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
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FOR THE ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD.
Good by, right arm! 'tis hard to part With one so true and tried, And that so long hath served my heart, And waited at my side. Thy work is done, thy pain is o'er; When tear-drops dim my eye, Thy hand will dash them forth no more— Good by, right arm! good by.
Good by, right arm! on many a field Thy strength has served me well, And thou hast been my bosom's shield Where blows like rain-drops fell; But never more in honor's strife Thou wilt be lifted high, Thy last blow saved this heart its life— Good by, right arm! good by.
Good by, right arm! no more thou'lt start Eager to greet my friend, Yet this poor one that's near my heart No colder clasp will lend. And, should my country ever need A guard so maimed as I, It would be just as proud to bleed— Good by, right arm! good by.
Good by, right arm! I should not grieve, For thou hast done thy part, And yet I scarce can bear to leave Thee, senseless as thou art. My poor scarr'd hand, I hold thee near To lips that trembling sigh, And gem thee once more with a tear— Good by, right arm! Good by.
- Amputation was the most common operation carried out during the war. Historian Megan Nelson estimates that 40,000 Union soldiers and 20,000 Confederate soldiers had limbs amputated during the war (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 Richmond and Washington, DC, civilians and soldiers sought to define lost limbs as symbols of the war amputees' masculinity and patriotism. Carmichael's "Amputated" comprises one such attempt to stabilize the meaning of the transformed soldier body. Despite the patriotic symbolism that came to be popularly associated with amputation, however, "concerns about the masculinity of war amputees persisted" (Nelson, 199). In seeking to fix the meaning of a lost limb, "Amputated" also gestures toward the very anxieties that necessitated such acts of definition.
- Soldier expressions of pride in the loss of a limb marked amputation as patriot sacrifice. Considering left-handed penmanship contests for soldiers in 1866 and 1867, historian Frances Clarke argues 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).Carmichael's soldier-speaker not only defines his newly amputated arm as a patriot's sacrifice, he also confirms his dedication to cause and country by pledging to give still more of his flesh and blood, if it be required. Yet he also addresses the injured limb as a beloved friend with whom he must part forever; mourning and regret inflect the discourse of sacrifice. The soldier in Carmichael's poem depicts what Clarke has described as a common motif of wartime culture, wherein amputees "conceptualized loss [of a limb] in terms of a sentimental death scene" (391). Writers also parodied this convention, with pieces like "L-E-G on my LEG" (attributed to a "German volunteer" in Harper's Weekly of September 26, 1863).
- Sarah Elizabeth Carmichael (1838–1901). Born in Long Island, Carmichael moved west with her parents at a young age; they "joined the Latter-day Saints at Nauvoo" in the fall of 1842 and eventually settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1850 (Miriam B. Murphy, "Sarah Elizabeth Carmichael: Poetic Genius of Pioneer Utah," in Worth Their Salt: Notable but Often Unnoted Women of Utah, ed. Colleen Whitley [Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996], 62). Her poetry started to appear in the Deseret News in 1858. Toward the end of the war, she contributed regularly to the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Her friends secured her permission to publish a slim volume of her verse, Poems, in 1866 "for private circulation" (title page, Poems [San Francisco: Towne, 1866]). Poems includes "Amputated" and several other war pieces. She married army surgeon Jonathan M. Williamson in November 1866. According to Nina Baym, Carmichael "apparently had a nervous breakdown in 1867 and stopped publishing" (Baym, Women Writers of the American West, 1833–1927 [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012], 270).