Pieces People Ask For/Bay Billy
You may talk of horses of renown,
What Goldsmith Maid has done,
How Dexter cut the seconds down,
And Fellowcraft's great run:
Would you hear about a horse that once
A mighty battle won?
'Twas the last fight at Fredericksburg,—
Perhaps the day you reck,—
Our boys, the Twenty-second Maine,
Kept Early's men in check.
Just where Wade Hampton boomed away,
The fight went neck and neck.
All day we held the weaker wing,
And held it with a will;
Five several stubborn times we charged
The battery on the hill,
And five times beaten back, re-formed,
And kept our columns still.
At last from out the centre fight
Spurred up a general's aide;
"That battery must silenced be!"
He cried as past he sped.
Our colonel simply touched his cap,
And then, with measured tread,—
To lead the crouching line once more
The grand old fellow came;
No wounded man but raised his head,
And strove to gasp his name,
And those who could not speak or stir
"God blessed him" just the same.
For he was all the world to us,—
That hero gray and grim;
Right well he knew that fearful slope
We'd climb with none but him,
Though while his white head led the way
We'd charge hell's portals in.
This time we were not half way up,
When, midst the storm of shell,
Our leader, with his sword upraised,
Beneath our bayonets fell;
And as we bore him back, the foe
Set up a joyous yell.
Our hearts went with him. Back we swept,
And when the bugle said,
"Up, charge again!" no man was there
But hung his dogged, head.
"We've no one left to lead us now,"
The sullen soldiers said.
Just then, before the laggard line
The colonel's horse we spied,—
Bay Billy, with his trappings on,
His nostril swelling wide,
As though still on his gallant back
The master sat astride.
Right royally he took the place
That was of old his wont,
And with a neigh that seemed to say
Above the battle's brunt,
"How can the Twenty-second charge
If I am not in front?"
Like statues we stood rooted there,
And gazed a little space:
Above that floating mane we missed
The dear familiar face;
But we saw Bay Billy's eye of fire,
And it gave us heart of grace.
No bugle-call could rouse us all
As that brave sight had done.
Down all the battered line we felt
A lightning impulse run:
Up, up the hill we followed Bill,
And captured every gun!
And when upon the conquered height
Died out the battle's hum,
Vainly 'mid living and the dead
We sought our leader dumb;
It seemed as if a spectre steed
To win that day had come.
And then the dusk and dew of night
Fell softly o'er the plain,
As though o'er man's dread work of death
The angels wept again,
And drew night's curtain gently round
A thousand beds of pain.
All night the surgeons' torches went
The ghastly rows between;
All night with solemn step I paced
The torn and bloody green:
But who that fought in the big war
Such dread sights has not seen?
At last the morning broke. The lark
Sang in the merry skies
As if to e'en the sleepers there
It bade, Wake, and arise!
Though naught but that last trump of all
Could ope their heavy eyes.
And then once more, with banners gay,
Stretched out the long brigade;
Trimly upon the furrowed field
The troops stood on parade,
And bravely 'mid the ranks were closed
The gaps the fight had made.
Not half the Twenty-second's men
Were in that place that morn,
And Corporal Dick, who yester-noon
Stood six brave fellows on,
Now touched my elbow in the ranks,
For all between were gone.
Ah! who forgets that dreary hour
When, as with misty eyes,
To call the old familiar roll
The solemn sergeant tries,
One feels that thumping of the heart
As no prompt voice replies?
And as in faltering tone and slow
The last few names were said,
Across the field some missing horse
Toiled up with weary tread.
It caught the sergeant's eye, and quick
Bay Billy's name was read.
Yes! there the old bay hero stood,
All safe from battle's harms;
And ere an order could be heard,
Or the bugle's quick alarms,
Down all the front, from end to end,
The troops presented arms!
Not all the shoulder-straps on earth
Could still our mighty cheer;
And ever from that famous day,
When rang the roll-call clear,
Bay Billy's name was read, and then
The whole line answered "Here!"
Frank H. Gassaway.