“A Poem Entitled the Day and the War” by James Madison Bell (1826 – 1902)


The Day And The War

Sacred to the memory of the immortal Captain John Brown, the hero, saint and martyr of Harper’s Ferry. The following poem is most respectfully inscribed, by one who loved him in life, and in death would honor his memory.

Twelve score of years were long to wait
A fitting day to celebrate:
‘Twere long upon one’s native soil
A feeless drudge in pain to toil.
But Time that fashions and destroys,
And breeds our sorrows, breeds our joys,
Hence we at length have come with cheer,
To greet the dawning of the year —
The bless’d return of that glad day,
When, through Oppression’s gloom, a ray
Of joy and hope and freedom burst,
Dispelling that insatiate thirst,
Which anxious years of toil and strife
Had mingled with the bondman’s life.

A fitting day for such a deed,
But far more fit, when it shall lead
To the final abolition
Of the last slave’s sad condition;
Then, when the New Year ushers in,
A grand rejoicing shall begin;
Then shall Freedom’s clarion tone
Arouse no special class alone,
But all the land its blast shall hear,
And hail with joy the jubilant year;
And maid and matron, youth and age,
Shall meet upon one common stage,
And Proclamation Day shall be
A National Day of Jubilee.

No longer ‘neath the weight of years —
No longer merged in hopeless fears —
Is now that good time, long delayed,
When right, not might, shall all pervade.
Drive hence despair — no longer doubt,
Since friends within and foes without
Their might and main conjointly blend
To reach the same great, glorious end —
The sweeping from this favored land
The last foul chain and slavish brand.

No longer need the bondman fear,
For lo! the good time ‘s almost here,
And doubtless some beneath our voice
Shall live to hail it and rejoice;
For almost now the radiant sheen
Of freedom’s glad hosts may be seen;
The ear can almost catch the sound,
The eye can almost see them bound,
As thirty million voices rise
In grateful peans to the skies.

But of the present we would sing,
And of a land all bathed in blood —
A land where plumes the eagle’s wing,
Whose flaming banner, stars bestud —
A land where Heaven, with bounteous hand,
Rich gifts hath strewn for mortal weal,
Till vale and plain and mountain grand
Have each a treasure to reveal:
A land with every varying clime,
From torrid heat to frigid cold —
With natural scenery more sublime
Than all the world beside unfold,
Where vine-clad France may find a peer,
And Venice an Italian sky,
With streams whereon the gondolier
His feather’d oar with joy may ply.
O, heaven-blest and favored land,
Why are thy fruitful fields laid waste?
Why with thy fratricidal hand
Hast thou thy beauty half defaced?
Why do the gods disdain thy prayer?
And why in thy deep bitterness
Comes forth no heaven-clothed arm to share
A part, and help in the distress?

Hast thou gone forth to reap at noon
And gather where thou hadst not strewn
Hast thou kept back the hireling’s fee,
And mocked him in his poverty?
Hast thou, because thy God hath made
Thy brother of a different shade,
Bound fast the iron on his limb,
And made a feeless drudge of him?
Hast thou, to fill thy purse with gold,
The offsprings of his nature sold?
And in thy brutal lust, beguiled
His daughter and his couch defiled?

For all this wrong and sad abuse,
Hast thou no offering of excuse?
No plea to urge in thy defense
‘Gainst helpless, outraged innocence?
Then fearful is thy doom indeed,
If guilty thou canst only plead.
Thy sin is dark, and from the law
No dint of pity canst thou draw.
If thou are charged, ’twill hear thy suit;
If guilty, swift to execute,
Eye for an eye and tooth for tooth;
Yet, Oh forbid it, God of truth:
Let not thine arm in anger fall,
But hear a guilty nation’s call;
And stay the vial of wrath at hand,
Pour not its contents on the land;
Should they the last dregs in the cup
Of bitterness be called to sup,
And all the contents of the vial
Of thy just wrath be poured the while,
With all the tortures in reserve,
‘Twould scarce be more than they deserve,
For they have sinned ‘gainst thee and man.
But wilt thou not, by thy own plan,
Bring them past this sea of blood,
Ere they are buried ‘neath its flood?

