Charge of the Black Brigade.
MAY 27, 1863.
Dark as the clouds of even,
Ranked in the western heaven,
Waiting the breath that lifts
All the dead mass, and drifts
Tempest and falling brand
Over a ruined land;—
So still and orderly,
Arm to arm, knee to knee,
Waiting the great event,
Stands the black regiment.
Down the long dusky line
Teeth gleam and eyeballs shine;
And the bright bayonet,
Bristling and firmly set,
Flashed with a purpose grand,
Long ere the sharp command
Of the fierce rolling drum
Told them their time had come,
Told them what work was sent
For the black regiment.
“Now,” the flag-sergeant cried,
“Though death and hell betide,
Let the whole nation see
If we are fit to be
Free in this land; or bound
Down, like the whining hound —
Bound with red stripes of pain
In our old chains again!”
Oh! what a shout there went
From the black regiment.
” Charge!” Trump and drum awoke;
Onward the bondmen broke;
Bayonet and saber-stroke
Vainly opposed their rush.
Through the wild battle’s crush,
With but one thought aflush,
Driving their lords like chaff,
In the guns’ mouths they laugh;
Or at the slippery brands,
Leaping with open hands,
Down they tear man and horse,
Down in their awful course;
Trampling with bloody heel
Over the crashing steel,
All their eyes forward bent,
Rushed the black regiment.
“Freedom!” their battle-cry —
“Freedom! or leave to die!”
Ah! and they meant the word,
Not as with us ’tis heard,
Not a mere party shout:
They gave their spirits out;
Trusted the end to God,
And on the gory sod
Rolled in triumphant blood.
Glad to strike one free blow,
Whether for weal or woe;
Glad to breathe one free breath,
Though on the lips of death.
Praying,—alas! in vain!—
That they might fall again,
So they could once more see
That burst to liberty!
This was what “freedom” lent
To the black regiment.
Hundreds on hundreds fell;
But they are resting well;
Scourges and shackles strong
Never shall do them wrong.
Oh, to the living few,
Soldiers, be just and true!
Hail them as comrades tried;
Fight with them side by side;
Never, in field or tent,
Scorn the black regiment!
GEORGE H. BOKER.
Janesville Daily Gazette (Janesville, Wisconsin) Jun 17, 1863
Read more about the Black Brigade:
Written in Glory
Letters from the Soldiers and Officers of the 54th Massachusetts
Revising the Civil War Record
The 54th Massachusetts Regiment, featured in the film Glory, was not the first black unit to fight.
HON. GEORGE H. BOKER.
Death in Philadelphia of a Man Famous in Many Ways.
Mr. George H. Boker, whose death took place recently at Philadelphia, combined two rare gifts seldom found in one person. He was both poet and diplomat. His verses were of sufficient merit to attract the attention of no less a literary light than Leigh Hunt, and as a diplomat he once succeeded in averting a war between the United States and Spain.
George Henry Boker was born at Philadelphia in 1823. His family, originally French, removed to Holland, and thence to England. There becoming identified with the “Quakers,” they emigrated to America and settled in the City of Brotherly Love. Mr. Boker was educated at Princeton college, where he was graduated at 19, and soon after married and went abroad. He had written verses at college, and while abroad wrote more, publishing a volume in 1847, on his return. In 1848 he published “Calayno,” a tragedy. It was the first marked success he attained, and was played to admiring audiences in England and the United States. Then came “The Betrothal,” “Francesca da Rimini” and “Anne Boleyn.” He also wrote many short pieces. Leigh Hunt regarded him as the best sonnet writer of his time.
In 1852 Boker dined one day with Daniel Webster at a dinner party given by the later in Washington. Webster had been speaking to his guests on the relations then existing between the United States and England. Suddenly turning to young Boker he said: “I think you have expressed the true sentiment concerning this subject in that admirable sonnet of yours.” He then recited the lines referred to to the party much to Boker’s surprise, who sat listening to the splendid performance in elocution doubtless with great delight:
Lear and Cordelia! ‘Twas an ancient tale
Before thy Shakespeare gave it deathless fame;
The times have changed, the moral is the same,
So like an outcast, dowerless and pale,
Thy daughter went; and in a foreign gale
Spread her young banner, till its sway became
A wonder to the nations. Days of shame
Are close upon thee; prophets raise their wail,
When the rude Cossack, with an outstretched hand,
Points his long spear across the narrow sea –
“Lo, there is England!” when thy destiny
Storms on thy straw crowned head, and thou dost stand
Weak, helpless, mad, a byword in the land –
God grant thy daughter a Cordelia be!
