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.

II. Poets of the Civil War I

§ 8. The War in the West; Willson

Meanwhile the war in the West was not without its poet-annalists, of whom the most notable perhaps was Forceythe Willson (1837–67), a native of New York who lived in Indiana from 1852 to 1864 and wrote Union editorials for the Louisville Journal. During the first year of the war he began his sombre, disheartened In State, a poem which spoke of the Union as dead and lying on its bier:

  • The Sisterhood that was so sweet,
  • The Starry System sphered complete,
  • Which the mazed Orient used to greet,
  • The Four and Thirty fallen Stars glimmer and glitter at her feet.
  • The next year he wrote Boy Brittan to commemorate a seventeen-year-old lieutenant killed in the attack on Fort Henry, and the year after published his masterpiece, The Old Sergeant, which Holmes thought “the finest thing since the war began,”—the death-scene of a nameless soldier wounded at Shiloh. Richer in melody than Brownell, Willson was like him in directness and realism; his output, however, was very slight. The struggle for the possession of Missouri was recorded in Stoddard’s The Little Drummer, Henry Peterson’s The Death of Lyon, and Boker’s Zagonyi. During the Confederate attempt to recapture Corinth in October, 1862, the Eighth Wisconsin imaginatively carried, instead of a flag, a live eagle which circled over the battlefield and which gave Brownell his occasion for The Eagle of Corinth.