America! I thee conjure,
By all that’s holy, just and pure,
To cleanse thy hands from Slavery’s stain,
And banish from thy soil the chain.
Thou canst not thrive, while with the sweat
Of unpaid toil thy lands are wet,
Nor canst thou hope for peace or joy
Till thou Oppression doth destroy.

Already in the tented field
Are thy proud hosts that will not yield —
Already are they sweeping forth,
Like mighty whirlwinds from the North,
And from the East and West afar
With earthquake tread they press to war,
Until, from where Atlantic raves,
And wildly beats his rock-bound shore,
To where the calm Pacific laves
A land of fruits and shining oar,
The thundering voice of Mars is heard,
And echoing vales repeat each word,
And mountains tremble to their base!
For lo! in arms a mighty race,
Of mighty genius, mighty strength,
Have ta’en the field as foes at length, —
A nation, whom but yesterday
The bands of union joined in one,
Now clad in war’s dread panoply,
Their marshaling hosts to battle run.
But not as blind ambition’s slaves
Rush wildly on those breathing waves:
Nor as the dread sirocco’s breath,
All indiscriminate in death —
But they (as freemen should and must,
When ruthless, ruffian hands assail
Their rightful cause of sacred trust,
And ‘gainst that cause would fain prevail),
Have seized the rifle, sword and spear,
And charged upon the foeman near.

And Europe’s clans all interest grew,
When North and South their sabres drew,
For they had long with jealous fear
Marked this vast Republic here,
And watched its almost magic growth,
Compared with their dull rounds of sloth;
Hence, when the bomb on Sumter fell,
They felt a half-unconscious swell
Of exultation flame the heart,
And only hoped, that bomb might part
The web and woof which bound in one
Their greatest rival ‘neath the sun.
For where’s the monarch that could rest
Secure beneath his royal crest,
And see a land like this of ours —
Radiant with eternal flowers,
With hills and vales of solid gold,
That centuries yet will scarce unfold,
And holding out a welcome hand
To all the subjects of his land,
And they responding to the call
Like the sear’d foliage of the fall —
And feel no inward joy or pride
In aught that promised to divide,
And e’en to tatter’d fragments rend,
The land where all those virtues blend?
For scarce a wave that sweeps the sea,
However small or great it be,
Nor scarce a sail that drinks the spray,
But bears some despot’s slave away.

Hence to the North their word of mouth,
While heart and soul’s been with the South —
Been with the South from first to last,
And will be till the war is past,
Despite non-intervention’s cry, —
Which, by-the-way, a blacker lie
Ne’er came from Pandemonium’s cell
Nor from the foulest niche in hell,
Than ’twere for Europe to affirm
That she has wholly neutral kept,
The while this dark and fearful storm
Of civil war has o’er us swept;
Not intervene, and still erect
Rebel warships by the score,
And give them succor, and protect
Upon her coast as many more?
Not intervene! Whence the supply
Of war munitions by the ton,
That sweep our blocking squadrons by,
And into Southern harbors run?
Not intervene, and ‘neath her dock
Shelter a well-known privateer —
And to prevent her capture, mock
With self-raised queries till she’s clear?
Not intervene! and yet propose
To recognize the South when she
Discards the source of half her woes,
And sets her long bound captives free?
If this non-intervention is,
Then O may Jeff deliver us:
For better had we bow as his,
Than fall where nations reason thus.

All this was done, but wonder not
The half-healed wound is ne’er forgot;
It may assume perfection’s state
And e’en the heart with joy elate;
While crouched beneath a gauze-like crest,
Its germ and root and fibres rest;
Where slightest scratch or bruise or sprain
May wake them into life again.

Thus Britain wounded years before,
Remembers still the painful sore,
And were the time more opportune,
Columbia’s sun she’d veil at noon.
She’s envious of her growing wealth,
Her fruitful fields, her joy, her health,
Her mighty rivers grand and free,
Creation’s highways to the sea:
And fain would sway her sceptred hand,
And bring them all ‘neath her command;
For kindred spirits there are none,
Twixt a Republic and a throne.

Then wonder not that Europe’s choice,
Her strength of purse, her strength of voice,
Have favored every foul excess
Through which this nation might grow less.
And that this wasting war proceed,
And to the utter ruin lead
Of this Republic, they have prayed,
And praying lent the South their aid;
And hence the war is raging still,
And the nation’s good or ill
Hangs on the issue of the fight —
The triumph of the wrong or right.

