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Monday, October 28, 2013

Parson Weems......

was the author of the famous, near-hagiographical account of The Life of Washington that was so beloved by Abraham Lincoln in his youth. I was given a copy, dating back to 1859, by a family friend who used to be a Lincoln reenactor in Gettysburg. It a treasured addition to my bookshelf for its age alone, but I also am coming to appreciate some of the poetic lines within. Although I was originally turned off to it by its blatantly partisan view of the American Revolution, it seems that Weems had a keen grasp of the civil-war-like elements of the conflict that are rarely touched upon. For the month of October, I wanted to post his romanticized yet moving description of the aftermath of the Battle of Saratoga, the second part of which was fought on October 7, 1777:

   “High in air, the encountering banners blazed! There bold waving the lion-painted standard of Britain, and here the streaming pride of Columbia’s lovely stripes – while thick below, ten thousand eager warriors close the darkening files, all bristled with vengeful steel. No firing is heard; but shrill and terrible, from rank to rank, resounds the clash of bayonets – frequent and sad the groans of the dying. Pairs on pairs, Britons and Americans, with each his bayonet in his brother’s breast, fall forward together faint-shrieking in death, and mingle their smoking blood.
    Many were the widows, many orphans that were made that day. Long did the daughters of Columbia mourn their fallen brothers, and often did the lovely maids of Caledonia roll their soft blue eyes of sorrow along the sky-bound sea, to meet the sails of their returning lovers. But alas! Their lovers shall return no more. Far distant, on the banks of the roaring Hudson they lie, pale and helpless on the fields of death. Glass now and dim are those eyes which once beamed with friendship or which flamed with war. Their last thoughts are towards the maids of their love; and the big tear glistens in their eye, as they heave the parting groan.
    Then was seen the faded form of Ocean’s Queen far-famed Britannia, sitting alone and tearful on her western cliffs. With downcast look her faithful lion lay roaring at her feet; while torn and scattered on the rock were seen her many trophies of ancient fame. Silent, in disheveled locks, the goddess sat, absorbed in grief, when the gale of the west came blackening along the wave, laden with the roar of murderous battle. At once she rose – a livid horror spread her cheeks – distraction glared on her eye. The groans of her children fast sinking in a distant land! Thrice she essayed to curse the destroyers of her race; but thrice she remembered that they too were her sons.”

And here is an imagined lament, also penned by Weems, describing the departure of the British from their final stronghold in New York at the end of the Revolution. Since there are so few laments of this type for their lost cause, I found it to be quite fascinating, and a few of my favorite redcoats even get a mention in a positive light:

    “The battle raged along a thousand fields – a thousand streams ran purple with British gore. And now of all our blooming warriors, alas! How few remain! Pierced by the fatal rifle, far the greater part now press their bloody beds. There, each on his couch of honour lie those who were once the flower of our host. There lies gallant Frazer, the dauntless Ferguson, the accomplished Donop, and that pride of youth, the generous Andre, with thousands equally brave and good. But, O! Ye dear partners of this cruel strife, though fallen you are not forgotten! Often, with tears do we see you still, as when you rejoiced with us at feast, or fought by our sides in battle.”

The Surrender at Saratoga, October 17, 1777

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