previous next

Chapter 8: between battles

‘The screaming missiles fell’ This line from The pride of Battery B, an episode of Antietam (page 196), is illustrated by the humble Dunker Church around which raged the center of the conflict—the photograph followed soon, before the shot holes had been repaired.




All day it shook the land—grim battle's thunder tread;
And fields at morning green, at eve are trampled red.
But now, on the stricken scene, twilight and quiet fall;
Only, from hill to hill, night's tremulous voices call;
And comes from far along, where campfires warning burn,
The dread, hushed sound which tells of morning's sad return.

Timidly nature awakens; the stars come out overhead,
And a flood of moonlight breaks like a voiceless prayer for the dead.
And steals the blessed wind, like Odin's fairest daughter,
In viewless ministry, over the fields of slaughter;
Soothing the smitten life, easing the pang of death,
And bearing away on high the passing warrior's breath.

Two youthful forms are lying apart from the thickest fray,
The one in Northern blue, the other in Southern gray.
Around his lifeless foeman the arms of each are pressed,
And the head of one is pillowed upon the other's breast.
As if two loving brothers, wearied with work and play,
Had fallen asleep together, at close of the summer day.
Foeman were they, and brothers?—Again the battle's din,
With its sullen, cruel answer, from far away breaks in.

Music in camp

The setting of this poem is immediately after the battle of Chancellorsville, May 1-4, 1863. for some three weeks the armies were encamped on opposite banks of the Rappahannock, before Lee's invasion of the North ending in the battle of Gettysburg. Historically, the intercourse between the soldiers had been much freer during the preceding winter and spring, between the battle of Fredericksburg and the opening of the Chancellorsville campaign.


‘Apart from the thickest fray’—a scene of 1865 Confederate and Union dead, side by side, in the trenches at Fort Mahone This spectacle of April 3d, the day after Grant's army stormed the Petersburg defenses, is a strikingly real illustration for the poem ‘United.’ With ‘U. S.’ on his haversack lies a Union soldier; beyond, a booted Confederate. Every field of the war was a reminder of the brotherhood of the opponents. The same cast of features indicated their common descent. The commands heard above the roar of cannonading or in the midst of desperate charges revealed the identity of their language and heritage from a heroic past. The unyielding fortitude and unhesitating fidelity displayed by the private in the ranks as he followed his appointed leaders was merely additional proof of the Anglo-Saxon blood that flowed in the veins of the embattled countrymen. During the conflict there was, naturally, a great deal of hostility. The ranks opposed were the ranks of the enemy, no matter how close the bonds of relationship, and against the enemy the utmost destruction must be hurled. Yet in the Eastern and Western armies, friendly relations were established whenever the camps of opposing forces were stationed near each other for any length of time. Since the war this feeling has grown until the saddest feature of the irrepressible conflict is that it was waged between brothers, that every battlefield furnished many a spot like the one above.

Two armies covered hill and plain,
Where Rappahannock's waters
Ran deeply crimsoned with the stain
Of battle's recent slaughters

The summer clouds lay pitched like tents
In meads of heavenly azure;
And each dread gun of the elements
Slept in its hid embrasure.

The breeze so softly blew it made
No forest leaf to quiver,
And the smoke of the random cannonade
Rolled slowly from the river.

And now, where circling hills looked down
With cannon grimly planted,
O'er listless Camp and silent town
The golden sunset slanted.

When on the fervid air there came
A strain—now rich, now tender;
The music seemed itself aflame
With day's departing splendor.

A Federal band, which, eve and morn,
Played measures brave and nimble,
Had just struck up, with flute and horn
And lively clash of cymbal.

Down flocked the soldiers to the banks,
Till, margined with its pebbles,
One wooded shore was blue with ‘Yanks,’
And one was gray with ‘Rebels.’

Then all was still, and then the band,
With movement light and tricksy,
Made stream and forest, hill and strand,
Reverberate with ‘Dixie.’


Illustrations of Thompson's poem: taken during the battle of May 3, 1863.