Many have been the grounds of strife
Where man has sacrificed his life,
And many causeless wars have been
Since Michael fought and conquered sin;
Yet many battles have been fought,
And many lands that blood have bought,
Through wars that have been justified,
Where struggling thousands fought and died —
Fought and died, and were proud that they
On the shrine of truth had a life to lay;
Fought and died, nor trembling came
They to the life-devouring flame,
But, like Winkleride of yore,
Their sheathless breasts they bravely bore.

For he who battles for the right,
When in the thickest of the fight,
Doth feel a God-approving glow,
Which bids defiance to the foe;
And though he falls beside his shield,
He sleeps a victor on the field.
And Freedom is that sacred cause,
Where he that doth his lancet poise,
Shall, living, reap the world’s applause,
Or, dying, win unclouded joys.

But now the query to be solved
Is, shall the Union be dissolved?
Shall this fair land, our fathers gave
Ungrudgingly their lives to save
From kingly rule and tyranny,
Be rent in twain by Slavery?
And shall the line of Plymouth stock —
Whose sires trod that hoary rock,
Which rendered sacred e’en the soil
Whereon they after deign’d to toil —
Allow this refuge of black lies,
Quintessence of all villanies,
To rear thereon his demon throne,
Or claim one footprint as his own?

What, though the dark and foulsome raid
Of South Carolina should pervade
The whole entire South, and they,
Like hungry wolves in quest of prey,
Rush down upon the Union fold,
Rivaling e’en the Gauls of old?
Shall we, because of that dark raid,
See Freedom’s shrine in ruins laid,
And her long-spread banner furl’d,
To grow the butt of all the world:
And passive keep, the while this horde,
From mountain height and valley pour’d,
Ride rampant over field and plain,
Dread carnage strewing in their train,
Until they plant their standard, where
Old Bunker rears his head in air?

To gain this zenith of their pride,
Through human gore waste-deep they’d ride.
Waist-deep! aye, more — they love the sin,
And some would brave it to the chin,
Could they upon old Bunker’s mound
Dole out their man flesh by the pound!
Nor would they with their souls demur,
E’en though the venal purchaser
Should in his fiendish lust demand
The fairest daughters of the land;
Nor would they scruple as to hue,
But eyes of jet and eyes of blue,
And fair-brow’d maids with flowing hair,
Such as Anglo-Saxons wear,
Would grace as oft their auction-blocks
As those less fair with fleecy locks.

But never! never! never, no!
No, never while the North winds blow,
Shall vile oppression desecrate
One foot of earth in that old State!
Not while the gallant Fifty-fourth,
In all the spirit of the North,
Stand pledged Secession to defy,
Or in the cause of Freedom die;
Not while a single hand remains
To grasp the sword or touch the spring,
Shall that foul dagon god of chains
Thither his courts and altars bring.

To this audacious end they’ve bent
Their ever-craven, vulturous eye,
Till now their fiendish, dark intent,
Stands out before the noonday sky;
And all equip’d for death and war,
With rifle, bomb and cimeter,
They boldly stand on Richmond’s height,
And claim secession as a right.
But, whether right or wrong, still they
Have sworn no longer to obey
Edict sent or mandate given,
From any court this side of Heaven,
Except that court in concert be
With chains and endless slavery.

At length the war assumes a phase,
Though long apparent, oft denied:
We speak it in the nation’s praise —
The land they never can divide.
Therefore this fact should none surprise —
If Slavery lives, the Union dies;
And if the Union’s e’er restored,
‘Twill be when Freedom is secured;
And liberty, man’s rightful due,
Is not proscribed by grade nor hue.
Hence he that would avert the doom,
And rescue from sepulchral gloom
His freedom, must, with sword in hand,
March ‘gainst the slavery of this land.

Then gird thy loins, for lo! thy course,
O brother! long oppress’d by force,
With stalwart arm and ebon brow,
Was never half so plain as now:
Nor half so ominously bright
With Hope’s refulgent beams of light —
For with each deafening cannon’s roar,
Thy hated chains grow less secure:
And, like the fumes of war, shall they
Dissolve ere long, and pass away.
Meanwhile, from thraldom’s gloomy slough
Millions shall come forth such as thou,
And Fame a laurel wreath shall twine
For many a brow of Afric line.

