Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Georgia Volunteer

Just today, I ran across Dixie Broadcasting - which you can listen to online here. It's a mix of old-time bluegrass, real country crooning, and music that is unabashedly Southern.

While listening today, I heard a haunting melody that I have not heard for a long time. It was recorded back in the 1990s by some friends of mine from South Georgia who called themselves The Rebellaires. This particular song, "A Georgia Volunteer" was a musical setting of the poem of the same name written in the 1860s by a poet named Mary Ashley Townsend.

Interestingly, Mrs. Townsend was born in New York state, moved to New Orleans while a teenager, and had her own newspaper column by the age of 18. She came to be quite a beloved and honored writer in the Crescent City. Her biography is compelling, but her poetry is even more interesting: powerful, lush, and filled with vivid imagery.

Here is Mrs. Townsend's melancholic poem that honors the common soldier while not sugar-coating the consequences of war:

A GEORGIA VOLUNTEER by Mary Ashley Townsend (1832-1901)

Far up the lonely mountain-side
My wandering footsteps led;
The moss lay thick beneath my feet,
The pine sighed overhead.
The trace of a dismantled fort
Lay in the forest nave,
And in the shadow near my path
I saw a soldier's grave.

The bramble wrestled with the weed
Upon the lowly mound;--
The simple head-board, rudely writ,
Had rotted to the ground;
I raised it with a reverent hand,
From dust its words to clear,
But time had blotted all but these--
"A Georgia Volunteer!"

I saw the toad and scaly snake
From tangled covert start,
And hide themselves among the weeds
Above the dead man's heart;
But undisturbed, in sleep profound,
Unheeding, there he lay;
His coffin but the mountain soil,
His shroud Confederate gray.

I heard the Shenandoah roll
Along the vale below,
I saw the Alleghanies rise
Toward the realms of snow.
The "Valley Campaign" rose to mind--
Its leader's name--and then
I knew the sleeper had been one
Of Stonewall Jackson's men.

Yet whence he came, what lip shall say--
Whose tongue will ever tell
What desolated hearths and hearts
Have been because he fell?
What sad-eyed maiden braids her hair,
Her hair which he held dear?
One lock of which perchance lies with
The Georgia Volunteer!

What mother, with long watching eyes,
And white lips, cold and dumb,
Waits with appalling patience for
Her darling boy to come?
Her boy! whose mountain grave swells up
But one of many a scar,
Cut on the face of our fair land,
By gory-handed war.

What fights he fought, what wounds he wore,
Are all unknown to fame;
Remember, on his holy grave
There is not e'en a name!
That he fought well and bravely too,
And held his country dear,
We know, else he had never been
A Georgia volunteer.

He sleeps--what need to question now
If he were wrong or right?
He knows, ere this, whose cause was just
In God the Father's sight.
He wields no warlike weapons now,
Returns no foeman's thrust--
Who but a coward would revile
An honest soldier's dust?

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,
Adown thy rocky glen,
Above thee lies the grave of one
Of Stonewall Jackson's men.
Beneath the cedar and the pine,
In solitude austere.
Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies
A Georgia Volunteer!

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