Civil War Begins—April 12, 1861
There’s a Nameless Grave in the Battlefield.
This mute reminder of Antietam’s awful cost suggests how many thousand homes were sunk in grief such as the poem “AFTER ALL” describes. The soldiers themselves shared this grief. One of their saddest duties was the burial of comrades. When the graves had been dug, if there was found on their person any means of identifying them or if anyone knew who they were, little pieces of board were secured and placed at the head of each. On these little boards, pieces of cracker-box, generally, would be placed the name and regiment of the deceased comrade written in pencil. Under the rain and the snows the writing would be obliterated or the boards themselves tumble down, and those lying in their graves on the battlefield would pass into the number of the great “unknown.” There were no opportunities afforded in these burial details to go through any religious forms. The numbers forbade. Yet the lads who formed burial parties always gave their meed of reverence.—The Photographic History of the Civil War.
THE apples are ripe in the orchard,
The work of the reaper is done,
And the golden woodlands redden
In the blood of the dying sun.
At the cottage door the grandsire
Sits pale in his easy-chair,
While the gentle wind of twilight
Plays with his silver hair.
A woman is kneeling beside him;
A fair young head is prest,
In the first wild passion of sorrow,
Against his agéd breast.
And far from over the distance
The faltering echoes come
Of the flying blast of trumpet,
And the rattling roll of drum.
And the grandsire speaks in a whisper:
“The end no man can see;
But we give him to his country,
And we give our prayers to Thee.”
The violets star the meadows,
The rose-buds fringe the door,
And over the grassy orchard
The pink-white blossoms pour.
But the grandsire’s chair is empty,
The cottage is dark and still,
There’s a nameless grave in the battle-field,
And a new one under the hill.
And a pallid, tearless woman
By the cold hearth sits, alone;
And the old clock in the corner
Ticks on with a steady drone.