Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Night Battle (Chancellorsville)

This entry is from Memoranda During the War, Civil War Journals 1863-1865  by Walt Whitman

This is part of Walt Whitman's description of Chancellorsville battle, written down on May 12, 1863.

. . . . Such, amid the woods, that scene of flitting souls -- amid the crack and crash and yelling sounds -- the impalpable perfume of the woods -- and yet the pungent stifling smoke -- shed with the radiance of the moon, the round, maternal queen, looking from heaven at intervals so placid -- the sky so heavenly -- the clear-obscure up there, those buoyant upper oceans -- a few large placid stars beyond, coming out and then disappearing -- the melancholy, draperied night above, around......And there, upon the roads, the fields, and in those woods, that contest, never one more desperate in any age or land -- both parties now in force -- masses -- no fancy battle, no semi-play, but fierce and savage demons fighting there -- courage and scorn of death the rule, exceptions almost none.. . .

. . . . Unnamed, unknown, remain, and still remain, the bravest soldiers.  Our manliest -- our boys -- our hardy darlings.  Indeed no picture gives them.  Likely their very names are lost. Likely, the typic one of them (standing, no doubt, for hundreds, thousands,) crawls aside to some bush-clump or ferny tuft, on receiving his death-shot -- there, sheltering a little while, soaking roots, grass and soil with red blood -- the battle advances, retreats, flits from the scene, sweeps by --  and there, haply with pain and suffering (yet less, far less, than is supposed) the last lethargy winds like a serpent round him -- the eyes glaze in death -- none recks -- Perhaps the burial squads, in truce, a week afterwards, search not the secluded spot -- and there at last the Bravest Soldier crumbles in the soil of mother earth, unburied and unknown.
The Wilderness Near Chancellorsville,
taken by United States Signal Corps, War Department,
From the NYPL Digital Collection

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