I previously posted the poem in March of this year, but I’m dusting it off and making a few changes before it heads out into the world as a contest entry.
So, to Mr. James Blevins, thank you for this writing assignment and the encouragement when I needed it. I know it’s been eight years, but you’re finally getting your wish. Write on sir, write on.
GRACE UNDER FIRE
The North may call him Lincoln, but to the South he is the Devil’s spawn.
The tyrant’s war has finally begun, and back to Hell we shall send their son.
As the chessboard unfolds, I am but a humble servant, a willing pawn,
And I will play my role until all of their troops are withdrawn.
Other states have seen that our cause is just and true,
And they have joined our beloved South Carolina in the fight.
Those Yank’s will be swimming back to England before we’re through.
They will surely cower and fall before our Southern might.
So let them believe their lies. God is on our side and He knows who is in the right.
Thank you dear Grace for this wonderful gift.
In these pages I shall record my adventures for us to relive,
And God willing, in our old age, our spirits they will lift.
Our grandchildren will know our history, they will not forget, nor forgive.
This journal will be their reminder, even our great grandchildren it may outlive.
This war of Northern Aggression shall teach generations to come,
That the preservation of our way of life and our fight to be free,
Requires that sacrifices be made, else we will have to succumb
To the tyrants of the world that bully us with their decrees.
They are the false prophets that want you to beg on your knees.
I miss you dearly Grace, though my life I would give
To protect our home and our child that is to be born.
This fight must be fought. Honor demands it, and it does not forgive.
I hear the beating of the drums and the calling of the horns,
So, with you in my heart, I march forward to carry out the oath I have sworn.
Our regiment is growing in number each day.
As we leave the new capital of Richmond,
With fresh supplies and new uniforms, we make an impressive array.
The city folks even threw a parade for us as we went on our way.
The fight lies ahead of us at Manassas Junction.
The Yanks have attacked our brethren on Southern soil,
And though our role is but a support function,
We will show them no mercy and make those snakes recoil.
Victory is in our path and so are the spoils.
Our lives we entrust to God and each other.
As we race to the sound of the battle
The enemy tries to regroup and recover
But we chase them back to the north like wounded cattle.
Their knees were shaking so bad, you could almost hear their bones rattle.
Only two shots did I get to fire
Before I saw the yellow on their backs as they ran away.
How many more battles before they tire?
How long before the tyrant realizes we mean what we say?
We will not back down. We will not waiver, nor will we sway.
We have been ordered to make camp here until we are needed once more.
I pray that this is over and I am home before the baby is due.
Until the day comes when the North hears our valiant roar,
My heart will be with you, and our baby too.
I’ll close the journal now as we have preparations to make and things to do.
The post rider delivered mail today.
My heart was overjoyed to get a letter from you.
I thank God that you and our baby girl are healthy in every way.
I just received a round of cheers from our boys in Grey.
I agree that Rose is a beautiful name,
And I will cherish this red lock of hair,
That is so much like yours, they could be the same.
I can picture her smiling face, rosy cheeks, and skin so fair.
I long to hold her, and I will soon, should God answer my prayer.
As for my own shaggy mane, it has grown quite long.
I will enclose a lock of it in my return letter,
And I will hold tight to our love and remain strong,
In the knowledge that this war won’t last forever.
Another battle or two should mark the end of our endeavor.
Other than a few raids here and there, the Yanks seem to have given up.
The rumor in camp is that they will be sending us home soon.
If they would only come to their senses and realize their President is corrupt,
He speaks of peace by day, yet sends his raiders by the light of the moon.
They are afraid to show their faces in the warmth of the afternoon.
Had they the guts to face us in an open field,
We could end this war once and for all.
Has Davis not made it clear that we will never yield?
With our swords raised to Heaven, their army can only fall.
We’ve sent out the word, but will they heed our call?
They have taken Yorktown and Richmond is their goal.
We march to Williamsburg to intercept the devils’ in blue,
And we shall exact a price for the city that they stole.
As the Good Book says, ‘May God have mercy on their souls’.
We have turned McClellan and his troops, but at a cost.
I have never seen so many dead.
