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(The whole fleet was hard at it now,
'Twas the mighty sound and form
(Such you see in the Far South, After long heat and drouth,
As day draws nigh to even: Arching from North to South,
Blinding the tropic sun,
The great black bow comes on,
Rolls down the Amazon!)
But, as we worked along higher,
Just where the river enlarges, Down came a pyramid of fire
It was one of your long coal barges
(We had often had the like before). 'Twas coming down on us to larboard,
Well in with the eastern shore,
(You may guess we never stopped to sound) Giving us a rank sheer to starboard,
Ran the Flag hard and fast aground!
'Twas night abreast the Upper Fort,
And straightway a rascal Ram
Puffed away for us with a snort,
And shoved it with spiteful strength Right alongside of us, to port.
(It was all of our ship's length, A huge crackling Cradle of the Pit,
Pitch-pine knots to the brim,
Belching flame red and grim) What a roar came up from it!
Well, for a little it looked bad;
But these things are, somehow, shorter In the acting than the telling. There was no singing-out nor yelling, Nor any fussing and fretting,
No stampede, in short; But there we were, my lad,
All afire on our port quarter,
Flames spouting in at every port,
In a twinkling the flames had risen
Darting up the shrouds like snakes.
Sending a ceaseless flow.
There ('twas a wonder!)
The burning ratlines and strands
But the great guns below
At last, by backing and sounding,
And under headway once more,
The point. If we had it hot before,
One long, loud thundering roar-
And smashing as you never heard before! But that we fought foul wrong to wreck,
And to save the Land we loved so well, You might have deemed our long gun deck
Two hundred feet of hell !
Smoke and thunder alone;
There was scarce a sob or a moan.
And at last, when the dim day broke,
On fire and sinking!
When the blue-black waves are tipped with white, and
the balmy trade-winds blow, When the palm-crowned coast in the offing lies, with
sands like the driven snow, When the mighty hulls of the battleships the nation's
strength and prideAnd the ghostlike little torpedo-boats are lying side by
When all is still save the screaming gulls, as they
circle high o'erhead, When naught is heard on the steel-bound decks, save
the watches' measured tread, When far to windward a tiny cloud floats up from
the grim old fort, Then the piercing scream of a shrapnel-shot and the
ten-ton gun's report;
Then armored decks are alive with life, and the calls
to quarters below, Then the gun crews stand beside their guns, and the
stokers sweat below, Then the jingling bells in the engine-room clamor and
call for speed, And the thousand tons of hardened steel shake like a
Now the guns of the fort are belching flame, and the
shot and shell fall fast, Now three are down by the forward gun, and six in
the fighting mast, Now the ships rush on in majesty, while the gunners
hold their breath, And pray to their God to spare them still from the
harbor's hidden death.
Now a string of fluttering signal flags from the bridge
of the flagship fly, Now the gatlings, rapids, and twelve-inch guns with
a crashing peal reply, Now the smoke hangs low o'er the shot-torn wave,
dark death lurks in the air, And never a word by the guns is said while they spit
and boom and flare.
The fleet steams up in battle array, and the broadsides
crash and roar, While the rumble and rip from the enemy's guns reply
from the smoke-hung shore; The once white decks run red with blood, while the
surgeons work below, And fort and fleet, with shot and shell, pay back each
blow with blow.
At last a flag of truce is raised and gleams through the
drifting smoke, And the havoc and wreck of a gun is seen, where a
ten-inch shrapnel broke;