Gettysburg

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Gettysburg
(July 3, 1863)
 (1898) 
by Guy Wetmore Carryl
This poem describes the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. This poem was published in the posthumous anthology The Garden of Years and Other Poems (1904).
The Battle of Gettysburg, by Currier and Ives, c. 1863

Though the winds be strong that lash along the steeds of the charging sea,
With lunge and urge of assaulting surge yet seeking a further goal,
God in His pleasure hath set a measure, the bound of their boast to be,
Where, pile upon pile, and mile on mile, are the cliffs of calm control.
But the Lord of Hosts who guardeth the coasts yet loveth each sieging swell,
And He who is Brother to surge and smother is Brother to cliff as well:
He giveth the word if the shore be stirred, He biddeth the sea subside,
And this is our trust, that His will is just, however He turn the tide!

As night went gray at the touch of day and the slow dawn mounted higher,
On the Federal right the third day’s fight was born in a sheet of fire:
Gun upon gun to the front was run, and each in its turn spoke forth
From fevered mouth to the waiting South the word of the watching North:
And the wraith of Death with withering breath o’er the wide arena played,
As across the large swept on the charge of the old Stonewall brigade;
But the first great wave on a sudden gave, retreating across the slain—
Gave and broke, as the rifles spoke from the long blue line of Kane!

Then silence sank on the double rank deployed on the sullen hill,
And, across the plain of the early slain, the hosts of the South were still,
Waiting, each, till further speech from the guns should dart and din—
Sign to the brave that the final wave of the tide was rolling in.
Adown the line like a draught of wine the presence of Hancock came,
And eyes grew bright in the steadfast light of his own that blazed to flame;
For the Federals knew, where his banner blew—and they saw their leader ride,
That a righteous God on that sea of sod had decreed a turn of tide!

So came one, when a signal gun awoke on the Southern side,
And Hunt’s brigade with a cannonade to the challenge of Lee replied,
Like arrows sent from a bow well bent to the heart of a distant targe,
Virginia’s hope rode down the slope, with Pickett leading the charge!
Steady and slow, as soldiers go in some serried dress parade,
With flags a-dance in their cool advance came the gallant gray brigade,
And steady and slow, as if no foe on the frowning heights abode,
To the cannon’s breath, to the scythe of Death, Pickett, their leader, rode.

God! what a mile he led them! From the slope they sought to scale,
Sullen and hot, the swingeing shot was hurling its awful hail:
Where a long ravine ploughed through the green they halted, anew to form,
And then, with a cheer, to the ridge’s sheer they swept like a summer storm.
Hand to hand at the guns they manned, the Federals fought and fell,
Where Armistead his regiment led up the cannister-harrowed swell,
He touched a gun—for a breath he won the crest of the Union’s pride—
Then over the hill Jehovah’s will decreed the turn of the tide!

Taken in flank each gallant rank of Pickett’s battalions gave,
Trampled and tossed, since hope was lost, there was left but life to save;
Beaten back on the travelled track, they faltered, and broke, and fled,
And, swinging his scythe, Death claimed his tithe in the pale and patient dead!
For the arm of the Lord had raised the sword that man may not gainsay,
’Twixt the cause of the Free and the cause of Lee the issue no longer lay;
For the word of the Lord had gone abroad that the strife of the right had won,
And Freedom’s foe at the call bowed low and answered “Thy will be done!”

Pickett, ah, Pickett, the staunchest heart in the Southern host that day,
Hail to the brave in the last great wave of the long and fearful fray,
That broke in foam on the trampled loam of that tempest trampled mount—
In the glory born of a hope forlorn they passed to their last account!
Meade, ah, Meade, there are hearts that bleed for your host that fought and fell,
When the final charge broke on the marge of a hillside turned to Hell!
Yet this the speech on the crag-girt beach that the sea proclaims for aye,
And this the word that the cliffs unstirred through the ages still reply:

Though the winds be strong that lash along the steeds of the charging sea,
With lunge and urge of assaulting surge yet seeking a further goal,
God in His pleasure hath set a measure, the bound of their boast to be,
Where, pile upon pile, and mile on mile, are the cliffs of calm control.
But the Lord of Hosts who guardeth the coasts yet loveth each sieging swell,
And He who is Brother to surge and smother is Brother to cliff as well:
He giveth the word if the shore be stirred, He biddeth the sea subside,
And this is our trust, that His will is just, however He turn the tide!

New York, 1898.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.