These two views, the lower being the right half of the panorama, are a truly remarkable illustration of Thompson's lines. ‘Taken during the battle of May 3, 1863’ is the legend written on the print by the Government photographer, Captain A. J. Russell. In the early morning of that day, Gibbon had encrimsoned the stream at this point in crossing the river to cooperate with Sedgwick to attack the Confederate positions on the heights of Fredericksburg. When this picture was taken, Sedgwick was some nine miles away, fighting desperately along a crest near Salem Chapel, from which he was at length driven slowly back through the woods. Sedgwick held his ground through the next day; but on the night of May 4th he recrossed the Rappahannock, this time above Fredericksburg, while the Confederate batteries shelled the bridges over which his troops were marching. The waters were indeed ‘crimsoned by battle's recent slaughters.’ To the right in the lower half of the panorama are the stone piers of the bridge in the telephoto picture on the next page.

‘Where Rappahannock's waters ran deeply crimsoned’

Panorama (with picture above) of Fredericksburg from lacy house

[194] The conscious stream with burnished glow
Went proudly o'er its pebbles,
But thrilled throughout its deepest flow
With yelling of the Rebels.

Again a pause, and then again
The trumpets pealed sonorous,
And Yankee Doodle was the strain
To which the shore gave chorus.

The laughing ripple shoreward flew,
To kiss the shining pebbles;
Loud shrieked the swarming Boys in Blue
Defiance to the Rebels.

And yet once more the bugles sang
Above the stormy riot;
No shout upon the evening rang—
There reigned a holy quiet.

The sad, slow stream its noiseless flood
Poured o'er the glistening pebbles;
All silent now the Yankees stood,
And silent stood the Rebels.

No unresponsive soul had heard
That plaintive note's appealing,
So deeply Home, sweet home had stirred
The hidden founts of feeling.

Or Blue or Gray, the soldier sees,
As by the wand of fairy,
The cottage 'neath the live-oak trees,
The cabin by the prairie.

Or cold or warm, his native skies
Bend in their beauty o'er him;
Seen through the tear-mist in his eyes,
His loved ones stand before him.


‘And one was gray with rebels’ The photograph of Confederates on the Fredericksburg end of the ruined railroad bridge is one of the first telephoto photographs anywhere taken. On page 26, Volume I, of this history is reproduced a photograph made by climbing out along the portion of the bridge standing on the eastern bank of the river. At the left of this picture, the end of a bridge-beam is seen roughly projected against the brick wall. The photograph is proof of the friendly relations existing between the two armies encamped on opposite banks of the Rappahannock. Men in gray, both officer and private, are actually posing before the Federal camera. General Gordon says: ‘This rollicking sort of intercourse would have been alarming in its intimacy, but for the perfect confidence which the officers of both sides had in their men. Even officers on the opposite banks of this narrow stream would now and then declare a truce among themselves, in order that they might bathe in the little river. Where the water was shallow they would wade in and meet each other in the center and shake hands and “swap” newspapers and barter Southern tobacco for Yankee coffee. Where the water was deep so that they could not wade in and “swap,” they sent the articles of traffic across in miniature boats, laden on the southern shore with tobacco and sailed across to the Union side. These little boats were unloaded by the Union soldiers, reloaded, and sent back with Yankee coffee for the Confederates.’ He then tells of finding a Union soldier lying in the weeds, who said that he came across the river see the Johnnies for a little while, since there was no battle in progress. When General Gordon threatened to send the scantily clad visitor to prison, his own soldiers protested so stoutly that he allowed the ‘Yank’ to swim back to his camp.

[196] As fades the iris after rain
In April's tearful weather,
The vision vanished, as the strain
And daylight died together.

But memory, waked by music's art,
Expressed in simplest numbers,
Subdued the sternest Yankee's heart,
Made light the Rebel's slumbers.

And fair the form of music shines,
That bright, celestial creature,
Who still, 'mid war's embattled lines,
Gave this one touch of Nature.

