September 17, 2012

Attention! it's his way

The Baltimore-born John Williamson Palmer had lived in California, Hawaii, and even China before becoming a travel writer and journalist in New York. He was working for the New York Times when the Civil War broke out. He eventually signed on as a soldier for the Confederacy. His poem, "Stonewall Jackson's Way," was completed on September 17, 1862 as he overheard the sounds from the bloody Battle of Antietam:

Come, stack arms, men! Pile on the rails,
   Stir up the camp-fire bright;
No matter if the canteen fails,
   We'll make a roaring night.
Here Shenandoah brawls along,
There burly Blue Ridge echoes strong,
To swell the brigade's rousing song
   Of "Stonewall Jackson's Say."

We see him now, — the old slouched hat
   Cocked o'er his eye askew;
The shrewd, dry smile, the speech so pat,
   So calm, so blunt, so true.
The "Blue-Light Elder" knows 'em well;
Says he, "That's Banks, — he's fond of shell;
Lord save his soul! we'll give him" — well,
   That's "Stonewall Jackson's way."

Silence! ground arms! kneel all! caps off!
   Old Blue-Light's going to pray.
Strangle the fool that dares to scoff!
   Attention! it's his way.
Appealing from his native sod,
In forma pauperis to God,—
"Lay bare Thine arm; stretch forth Thy rod!
   Amen!" That's "Stonewall's way."

He's in the saddle now. Fall in!
   Steady! the whole brigade!
Hill's at the ford cut off — we'll win
   His way out, ball and blade!
What matter if our shoes are worn?
What matter if our feet are torn?
"Quick-step! we're with him before morn!"
   That's "Stonewall Jackson's way."

The sun's bright lances rout the mists
   Of morning, and, by George!
Here's Longstreet struggling in the lists,
   Hemmed in an ugly gorge.
Pope and his Yankees, whipped before,
"Bay'nets and grape!" hear Stonewall roar;
"Charge, Stuart! Pay off Ashby's score!"
   In "Stonewall Jackson's way."

Ah! Maiden, wait and watch and yearn
   For news of Stonewall's band!
Ah! Widow, read, with eyes that burn,
   That ring upon thy hand.
Ah! Wife, sew on, pray on, hope on;
Thy life shall not be all forlorn;
The foe had better ne'er been born
   That gets in "Stonewall's way."

The origins of the poem are under some dispute. Upon its publication, it was credited not to Palmer but as a note found in the coat of a dead and unidentified Confederate soldier. The poet himself did not settle the question until 1891.


  1. The music for "Stonewall Jackson's Way" is a sprightly tune, popular with the Confederates. I wonder if the Yankees were jealous of such a fine tune!

  2. As you know, the Union had plenty of other songs to choose from - not the least being "The Battle-Hymn of the Republic." I've also blogged here about "We Are Coming, Father Abraham." There are certainly many more, too!