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Civil War Trust

Music in Camp

By John Reuben Thomas (1823-1873)

Music in Camp
(Library of Congress)

Two armies covered hill and plain,
Where Rappahannock's waters
Ran deeply crimsoned with the stain
Of battle's recent slaughters.

The summer clouds lay pitched like tents
In meads of heavenly azure;
And each dread gun of the elements
Slept in its hid embrasure.

The breeze so softly blew it made
No forest leaf to quiver,
And the smoke of the random cannonade
Rolled slowly from the river.

And now, where circling hills looked down
With cannon grimly planted,
O'er listless camp and silent town
The golden sunset slanted.

When on the fervid air there came
A strain--now rich, now tender;
The music seemed itself aflame
With day's departing splendor.

A Federal band, which, eve and morn,
Played measures brave and nimble,
Had just struck up, with flute and horn
And lively clash of cymbal.

Down flocked the soldiers to the banks,
Till, margined with its pebbles,
One wooded shore was blue with "Yanks,"
and one was gray with "Rebels."

Then all was still, and then the band,
With movement light and tricksy,
Made stream and forest, hill and strand,
Reverberate with "Dixie."

The conscious stream with burnished glow
Went proudly o'er its pebbles,
But thrilled throughout its deepest flow
With yelling of the Rebels.

Again a pause, and then again
The trumpets pealed sonorous,
And "Yankee Doodle" was the strain
To which the shore gave chorus.

The laughing ripple shoreward flew,
To kiss the shining pebbles;
Loud shrieked the swarming Boys in Blue
Defiance to the Rebels.

And yet once more the bugles sang
Above the stormy riot;
No shout upon the evening rang--
There reigned a holy quiet.

The sad, slow stream its noiseless flood
Poured o'er the glistening pebbles;
All silent now the Yankees stood,
And silent stood the Rebels.

No unresponsive soul had heard
That plaintive note's appealing,
So deeply "Home Sweet Home" had stirred
The hidden founts of feeling.

Or Blue or Gray, the soldier sees,
As by the wand of fairy,
The cottage 'neath the live-oak trees,
The cabin by the prairie.

Or cold or warm his native skies
Bend in their beauty o'er him;
Seen through the tear-mist in his eyes,
His loved ones stand before him.

As fades the iris after rain
In April's tearful weather,
The vision vanished, as the strain
And daylight died together.

But memory, waked by music's art,
Expressed in simplest numbers,
Subdued the sternest Yankee heart,
Made light the Rebel's slumbers.

And fair the form of music shines,
That bright, celestial creature,
Who still, 'mid war's embattled lines,
Gave this one touch of Nature.

 

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