Mr. Boker wrote very prettily in the way of light love verses. Here is a dainty bit which reminds one of some of Leigh Hunt‘s work:
ON MY LADY’S LETTER.
This slip of paper touched thy gentle hand,
Doubtless was sunned beneath thy radiant eye;
Perhaps had clearer honor, and did lie
Upon thy bosom, or was proudly fanned
Within thy fragrant breath. At my command
A thousand fancies, growing as they fly,
To maddening sweetness, flit my vision by,
And mingle golden vapors with the sand,
That times my idle being. Senseless things
Start into dignity beneath thy touch,
Mount from the earth on love’s ecstatic wings,
And to my eyes seem scared, If from such
I draw such rapture, who may say how much,
Wert thou the theme of my imaginings?
But Mr. Boker’s main work was in diplomacy. During the civil war he was an indefatigable worker in the Union cause being one of the organizers of the Union League club, of Philadelphia, for the purpose of standing by the government. Besides this he devoted his pen to the service of the Union. When Grant became president he made Mr. Boker minister to Turkey. He soon showed great talent for the work before him, and left Turkey with the approval of the United States government and the good will of the sultan. From this mission he was promoted to St. Petersberg.
While minister to Russia, the Virginius affair occurred. A wanton outrage on a United States ship had been perpetrated by the officers of a Spanish vessel. President Grant was very much opposed to going to war with Spain, but the case demanded either war or an apology from the Spanish government.
From Washington instructions were sent to United States ministers abroad to endeavor to gain the influence of foreign governments to the cause of the United States. All the efforts of those who followed these instructions failed, except in Mr. Boker’s case. The work required great delicacy, and the Spanish minister at St. Petersberg sought to thwart the Americans efforts. However, he succeeded in inducing Prince Gortschakoff to send instructions to the Russian minister at Madrid taking ground in favor of the United States. This settled the question; Spain apologized for the Virginius affair and was was averted.
Mr. Boker was doubtless aided by the friendly relations between Russia and America, which sprang from Russia’s pronounced declaration in favor of the Union in sending a fleet of war vessels to New York during the civil war. But he unquestionably gained a great ascendency over the Czar Alexander and his minister of state. Both requested that his term as minister to Russia might be prolonged. When his successor arrived at St. Petersberg it is related that Gortschakoff said to him:
“I cannot say that I am glad to see you. In fact, I’m not sure that I see you at all, for the tears that are in my eyes on account of the departure of our friend Boker.”
For many years Mr. Boker was a conspicuous light in Philadelphia, and it is due to his efforts that Egypt, Turkey and Russia were led to take an interest in the Centennial exhibition of 1876. He had a fine library, to which he devoted himself during his later days. His house was decorated with many articles of vertu, obtained during his residence abroad.
Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio) Jan 15, 1890
Image from the Old Pictures website.
Poets Are Not Like Birds.
The late George H. Boker wrote to his friend, R.H. Stoddard: “Read used to tell a story of some Yankee poet who resolved to wait for an impulse from the Muse. He waited thirty years, and at the end of that time concluded himself no poet, although his youthful poems gave promise of great things. That man perhaps wanted but industry to make him immortal. I hold that there is a labor connected with all great literary achievements sufficient to drive any but a man of genius stark mad. This the world will never believe. It has an idea that poets write as birds sing, and it is this very false idea which robs us of half our honors. Were poetry forged upon the anvil, cut out with the ax or spun in the mill, my heaven! how men would wonder at the process! What power, what toil, what ingenuity!”
Woodland Daily Democrat (Woodland, California) Aug 8, 1890