November 24, 2010

Howells: Raining life-blood like water

Part of the grueling Chattanooga Campaign during the Civil War, the Battle of Lookout Mountain was fought on November 24, 1863. Following their defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union army hoped for a break; by defeating the Confederate army in Tennessee, they would have access to the deep South and, with it, an end to the war.

Recently-married and future editor of the Atlantic Monthly, William Dean Howells had nothing to do with the fighting that day. Even so, he memorialized the battle in his poem, "Battle of Lookout Mountain":

Where the dews and the rains of heaven have their fountain,
   Like its thunder and its lightning our brave burst on the foe.
Up above the clouds on Freedom's Lookout Mountain
   Raining life-blood like water on the valleys down below.
        Oh, green be the laurels that grow,
        Oh, sweet be the wild-buds that blow,
   In the dells of the mountain where the brave are lying low.

Light of our hope and crown of our story,
   Bright as sunlight, pure as starlight shall their deed of daring glow.
While the day and the night out of heaven shed their glory.
   On Freedom's Lookout Mountain whence they routed Freedom's foe.
        Oh, soft be the gales when they go
        Through the pines on the summit where they blow,
   Chanting solemn music for the souls that passed below.

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