Monday, August 10, 2015

The Conquered Banner

...a poem by Father Abram Joseph Ryan, Civil War Chaplain who served with the Confederacy, was easily the most popular of the Post-Bellum appreciations of the defeated cause.

Furl that banner...

THE CONQUERED BANNER by Abram Joseph Ryan (1838-1886)

Furl that Banner, for 'tis weary;
 Round its staff 'tis drooping dreary;
 Furl it, fold it, it is best;
 For there's not a man to wave it,
 And there's not a sword to save it,
 And there's no one left to lave it 
In the blood that heroes gave it
 And its foes now scorn and brave it;
 Furl it, hide it--let it rest!
We see from the start that Ryan's message is clear and unamibiguous; give it up, boys; the 
fight is finished. 
 Take that banner down! 'tis tattered;
 Broken is its shaft and shattered;
 And the valiant hosts are scattered
 Over whom it floated high. 
Oh! 'tis hard for us to fold it;
 Hard to think there's none to hold it;
 Hard that those who once unrolled it
 Now must furl it with a sigh. 
Furl that banner! furl it sadly!
 Once ten thousands hailed it gladly.
 And ten thousands wildly, madly,
 Swore it should forever wave;
 Swore that foeman's sword should never
 Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
 Till that flag should float forever
 O'er their freedom or their grave!
 Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
 And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
 Cold and dead are lying low;
 And that Banner--it is trailing!
 While around it sounds the wailing
 Of its people in their woe.

I found a hand-written copy of this poem 
among my Great-Grandpa Tim Brice's
papers in his family Bible, which I was
researching in an attempt to 
dig out his attitude toward the late conflict. 

For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
  But, oh! wildly they deplored it!
  Now who furl and fold it so.

Tim, born in 1838, was 23 when the war started,ed, and though there was technically speaking, no draft at the time he and his brother David "enlisted" in 1862, the Confederacy was already desperate for manpower.
Furl that Banner! True, 'tis gory,Yet 'tis wreathed around with glory,
 And 'twill live in song and story,
 Though its folds are in the dust;
 For its fame on brightest pages,
 Penned by poets and by sages,
 Shall go sounding down the ages--
 Furl its folds though now we must.

For David, who went on to serve in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the glory was everlasting. A veteran of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, Dave 
met a Yankee Minié Ball in the Wilderness in spring of 1864. Tim could claim
veterans status too, but only on very slim pretexts; he got the fever during basic
training, and ended up returning home from the hospital in Macon.

The camp fever was real and deadly, and kille\d as many boys on both sides as
enemy shot and shell. I still don't know my great-grandpa's Real attitude toward the war.

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
 Treat it gently--it is holy--
 For it droops above the dead.
 Touch it not--unfold it never,
 Let it droop there, furled forever,
 For its people's hopes are dead!

Father Ryan's poem, though still celebrated in some places, seems like an artifact from another planet to me, with its overwrought emotionalism and drippy
sentimemt. It was obviously sincere, and Ryan, writing shortly after 
Appamatox,had seen more than his share of bad fuggum -- humans at their worst -- but still loves the extinguished cause, and contributed to the glorifiction of it by modern-day American whites, for whom adoration of Dixie, until 
now, has been a common cultural theme. 


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