Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > America
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX.  1876–79.
Southern States: Fredericksburg, Va.
Bay Billy
Frank Harrison Gassaway
’T WAS the last fight at Fredericksburg,—
      Perhaps the day you reck,
Our boys, the Twenty-Second Maine,
      Kept Early’s men in check.
Just where Wade Hampton boomed away        5
      The fight went neck and neck.
All day the weaker wing we held,
      And held it with a will.
Five several stubborn times we charged
      The battery on the hill,        10
And five times beaten back, re-formed,
      And kept our column still.
At last from out the centre fight
      Spurred up a General’s Aid.
“That battery must silenced be!”        15
      He cried, as past he sped.
Our Colonel simply touched his cap,
      And then, with measured tread,
To lead the crouching line once more
      The grand old fellow came.        20
No wounded man but raised his head
      And strove to gasp his name,
And those who could not speak nor stir,
      “God blessed him” just the same.
For he was all the world to us,        25
      That hero gray and grim.
Right well he knew that fearful slope
      We ’d climb with none but him,
Though while his white head led the way
      We ’d charge hell’s portals in.        30
This time we were not half-way up,
      When, midst the storm of shell,
Our leader, with his sword upraised,
      Beneath our bayonets fell.
And, as we bore him back, the foe        35
      Set up a joyous yell.
Our hearts went with him. Back we swept,
      And when the bugle said
“Up, charge, again!” no man was there
      But hung his dogged head.        40
“We ’ve no one left to lead us now,”
      The sullen soldiers said.
Just then before the laggard line
      The Colonel’s horse we spied,
Bay Billy with his trappings on,        45
      His nostrils swelling wide,
As though still on his gallant back
      The master sat astride.
Right royally he took the place
      That was of old his wont,        50
And with a neigh that seemed to say,
      Above the battle’s brunt,
“How can the Twenty-Second charge
      If I am not in front?”
Like statues rooted there we stood,        55
      And gazed a little space,
Above that floating mane we missed
      The dear familiar face,
But we saw Bay Billy’s eye of fire,
      And it gave us heart of grace.        60
No bugle-call could rouse us all
      As that brave sight had done.
Down all the battered line we felt
      A lightning impulse run.
Up! up! the hill we followed Bill,        65
      And we captured every gun!
And when upon the conquered height
      Died out the battle’s hum,
Vainly mid living and the dead
      We sought our leader dumb.        70
It seemed as if a spectre steed
      To win that day had come.
And then the dusk and dew of night
      Fell softly o’er the plain,
As though o’er man’s dread work of death        75
      The angels wept again,
And drew night’s curtain gently round
      A thousand beds of pain.
All night the surgeons’ torches went,
      The ghastly rows between,—        80
All night with solemn step I paced
      The torn and bloody green.
But who that fought in the big war
      Such dread sights have not seen?
At last the morning broke. The lark        85
      Sang in the merry skies
As if to e’en the sleepers there
      It bade awake, and rise!
Though naught but that last trump of all
      Could ope their heavy eyes.        90
And then once more with banners gay,
      Stretched out the long Brigade.
Trimly upon the furrowed field
      The troops stood on parade,
And bravely mid the ranks were closed        95
      The gaps the fight had made.
Not half the Twenty-Second’s men
      Were in their place that morn,
And Corporal Dick, who yester-noon
      Stood six brave fellows on,        100
Now touched my elbow in the ranks,
      For all between were gone.
Ah! who forgets that dreary hour
      When, as with misty eyes,
To call the old familiar roll        105
      The solemn Sergeant tries,—
One feels that thumping of the heart
      As no prompt voice replies.
And as in faltering tone and slow
      The last few names were said,        110
Across the field some missing horse
      Toiled up with weary tread,
It caught the Sergeant’s eye, and quick
      Bay Billy’s name he read.
Yes! there the old bay hero stood,        115
      All safe from battle’s harms,
And ere an order could be heard,
      Or the bugle’s quick alarms,
Down all the front, from end to end,
      The troops presented arms!        120
Not all the shoulder-straps on earth
      Could still our mighty cheer;
And ever from that famous day,
      When rang the roll-call clear,
Bay Billy’s name was read, and then        125
      The whole line answered, “Here!”

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