The pride of battery B

The historical setting of this popular recitation is the close of the first day's battle at Antietam, or Sharpsburg, September 16, 1862. to locate it more accurately is impossible, for it is in no sense a military record.

South Mountain towered on our right,
Far off the river lay,
And over on the wooded height
We held their lines at bay.

At last the mutt'ring guns were stilled,
The day died slow and wan.
At last their pipes the gunners filled,
The Sergeant's yarns began.

When,—as the wind a moment blew
Aside the fragrant flood
Our brierwoods raised,—within our view
A little maiden stood.

A tiny tot of six or seven,
From fireside fresh she seemed.
(Of such a little one in heaven
One soldier often dreamed.)


Union soldiers in the just deserted Confederate Camp at Fredericksburg The camera has caught a dramatic moment in the period of Thompson's Music in Camp. It is May 3, 1863, and Sedgwick has carried the heights of Fredericksburg, impregnable to six assaults in December. One who was present reported: ‘Upon reaching the summit of the sharp hill, after passing through the extensive and well-wooded grounds of the Marye house, an exciting scene met the eye. A single glance exhibited to view the broad plateau alive with fleeing soldiers, riderless horses, and artillery and wagon-trains on a gallop.’ As no cavalry was at hand, the troops that carried the heights, ‘exhausted by the night march, the weight of several days' rations and sixty rounds of ammunition, and by the heat, fatigue, and excitement of battle, were allowed to halt for a short time. Many were soon asleep, while others made coffee and partook of their first meal that day.’ Captain A. J. Russell, the Government photographer who followed the army in its movements, dated this picture, May 3d, the very same day. The soldiers so confident in the picture were obliged to retreat across the Rappahannock, where, in a week or so, Thompson imagines the events of Music in Camp to take place. In a month these men were to fight the decisive battle of the war—Gettysburg.

[198] And as we started, her little hand
Went to her curly head
In grave salute; ‘And who are you?’
At length the Sergeant said.

‘And where's your home?’ he growled again.
She lisped out, “Who is me?
Why, don't you know? I'm little Jane,
The pride of Battery B.

My home? Why, that was burned away,
And pa and ma are dead,
And so I ride the guns all day
Along with Sergeant Ned.

And I've a drum that's not a toy,
A cap with feathers too,
And I march beside the drummer-boy
On Sundays at review.

But now our bacca's all give out,
The men can't have their smoke,
And so they're cross,—why, even Ned
Won't play with me and joke.

And the big Colonel said to-day—
I hate to hear him swear—
He'd give a leg for a good pipe
Like the Yanks have over there.

And so I thought, when beat the drum,
And the big guns were still,
I'd creep beneath the tent and come
Out here across the hill.

And beg, good Mister Yankee men,
You'd give me some Lone Jack.
Please do—when we get some again
I'll surely bring it back.


‘Far off the river lay Antietam creek in 1862’: Burnside's bridge—where the fighting raged Thus the placid stream flowed on to join the far Potomac after the sanguinary battle sung by Gassaway in The pride of Battery B. In neither the white sunlight falling upon the pillars nor the cool reflection of the foliage is there a suggestion of the death and wounds suffered by nearly 25,000 men in Blue and Gray. Around this very spot some of the hottest fighting raged. Along the hills on either side of the stream were ranged hundreds of guns. All through the first day of the battle, September 16, 1862, they volleyed and thundered at each other across the narrow valley. Both Union and Confederate armies were well supplied with artillery, which was so well served that every one tried to keep behind the crests of the ridges. At the termination of this long-continued duel, the incident of little Jane's visit to the Union battery is described by Gassaway as occurring in the vicinity of the peaceful scene here reproduced, from a photograph taken a few days after the battle.

[200] ‘Indeed I will, for Ned, says he,
If I do what I say
I'll be a general yet, maybe,
And ride a prancing bay.’

We brimmed her tiny apron o'er;
You should have heard her laugh
As each man from his scanty store
Shook out a generous half.

