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Uncivil War


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A Matthew Brady portrait of Union officers, ca.1862



Massa Robert was on a roll.

His army was invincible

and, yes, by God they knew it!

Time to cross the Potomac.

Lee's Union opponent, Hooker,

was badly confused,

at odds with the War Department

at odds with Honest Abe.

Time to cross the river.

Maryland, Pennsylvania,

untouched peaceful farms,

milk, butter, eggs and beef:

live off their land for a change

(but all paid for in Southern script).


down in Richmond

capital of the CSA

sits wild and beloved Johnny Mitchel.

Who is this man?

Mitchel was England's

worst nightmare, a revolutionary

in control of a Dublin newspaper,

calling for the end of English rule.

Get your British behinds

out of Ireland, today and

not tomorrow: this was

the import of the "United Irishman"

The English, as is their wont,

passed a brand new law

ex post facto, a frequent occurrence,

to nail this firebrand nuisance.

So, for his sins, poor John

and Francy Meagher, his friend,

were sentenced to death for treason

but transported to Australia instead.

Out of sight, out of mind.

From Australia they both escaped

(conspiracy theories abound)

and both, separately, made their way

to the USA, safe among Irish friends.

John sailed back to France

(Ireland was unsafe, but France was free)

while Meagher took over the Irish in New York.

Then along came the Civil War.

Francy took command of the Fighting 69th

the best and the worst of the New York Irish

committed to the Union cause.

But Mitchel came out for the South.

Returned to Richmond (running the blockade)

his sons joined Confederate regiments

while Mitchel himself wrote intemperate articles

for the local newspapers.

Now Lee crosses the Potomac.

Among the troops under his command

are the veteran First Virginians

with their standard bearer, young Willie,

17-year-old son of John Mitchel.

Hooker gets the push and in comes Meade

(Union generals never lasted long).

The armies march under the summer sun

and make contact in rural Pennsylvania.


Two days of deadly skirmishing:

marches, countermarches,

concentrated cannonades,

savage assaults, grim defences,

until both armies, Union and Confederate,

like bareknuckle boxers

bloodied and exhausted,

stagger, punch drunk, to the mark

and face the third and final day:

July 3, 1863.

Not only the battle

but the outcome of the War

hangs in the balance.

---We interrupt this poem to bring you a news bulletin.....

Intense fighting erupted on Culp's Hill at 4 AM on July 3 and by 11 AM Union troops had secured the hill, firmly anchoring the point of the Union 'fishhook' line. With the loss of his advantage at Culp's Hill, Lee decided to alter his strategy. Lee decided to strike what he thought to be a weakened Union center on Cemetery Ridge where he observed few troops and only a handful of artillery batteries. If this section of Meade's line collapsed, it would threaten the Union rear. Lee issued orders for a massive bombardment followed by an assault of 18,000 men, commanded by General James Longstreet. Longstreet's Assault, better known today as "Pickett's Charge" would be Lee's last gamble at Gettysburg.

----We return now to the previously scheduled programme.....

Waiting for orders --

then abruptly hauled into the line

along with so many others

come the First Virginians:

and among them Willie Mitchel.

Wait for it ...

Wait for it ...

Then the air splits with the sound

of high-pitched bugles:

now, boys, now,

now, now, now!

The screaming 'caoine' of the Rebel Yell:


The bullets come sizzling by

whizzing like demented hornets

zzzzzzzzz... then a dull flat 'pok'

when they hit with a puff of dust

and down goes the sergeant

down goes Billy Joe Parker

down goes the Preacher

then red-haired Randy Simmonds

Archie Drummond, poor little

Jimmy Preston, then that bald

old bastard what's-his-name,

then Johnny Belham, Andrew Holland,

"Daddy" Goulder, Snakepit Jones,

Paddy Miles, Dandy Kelleher,

'Arsey' Versey, Jimbo, Davy, Mack,

Pauly O'Brien ... Pascal ... all of them?

"Get your ass up here, Mitchel,

and take this goddam flag!!"

He stumbles, drops his rifle,

hears a sizzling past his ear

and grabs the blood-smeared

wooden pole, the flag little more

than a rag shot through

with holes and he runs

and he runs and he runs

and he ....

Down past Coliso Farm

in the grey morning dawn

come O'Rourke and Timothy Fallon

gaunt-visaged figures in Union blue

with Privates O'Donnell and McCarthy

and with the two corporals

Delaroche and McInteer

to recover the body

of John Mitchel's son.

They carry him away from the field

in a final act of honour

and respect for his patriot father;

this blood-sodden war, for the moment

forgotten, and the next war,

the hard struggle for Ireland

much in mind.


John Mitchel was imprisoned after the Civil War for his unapologetic support of the Confederacy but managed to make his way back to Ireland where he was elected to the British Parliament in 1874. He refused to take his seat (as did elected Sinn Fein candidates in 1919 and later in British-controlled Northern Ireland ) because he would not take an oath of loyalty to the British Crown. The British annulled the election results on the grounds that Mitchel was a convicted felon but he won re-election with an even larger majority. Mitchel died before the authorities could decide what to do next.

More info;

Thomas Francis (Francy) Meagher. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Francis_Meagher

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Uncivil indeed, captured fully here. I liked your "Interruption", even though I "usually" like a consistent form. It seems to give, to the modern reader, something they can relate to so the FACT of the war really hits home, and then you drag them back into poetry.


I had not heard of these guys, but did know about the Confederate General Judah Benjamin who went back to England after America's civil war; he was born in the West Indies.

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Wrenchingly told. I have stood on that ridge line and looked down across the flat grounds of Pickett's Charge. Lee went against the advice of Longstreet. Few people with a sense of history regret

the defeat of the Confederation, but there are still a few battle flag toters around these parts, with whom I do verbal battle sometimes in the local bugle. The best book on Gettysburg is "Killer Angels," made into a movie called Gettysburg. I need to read more about Longstreet, perhaps the wisest commander for the South. I don't think you overplayed the "Irish" connection, thus the reality of the battle comes through at an 'on the ground' level. My one bother--I think it should be all told in present tense, as is some parts. More please.

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