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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

The Black Regiment

By George Henry Boker (1823–1890)

Port Hudson, 27 May, 1863.

[From Poems of the War. 1864.]

DARK as the clouds of even,

Ranked in the western heaven,

Waiting the breath that lifts

All the dréad máss, and drifts

Tempest and falling brand

Over a ruined land;—

So still and orderly,

Arm to arm, knee to knee,

Waiting the great event,

Stands the black regiment.

Down the long dusky line

Teeth gleam and eyeballs shine;

And the bright bayonet,

Bristling and firmly set,

Flashed with a purpose grand,

Long ere the sharp command

Of the fierce rolling drum

Told them their time had come,

Told them what work was sent

For the black regiment.

“Now,” the flag-sergeant cried,

“Though death and hell betide,

Let the whole nation see

If we are fit to be

Free in this land; or bound

Down, like the whining hound,—

Bound with red stripes of pain

In our old chains again!”

O, what a shout there went

From the black regiment!

“Charge!” Trump and drum awoke,

Onward the bondmen broke;

Bayonet and sabre-stroke

Vainly opposed their rush.

Through the wild battle’s crush,

With but one thought aflush,

Driving their lords like chaff,

In the guns’ mouths they laugh;

Or at the slippery brands

Leaping with open hands,

Down they tear man and horse,

Down in their awful course;

Trampling with bloody heel

Over the crashing steel,

All their eyes forward bent,

Rushed the black regiment.

“Freedom!” their battle-cry,—

“Freedom! or leave to die!”

Ah! and they meant the word,

Not as with us ’tis heard,

Not a mere party shout:

They gave their spirits out;

Trusted the end to God,

And on the gory sod

Rolled in triumphant blood.

Glad to strike one free blow,

Whether for weal or woe;

Glad to breathe one free breath,

Though on the lips of death.

Praying—alas! in vain!—

That they might fall again,

So they could once more see

That burst to liberty!

This was what “freedom” lent

To the black regiment.

Hundreds on hundreds fell;

But they are resting well;

Scourges and shackles strong

Never shall do them wrong.

O, to the living few,

Soldiers, be just and true!

Hail them as comrades tried;

Fight with them side by side;

Never, in field or tent

Scorn the black regiment.