But prate thou not of liberty,
While still in shackled slavery
The most remote of all thy kin
Bow down beneath its damning sin!
Nor make thy boast of English birth,
Nor French descent, nor Celtic worth;
This leave for English, French or Dane,
Whose kindred wear no galling chain.
But thou, O man of Afric hue,
This vaunting spirit pray subdue,
And bide thy time to boast till he,
Thy last chained brother, shall be free.

Not only free from lash and yoke,
But free from all that should provoke
The just, indignant wrath of those
Who now his budding rights oppose;
Not only free to shoulder arms,
When foeman thick as locusts swarm,
Securely wrapped in coats of mail,
Seem almost certain to prevail;
Not only free to pay a tax
To each scrip-monger, who exacts
His hard-earned dollar as a rule,
For purposes of State or school:
While they the children of his loins,
Through some base act which hate enjoins,
Are not allowed within the door
Where Wisdom sits to bless the poor!
Not only free to tell the truth
Where Justice, mocked at, sits forsooth!
But free from all that should impair
The rights of freemen anywhere!

Till then, thou shouldst not, must not boast,
But rather at thy lowly post,
With zeal and fortitude combined,
Discharge the duties there assigned.
Should struggling Freedom call for thee,
Come forth with proud alacrity;
Gird on dread war’s habiliments,
And nobly stand in her defense,
And thereby thou shalt win a place
For thee and for thy injured race,
Above the vulgar taunt and jeer,
That grates so harshly on thy ear.

Though Tennyson, the poet king,
Has sung of Balaklava’s charge,
Until his thund’ring cannons ring
From England’s center to her marge,
The pleasing duty still remains
To sing a people from their chains —
To sing what none have yet assay’d,
The wonders of the Black Brigade.
The war had raged some twenty moons,
Ere they in columns or platoons,
To win them censure or applause,
Were marshal’d in the Union cause —
Prejudged of slavish cowardice,
While many a taunt and foul device
Came weekly forth with Harper’s sheet,
To feed that base, infernal cheat.

But how they would themselves demean,
Has since most gloriously been seen.
‘Twas seen at Milliken’s dread bend!
Where e’en the Furies seemed to lend
To dark Secession all their aid,
To crush the Union Black Brigade.
The war waxed hot, and bullets flew
Like San Francisco’s summer sand,
But they were there to dare and do,
E’en to the last, to save the land.
And when the leaders of their corps
Grew wild with fear, and quit the field,
The dark remembrance of their scars
Before them rose, they could not yield:
And, sounding o’er the battle din,
They heard their standard-bearer cry —
“Rally! and prove that ye are men!
Rally! and let us do or die!
For war, nor death, shall boast a shade
To daunt the Union Black Brigade!”

And thus he played the hero’s part,
Till on the ramparts of the foe
A score of bullets pierced his heart,
He sank within the trench below.
His comrades saw, and fired with rage,
Each sought his man, him to engage
In single combat. Ah! ’twas then
The Black Brigade proved they were men!
For ne’er did Swiss! or Russ! or knight!
Against such fearful odds arrayed,
With more persistent valor fight,
Than did the Union Black Brigade!

As five to one, so stood their foes,
When that defiant shout arose,
And ‘long their closing columns ran,
Commanding each to choose his man!
And ere the sound had died away,
Full many a ranting rebel lay
Gasping piteously for breath —
Struggling with the pangs of death,
From bayonet thrust or shining blade,
Plunged to the hilt by the Black Brigade.
And thus they fought, and won a name —
None brighter on the scroll of Fame;
For out of one full corps of men,
But one remained unwounded, when
The dreadful fray had fully past —
All killed or wounded but the last!

And though they fell, as has been seen,
Each slept his lifeless foes between,
And marked the course and paved the way
To ushering in a better day.
Let Balaklava’s cannons roar,
And Tennyson his hosts parade,
But ne’er was seen and never more
The equals of the Black Brigade!