On both sides, the staggering number of lives that were lost,
It is enough to fill any man with dread,
To bury so many and only a simple prayer said.
I killed a man today, and I watched him die at my feet.
His face was a mask of pain,
In his eyes I saw disbelief.
Something in me died with him. Am I going insane?
I look for the face of God in the sky, but instead of warmth I only get rain.
McClellan has assaulted us for the past 13 days.
He fights, turns and runs and seems to come at us again with even more guns.
We are holding our own and have managed each time to push him away,
But General Johnston was severely wounded and our boys seem stunned,
That such a great man could be hurt by an enemy gun.
I buried two of my friends today and helped bury a dozen more.
I said a few prayers for their families as well.
Someone in our burial group whispered, “What are we fighting for?”
No one answered. It’s hard to speak of honor and pride while burying men that fell.
Other than some prayers, we worked in silence, each of us going through our own hell.
Our new commander, General Lee, is proving to be skilled in the art of war.
We have sent McClellan into retreat but we did not pursue.
To Richmond we march to renew supplies. Lee says we’re about to even a score,
Even though most are weary and resemble the ragged poor.
There was a letter waiting on me in Richmond from you my dear Grace.
I’ve read it a hundred times now,
And I still wipe the tears from my face.
She was a beautiful baby, and I’ll try to be strong, somehow.
But my hands are shaking as I wipe away the tears and the sweat from my brow.
I’m afraid that the letter that I sent you could not contain all the emotion I feel.
My insides are twisted,
And when I close my eyes, I see you burying our baby, and the faces of men I’ve killed.
Sometimes I think it would have been better if I had never existed.
How I wish that this pull of honor and pride could have been resisted.
I also wish that I were there with you my brave, sweet bride.
If I could just sleep next to you once more,
Perhaps these nightmares would have no place in my mind to hide,
And I could forget all the violence and killing, the blood and gore.
To be home with you, living life once more.
Lee says that we are marching north and taking this war to them.
He says that if they want a war, then they will surely get it.
He is a good leader, but I feel like the walking condemned.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be willing to admit it,
But there has to be a compromise, this war must be quit.
We found McClellan near Sharpsburg, Maryland.
In a matter of hours, nearly five thousand died, both Grey and Blue.
Over nine thousand wounded on our side, and I don’t understand.
Is God on our side? Does He have a plan?
I’m still alive, but I feel like the walking dead.
How I managed to survive when everyone around me fell,
I even saw a corpse walk five paces without a head,
Am I blessed by Heaven or cursed by Hell?
I’m in too deep, for I can no longer tell.
It’s been eighteen months since I’ve held you in my arms,
And I pray that you are praying for my soul and even the boys in Blue.
I’ve killed more men than the Carolinas’ have farms,
And I’m not sure God will forgive me, or if I even want Him to.
I’ve seen enough. I want to come home to you.
Dear Lord, please let this fighting end!
Our souls we beg you to bless.
Let us try to make amends.
Lessen the burdens upon us.
Does He listen to our prayers?
I don’t know anymore.
It seems I’ve had to bury most of my friends in His care.
If General Lee has been praying, I think his prayers are being ignored.
How much more unworthy am I then? My actions He must abhor.
McClellan has been replaced with General Burnside.
The devil that you don’t know is worse than the devil that you do.
This particular bit of wisdom however seems to be a lie.
Captured soldiers reveal that he is a bit of a dolt that is well past his prime.
We are holding Fredericksburg without much force at all.
When Burnside attacks, we hold strong and push him back.
Each time he advances, he is forced to withdraw.
He seems to have courage, but it’s strategy he lacks.
Lee has him out maneuvered in every attack.
Perhaps the Lord has heard our cries,
And blessed our soldiers with his mighty hand.
Could Lee be our Moses in disguise?
He is filled with confidence and even Burnside has said Lee has a fine command.
That is, if you can believe anything from the soldiers who fought for this man.
Now we hear that Burnside has been replaced.
General Lee seemed to have been expecting this.
“He’ll be drummed out,” says Lee, “And in disgrace.”
A fellow by the name of Hooker is leading them now and he may not be as remiss.
Lee says he is confident of success, but he seems to be more wary of this prince.
