April 12, 2016

Friday, August 23, 2013

Poetry Friday: Eye Witness Poetry

It's 7 AM on the last Poetry Friday before the Shovan kids head back to school. How are we celebrating? With a trip to Gettysburg, PA.

Our best family vacations (Williamsburg, VA, Concord, MA, London and Edinburgh) have had a historical element, and Gettysburg is just 90 minutes from our home in central Maryland.

A side note -- on our drive up to Concord, Mass (see my post on touring Louisa May Alcott's home), we listened to The Killer Angels on audio. It's a historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the best audio books we've ever listened to. Michael Shaara's insights into the minds of the generals and other leaders is amazing.

The Killer Angels won the Pulitzer Prize
and was the basis of the film Gettysburg
Today, we're hoping to arrive at the Gettysburg National Park Service Museum and Visitors' Center early enough to reserve a private tour guide. It's just $60 for our four person family -- great deal. The guide gets in your car and drives you through Gettysburg, narrating the events of the battle and answering your questions! The teens, my husband and I are really looking forward to it.

One of the most famous moments of the three day battle, which celebrated a 150th anniversary in July, is Pickett's Charge. Here is a poem by Will Henry Thompson, a Confederate Veteran who, according to the poem, participated in the doomed charge. At History Engine, I found a short bio of Thompson with some worth-reading insights into his poem.

The High Tide at Gettysburg
by Will Henry Thompson

A CLOUD possessed the hollow field,
The gathering battle’s smoky shield.
Athwart the gloom the lightning flashed,
And through the cloud some horsemen dashed,
And from the heights the thunder pealed.        5
Then at the brief command of Lee
Moved out that matchless infantry,
With Pickett leading grandly down,
To rush against the roaring crown
Of those dread heights of destiny.        10
Far heard above the angry guns
A cry across the tumult runs,—
The voice that rang through Shiloh’s woods
And Chickamauga’s solitudes,
The fierce South cheering on her sons!        15
Ah, how the withering tempest blew
Against the front of Pettigrew!
A Khamsin wind that scorched and singed
Like that infernal flame that fringed
The British squares at Waterloo!        20
A thousand fell where Kemper led;
A thousand died where Garnett bled:
In blinding flame and strangling smoke
The remnant through the batteries broke
And crossed the works with Armistead.        25
“Once more in Glory’s van with me!”
Virginia cried to Tennessee;
“We two together, come what may,
Shall stand upon these works to-day!”
(The reddest day in history.)        30
Brave Tennessee! In reckless way
Virginia heard her comrade say:
“Close round this rent and riddled rag!”
What time she set her battle-flag
Amid the guns of Doubleday.        35
But who shall break the guards that wait
Before the awful face of Fate?
The tattered standards of the South
Were shriveled at the cannon’s mouth,
And all her hopes were desolate.        40
In vain the Tennesseean set
His breast against the bayonet!
In vain Virginia charged and raged,
A tigress in her wrath uncaged,
Till all the hill was red and wet!        45
Above the bayonets, mixed and crossed,
Men saw a gray, gigantic ghost
Receding through the battle-could,
And heard across the tempest loud
The death-cry of a nation lost!

Read the rest at Bartleby.

Today's Poetry Friday host with the posts is Betsy at I Think in Poems. Thanks, Besty! Take a short trip over to Betsy's blog for more Poetry Friday posts.


Linda B said...

It's a beautiful commemoration of that day and I enjoyed the additional link, too, Laura. I've visited several battlefields with students in trips back east. We were in awe of the ghostly feel of those sad places. I hope you enjoy this trip with your family!

BJ Lee said...

Wow, Laura! This took me right back there. I remember enjoying our family trip to Gettysburg so much when I was a teenager. And Picket's charge is the one scene I can bring up in my mind. Oh, I seem to remember a round theater as well. Thanks for sharing!

Tabatha said...

Sounds like a really interesting tour! I love listening to/talking with tour guides. I have three Confederate soldiers from Virginia in my ancestry, but I have no idea what their experiences were like. Thanks for the poem.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Linda. The guided tour -- highly recommended. We loved being able to ask our guide (from NJ, like us) questions as we drove through the battle sites. BJ -- yes! I found out some interesting facts about the Cyclorama painting. It was commissioned soon after the battle by a Chicago entrepreneur who was looking to make a quick buck. Tabatha -- wouldn't that be interesting to research. My family all came over after 1900.

Liz Steinglass said...

Okay, I'm moving Gettysburg higher up on our list of places to visit. And I will add the book to our list of books to listen to on long car trips. Do you think a 9 year-old Civil War historian would be okay with it?

Mary Lee said...

Wow! That personalized tour sounds fabulous! Thanks for the poetic take on the event!

Becky Shillington said...

I hope you enjoyed your trip to Gettysburg! The poem you shared is great--thanks so much for posting it. Poetry is the perfect medium to make history more accessible to people, and provides a beautiful connection between the present and the past.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

It's wonderful that your whole family shares a love of history. Unfortunately, can't say the same for my family. I bet they'd like it more with their own personal tour guide, though! Sounds like a great way to end summer vacation.