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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

III. Poets of the Civil War II

§ 22. The Events of the Conflict; The War in Virginia

If we consider the poems from this last point of view, they serve to suggest the principal events of the war in rapid review. The gauntlet was thrown down in the poems hitherto cited and also in Tucker’s The Southern Cross, Miles’s God Save the South, Randall’s Battle Cry of the South, Mrs. Warfield’s Chant of Defiance, Thompson’s Coercion, and Hope’s Oath of Freedom. Among the group of Virginia poets who wrote of the early battles on Virginia soil, John R. Thompson (1822–73) and Mrs. Preston (1820–97) stand out as the most conspicuous. Of distinctly higher quality than the crude rhymes already referred to were Thompson’s humorous poems on some of the early Southern victories. His On to Richmond, modelled on Southey’s March to Moscow, is an exceedingly clever poem. His mastery of double and triple rhymes, his unfailing sense of the value of words, and his happy use of the refrain (“the pleasant excursion to Richmond”) make this poem one of the marked achievements of the period. Scarcely less successful in their brilliant satire are his Farewell to Pope, England’s Neutrality, and The Devil’s Delight.

The humour of these poems soon gave way, however, to the more heroic and tragic aspects of the war. Thompson himself wrote dirges for Ashby and Latané, both of them the finest types of Virginia gentlemen. Mrs. Preston wrote a still more beautiful tribute to Ashby, in which she expresses one of the favourite ideas of the South—that the struggle was between the cavaliers and men of low breeding. The tragic aspects of Virginia and the heroism of her people were visualized also by a Georgia poet, Francis O. Ticknor (1822–74), whose wife was one of the distinguished Nelsons of the Old Dominion. His Our Left is the most vivid account of the second battle of Manassas. Virginia is the best tribute we have to the commonwealth that bore the brunt of the struggle. The more popular Virginians of the Valley suggests the most romantic story of early years and adds that the same spirit pervades their descendants:

  • We thought they slept! the men who kept
  • The names of noble sires,
  • And slumbered, while the darkness crept
  • Around their vigil fires!
  • But aye! the golden horse-shoe Knights
  • Their Old Dominion keep,
  • Whose foes have found enchanted ground,
  • But not a Knight asleep.