On June 14, this year, O'Reilly read his great national poem "America," at the reunion of the Army of the Potomac at Detroit. In it he honored, as no other poet has done, the pre-eminent virtue of the American people, magnanimity in victory. Recalling the merciless triumphs of other conquerors, he wrote:
Not thus, O South! when thy proud head was low,
Thy passionate heart laid open to the foe—
Not thus, Virginia, did thy victors meet
At Appomattox him who bore defeat;
No brutal show abased thine honored State:
Grant turned from Richmond at the very gate.
Every passage of the patriotic poem was greeted with applause by the veterans. Even the impassive Grant himself, clutching the arms of his chair, leaned forward and smiled his delight. When the poet had ceased, Grant spoke to President Devens, saying, "That is the grandest poem I have ever heard." "General Grant, I would say so to O'Reilly in person," replied General Devens. He immediately did so, shaking the poet warmly by the hand and saying, "I thank you." This demonstration, of course, redoubled the applause of the witnesses.
Among the many tributes of praise paid him for this great poem were the following letters:
Danvers, Mass., June 19, 1882.
John Boyle O'Reilly, Esq.
Dear Friend: I have read with great satisfaction thy noble poem "America." The great theme is strongly handled. It has much poetic beauty as well as a noble enthusiasm of patriotism.
Thanking thee for sending it, I am very truly thy friend,
John G. Whittier.
Ambsbury, July 7, 1882.
296 Beacon Street, July 2, 1882.
My Dear Mr. O'Reilly:I have never thanked you for your spirited and patriotic poem, which was indeed worthy of the occasion.