[Written for and read at the Camp Fire of the G.A.R. Department of
Minnesota, National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, at
Minneapolis, June 22, 1884.]
Ready and ripe for the harvest lay the acres of golden grain
Waving on hillock and hillside and bending along the plain.
Ready and ripe for the harvest two veteran armies lay
Waiting the signal of battle on the Gettysburg hills that day.
Sharp rang the blast of the bugles calling the foe to the fray,
And shrill from the enemy’s cannon the demon shells shrieked as they flew;
Crashed and rumbled and roared our batteries ranged on the hill,
Rumbled and roared at the front the bellowing guns of the foe
Swelling the chorus of hell ever louder and deadlier still,
And shrill o’er the roar of the cannon rose the yell of the rebels below,
As they charged on our Third Corps advanced
and crushed in the lines at a blow.
Leading his clamorous legions, flashing his saber in air,
Forward rode furious Longstreet charging on Round Top there–
Key to our left and center–key to the fate of the field–
Leading his wild-mad Southrons on to the lions’ lair.
Red with the blood of our legions–red with the blood of our best,
Waiting the fate of the battle the lurid sun stood in the west.
Hid by the crest of the hills we lay at the right concealed,
Prone on the earth that shuddered under us there as we lay.
Thunder of cheers on the left!–dashing down on his stalwart bay,
Spurring his gallant charger till his foaming flanks ran blood,
Hancock, the star of our legions, rode down where our officers stood:
“_By the left flank, double-quick, march!_”–
We sprang to our feet and away,
Like a fierce pack of hunger-mad wolves that pant
for the blood of the prey.
“_Halt!_”–on our battery’s flank we stood like a hedge-row of steel–
Bearing the banner of Freedom on the Gettysburg hills that day.
Down at the marge of the valley our broken ranks stagger and reel,
Grimy with dust and with powder, wearied and panting for breath,
Flinging their arms in panic, flying the hail-storm of death.
Rumble of volley on volley of the enemy hard on the rear,
Yelling their wild, mad triumph, thundering cheer upon cheer,
Dotting the slope with slaughter and sweeping the field with fear.
Drowned is the blare of the bugle, lost is the bray of the drum,
Yelling, defiant, victorious, column on column they come.
Only a handful are we, thrown into the gap of our lines,
Holding the perilous breach where the fate of the battle inclines,
Only a handful are we–column on column they come.
Roared like the voice of a lion brave Hancock fierce for the fray:
“Hurry the reserve battalions; bring every banner and gun:
Charge on the enemy, Colvill, stay the advance of his lines:
Here–by the God of our Fathers!–here shall the battle be won,
Or we’ll die for the banner of Freedom on the Gettysburg hills today.”
Shrill rang the voice of our Colonel, the bravest and best of the brave:
“_Forward, the First Minnesota! Forward, and follow me, men!_”
Gallantly forward he strode, the bravest and best of the brave.
Two hundred and fifty and two–all that were left of us then–
Two hundred and fifty and two fearless, unfaltering men
Dashed at a run for the enemy, sprang to the charge with a yell.
On us their batteries thundered solid shot, grape shot and shell;
Never a man of us faltered, but many a comrade fell.
“_Forward, the First Minnesota!_”–like tigers we sprang at our foes;
Grim gaps of death in our ranks, but ever the brave ranks close:
Down went our sergeant and colors–defiant our colors arose!
“_Fire_!” At the flash of our rifles–grim gaps in the ranks of our foes!
“_Forward, the First Minnesota!_” our brave Colonel cried as he fell
Gashed and shattered and mangled–“_Forward_!” he cried as he fell.
Over him mangled and bleeding frenzied we sprang to the fight,
Over him mangled and bleeding we sprang to the jaws of hell.
Flashed in our faces their rifles, roared on the left and the right,
Swarming around us by thousands we fought them with desperate might.
Five times our banner went down–five times our banner arose,
Tattered and torn but defiant, and flapped in the face of our foes.
Hold them? We held them at bay, as a bear holds the hounds on his track,
Knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder, we met them and staggered them back.
Desperate, frenzied, bewildered, blindly they fired on their own;
Like reeds in the whirl of the cyclone columns and colors went down.
Banner of stars on the right! Hurrah! gallant Gibbon is come!
Thunder of guns on the left! Hurrah! ’tis our cannon that boom!
Solid-shot, grape-shot and canister crash like the cracking of doom.
Baffled, bewildered and broken the ranks of the enemy yield;
Panic-struck, routed and shattered they fly from the fate of the field.
Hold them? We held them at bay, as a bear holds the hounds on his track;
Knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder, we met them and staggered them back;
Two hundred and fifty and two, we held their mad thousands at bay,
Met them and baffled and broke them, turning the tide of the day;
Two hundred and fifty and two when the sun hung low in heaven,
But ah! when the stars rode over we numbered but forty-seven:
Dead on the field or wounded the rest of our regiment lay;
Never a man of us faltered or flinched in the fire of the fray,
For we bore the banner of Freedom on the Gettysburg hills that day.
Tears for our fallen comrades–cover their graves with flowers,
For they fought and fell like Spartans for this glorious land of ours.
They fell, but they fell victorious, for the Rebel ranks were riven,
And over our land united–one nation from sea to sea,
Over the grave of Treason, over millions of men made free,
Triumphant the flag of our fathers waves in the winds of heaven–
Striped with the blood of her heroes she waves in the winds of heaven.
Tears for our fallen comrades–cover their graves with flowers,
For they fought and fell like Spartans for this glorious land of ours;
And oft shall our children’s children garland their graves and say:
“They bore the banner of Freedom on the Gettysburg hills that day.”
(Hanford Lennox Gordon)
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