, the war is o'er!
"The olive-branch shall shield you, the sun of peace shall shine!
This flag," so says the leader, "this aegis still is thine!"

No lion mien and bearing, no eagle's eye of pride;
As modest as a schoolboy, the conqueror seeks to hide—
Hide his speechless joy of triumph by generous act and word,—
He feeds the conquered army! The beggar seems the lord.

The reveille has sounded; 'twill never sound again!
For days, in martial splendor, three hundred thousand men,
From Vicksburg and from Shiloh, Antietam and the sea,
From Shenandoah's Valley and Gettysburg's green lea,—

Those cannoneers of Ruin, that hurricane of horse,
With Pestilence behind them, and Carnage in their course;
Those, those — when Pickett's cohorts were charging wave on wave,—
That stood like granite ledges, the bravest of the brave;

With drums, with banners flying, with triumph in each eye,
The grand review are marching. He sees them passing by
As saw in dream, Napoleon, from that triumphal arch,
That night in phantom phalanx his splendid heroes march.

'Twas like a shield all gory, that sun of Austerlitz!
No bloody, ghostly phantom before our hero flits!
Ye idols of the people, who lead an army well,
Shall wield a nation's sceptre, in capitols shall dwell!

Past ages grim and hoary their victors loved to crown:
The flaming sword of conquest still wins sublime renown.
All echo and re-echo the glories of the brave;
All, all, a grateful country! bedew the soldier’s grave.

C. G. Fall.