THE SPRIG OF GREEN.
At Fredericksburg on that dread day ere yet the strife began,
Along the battle-line of Blue the general's order ran:
"Win we or lose, our country's curse upon the wretch who shirks.
But honor to the man who dies the nearest to the works!"
Before them rose the giant range of hills in martial round,
From whose grim tops all bode fully the bristling cannon frowned;
No break within that iron line, but 'neath, from left to right.
Brave Meagher with his Irish lay before St. Mary's Height.
No gloom was there; but every face as careless and as bright
As if it were a wedding morn and not a day of fight;
And in their caps (though all around no tree nor shrub was seen)
They wore-heaven knows from whence procured-each man a sprig of green.
Not long they waited for the sound that told the strife begun.
Hark: from the river's further side, it is the signal gun!
A thousand cannon from the hills bellowed in fierce acclaim.
And all the mighty line of Blue swept upward through the flame.
Of what avail are words to paint the strife that none can tell;
The hurrah from the Union host, the wild Confederate yell;
The sabres1 clank, the horsemen's tramp, the scream of shot and shell,
And groans of dying men, that went to make the mimic hell.
All day against those awful heights our lines were hurled in vain;
All day the shattered ranks closed up but to be torn again,
Until the sun withdrew his light, as if for very shame,
And night came down upon the field to end the bloody game.
The morning broke all fair and bright upon the dead array,
And lovingly on hill and plain the blessed sunbeams lay.
The fight was done; the field was won-the Blue had lost the day;
And from their works all curiously swarmed down the men in gray.
Thick lay the slain, like sheaves of grain ripened by battles1 suns;
But one had died beyond the rest, a stone's cast from the guns;
They raised him softly-for the brave respect the brave, I ween-
And in his cap, unwithered still, they found a sprig of green.
Of all the thousands lying round, close locked in death's embrace,
That one-though all were brave and true-from death had got such grace.
No bearded soldier, old in wars, had won the happy place;
He who died nearest to the works had only a boy's face.
They buried him just where he fell-these foemen-with rude art;
They said that he had earned the place by his undaunted heart;
And one-a poet in his soul, though rough in garb and mien-
Planted upon the simple mound the dead boy's sprig of green.
The brave man dies, but the brave deed with death will not be found;
And travelers say that, to this day, the children playing round
Can point the stranger to the spot-the fairest in the scene-
The grave where sleeps the Irish, boy who wore the sprig of green.