I was a young man then, boys, but twenty-eight years old,
And all my comrades knew me for a soldier brave and bold;
My eye was bright, my step was firm, I measured six feet two,
And I knew not what it was to shirk when there was work to do.
We were stationed at Fort Moultrie, in Charleston harbor, then,
A brave band, though a small one, of scarcely sixty men;
And day and night we waited for the coming of the foe,
With noble Major Anderson, just fifty years ago.
Were they French or English, ask you? Oh, neither, neither, child!
We were at peace with other lands, and all the nation smiled
On the stars and stripes, wherever they floated, far and free,
And all the foes we had to meet we found this side the sea.
But even between brothers bitter feuds will sometimes rise,
And 'twas the cloud of civil war that darkened in the skies;
I have not time to tell you how the quarrel first began,
Or how it grew, till o'er our land the strife like wildfire ran.
I will not use hard words, my boys, for I am old and gray,
And I've learned it is an easy thing for the best to go astray;
Some wrong there was on either part, I do not doubt at all;
There are two sides to a quarrel — be it great, or be it small!
But yet, when South Carolina laid her sacrilegious hand
On the altar of a Union that belonged to all the land;
When she tore our glorious banner down, and trailed it in the dust,
Every patriot's heart and conscience bade him guard the sacred trust.
You scarce believe me, children. Grief and doubt are in your eyes,
Fixed steadily upon me in wonder and surprise;
Don't forget to thank our Father, when to-night you kneel to pray,
That an undivided people rule America to-day.
We were stationed at Fort Moultrie, but about a mile away
The battlements of Sumter stood proudly in the bay;
'Twas by far the best position, as he could not help but know,
Our gallant Major Anderson, just fifty years ago.
Yes, 'twas just after Christmas, fifty years ago to-night;
The sky was calm and cloudless, the moon was large and bright;
At six o'clock the drum beat to call us to parade,
And not a man suspected the plan that had been laid.
But the first thing a soldier learns is that he must obey,
And that when an order's given he has not a word to say;
So when told to man the boats, not a question did we ask,
But silently, yet eagerly, began our hurried task.
We did a deal of work that night, though our numbers were but few;
We had all our stores to carry, and our ammunition too;
And the guard-ship--'twas the Nina — set to watch us in the bay,
Never dreamed what we were doing, though 'twas almost light as day.
We spiked the guns we left behind, and cut the flag-staff down--
From its top should float no color if it might not hold our own--
Then we sailed away for Sumter as fast as we could go
With our good Major Anderson, just fifty years ago.
I never can forget, my boys, how the next day, at noon,
The drums beat and the bands played a stirring martial tune,
And silently we gathered round the flag-staff strong and high,
For ever pointing upward to God's temple in the sky.
Our noble Major Anderson was good as he was brave,
And he knew without His blessing no banner long could wave;
So he knelt, with head uncovered, while the chaplain read the prayer,
And as the last Amen was said, the flag rose high in air.
Then our loud huzzas rang out, far and widely o'er the sea!
We shouted for the stars and stripes, the standard of the free!
Every eye was fixed upon it, every heart beat warm and fast.
As with eager lips we promised to defend it to the last!
'Twas a sight to be remembered, boys — the chaplain with his book,
Our leader humbly kneeling, with his calm, undaunted look;
And the officers and men, crushing tears they would not shed--
And the blue sea all around us, and the blue sky over head!
Now go to bed, my children, the old man's story's told--
Stir up the fire before you go, 'tis bitter, bitter cold;
And I'll tell you more to-morrow night, when loud the fierce winds blow,
Of gallant Major Anderson and fifty years ago.