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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 (8 August 1863)
A. Hoyt, "The Storming of Fort Wagner" The Anglo-African (8 August 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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            The colored regiment under Col. Shaw led the attack
with the most determined spirit. A large number of its
men fell with its leader.[2]
Who bids for Africa one tear, A pearly tribute to her dead? Who wreaths a flower to deck the bier Of those whose daring onward led The deadly [one word illegible] of the brave If Freedom's flag might o'er them wave?
Oh, speak not in this hour of grief Of clanish lines the selfish see, The horse who nobly bears his chief Deserves the meed of chivalry; So, Africa, land of the sun, Asks for the honor she has won.
Shall obelisks upon her soil Speak of her ancient arts and power? And while her sons, thro' blood and toil, Dared the horrors of that hour, When stoutest hearts quailed in the storm That crush'd a thousands bosoms warm.
Hail to the chiefs![3] who nobly led Amid of arms the lurid flash, And hail the brave! whose clay cold bed Lies in the tide whose billows dash Where Sumter[4] called forth Freedom's host To meet the foe, or all was lost.
Shall those who clutch'd the British sword,[5] When flash'd it o'er our well loved land, And turned its point till Europe heard The Shout for Freedom from our strand, As sung each billow on the shore, "Brittania rules the waves no more."[6]
A deadlier strife was ours to win, For Freedom's sun at zenith shone, And loftier hopes their date begin Than when the morning star alone Comes feebly with the light of day, Glinting the clouds that round it play.
Hail to the names on that high scroll, Imperishable of deathless fame! Where every man that hath a soul Shall boldly dare to write his name As witness that no craven brand Shall mark the brave of Afric's land.
A cenotaph of adamant Shall rise till time no more shall be, And history's page at last shall grant These men were sons of liberty; And who among their foes shall dare To blot the record written there?
No! from each tropic hill and dale, Each jungly depth and pathless wild, O'er waves where once the slave-ship sail'd, Shall rise the song of Afric's child, "When Sumter woke the warlike earth, She gave to Africa her birth."


  1. Unidentified. "A. Hoyt" may have been related to "Miss Hoyt of Brooklyn," an artist who created a piece called "John Brown's Last Dream" (Anglo-African, February 20, 1864, [3]). The painting inspired a poem, "John Brown's Vision of the Future."Go back
  2. The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment; the first regiment of African American volunteers raised in the North, authorized in late January 1863 and mustered into the US service on May 13. Black leaders called on men to enlist and thereby seize their "golden opportunity" and "first best chance" to establish an undeniable claim to the full rights of American citizens (Frederick Douglass, "Men of Color, to Arms!" reprinted in the Anglo-African, March 7, 1863, [2]; editorial, Anglo-African, March 7, 1863, [2]). The Fifty-Fourth quickly filled with men "from virtually every black community in the North" (Donald Yacovone, A Voice of Thunder: A Black Soldier's Civil War [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998], 31). A number of the new recruits would provide the Anglo-African and the Christian Recorder with correspondence from the front during their term of service. Both titles served as a channel of communication between distant volunteers and the folks at home.
    Under Robert Gould Shaw's command, the regiment took shape at Camp Meigs in Readville, Massachusetts. On May, 28, 1863, after weeks of training, the men paraded through Boston's cheering streets and then embarked on the steamer De Molay, bound for South Carolina's Sea Islands and the theater of war. (A sister regiment, the Fifty-Fifth, had already begun to form by the time members of the Fifty-Fourth departed for South Carolina.) In the Department of the South, the Massachusetts volunteers had to contend with the prejudiced policies of the US government as well as the Confederate enemy.
    On July 18, 1863, Shaw and the Fifty-fourth courageously led a frontal attack on Morris Island's (South Carolina) Fort Wagner. Their bravery could not compensate for General Quincy Gillmore's poor planning; the assault failed, and 272 members of the regiment were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner (Russell Duncan, ed., Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Col. Robert Gould Shaw [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999], 52). Northern newspapers reported that Wagner's Confederate garrison had buried Shaw in a mass grave with his men. Abolitionists reinterpreted the Confederate gesture of contempt as a mark of distinction.
    The charge on Fort Wagner established their Northern reputation as heroes, yet Lincoln's administration refused to pay them as soldiers, at the basic rate of thirteen dollars per month. For more than a year, the Fifty-Fourth and the Fifty-Fifth protested against the injustice by refusing to accept any pay at all. In July 1864, Congress finally passed a law to equalize pay and to reimburse free black soldiers for their full terms of service. Only in January 1865 did the War Department promote Sergeant Stephen A. Swails of the Fifty-Fourth to a commissioned post, making him the army's "first black commissioned officer" (Donald Yacovone, A Voice of Thunder: A Black Soldier's Civil War [Urbana; Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998], 257n).
    Go back
  3. A reference to the patriotic song "Hail to the Chief" ("Hail to the chief who in triumph advances"), composed by James Sanderson to accompany one of the songs in a theatrical adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. By 1815, productions including the tune had pleased audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The tune became "a regular tribute to the U.S. president under the administration of John Tyler (1841–45)" (Elise K. Kirk, "'Hail to the Chief': The Origins and Legacies of an American Ceremonial Tune," American Music 15 [1997]: 133).Go back
  4. Fort Sumter dominated the entrance to Charleston Bay, as the center of the harbor's defenses. War began with the Confederate bombardment of Sumter's federal garrison (April 12–13, 1861).Go back
  5. The problematic punctuation and syntax in the Anglo-African text creates ambiguities here. "Those who clutch'd the British sword" refers to either Patriots generally or African American Patriots who fought against the British during the Revolutionary War.Go back
  6. Adapted from the chorus of James Thomson's "Rule, Britannia" (1740): "Rule, Britannia, rule the waves / Britons never will be slaves" (The Poetical Works of James Thomson [London: Pickering, 1830], 2:264). The poet undermines Thomson's narrative of triumphant British imperialism, to celebrate America's victory in the Revolutionary War.Go back