Then nerve thy heart, gird on thy sword,
For dark Oppression’s ruthless horde
And thy tried friends are in the field —
Say which shall triumph, which shall yield?
Shall they that heed not man nor God —
Vile monsters of the gory rod —
Dark forgers of the rack and chain:
Shall they prevail — and Thraldom’s reign,
With all his dark unnumber’d ills,
Become eternal as the hills?
No! by the blood of freemen slain,
On hot-contested field and main,
And by the mingled sweat and tears,
Extorted through these many years
From Afric’s patient sons of toil —
Weak victims of a braggart’s spoil —
This bastard plant, the Upas tree,
Shall not supplant our liberty!
But in the right, our sword of power
We’ll firmly grasp in this dread hour,
And in the life-tide’s crimson flow
Of those that wrong us, write our No!
No! by all that’s great and good;
No! by a common brotherhood,
The wrong no longer shall prevail,
Its myriad horrors to entail!

Better in youth pass off life’s stage,
Battling ‘gainst a tyrant’s rage,
Than live to three-score years and ten,
Disown’d of God, despised of men;
Better that cities, hamlets, towns,
And every hut where life abounds,
In conflagration’s ruins lie,
Than men as things should live and die;
Better the whetted knife be brought,
And quick as lightning speeds a thought,
Hurl life all wreaking from its throne,
Than live their manhood to disown,
Sooner than bear a hell of pain,
And wear a festering, galling chain,
To hoary age e’en from their birth,
And die the meanest thing on earth.

There is no deed they should not do,
Could they thereby obtain the clue,
The motive power and the might
To set their outraged people right!
Then grasp the sword, discard the sheath,
And strike for Liberty or Death!
But what is death? ‘Tis, after all,
The merest transit from this ball
To some bright state or gloomy sphere,
Remote, perhaps — perhaps quite near.
And what is life? Hath it a charm,
While fetters gall the neck and arm,
And from no species of contempt,
However base, to be exempt?
‘Tis true a noble bard hath said
That to the regions of the dead
“What dreams may come, now give us pause.”
But who can so thwart Nature’s laws
As to evade that dread unknown,
Through aid or effort of his own?

But is there aught to haunt a dream,
That man should so unwelcome deem,
As to regard it worse than stripes —
Worse than slavery’s mildest types?
No, no! there’s nothing, rest assured,
In life or death to be endured —
There are no tortures to excel
The fires of a Southern hell!
The lash, the yoke, the gag, the chain,
May each produce a world of pain;
But what are these, though all combined,
To gross sterility of mind?

To chain and scourge this mortal frame,
It were a sin and burning shame;
But who can estimate the doom
Of those that quench and shroud in gloom
The only lamp which God hath given,
To light the soul in earth or heaven?
While this external will expand,
In proud defiance of the brand,
The mind, that germ of tender growth —
That plant of far transcendent worth,
Will neither bud nor bloom nor bear,
Where thraldom’s breath infects the air.

Then onward roll, thou dreadful War,
If thou, and thou alone, canst bring
The boon of Freedom from afar;
Roll darkly on then, while we sing:
We would not have thee slack thy speed,
Nor change the tenor of thy way,
Till each infernal law and creed
That fosters wrong, is swept away!
If needs be, lay proud cities waste!
And slay thy thousands at a meal!
But in thy wake let Freedom haste,
With oil to soothe and balm to heal.

And here permit me to diverge
From real to fancy’s flow’ry marge,
And sing of what I seem’d to see
While there, enshrined in reverie.
The past, and what is yet to be
Reveal’d in blank futurity,
Swept like a phantom through my brain,
Of which some shadows still remain:
And to those shadows let me call
The eye and silent ear of all.

One evening, wrapp’d in pensive mood,
On fancy’s wing I soar’d afar,
Till, seeing and unseen, I stood
Amid the hidden springs of War:
And there, upon a canvas vast,
I saw this cruel war sweep past —
Its former battles fought again,
With all the unfought in their train.
Upon the sea and on the shore
Each battle scene, was marked with gore;
And bleaching there, on sea and plain,
Lay mangled bodies of the slain.
Of some were nothing save their trunk,
Whose life the thirsty earth had drunk:
With legs and arms all torn away
By some dread shell’s destructive play;
And massive trees ball-riven stood,
All draped with powder, drenched with blood,
While clotted hair and flesh still clung
Their sear’d and shattered boughs among.
And ‘neath the deep and angry waves,
Thousands had found their liquid graves:
And sleeping there ‘mid shells and rocks,
Were many braves with fleecy locks.
Of such were many of the slain,
On every battle-field and plain.

