Army of the Potomac

The Army of the Potomac

Army of the Potomac

Army of the Potomac, advancing army,

Alloy of a dozen disparate, alien States,

City-boy, farm-hand, bounty-man, first volunteer,

Old regular, drafted recruit, paid substitute,

Men who fought through the war from First Bull Run,

And other men, nowise different in look or purpose,

Whom the first men greeted at first with a ribald cry

“Here they come!  Two hundred dollars and a ka-ow!”

Rocks from New England and hickory-chunks from the West,

Bowery boy and clogging Irish adventurer,

Germans who learnt their English under the shells

Or didn’t have time to learn it before they died.

Confused, huge weapon, forged from such different metals,

Misused by unlucky swordsmen till you were blunt

And then reforged with anguish and bloody sweat

To be blunted again by one more unlucky captain

Against the millstone of Lee.

 

 

Good stallion,

Ridden and ridden against a hurdle of thorns

By uncertain rider after uncertain rider.

The rider fails and you shiver and catch your breath,

They plaster your wounds and patch up your broken knees,

And then, just as you know the grip of your rider’s hands

And begin to feel at home with his horseman’s tricks,

Another rider comes with a different seat,

And lunges you at the bitter hurdle again,

And it beats you again–and it all begins from the first,

The patching of wounds, the freezing in winter camps,

The vain mud-marches, the diarrhea, the wastage,

The grand reviews, the talk in the newspapers,

The sour knowledge that you were wasted again,

Not as Napoleons waste for a victory

But blindly, unluckily–

until at last

After long years, at fish-hook Gettysburg,

The blade and the millstone meet and the blade holds fast. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Not Enemies, But Friends

When writing about the Civil War I always marvel that it did not inflict mortal harm on this Republic.  That it did not do so, was because many good men and women, on both sides after the War, lived up to the prophetic words of Lincoln, uttered at the end of his First Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

This was all put nicely in a conversation that Douglas Southall Freeman, the great Civil War historian, had with his father Walker Freeman, a Confederate veteran who had served in the Army of Northern Virginia, while Douglas was writing his magisterial four volume R.E. Lee. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

August 17, 1861: Birth of the Army of the Potomac

On August 17, 1861 the Union military departments of the Shenandoah, Washington, and Northeastern Virginia were merged, and  the Army of the Potomac formed, the hard luck Army that experienced defeat after defeat until its great victory at Gettysburg, endured the meat grinder Overland Campaign of 1864 , carried out the siege of Petersburg of 1864-65 and ultimately triumphed with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomatox.  Stephen Vincent Benet  in his epic poem John Brown’s Body  pays tribute to the Army: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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