SATURDAY | We continue the Malvern Hill thread on this McClellan Poetry Day by looking at an odd piece by Bret Harte.
Harte was a novelty writer in the Mark Twain sense - publishers expected him to cover a geographic area (the far West) with humor and social insight. There are a number of Harte pieces accessible from the link, above, if you want a 19th Century reading experience.
The Seven Days, culminating at Malvern Hill, might look to a newspaper reader of the time as if Lee were forcing McClellan out of a series of positions that McClellan wanted to hold. They were actually attempts to engage, ensnare, and cut off the Union army moving from the York to the James River. Malvern Hill marked the last battle of this fighting withdrawal and handed Lee his most lopside loss of the campaign.
In light of this epic drama, Bret Harte, characteristically pulls a rabbit out of his hat.
"A fter the men were ordered to lie down, a white rabbit, which had
been hopping hither and thither over the field swept by grape and
musketry, took refuge among the skirmishers, in the breast of a
corporal."--Report of the Battle of Malvern Hill.
Bunny, lying in the grass,
Saw the shining column pass;
Saw the starry banner fly,
Saw the chargers fret and fume,
Saw the flapping hat and plume,--
Saw them with his moist and shy
Most unspeculative eye,
Thinking only, in the dew,
That it was a fine review.
Till a flash, not all of steel,
Where the rolling caissons wheel,
Brought a rumble and a roar
Rolling down that velvet floor,
And like blows of autumn flail
Sharply threshed the iron hail.
Bunny, thrilled by unknown fears,
Raised his soft and pointed ears,
Mumbled his prehensile lip,
Quivered his pulsating hip,
As the sharp vindictive yell
Rose above the screaming shell;
Thought the world and all its men,--
All the charging squadrons meant,--
All were rabbit-hunters then,
All to capture him intent.
Bunny was not much to blame:
Wiser folk have thought the same,--
Wiser folk who think they spy
Every ill begins with "I."
Wildly panting here and there,
Bunny sought the freer air,
Till he hopped below the hill,
And saw, lying close and still,
Men with muskets in their hands.
(Never Bunny understands
That hypocrisy of sleep,
In the vigils grim they keep,
As recumbent on that spot
They elude the level shot.)
One--a grave and quiet man,
Thinking of his wife and child
Far beyond the Rapidan,
Where the Androscoggin smiled--
Felt the little rabbit creep,
Nestling by his arm and side,
Wakened from strategic sleep,
To that soft appeal replied,
Drew him to his blackened breast,
And-- But you have guessed the rest.
Softly o`er that chosen pair
Omnipresent Love and Care
Drew a mightier Hand and Arm,
Shielding them from every harm;
Right and left the bullets waved,
Saved the saviour for the saved.
Who believes that equal grace
God extends in every place,
Little difference he scans
Twixt a rabbit`s God and man`s