But wild to pierce futurity,
Its deep veiled ultimatum see,
And learn the final of this war —
The waning of our evil star —
I turned the tardy canvas from,
And sped me on, when lo! a bomb,
Deeper in tone than aught I’d heard —
So deep the very earth was stirr’d,
As though the gods, in wrath or sport,
Had touch’d some pillar of their court;
Of Peace it was the harbinger —
The long-prayed, welcome messenger.

But eager still, I onward sped,
Unknowing why, or whither led,
Till in my path an angel rose,
My further progress to oppose.
His form was tall and passing fair —
His raiment like the driven snow,
And trod he on the ambient air
As mortals walk the earth below.
His voice, though soft, seemed to expand,
And e’en in compass to increase,
Till every nook of our fair land
Rang with the joyous song of Peace!
Peace! and the loud-mouth’d cannon’s roar
In silence slept, to wake no more!
Peace! and the soldier quits the field,
And doffs his corslet, sword and shield,
And in the burden of his lay,
The din of battle died away:
And lilies bloom’d and olives spread
In rich profusion o’er the dead.

The dark Rebellion had been crushed,
And every wailing sound was hushed;
And there was not a slavish chain
In all Columbia’s fair domain.
And then and there I saw unfold,
All fresh and bright from Freedom’s mould,
A real Republic — such a one
As should have passed from sire to son;
A real Republic — free! uncurs’d!
The sole intention of the first —
In which the bright Damascus blade
Became the farmer’s plowing spade:
And with the spear he pois’d of yore
His golden harvest did secure.

And far away as the eye could span,
In its vast sweep from strand to strand,
I saw no South, North, East nor West,
But one broad land, all free and blest;
And there was not a jarring sound
In all the vastitude profound —
No wail, no sob, no sigh, no tear,
To dim the eye or mar the ear.
And violets bloomed the banks along,
And the lark poured forth his matin song,
And the lowly cot and massive dome
Had each the air of a joyous home;
And temples rear’d their spires on high,
Pointing away to the clear blue sky;
And myriad souls had gathered there,
Whose grateful hearts went up in prayer
To the God of love, whose gracious hand
Had clothed in peace their bleeding land.

With one allusion, we have done
The task so joyously begun:
It is to speak, in measured lays,
Of him the Nation loves to praise.

When that inspired instrument,
The subject of this great event,
Forth from the Halls of Congress came,
With even justice as its aim,
‘Twas deem’d by some a fiendish rod,
But otherwise adjudged of God,
Who, turning earthward from His throne,
Beheld great Lincoln all alone,
With earth-bent brow, in pensive mood,
Pondering o’er some unsubdued
And knotty problem, half dissolved,
And half in mystery yet involved.

The interest of a continent,
All broken up by discontent —
His own dear land, land of his love,
The fairest ‘neath the realms above —
Weighed down his form and rack’d his brain,
And filled his patriot heart with pain.
But when his mind conceived the thought
To write four million captives free!
An angel to his conscience brought
Approving smiles of Deity;
And ere he had with flesh conferr’d,
He gave the bright conception birth,
And distant nations saw and heard,
And bless’d his mission on the earth.

And we today reiterate,
With warmth of heart and depth of soul,
God bless Americ’s Magistrate!
Long may he live to guide, control;
Long may that arching brow and high —
That spiritual and piercing eye:
That tall, majestic, manly form —
Live, our rainbow ‘midst the storm;
And when the roar of battle’s pass’d;
When vain Secession’s breath’d his last;
When peace and order are restored,
And Freedom sits at every board;
And when the Nation shall convene
In mass, as ne’er before was seen,
And render eulogistic meeds
To worthy heroes’ noble deeds,
A lengthened train shall claim their boast,
But Lincoln’s name shall lead the host!
His name shall grow a household word,
Where’er the human voice is heard;
And tribes and peoples yet unborn,
Shall hail and bless his natal morn

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