October 25, 2011

Boker on Zagonyi: a cheer for thee!

Though George Henry Boker never personally took up arms during the American Civil War, he used his poetry as an active chronicler of war (and as pro-Union propaganda). One of his books, published in 1864, is entirely made up of war poems. An early poem in that book, "Zagonyi," is dated October 25, 1861. It recounts the event of that date (illustrated above) when a Hungarian-born Union officer named Charles Zagonyi led a charge against Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Springfield, Missouri:

Captain of the Body-Guard,
   I 'll troll a stave to thee !
My voice is somewhat harsh and hard,
   And rough my minstrelsy.
I've cheered until my throat is sore
For how Dupont at Beaufort bore;
   Yet here 's a cheer for thee!

I hear thy jingling spurs and reins,
   Thy sabre at thy knee;
The blood runs lighter through my veins,
   As I before me see
Thy hundred men with thrusts and blows
Ride down a thousand stubborn foes,
   The foremost led by thee.

With pistol snap and rifle crack —
   Mere salvos fired to honor thee —
Ye plunge, and stamp, and shoot, and hack
   The way your swords make free;
Then back again, — the path is wide
This time, — ye gods! it was a ride,
   The ride they took with thee!

No guardsman of the whole command
   Halts, quails, or turns to flee;
With bloody spur and steady hand
   They gallop where they see
Thy daring plume stream out ahead
O'er flying, wounded, dying, dead ;
   They can but follow thee.

So, Captain of the Body-Guard,
   I pledge a health to thee!
I hope to see thy shoulders starred,
   My Paladin; and we
Shall laugh at fortune in the fray,
Whene'er you lead your well-known way
   To death or victory!

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