Nearly four months since a letter from you. I wonder if mine are getting through.
It’s snowing in camp, and there is already a foot on the ground.
It will be Christmas soon and I’m thinking of you.
I look for the Post Rider every day, but he is nowhere to be found.
Perhaps he is sitting in the enemy camp gagged and bound.
Last week we faced the Union army at Rappahannock River near Chancellorsville.
Lee called the battle a success because Hookers’ forces ran like a banshee.
It may go down in history as a success, because Lee does have skill,
But we’ve spent the past week burying our dead and some that we had killed.
My will is broken and nearly spent.
I’ve sent four more letters for Grace and have yet to see a reply.
If I had the luxury of a tent,
I would let the tears flow. Yes, men do cry.
Everyone has a limit, even if that limit is high.
I don’t know why I’m here.
I feel so lost and alone.
Why did I ever volunteer?
I just want to go home.
To see my wife and mourn my child and to be left alone.
We are marching to Winchester today.
Lee says that the Union army is there,
And a fight will be underway.
He’s taking the fight to them he says, though I doubt many of us even care.
Most of us are like the walking dead, full of misery and despair.
How much death can one man see and still remain a man?
Five? Five thousand? Twenty thousand or more?
I’ve lost count of the dead. They’re like grains of sand
On a beach with miles and miles of shore.
My heart is turning dark with places in my mind that I’m afraid to explore.
We’ve defeated Hooker several times,
But now we’re facing a General Meade.
The slaughter at Gettysburg should go down in history as a crime.
We left our dead boys on the battlefield this time.
Lee has taken us back to Virginia with our tail between our legs.
How many we lost could not be counted or measured.
Our spirits were broken like a fragile egg.
Lee says that we were greatly outnumbered.
He’s looking for replacements but I don’t think they will sign up to be murdered.
We are occupying Richmond until Lee gets the numbers he likes,
While the city folks look upon us with pity in their eyes.
I’m sure they think we won’t be able to protect them if the Union decides to strike.
I would like to tell them different, but we know it would be lies.
Two Union soldiers take the place for every one of them that dies.
They have the resources that we don’t,
And it’s impossible to compete.
Lee has to know this, but will he admit it? I’m betting that he won’t.
It’s just a matter of time before we’re beat.
You can’t gain ground when you have to turn and retreat.
I’ve seen some of our men sneaking away in the night,
And I’ve been tempted to join them; I’ll have to admit.
Just to find Grace and make sure she’s all right.
To hold and comfort her and help her forget,
All the pain and sorrow, together we can climb from the pit.
Since my last journal entry it has been nearly a year.
I could not bear to write, for this book reminds me of you.
What’s become of you my dear Grace? Something terrible I fear.
Dozens of letters and nothing in return do I hear.
God has deserted me, and now you as well.
How much longer will I have to endure,
The death and destruction around me in this living hell?
I thought this war would be over and I would be home by now for sure.
But there is no mercy here, just Evil, plain and pure.
I struggle to find meaning in the man I’ve become.
I can kill men now and not even blink.
I doubt that you would recognize your husband, or my late mother her son.
You would take one look at me and think,
That there are no depths to which this man would not sink.
No longer quite human, and little more than an empty shell,
Yet, I carry forward with our white haired ghost, General Lee.
For a month without killing, my soul I would gladly sell.
But there is no end in sight, at least as far as I can see.
Our latest nemesis is a fellow by the name of Ulysses.
This Ulysses Grant may not be that smart, but he is persistent.
He throws his men at us with no regard for their life.
We kill thousands, and he sends a thousand more. It’s insane, this insistence.
He gives us no rest, day or night. Could this be the man that ends our strife?
For the first time, Lee looks worried, and I think he has a right.
Grant has taken up position outside of Petersburg and we are forced to defend.
This Grant fellow is closing the door.
With part of our troops still protecting Richmond, we are spread quite thin.
Lee says that help is on the way and that he has a plan to win.
General Early marched toward Washington, but was forced to retreat.
This was supposed to draw Grant away, but he has dug in.
He’s like a snake in a hole that has gone underground too deep.
We can’t move him, though we’ve tried again and again.
Someone is going to lose, but it’s more a question of when.
