THE LAST CONFEDERATE

(To the old soldier standing in front of the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse, and all of his counterparts in other areas of the South)

I

He is the statue in the Square -
The old gray soldier standing there -
Who will remember enough to care?
Yet, out of the dome of the night's vast arching,

The names come down like phantoms marching:
First Manassas and Malvern Hill,
Gettysburg and Gaines's Mill,
Chickamauga and Chancellorsville.
Filing past with a legion more

From Mississippi to Shenandoah;
Thin as glory , frail as fame,
Gone like gunsmoke, blown like flame -
What is left now but a name?

Where is the man from the ranks left standing
That followed Johnston to Pittsburg Landing?
Where is the muster that used to be?
Where is the Army of Tennessee?
Where is the Army of Robert Lee?

Where have they gone -
Down what roads walking?
Are they silent? Are they talking?
Laughing, joshing? Grumbling, sighing?
In encampments are they lying
To no Reveille replying?

 

Over the river -over the ford
Into the valley of the Lord:
Marching easy, marching slow,
(What drums are these? Whose bugles blow?)
Gone where a soldier is bound to go -
Minding the orders for his command:
Columns Right, to the Promised Land.

Company, regiment and brigade
Out of the bone and spirit made,
Out of the ranks that starved and bled -
The men that followed the men that led
Into the muster of the dead.

Bald Head Ewell and tall John Hood
(Gone where the commissary's good).
Bedford Forrest and Powell Hill
( Gone where the canteen holds its fill
And every sergeant's voice is still).

Beauty Stuart and plain Old Jack
(Gone to Glory not looking back).
Old Pete, Old Bory , Old Jube, Old Joe
(To a quartermaster who ain't too slow)
Gone where a soldier is bound to go -
Minding the orders for his command:
Columns Right, to the Promised Land.

II

He is the statue in the square -
The old gray soldier standing there -
Who will remember enough to care?

Who will remember the dreams he knew?
Whose needs were simple, whose wants were few?
Who lived and died in a bygone day,
Strange and troubled and far away,
Whence all that remains is this man in gray.

Yet a mocking-bird in his heart still sings
And his throat still aches with a thousand things -
A thousand things and he cannot tell
Which holds him closest in its spell
Of all that he remembers well.

A house, a hearth, a piece of ground;
A child, a wife, a possum-hound;
The tune of Dixie, quick and shrill;
The flag that flutters and hangs still
As red as sumac on a hill.

He hears on the wind, he sees in the fire
The paradox that is heart's desire:
Who followed the flag and the minstrel tune
From a bed and a woman he left too soon,
And a hound-dog baying a hunter's moon.

For he is but one who made the search
Past Henry House and Shiloh Church:
No file of scarecrows more uncouth
Than these who plodded after truth
And stemmed the Fountain of their Youth.

Who, finding, learned it each alone,
Not out of some Philosopher's stone
But in the common clod of earth,
The sentient soil that gave them birth,
Whose depth has measured out their worth.

 

He is the statue in the Square -
The old gray soldier standing there -
All that he was in his time to grow
Gone with the world he used to know,
Gone where the soldier is bound to go -
Minding the orders for his commant:
Columns Right to the Promised Land.

Into the night the names dissolve,
Over the graves the stars revolve:
A leaf may fall or a leaf may bud.
But out of the vermin, out of the mud,
Under the flag that's covered with blood,
They march at ease in a decent file
To cover their last Eternal mile
Into the Hand that shaped them so,
Where Time nor battle may lay them low;
Gone where a soldier is bound to go,
Minding the orders for his command:
Columns Right to the Promised Land.

By Henry C. HoweIl