The Black Regiment

By George Henry Boker 1823–1890 George Henry Boker
Dark as the clouds of even,
Ranked in the western heaven,
Waiting the breath that lifts
All the dread mass, and drifts
Tempest and falling brand
Over a ruined land;—
So still and orderly,
Arm to arm, knee to knee,
Waiting the great event,
Stands the Black Regiment.
 
Down the long dusky line
Teeth gleam and eyeballs shine;
And the bright bayonet,
Bristling and firmly set,
Flashed with a purpose grand,
Long ere the sharp command
Of the fierce rolling drum
Told them their time had come,
Told them what work was sent
For the Black Regiment.
 
“Now,” the flag-sergeant cried,
“Though death and hell betide,
Let the whole nation see
If we are fit to be
Free in this land; or bound
Down, like the whining hound,—
Bound with red stripes of pain
In our old chains again!”
Oh, what a shout there went
From the Black Regiment!
 
Charge!” Trump and drum awoke,
Onward the bondmen broke;
Bayonet and sabre-stroke
Vainly opposed their rush.
Through the wild battle’s crush,
With but one thought aflush,
Driving their lords like chaff,
In the guns’ mouths they laugh;
Or at the slippery brands
Leaping with open hands,
Down they tear man and horse,
Down in their awful course;
Tramping with bloody heel
Over the crashing steel,
All their eyes forward bent,
Rushed the Black Regiment.
 
“Freedom!” their battle-cry—
“Freedom! or leave to die!”
Ah! And they meant the word,
Not as with us ’tis heard,
Not a mere party shout:
They gave their spirits out;
Trusted the end to God,
And on the gory sod
Rolled in triumphant blood.
 
Glad to strike one free blow,
Whether for weal or woe;
Glad to breathe one free breath,
Though on the lips of death.
Praying—alas! in vain!—
That they might fall again,
So they could once more see
That burst to liberty!
This was what “freedom” lent
To this Black Regiment.
 
Hundreds on hundreds fell;
But they are resting well;
Scourges and shackles strong
Never shall do them wrong.
 
Oh, to the living few,
Soldiers, be just and true!
Hail them as comrades tried;
Fight with them side by side;
Never, in field or tent,
Scorn the Black Regiment.

Source: “Words for the Hour”: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005)

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Poet George Henry Boker 1823–1890

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Biography

George Henry Boker was born in Philidelphia in 1823, the son of a well-off banker. Boker attended Princeton, where he garnered a reputation as a talented young poet, and eventually abandoned law for literature. A poet, playwright, and diplomat, Boker helped found the Union Club (now the Union League of Philadelphia) in 1862 as part of an effort to raise funds for the Civil War and encourage enlistment. After the war, Boker acted . . .

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Poems by George Henry Boker

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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