To kiss that little mouth stooped down
A score of grimy men,
Until the Sergeant's husky voice
Said ‘'Tention, squad!’—and then

We gave her escort, till good-night
The pretty waif we bid,
And watched her toddle out of sight—
Or else 'twas tears that hid

Her tiny form-nor turned about
A man, nor spoke a word,
Till after while a far, hoarse shout
Upon the wind we heard.

We sent it back, then cast sad eye
Upon the scene around.
A baby's hand had touched the tie
That brothers once had bound.

That's all—save when the dawn awoke
Again the work of hell,
And through the sullen clouds of smoke
The screaming missiles fell,

Our Gen'ral often rubbed his glass,
And marvelled much to see
Not a single shell that whole day fell
In the Camp of Battery B.



‘Again the work of hell’ With painful realism the camera has furnished an illustration for Gassaway's line in The pride of Battery B. But even the horror of this view fails to give a true idea of the fearful slaughter at this point of the battlefield. About nine o'clock the Confederates fighting in the vicinity of the little Dunker Church heard the shout, ‘They are flanking us!’ ‘This cry spread like an electric shock along the ranks. In a moment they broke and fell to the rear,’ says General D. H. Hill. In the rear of the fleeing companies General Rodes immediately formed a line along an old sunken road. The soldiers rendered the position more secure by piling rails upon the ridge. Some of these rails are seen scattered along the edge of the ditch. General Hill continues: ‘It was now apparent that the grand attack would be made upon my position, which was the center of the line. Before reenforcements arrived a heavy force advanced in three parallel lines, with all the precision of a parade day, upon my two brigades. They met with a galling fire, however, recoiled, and fell back; again advanced and again fell back, and finally lay down behind the crest of the hill and kept up an irregular fire.’ Owing to an unfortunate blunder, Rodes's men retreated, whereupon the Federal troops charged and after a fierce struggle drove the Confederate force from its position. General Hill concludes: ‘The unparalleled loss of the division shows that, spite of hunger and fatigue, the officers and men fought most heroically.’ The ‘Bloody Lane’ was full of the men who had defended their position to the bitter end.



Civil war

This famous piece, frequently called ‘the Fancy shot,’ appeared originally in the London ‘once a week’ with the title Civile Bellum, and dated ‘from the once United States.’ the implied prophecy failed of fulfilment, and the concealed authorship has usually been cleared up by attributing the poem to Charles Dawson Shanly.

‘Rifleman, shoot me a fancy shot
Straight at the heart of yon prowling vidette;
Ring me a ball in the glittering spot
That shines on his breast like an amulet!’

‘Ah, captain! here goes for a fine-drawn bead,
There's music around when my barrel's in tune!’
Crack! went the rifle, the messenger sped,
And dead from his horse fell the ringing dragoon.

‘Now, rifleman, steal through the bushes, and snatch
From your victim some trinket to handsel first blood;
A button, a loop, or that luminous patch
That gleams in the moon like a diamond stud!’

“O captain!” I staggered, and sunk on my track,
When I gazed on the face of that fallen vidette,
For he looked so like you, as he lay on his back,
That my heart rose upon me, and masters me yet.

‘But I snatched off the trinket,—this locket of gold;
An inch from the centre my lead broke its way,
Scarce grazing the picture, so fair to behold,
Of a beautiful lady in bridal array.’

“Ha! rifleman, fling me the locket!—'tis she,
My brother's young bride, and the fallen dragoon
Was her husband—Hush! soldier, 'twas Heaven's decree,
We must bury him there, by the light of the moon!

But hark! the far bugles their warnings unite;
War is a virtue,—weakness a sin;
There's a lurking and loping around us to-night;
Load again, rifleman, keep your hand in!”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 3rd, 1863 AD (3)
September 16th, 1862 AD (2)
1865 AD (1)
May 4th, 1863 AD (1)
May 1st, 1863 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
December (1)
May 4th (1)
May 3rd (1)
April 3rd (1)
April (1)
7th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: