Thursday, July 3, 2008

Poem: Gettysburg


You stand on the green copse,
gazing through the mist shroud
that covers the field rising towards you,
a field once covered with grim soldiers, blue and gray.

In your mind's eye you see them,
Lee's men clambering up the last ridge.
McClellan's last few gape mouthed at the ridge top,
aghast at the battle before them,

the wall of Southern soldiers,
at the bloody charge that brings them to the brink,
face to face, bayonet to bayonet
in the very spot you now stand.

And in that moment, everything was won and lost.
The New York 10th fled the field,
leaving a band of green soldiers from far away Michigen,
engineers whose life was centered on building, not battles,

to stand in fear, surrounded by slaughter,
the smell of death and defeat all about them,
their flank fleeing through the forest behind them,
crazed Confederates toe to toe, ready to die, in front.

Yet somehow, they stand.
These mild builders of walls and camps,
stood while others around them fled.
And history is changed. The Union lives.

And you wonder, standing there in the mist,
what compelled the confederates to charge this deathly hill?
Why did some flee and others stand.
What madness prompted each man there?

And you wonder
why in life and love
some stand and some flee.
What courage or desire or fear

defines the moment of decision,
rendering us heroes or corpses,
victors or vanquished in the battles
that bewilder us,

where victory and defeat lose meaning,
and all is a struggle for mere survival,
where all we know is the desperate need to protect
our hearts.


The hotel where I often stay when working in Washington, DC, is near the Manassas Battlefield, and I sometimes walk along the battle lines early in the morning. I wrote this after walking through a morning mist on that field, but used Gettysburg as the center point, and more particularly the battle of Round Hill, on the last day of the battle, because in a real sense, Round Hill was the place and moment where the war changed and the tide turned, all because a few men stood while others around them fled, and in standing, changed the course of history.

The picture is from the battlefield from that last day of the three day battle, which happens to have happened on July 3rd. You can click on it for a larger version.


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