41. dead-en bivouac.
by Captain George P. Burnham, U. S. A.
During the advance of the army of the Potomac south of the Rapidan, on those very cold nights the troops and guards suffered terribly. Several had limbs frost-bitten, and one man, in the Second corps, froze to death while on picket duty.--Telegraph despatch in December to New-York papers.By the margin of the river,
'Midst the plunging snow and sleet,
On the picket-post they shiver,
As they pace their lonely beat!
Of the loved ones (calmly sleeping
Safe from cold, alarm, or fight)
They are thinking, whilst they're keeping
“Watch-in-watch” this bitter night.
Near the Rapid Ann we rested--
After weeks and months of toil--
(Faith and valor meanwhile tested!)
On Virginia's “sacred” soil.
By the lonely weird camp-fire,
Hard upon the foeman's track,
'Mid the gloom and dampness dire
We lay down--en bivouac.
“All is well!” the sentry uttered,
Far away upon the right;
“All is well!” the centre muttered--
Then the left. 'Twas dead of night.
Still the storm was fiercely raging;
Biting blasts came down the vale; 
And the elements were waging
Ruthless war — amid that gale.
But the sentinels kept pacing--
Pacing — up and down their track;
While the storm-king still kept tracing
Snowy ridges — front and back.
Ah! that air was deathly frigid,
And the sleet came tempest-tost!
But the orders out were rigid--
“Not a man must quit his post.”
For, in front, (we'd had the warning,)
Massed, in force, the rebels lay,
Yet we looked for--prayed for morning,
Though 't should prove our final day!
Hours passed. One watcher, weary--
Faltered, halted, breathed a moan;
Then, amidst the darkness dreary,
Failed — and sank to earth, alone.
When the gray light broke, at dawning,
Calm, beneath a friendly tree--
Blanched, and still, lay Harry Corning!
Sleeping on his post--was he?
Surely, no! A soldier braver
Never met or charged the foe.
Such true hearts are few! And never
Could he fail in duty so.
“Forward!” came the word. We lifted
Quickly up his stiffened form,
Round it wreaths of snow had drifted,
But his heart no more was warm.
He had frozen, dead — on picket.
Dreadful fate was this, alack!
And we laid him 'neath the thicket,
Where he died--en bivouac.
In camp, near the Rapidan, Va., first division, Second corps, January, 1864.