Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Music in Camp

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Music in Camp

By John Randolph Thompson (1823–1873)

TWO armies covered hill and plain,

Where Rappahannock’s waters

Ran deeply crimsoned with the stain

Of battle’s recent slaughters.

The summer clouds lay pitched like tents

In meads of heavenly azure;

And each dread gun of the elements

Slept in his hid embrasure.

The breeze so softly blew it made

No forest leaf to quiver,

And the smoke of the random cannonade

Rolled slowly from the river.

And now, where circling hills looked down

With cannon grimly planted,

O’er listless camp and silent town

The golden sunset slanted.

When on the fervid air there came

A strain—now rich, now tender;

The music seemed itself aflame

With day’s departing splendor.

A Federal band, which, eve and morn,

Played measures brave and nimble,

Had just struck up, with flute and horn

And lively clash of cymbal.

Down flocked the soldiers to the banks,

Till, margined by its pebbles,

One wooded shore was blue with “Yanks,”

And one was gray with “Rebels.”

Then all was still, and then the band,

With movement light and tricksy,

Made stream and forest, hill and strand,

Reverberate with “Dixie.”

The conscious stream with burnished glow

Went proudly o’er its pebbles,

But thrilled throughout its deepest flow

With yelling of the Rebels.

Again a pause, and then again

The trumpets pealed sonorous,

And “Yankee Doodle” was the strain

To which the shore gave chorus.

The laughing ripple shoreward flew,

To kiss the shining pebbles;

Loud shrieked the swarming Boys in Blue

Defiance to the Rebels.

And yet once more the bugles sang

Above the stormy riot;

No shout upon the evening rang—

There reigned a holy quiet.

The sad, slow stream its noiseless flood

Poured o’er the glistening pebbles;

All silent now the Yankees stood,

And silent stood the Rebels.

No unresponsive soul had heard

That plaintive note’s appealing,

So deeply “Home, Sweet Home” had stirred

The hidden founts of feeling.

Or Blue or Gray, the soldier sees,

As by the wand of fairy,

The cottage ’neath the live-oak trees,

The cabin by the prairie.

Or cold or warm, his native skies

Bend in their beauty o’er him;

Seen through the tear-mist in his eyes,

His loved ones stand before him.

As fades the iris after rain

In April’s tearful weather,

The vision vanished, as the strain

And daylight died together.

But memory, waked by music’s art,

Expressed in simplest numbers,

Subdued the sternest Yankee’s heart,

Made light the Rebel’s slumbers.

And fair the form of music shines,

That bright, celestial creature,

Who still, ’mid war’s embattled lines,

Gave this one touch of Nature.