Wednesday, November 30, 2022

A Death-Sonnet for Custer

 




"From Far Dakota's Cañons" was first published as "A Death Sonnet for Custer" in the New York Tribune, 10 July 1876, two weeks after General George Armstrong Custer's death. Walt Whitman received ten dollars for the poem.

 The sonnet later appeared as From Far Dakota's Cañonsin Whitman’s monumental work, Leaves of Grass.

I.

From far Montana's cañons,

Lands of the wild ravine, the dusky Sioux, the lone-
some stretch, the silence,

Haply, to-day, a mournful wail—haply, a trumpet
note for heroes.

 

II.

The battle-bulletin,

The Indian ambuscade—the slaughter and environ-
ment

The cavalry companies fighting to the last—in stern-
est, coolest, heroism.

The fall of Custer, and all his officers and men.

 

III.

Continues yet the old, old legend of our race!

The loftiest of life upheld by death!

The ancient banner perfectly maintained!

(O lesson opportune—O how I welcome thee!)

As, sitting in dark days,

Lone, sulky, through the time's thick murk looking
in vain for light, for hope,

From unsuspected parts, a fierce and momentary
proof,

(The sun there at the center, though concealed,

Electric life forever at the center,)

Breaks forth, a lightning flash.

 

IV.

Thou of sunny, flowing hair, in battle,

I erewhile saw, with erect head, pressing ever in
front, bearing a bright sword in thy hand,

Now ending well the splendid fever of thy deeds,

(I bring no dirge for it or thee—I bring a glad, tri-
umphal sonnet;)

There in the far northwest, in struggle, charge, and
saber-smite,

Desperate and glorious—aye, in defeat most desper-
ate, most glorious,

After thy many battles, in which, never yielding up
a gun or a color,

Leaving behind thee a memory sweet to soldiers,

Thou yieldest up thyself.




Custer’s Last Stand: Portraits in Time


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Custer and Rain in the Face

One of the many tributes written to honor George Armstrong Custer after the Battle of the Little Bighorn was a poem entitled. “The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).

The poem definitely took “poetic license” with the facts.  Neither Custer nor his men carried sabers of June 25, 1876.  More importantly George Armstrong Custer did not have his heart cut out (although Tom Custer may have, this is matter of dispute.)



Longfellow


Rain-In-The-Face

“The Revenge of Rain-in-the-Face”
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

In that desolate land and lone,
Where the Big Horn and Yellowstone
Roar down their mountain path,
By their fires the Sioux Chiefs
Muttered their woes and griefs
And the menace of their wrath.

"Revenge!" cried Rain-in-the-Face,
"Revenue upon all the race
Of the White Chief with yellow hair!"
And the mountains dark and high
From their crags re-echoed the cry
Of his anger and despair.

In the meadow, spreading wide
By woodland and riverside
The Indian village stood;
All was silent as a dream,
Save the rushing of the stream
And the blue-jay in the wood.

In his war paint and his beads,
Like a bison among the reeds,
In ambush the Sitting Bull
Lay with three thousand braves
Crouched in the clefts and caves,
Savage, unmerciful!

Into the fatal snare
The White Chief with yellow hair
And his three hundred men
Dashed headlong, sword in hand;
But of that gallant band
Not one returned again.

The sudden darkness of death
Overwhelmed them like the breath
And smoke of a furnace fire:
By the river's bank, and between
The rocks of the ravine,
They lay in their bloody attire.

But the foemen fled in the night,
And Rain-in-the-Face, in his flight
Uplifted high in air
As a ghastly trophy, bore
The brave heart, that beat no more,
Of the White Chief with yellow hair.

Whose was the right and the wrong?
Sing it, O funeral song,
With a voice that is full of tears,
And say that our broken faith
Wrought all this ruin and scathe,
In the Year of a Hundred Years.




Thursday, November 17, 2022

“Shorty” meets President Jefferson Davis

 

President Davis

Capt. David Van Buskirk of the 27th Indiana Regiment stood 6 feet 11 inches and weighed 380 pounds. He was captured in 1862 and sent to a Richmond Prison. Confederate President Jeff Davis came to see him and was astounded when the Van Buskirk claimed that back home in Bloomington, Indiana, “when I was at the train station with my company, my six sisters came to say goodbye. As I was standing there, with my company, they all came up to me, leaned down and kissed me on top of the head.”



War and Reconstruction in Mississippi 1861-1875: A Portrait

Sunday, November 06, 2022

A Dear John Letter in the Civil War

A young soldier left home to join the army. He told his girlfriend that he would write every day. After about six months, he received a letter from his girlfriend that she was marrying someone else. He wrote home to his family to find out who she married. The family wrote back and told him. It was the ....mailman. 

 


Civil War Humor 1861-1865

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Union Troops “Not at Liberty”

 

Ambrose Burnside

Troops on both sides enjoyed a joke at the expense of officers.  One anecdote that made the rounds involved General Ambrose Burnside.  General Grant and his staff in Virginia stopped to rest at a plantation. Grant fell into conversation with the two women of the house, when the portly Ambrose Burnside rode up, made an exaggerated bow, and conversationally inquired as to whether the ladies had ever seen so many Yankee soldiers before.

“Not at liberty, sir,” one of the women snapped back.

 General Grant joined heartily in the laughter.




Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Slavery in Massachusetts

 


James Somersett was a slave taken to England by his master Charles Steuart of Boston, Massachusetts.  In 1771, while in England, Somersett escaped from his master.  He was recaptured and put in chains aboard the ship Ann and Mary which was preparing to sail for Jamaica.  Before the ship sailed Somersett’s godparents, supported by British abolitionists, applied to the Court of King’s Bench for a writ of habeas corpus.  The Captain of the ship was required to produce Somersett so the Court could decide if his imprisonment was legal.  Lord Mansfield, the presiding judge ordered Somersett to be released, finding that neither English common law nor any law made by Parliament recognized the existence of slavery in England.  The Somersett case was a boon to the growing abolitionist movement in Great Britain and ended the holding of slaves in England.  It did not end Britain’s participation in the slave trade or end slavery in other parts of the British Empire, such as the American colonies, all of which had positive laws allowing slavery.

In 1773, as the people of Massachusetts railed against the Crown over matters of taxes, the General Court in Boston received the first of three petitions in which advocates for slaves argued that Lord Mansfield’s decision should apply to the colonies since people were being, “held in a state of Slavery within a free and Christian country.”  The issue of slavery was never to be decided in the colonial courts.  Relations with the Crown continued to deteriorate leading to armed rebellion. 







Secrets of Early America 1607-1816

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Value of Humor in War and Elsewhere

 


Humor had its place in even the toughest situations. During the Civil War, a Confederate veteran remembered many years later, “While on that raid we marched and fought for days and nights in succession. Late one dark night we were on the march; it was raining, and we were all wet, cold, tired, sleepy, and hungry. We were bunched up in a creek bottom waiting for those in front to cross the stream. Not a word was being spoken. Old sore-backed horses were trying to rub their riders off against some other horse. We knew we would have fighting to do as soon as day broke, and we had the blues. All at once Joe Leggett said: ‘Boys, I have become reckless; I've got so I don't care for nothing. I had just as soon be at home now as to be here.’ The effect was magical. While the skill and bravery of our generals and the fighting qualities of our soldiers could not have been excelled, if it had not been for those jolly spirits to animate others the war would have come to a close much sooner.”