"They are firing on Fort Sumpter; [sic]
Oh! I wish that I was there! —
Why, dear mother! what's the matter?
You're the picture of despair."
"I was thinking, dearest Thomas,
'Twould break my very heart
If a fierce and dreadful battle
Should tear our lives apart."
Thomas assures his mother that only "cowards" would avoid the fighting and, soon enough, he volunteers.
His uniform was real handsome;
He looked so brave and strong;
But somehow I couldn't help thinking
His fighting must be wrong.
While Thomas's mother prayed that the Secessionists would win, the enslaved people "were praying in the cabins / Wanting freedom to begin." The narrator knows the progress of the war based on the Master's face: the sadder he looks, the closer they are to emancipation.
The poem continues through Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as well as his assassination, then criticizes his successor Andrew Johnson. Harper then goes on to show support for Ulysses S. Grant, the General-turned-President, and discusses blacks' right to vote. Opposition suggested that blacks were too unintelligent, too uniformed, or too willing to sell their vote. Harper concludes:
Who know their freedom cost too much
Of blood and pain and treasure,
For them to fool away their votes
For profit or for pleasure.