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, 1863–1864Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
|page 1||page 2||page 3||page 4|
Full size in new window
FOR THE ANTI SLAVERY STANDARD.
WORDS OF CHEER.
So, Vicksburg ours, and Lee at flight! Well, dear, you've told the tale; But you must talk no more to-night, Or your slight strength will fail Ere, finished their wearisome round, Doctor or nurse can come; But while I cool your throbbing wound I'll tell you tales of home.
Poor, aching head! three days it lay, Close at a rebel's feet, Senseless on the blood-soaked clay, Throughrain and noon-day heat! Poor, helpless arm! so sharp with pain, 'Twas joy to lose, you said, To keep our flag still free from stain, Our home from gladness fled!
And all that I can tell to thee, My knight, my brave, my shield, Of the dear home you pray to see, Must fiercer anguish yield. Oh! think of rebels met in fight, Vanquished in open fray, Nor ask of me, in these wounds' sight, Of their "Rear Guard" to-day.
You've told me how a foeman's hand Held yours in friendly cheer; Can I tell you of murd'rous brand 'Mong those you've saved from fear? With the vile loathsome snakes that crawl, Kissing the traitor's track, Ready, if rebel arms should fall, To use the fangs they lack?
Thank God that still the battle's din Rings in his long-strained ears! Thank God the nation's latest sin He neither heeds nor hears! Dream while he may of victor wreaths, And happy, grateful throng, When Victory her sword unsheaths— His dreams are none too long.
- A fortified city on the Mississippi River. Union general Ulysses S. Grant assaulted Vicksburg on May 19 and 22, 1863; when frontal attacks failed, he dug in for a siege. Confederate soldiers and civilians quickly ran low on food, water, and ammunition; after holding out for forty-six days, Confederate general John C. Pemberton surrendered his men and arms on July 4, 1863. The capture of the city prevented important supplies from reaching the Confederacy.
- Confederate general Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. At the beginning of June 1863, Lee began to move troops in readiness for a raid in Pennsylvania. The campaign culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863). Lee achieved early success, but Union forces retaliated on the second and third days of the battle. Of the 75,000-strong Army of Northern Virginia, 28,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing; Lee's retreat began on July 4. Union casualties numbered more than 22,800. In "Words of Cheer," Una suggests that her speaker's wounded husband was one of them (he lay unconscious on the battlefield for "three days").
- An estimated 60,000 soldiers had limbs amputated during the course of the Civil War (Megan Kate Nelson, Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012], 176). As empty sleeves and crutches became common sights in and beyond the hospital cities of Richmond and Washington, DC, civilians and soldiers sought to define the meaning of a lost limb as a symbol of the war amputees' masculinity and patriotism.Historian Frances Clarke has argued that "the Civil War took place within, and helped to create, a context of meaning that enabled many [Northern amputees] to consider their injuries as unambiguously 'honorable scars'" ("'Honorable Scars': Northern Amputees and the Meaning of Civil War Injuries," in Union Soldiers on the Northern Home Front: Wartime Experiences, Postwar Adjustments [New York: Fordham University Press, 2002], 363). However, contemporary attempts to define and fix the meaning of a lost limb also gesture toward "concerns about the masculinity of war amputees" (Nelson, 199). Una presents her soldier as a paragon of patriotism, in contrast to those who undermined the Union war effort on the home front, represented by the "Rear Guard" in stanza 3.
- The New York City Draft Riots and their aftermath dominated news on the home front in early August 1863. The federal government passed its first Conscription Act in March 1863, and the first draft took place in July. Democrats opposed the draft as unconstitutional (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War [London: Penguin, 1991] 608–9). The implementation of the draft sparked mob violence in several cities, New York foremost among them. For four days, July 13–16, rioters attacked African Americans, prominent Republicans, and public officers. More than a hundred people were killed; many more black New Yorkers grappled with trauma and destitution (Carla L. Peterson, Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011], 225–53).
- The "murd'rous brand" refers to torches carried by the mob and, perhaps, the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15).
- Una's rioters are in league with the Copperheads. The poisonous copperhead snake lent Lincoln's supporters their preferred term of abuse for Peace Democrats, who opposed the administration's war policies and promoted peace with the South. As a term for describing Peace Democrats, "Copperhead" was widely associated with disloyalty and treachery on the home front.