The Victor of Antietam

by Herman Melville

WHEN tempest winnowed grain from bran;
And men were looking for a man,
Authority called you to the van,
McClellan:
Along the line the plaudit ran,
As later when Antietam's cheers began.

Through storm-cloud and eclipse must move
Each Cause and Man, dear to the stars and Jove;
Nor always can the wisest tell
Deferred fulfillment from the hopeless knell --
The struggler from the floundering ne'er-do-well.
A pall-cloth on the Seven Days fell,
McClellan --
Unprosperously heroical!
Who could Antietam's wreath foretell ?

Authority called you; then, in mist
And loom of jeopardy--dismissed.
But staring peril soon appalled;
You, the Discarded, she recalled
Recalled you, nor endured delay;
And forth you rode upon a blasted way,
Arrayed Pope's rout, and routed Lee's array,
McClellan:
Your tent was choked with captured flags that day,
McClellan.
Antietam was a telling fray.

Recalled you; and she heard your drum
Advancing through the ghastly gloom.
You manned the wall, you propped the Dome,
You stormed the powerful stormer home,
McClellan:
Antietam's cannon long shall boom.

At Alexandria, left alone,
McClellan --
Your veterans sent from you, and thrown
To fields and fortunes all unknown --
What thoughts were yours, revealed to none,
While faithful still you labored on --
Hearing the far Manassas gun!
McClellan, Only Antietam could atone.

You fought in the front (an evil day,
McClellan) --
The fore-front of the first assay;
The Cause went sounding, groped its way;
The leadsmen quarrelled in the bay;
Quills thwarted swords; divided sway;
The rebel flushed in his lusty May:
You did your best as in you lay,
McClellan.
Antietam's sun-burst sheds a ray.

Your medalled soldiers love you well,
McClellan:
Name your name, their true hearts swell;
With you they shook dread Stonewall's spell;
With you they braved the blended yell
Of rebel and maligner fell;
With you in shame or fame they dwell,
McClellan:
Antietam-braves a brave can tell.

And when your comrades (now so few,
McClellan --
Such ravage in deep files they rue)
Meet round the board, and sadly view
The empty places; tribute due
They render to the dead -- and you!
Absent and silent o'er the blue;
The one- armed lift the wine to you,
McClellan,
And great Antietam's cheers renew.

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(1862. Typography slightly altered for HTML)

From Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War: Civil War Poems, Da Capo

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