Who will get the reinforcements first and when will they arrive?
Who will be the victor here?
Who will not survive?
The answer is as foggy as the Virginia Mountains, the outcome is unclear.
Time is our foremost enemy, and the one that we most fear.
I’d almost rather be killed or killing. This waiting is unbearable to contain.
We’ve waited for weeks for some shining knights,
But our rescuers have been detained.
If there is a God in Heaven, and we are in Your sight,
Then help us end this war. Send us Your guiding light.
Prayer is useless, there is nothing left but to wait.
Oh dear Grace, have I disappointed you somehow?
What has become of my beloved Carolina mate?
Should I have given up and thrown in the towel,
And come back to you well before now?
We are near starvation, our supplies have all but run out,
And I am more dead than alive.
The Union has blockaded our ports and captured our routes.
Some of our men are stealing each other’s rations when they’re not about.
When I look around and see the animals we’ve become,
I’m reminded of a Yankee zoo.
We are like those caged beasts that no longer respond to the sound of a beating drum.
It’s as if we’ve been resigned to our fate from the boys in blue.
We have not the numbers to attack and they won’t leave. What can we do?
Our numbers are slipping each passing day.
Some have taken their own life,
While others have run away.
As I sit here staring and contemplating my knife,
The only thing keeping me alive is the thought of my wife.
Good Lord, why am I here in this Godforsaken place?
Lee seems content to just sit and wait,
While I long to be home, holding my beloved wife Grace.
Let us attack and win, or disband and send us home to our mates.
Hasn’t there been enough killing already? I’ve long ceded my capacity for hate.
Aren’t we all human? Are we so different from each other?
Why then do we feel the need to kill?
I’ve seen brother fighting against brother.
It makes no sense, for the price is too high for this ungodly bill.
Is there some Evil hole in our soul that we feel the need to fill?
We have attacked Grant’s forces near Petersburg but failed the test,
Even though we tried and tried.
Lee has decided to evacuate Richmond and meet up with other forces in the west.
“If they can’t get to us, then we will have to go to them,” he said before he left.
We followed him westward looking for General Early or Stonewall.
What we found was Grant’s men surrounding us with no hope of retreat.
Our white haired ghost, the silver fox, had finally met his match after all.
When Lee signaled our surrender, our loss was complete.
Outside the courthouse a few days later, I laid down my gun and began to weep.
It was finally over and I was going home to stay.
I was nearing Raleigh when I heard the news,
That Lincoln had been shot and killed while watching a play.
It made me wonder what the South would choose?
Would or brethren continue to fight or would they realize that there was no use.
I am appalled at the level of destruction that Sherman has wrought upon the cities.
Even the farms in his path have been burnt to the ground,
And every structure I’ve seen fills me with pity.
Between Raleigh and South Carolina, not one building intact have I found.
How then will our small cottage fare just outside of town?
The people I’ve met along the way look as weary and tired as I.
Sometimes we exchange words or share a little bit of our food.
Other times we pass each other with tears in our eyes.
I’ll be home soon dear Grace. But I beg of you to forgive my mood.
I’m a different man now. Not quite as handsome and charming, more apt to brood.
As I sit here beside the grave of my child,
I wonder how it is that I’m still alive.
The burned and ruined cottage that I once called home is covered in ivy gone wild.
The little grave somehow does not look out of place with its stones all piled.
The simple wooden cross with the single word, ‘Rose’ brings tears to my eyes,
But there is sad smile on my face.
I can see the budding red roses planted just over the rise.
I carefully dig and replant them between the stones, treating them as gingerly as lace.
I then pull out my knife and begin to work. When I’m done, there is another cross that says, “My beloved Grace”.
The preacher in town stopped by for a spell.
He tried to console me.
I told him to go to Hell.
I yelled at him that everything in my life had been destroyed, just look around and see!
He said that it was not my fault Grace had died of a broken heart over the baby.
I sent him on his way.
There was nothing left here for me either, nothing worth fighting for.
I kissed the stones on the graves and bid my wife and child good-bye.
I then looked to the Heavens and let out a mighty roar.
NEVER AGAIN! – YOU HEAR ME? – NO MORE!