Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 9. The Cumberland and Merrimac; The Capture of New Orleans

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

§ 9. The Cumberland and Merrimac; The Capture of New Orleans

This same year on the sea the duel between the Merrimac and the Cumberland stirred the poets as did almost no other episode of the entire war. Thomas Buchanan Read wrote The Attack; Longfellow, The Cumberland; Boker, On Board the Cumberland; Melville, The Cumberland; Weir Mitchell, How the Cumberland Went Down,—all of them poems which, with a larger eloquence than then appeared, sounded the knell of the wooden battleship. As might have been expected, defeat had more poets than victory; Boker, however, wrote The Cruise of the Monitor, and Lucy Larcom The Sinking of the Merrimac. For the capture of New Orleans there were Boker’s The Ballad of New Orleans and The Varuna (the name of a Federal ship sunk during the action), while Brownell’s The River Fight was as triumphant as the attack.

  • Do you know of the dreary land,
  • If land such region may seem,
  • Where ’tis neither sea nor strand,
  • Ocean nor good dry land,
  • But the nightmare marsh of a dream—
  • Where the Mighty River his death-road takes,
  • ’Mid pools, and windings that coil like snakes,
  • (A hundred leagues of bayous and lakes,)
  • To die in the great Gulf Stream?
  • … …
  • Would you hear of the River-Fight?
  • It was two, of a soft spring night—
  • God’s stars looked down on all,
  • And all was clear and bright
  • But the low fog’s clinging breath—
  • Up the River of Death
  • Sailed the Great Admiral.
  • On our high poop-deck he stood,
  • And round him ranged the men
  • Who have made their birthright good
  • Of manhood, once and agen—
  • Lords of helm and of sail,
  • Tried in tempest and gale,
  • Bronzed in battle and wreck—
  • Bell and Bailey grandly led
  • Each his Line of the Blue and Red—
  • Wainwright stood by our starboard rail;
  • Thornton fought the deck.
  • And I mind me of more than they,
  • Of the youthful, steadfast ones,
  • That have shown them worthy sons
  • Of the Seamen passed away—
  • (Tyson conned our helm, that day,
  • Watson stood by his guns.)
  • … …
  • Lord of mercy and frown,
  • Ruling o’er sea and shore,
  • Send us such scene once more!
  • All in Line of Battle
  • Where the black ships bear down
  • On tyrant fort and town,
  • ’Mid cannon cloud and rattle—
  • And the great guns once more
  • Thunder back the roar
  • Of the traitor walls ashore,
  • And the traitor flags come down!