SATURDAY | McClellan Poetry Day takes to the water with the only Civil War poem by Longfellow that I know of: The Cumberland.
McClellan's first Richmond campaign was seriously and permanently injured by the sally of the ironclad CSS Virginia into Hampton Roads. It forced McClellan to change his planned base of operations from the James to the York River; it also scuttled significant agreements he made with the Navy to attack key rebel positions. In a nutshell, it reduced McClellan's Navy partners from an offensive posture to a defensive one.
One of McClellan's colonels, oddly enough, lived in the house of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He had bought the house and then had a new first story inserted under it, so that the part Longfellow had lived in could be maintained as a kind of tribute to the poet, being kept as it was. This was Lawrence "Joshua" Chamberlain.
Like Lander's poem Ball's Bluff, Longfellow tempers defeat with defiance.
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
At anchor in Hampton Roads we lay,
On board of the Cumberland, sloop-of-war;
And at times from the fortress across the bay
The alarum of drums swept past,
Or a bugle blast
From the camp on the shore.
Then far away to the south uprose
A little feather of snow-white smoke,
And we knew that the iron ship of our foes
Was steadily steering its course
To try the force
Of our ribs of oak.
Down upon us heavily runs,
Silent and sullen, the floating fort;
Then comes a puff of smoke from her guns,
And leaps the terrible death,
With fiery breath,
From each open port.
We are not idle, but send her straight
Defiance back in a full broadside!
As hail rebounds from a roof of slate,
Rebounds our heavier hail
From each iron scale
Of the monster's hide.
"Strike your flag!" the rebel cries,
In his arrogant old plantation strain.
"Never!" our gallant Morris replies;
"It is better to sink than to yield!"
And the whole air pealed
With the cheers of our men.
Then, like a kraken huge and black,
She crushed our ribs in her iron grasp!
Down went the Cumberland all a wrack,
With a sudden shudder of death,
And the cannon's breath
For her dying gasp.
Next morn, as the sun rose over the bay,
Still floated our flag at the mainmast head.
Lord, how beautiful was Thy day!
Every waft of the air
Was a whisper of prayer,
Or a dirge for the dead.
Ho! brave hearts that went down in the seas!
Ye are at peace in the troubled stream;
Ho! brave land! with hearts like these,
Thy flag, that is rent in twain,
Shall be one again,
And without a seam!