August 6, 2012

Vicksburg: the tempest raged and thundered

The Union army had been attempting to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, for some time. Bombardment of the Confederate stronghold lasted throughout June and July, before the Northerners temporarily abandoned their plans. Both sides knew the importance of Vicksburg; Abraham Lincoln himself called it "the key" to the Civil War. Southern poet Paul Hamilton Hayne turned the episode into a poem, "Bombardment of Vicksburg," dated August 6, 1862:

For sixty days, and longer,
  A storm of shell and shot
Rained round as in a flaming shower,

  But still we faltered not.
"If the noble city perish,"
  Our grand young leader said,
"Let the only walls the foe shall scale
  Be the ramparts of the dead!"

For sixty days, and longer,
  The eye of heaven waxed dim,
And e'en throughout God's holy morn,
  O'er Christian's prayer and hymn,
Arose a hissing tumult,
  As if the fiends of air
Strove to engulf the voice of faith
   In the shrieks of their despair.

There was wailing in the houses,
  There was trembling on the marts,
While the tempest raged and thundered,
  'Mid the silent thrill of hearts;
But the Lord, our shield, was with us,
  And ere a month had sped,
Our very women walked the streets
  With scarce one throb of dread.

And the little children gambolled—
  Their pure, bright faces raised,
Just for a wondering moment
  As the huge bombs whirled and blazed
Then turned with silvery laughter,
  To the sports which children love,
Thrice mailed in this instinctive thought,
  That the good God watched above.

Yet the hailing bolts fell faster,
  From scores of flame-clad ships,
And above us, denser, darker,
  Grew the conflict's wild eclipse—
Till a solid cloud closed o'er us,
  Like a type of gloom and ire,
Whence shot a thousand quivering tongues
  Of forked and vengeful fire.

But the unseen hand of angels,
  These death-shafts warned aside,
And the dove of Heavenly mercy
  Ruled o'er the battle tide;
In the houses ceased the wailing,
  And through the war-scarred marts,
The people strode with a step of hope,
  To the music in their hearts.

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