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Jobn Burns of Gettysburg

153

The very trees were stripped and bare ;
The barns that once held yellow grain
Were heaped with harvests of the slain ;
The cattle bellowed on the plain,
The turkeys screamed with might and main,
And brooding barn-fowl left their rest
With strange shells bursting in each nest.

Just where the tide of battle turns,
Erect and lonely, stood old John Burns.
How do you think the man was dressed?
He wore an ancient, long buff vest,
Yellow as saffron—but his best ;
And buttoned over his manly breast
Was a bright-blue coat with a rolling collar,
And large gilt buttons—size of a dollar,-
With tails that the country-folk called “swaller."
He wore a broad-brimmed, bell-crowned hat,
White as the locks on which it sat.
Never had such a sight been seen
For forty years on the village green,
Since old John Burns was a country beau,
And went to the “quiltings” long ago.

Close at his elbows all that day,
Veterans of the Peninsula,
Sunburnt and bearded, charged away ;
And striplings, downy of lip and chin, --

Clerks that the Home-Guard mustered in,-
Glanced, as they passed, at the hat he wore,

Then at the rifle his right hand bore;
And hailed him, from out their youthful lore,
With scraps of a slangy repertoire :
“How are you, White Hat ?” “Put her through ! "
“ Your head 's level !” and “ Bully for you!
Called him “Daddy,”—begged he'd disclose
The name of the tailor who inade his clothes,
And what was the value he set on those ;
While Burns, unmindful of jeer and scoff,
Stood there picking the rebels off-
With his long browu rifle, and bell-crowned hat,
And the swallow-tails they were laughing at.

T was but a moment, for that respect
Which clothes all courage their voices checked ;
And something the wildest could understand
Spake in the old man's strong right hand,
And his corded throat, and the lurking frown
Of his eyebrows under his old bell-crown;
Until, as they gazed, there crept an awe
Through the ranks in whispers, and some men saw,
In the antique vestments and long white hair,
The Past of the Nation in battle there;
And some of the soldiers since declare
That the gleam of his old white hat afar,
Like the crested plume of the brave Navarre,
That day was their oriflamme of war.

Jobn Burns of Gettysburg

135

Thus raged the battle. You know the rest;
How the rebels, beaten, and backward pressed,
Broke at the final charge and ran.
At which John Burns-a practical man-
Shouldered his rifle, unbent his brows,
And then went back to his bees and cows.

That is the story of old John Burns ;
This is the moral the reader learns :
In fighting the battle, the question 's whether
You 'll show a hat that's white, or a feather.

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OLD away all your bright-tinted dresses,

Turn the key on your jewels to-day,
And the wealth of your tendril-like tresses

Braid back, in a serious way:
No more delicate gloves, no more laces,

No more trifling in boudoir and bower;
But come with your souls in your faces-

To meet the stern needs of the hour !

Look around! By the torchlight unsteady,

The dead and the dying seem one. What! paling and trembling already,

Before your dear mission 's begun? These wounds are more precious than ghastly;

Fame presses her lips to each scar, As she chants of a glory which vastly

Transcends all the horrors of war.

Pause here by this bedside-how mellow

The light showers down on that brow ! Such a brave, brawny visage !—Poor fellow ! Some homestead is missing him now.

woman's War mission

157

Some wife shades her eyes in the clearing,

Some mother sits moaning, distressed, While the loved one lies faint, but unfearing,

With the enemy's ball in his breast.

Here 's another : a lad—a mere stripling

Picked up from the field, almost dead;
With the blood through his sunny hair rippling

From a horrible gash in the head.
They say he was first in the action,

Gay-hearted, quick-handed, and witty ; He fought till he fell with exhaustion,

At the gates of our fair Southern city.

Fought and fell 'neath the guns of that city,

With a spirit transcending his years ; Lift him up in your large-hearted pity,

And touch his pale lips with your tears. Touch him gently—most sacred the duty

Of dressing that poor shattered hand ! God spare him to rise in his beauty,

And battle once more for the land !

Who groaned? What a passionate murmur

In thy mercy, O God, let me die !
Ha! surgeon, your hand must be firmer,

That grape-shot has shattered his thigh.
Fling the light on those poor furrowed features,

Gray-haired and unknown-bless the brother!

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