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Civil War Trust

"Thomas at Chickamauga" by Kate Brownlee Sherwood

George H. Thomas
Major General George H. Thomas (Library of Congress)

It was that fierce contested field when Chickamauga lay
Beneath the wild tornado that swept her pride away;
Her dimpling dales and circling hills dyed crimson with the flood
That had its source in the springs that throb with human blood.

"Go say to General Hooker to reinforce his right!"
Said Thomas to his aide-de-camp, when wildly went the fight;
In front the battle thundered, it roared both right and left,
But like a rock "Pap" Thomas stood upon the crested cleft.

"Where will I find you, General, when I return?" The aide
Leaned on his bridle-rein to wait the answer Thomas made;
The old chief like a lion turned, his pale lips set and sere,
And shook his mane, and stamped his foot, and fiercely answered, "Here!"

The floodtide of fraternal strife rolled upward to his feet,
And like the breakers on the shore the thunderous clamors beat;
The sad earth rocked and reeled with woe, the woodland shrieked in pain,
And hill and vale were groaning with the burden of the slain.

Who does not mind that sturdy form, that steady heart and hand,
That calm repose and gallant mien, that courage high and grand? -
O God, who givest nations men to meet their lofty needs,
Vouchsafe another Thomas when our country prostrate bleeds!

They fought with all the fortitude of earnest men and true -
The men who wore the rebel gray, the men who wore the blue;
And those, they fought most valiantly for petty state and clan,
And these, for truer Union and the brotherhood of man.

They come, those hurling legions, with banners crimson-splashed,
Against our stubborn columns their rushing ranks are dashed,
Till 'neath the blistering iron hail the shy and frightened deer
Go scurrying from their forest haunts to plunge in wilder fear.

Beyond, our lines are broken, and now in frenzied rout
The flower of the Cumberland has swiftly faced about;
And horse and foot and color-guard are reeling, rear and van,
And in the awful panic man forgets that he is man.

Now Bragg, with pride exultant above our broken wings,
the might of all his army against "Pap" Thomas brings;
They're massing to the right of him, they're massing to the left,
Ah, God be with our hero, who holds the crested cleft!

Blow, blow, ye echoing bugles! give answer, screaming shell!
Go, belch your murderous fury, ye batteries of hell!
Ring out, O impious musket! spin on, O shattering shot, -
Our smoke-encircled hero, he hears but heeds ye not!

Now steady, men! now steady! make one more valiant stand,
For gallant Steedman's coming, his forces well in hand!
Close up your shattered columns, take steady aim and true,
The chief who loves you as his life will live or die with you!

By solid columns, on they come; by columns they are hurled,
As down the eddying rapids the storm-swept booms are whirled;
And when the ammunition fails - O moment drear and dread -
The heroes load their blackened guns from rounds of soldiers dead.

God never set His signet on the hearts of braver men,
Or fixed the goal of victory on higher heights than then;
With bayonets and muskets clubbed, they close the rush and roar;
Their stepping-stones to glory are their comrades gone before.

O vanished majesty of days not all forgotten yet,
We consecrate unto thy praise one hour of deep regret;
One hour to them whose days were years of glory that shall flood
The Nation's somber night of tears, of carnage, and of blood!

O vanished majesty of days, when men were gauged by worth,
Set crowned and dowered in the way to judge the sons of earth;
When all the little great fell down before the great unknown,
And priest put off the hampering gown and coward donned his own!

O vanished majesty of days that saw the sun shine on
The deeds that wake sublimer praise than Ghent or Marathon;
When patriots in homespun rose - where one was called for, ten -
And heroes sprang full-armored from the humblest walks of men!

O vanished majesty of days! Rise, type and mould today,
And teach our sons to follow on where duty leads the way;
that whatsoever trial comes, defying doubt and fear,
They in the thickest fight shall stand and proudly answer, "Here!"  
________________________________________

From "The Blue and the Gray: The Best Loved Poems of the Civil War," edited by Claudius Meade Capps and published by Books for Libraries Press in Freeport, New York.

The Battle of Chickamauga
Battle of Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863 (Library of Congress)

 

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