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Gettysburg: July 1 – July 3, 1863

One hundred and fifty-six years ago today the Battle of Gettysburg began in a series of skirmishes. It ended here three days later at the bloody angle at the wall. With the failure of Pickett’s Charge the South’s dream of freedom from the Yankee north ended.

Ode to the Confederate Dead
Allen Tate – 1899-1979

Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.

Autumn is desolation in the plot
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
From the inexhaustible bodies that are not
Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row.
Think of the autumns that have come and gone!–
Ambitious November with the humors of the year,
With a particular zeal for every slab,
Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot
On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there:
The brute curiosity of an angel’s stare
Turns you, like them, to stone,
Transforms the heaving air
Till plunged to a heavier world below
You shift your sea-space blindly
Heaving, turning like the blind crab.

Dazed by the wind, only the wind
The leaves flying, plunge

You know who have waited by the wall
The twilight certainty of an animal,
Those midnight restitutions of the blood
You know–the immitigable pines, the smoky frieze
Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage,
The cold pool left by the mounting flood,
Of muted Zeno and Parmenides.
You who have waited for the angry resolution
Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow,
You know the unimportant shrift of death
And praise the vision
And praise the arrogant circumstance
Of those who fall
Rank upon rank, hurried beyond decision–
Here by the sagging gate, stopped by the wall.

Seeing, seeing only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

Turn your eyes to the immoderate past,
Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising
Demons out of the earth they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run.
Lost in that orient of the thick and fast
You will curse the setting sun.

Cursing only the leaves crying
Like an old man in a storm

You hear the shout, the crazy hemlocks point
With troubled fingers to the silence which
Smothers you, a mummy, in time.

The hound bitch
Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar
Hears the wind only.

Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea,
Seals the malignant purity of the flood,
What shall we who count our days and bow
Our heads with a commemorial woe
In the ribboned coats of grim felicity,
What shall we say of the bones, unclean,
Whose verdurous anonymity will grow?
The ragged arms, the ragged heads and eyes
Lost in these acres of the insane green?
The gray lean spiders come, they come and go;
In a tangle of willows without light
The singular screech-owl’s tight
Invisible lyric seeds the mind
With the furious murmur of their chivalry.

We shall say only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

We shall say only the leaves whispering
In the improbable mist of nightfall
That flies on multiple wing:
Night is the beginning and the end
And in between the ends of distraction
Waits mute speculation, the patient curse
That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps
For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.

What shall we say who have knowledge
Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act
To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave
In the house? The ravenous grave?

Leave now
The shut gate and the decomposing wall:
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush,
Riots with his tongue through the hush–
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn July 1, 2019, 8:54 AM

    I understand that we are supposed to forget the moral past. Tear down the Confederate Statues. And, after that, of course we’ll need to tear down the Union’s as well.

    My group that draws from the figure has a temporary new location: a fucking Antifa headquarters! Will I survive a month of such shit?

    Do the members of Anitifa, who at one time claim they’re not a group, and at another celebrate their 4th year anniversary (yesterday), know that they will be the first group jailed by the new communist state? Of course not. Their memory goes back only 4 years.

    Fun fact: Pickett had an illegitimate child here in my home state of Washington. When I see the gray coats marching, I think of the honor of their deeds painted by the steel of their character made in battle. I wouldn’t caucus with them, but they are certainly the embers of american independence. That idea won’t fade easily.

    Is that a wind that blows now?

  • ghostsniper July 1, 2019, 9:13 AM

    My birthplace.
    More than 50 years since I was there.

    On a cold October’s day
    The battlefield at Gettysburg
    On a plaque I read my name
    The wheels of time begin to turn
    I see the years stripped away
    I see their lines blue and gray

    Down in Gettysburg
    Saw them fall
    Bloody Gettysburg
    Took them all
    Waited for the word
    Never came
    Retreat from Gettysburg

    I’ve seen a lot of wicked things
    Heard a lot of people cry
    I know it couldn’t touch the pain
    Of seeing 50,000 die
    I saw the sun fall away
    The moon shone white on their graves

    Down in Gettysburg
    Saw them fall
    Bloody Gettysburg
    Took them all
    Waited for the word
    Never came
    Retreat from Gettysburg

    Billy Yank said good-bye
    Mother’s son left to die
    Dixieland look away
    Mother’s son died today

    Papa fought a bloody war
    His father in the one before
    Walking through the haunted field
    I knew we couldn’t give no more
    I saw the years stripped away
    I watched men die blue and gray

    Down in Gettysburg
    Saw them fall
    Bloody Gettysburg
    Took them all
    Waited for the word
    Never came
    Retreat from Gettysburg


  • Dan Patterson July 1, 2019, 11:17 AM

    With the insanity that poses as the public education institution today it is impossible to expect a student of any age to study, learn, respect, or resonate with those influences of that era. Try as I might I cannot put myself completely in that time and that place and I have long studied the era and the men who forged the times, and the times that forged the men. The ingredients to bake that cake are no longer available to modern man, but it is a valuable lesson to try, to attempt to understand the world they inhabited and the forces that moved it. Doing so requires both a scholarly and an artistic mind – it is not as simple as donning a quaint uniform and cooking over a fire, but adopting the character not only the clothes of a man who must have known his objective was always outside his grasp. And that objective was self-determination, horrifically juxtaposed against a large population of people of non-human status regardless of the state borders where they resided, free or slave.
    Federalism was put to death at Appomattox, replaced by a slowly growing central government staffed by ever-growing hordes of tyrants bent on draining ambition and wealth into the OneState nation we’ve become. And it is getting more entrenched as history is erased unlearned and replaced by visions of just-and-right social structures dictated to us by our betters. Soon we will be reciting passages from a “little red book” while marching dutifully to the strains of righteous secular anthems.
    I wrote “we” but meant “they”. It will be a cold day in hell when I take any shit off of any shingle from one of those damnable ogres.

  • rabbit tobacco July 1, 2019, 1:02 PM

    the battle is not over gentlemen

  • Christopher L Hunt July 2, 2019, 6:44 AM

    At Appomattox there is a small Confederate graveyard. Inside are 18 Confederate soldiers, and one unknown Union soldier. Among the Confederates is one J.H. Hutchins, Co. A, 5th Alabama, who enlisted three days after Fort Sumter, and was killed while with Lee’s army two days before the surrender.

  • GoneWithTheWind July 2, 2019, 8:27 AM

    Born and lived just North of Boston. Every year in school the history class would discuss the civil war. I have read books on the civil war. But until I joined the military in 1964 and met and talked with many Southerners I had never heard their side of the war. I am not saying that slavery was justified or they argued for slavery. In fact slavery never came up from their side. Most, perhaps 99% of the Southerners who fought in the war did not own slaves. For them it was a war against an over zealous federal government and a economic war of Northern business owners who wanted to dominate the Southern economy. They fought, in their opinion, for freedom not slavery.

    It is not that simple, it is too complicated to fully discuss in a comment. But the point is for 150 years or more the dominant opinion of the war ignored what the other half believed.

  • Frank July 2, 2019, 6:23 PM

    I read about a wounded Union soldier who was lying beside the road after Gettysburg. Robert E. Lee came down the road making his withdrawal from the field. As he passed by, the wounded Union soldier shouted, “Long live the Union!” Lee stopped and walked over to the soldier. The soldier was afraid Lee was going to shoot him. Instead, Lee knelt beside him and said, “My son, I pray you will get well.” As Lee rode away, the Union soldier said he lay there and cried like a baby.