Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (24 December 1864)
Ellen Murray, "Olustee" The Anglo-African (24 December 1864): [4]View Poem Image
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FOR THE ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD.[1]

OLUSTEE.[2]

     
Down in the Florida swamp, Where the dark cypress is growing, Down in the evergreen glade, Where the red blood has been flowing, Where all the stems of the trees Marks of the bullets are keeping, Where all the bushes, downtramped, Show where the battle came sweeping.
Down in the Florida swamp, Where our true heroes are lying, Green spring the ferns from the soil They have made holy by dying; There the thrush calls to her mate, 'Stead of the musket's sharp ringing; There, on the fire-scathed bough, Redbird to redbird is singing.
Down in the Florida swamp Men to their duty stood bravely, Facing the thickets of death Steadily, firmly, if gravely, Sure that, though low they might lie, And their graves should o'erbridge the morass, Over that bridge to renown Their race and their nation would pass.
Down in the Florida swamp, Dying far rather than failing; Speaketh the land of her sons, Gladly and not with bewailing; Saith: "Where such pathways are made, Bridging my swamps and morasses, Swear I by life and by death, Over them Liberty passes."

Notes

  1. "Olustee" appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard of December 17, 1864.Go back
  2. On February 20, 1864, Union troops advancing toward Lake City, Florida, clashed with General Joseph Finegan's Confederates near Olustee. Here, "the railroad passed through a narrow corridor of dry ground bordered by impassable swamps and bays to the south and a large body of water known as Ocean Pond to the north" (David J. Coles, "Olustee, Battle of," in Encyclopedia of the American Civil War [Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000], 3:1436). Finegan had fortified his strong position and received reinforcements prior to the battle; Union commander Truman Seymour's soldiers faced a dire situation. When part of the Union line fell into confusion, the inexperienced Eighth US Colored Infantry "held their ground for a time" (1436). The First North Carolina and the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment bought Seymour some time to begin his retreat. Even so, more than 1,850 of his 6,000 soldiers were reported killed, missing, or wounded. Large numbers of casualties were left behind. Of those who received help, almost 300 were transported to hospitals in Beaufort (Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., "The Battle of Olustee," in Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era, ed. John David Smith [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002], 145).Go back
  3. In the summer of 1862 Ellen Murray (1834–1908) joined her good friend Laura Matilda Towne on South Carolina's Sea Islands. When South Carolinian planters abandoned the islands to federal troops after the Battle of Port Royal (November 7, 1861), they left behind them empty mansions, cotton plantations, and a population of former slaves. Northern antislavery philanthropists saw the region as a field for missionary endeavor and founded societies for the relief and education of the newly free islanders. Towne, an abolitionist physician, accompanied an early shipment of aid from the Port Royal Relief Committee (subsequently the Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association). "I shall want Ellen's help," she wrote in her diary on April 17, 1862, soon after her arrival (Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne: Written From the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862–1884, ed. Rupert Sargent Holland [Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1912], 8). Working as a team, Murray and Towne threw their energies into a larger educational mission on the islands. They founded Penn School on St. Helena in September 1862, and Murray, an experienced teacher, took over its day-to-day running and served as its principal. In spite of periods of illness and increasing financial difficulties, both women taught there for the next forty years. For more on Towne and Murray, see Ronald E. Butchart, "Laura Towne and Ellen Murray: Northern Expatriates and the Foundations of Black Education in South Carolina, 1862–1908," in South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, ed. Marjorie Julian Spruill, et al. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 12–30.
     
    During the war, Murray found time to write a number of poems for the Anti-Slavery Standard. At least fifteen pieces were attributed to "Ellen," "E. Murray," or "Ellen Murray" between April 1861 and March 1865: "The Martyr of December 2, 1859" (October 26, 1861); "Deus Eversor!" (November 16, 1861); "Our Watchword" (May 10, 1862); "Tamar's Prayer" (August 2, 1862); "Half-Way" (October 4, 1862); "The First Day of January, 1863" (December 27, 1862); "God with Us" (April 18, 1863); "Sunset on Edisto Beach" (July 11, 1863); "Moonlight on Edisto Beach" (July 18, 1863); "Col. Robert G. Shaw" (August 22, 1863); "The Workingman" (January 30, 1864); "The Freed Land" (August 13, 1864); "Olustee" (December 24, 1864); and "Going Home to Edisto" (March 18, 1865). The "St. Helena" datelines of Murray's poems identified her poems as a form of literary testimony from the Sea Islands, akin to the prose in the Standard's "South Carolina correspondence" column. Several of these poems were reprinted in the Anglo-African.
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