Denton Jaques Snider.

Lincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest online

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Me from my present pains

Which leave me half in chains

But also from that deadly spot

Which would my stream-bed wholly blot.

I feel thou art the man to save

Me from becoming altogether slave ;

Yea me to liberate now half enthralled,

To such a task I hear thee called.

But listen to the word I say :

"Pis written in the book of destiny

As I am now, I cannot stay ;

All slave I turn or else all free,

One or the other, it must be all —

'Tween half and half can last no wall,

Though with much cunning it be built

Such halfness is but labor spilt,

A bloom of compromise which soon must wilt.

Of every little thing such is the soul :

It seeks to be the whole ;

And so too there must live in me

The whole of liberty.

Down through my entire latitude

Both banks are to be freed,

Or be engyved in servitude ;

So has the soul of History decreed.

Captain, thy deed was only for the one,



240 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

But that for all must too be done ;
Humanity let be thy creed,
Now universal make thy deed. ' '

The spirit seemed to disappear,

Its voice rang long in Lincoln's ear,

He felt himself in view new born,

Out of a former state forlorn,

And with an ecstacy unused

Thus to himself he mused :

* * Stream, fain would I make thee whole,

And disenthrall thy river-soul,

That thou, unshackled as thou here dost roll,

Course .all thy way into the Sea,

Thy flowing body's sides both free.

Then one, Eiver, canst thou be,

Not halved within the very heart,

But unified with liberty

In every throbbing part.

Would that I might sweep down just now,

And thee with thy whole self endow ;

But here I turn the other way,

Although not long I think to stay,

A little task I have to do

With it I soon shall hurry through.

But thou hast roused a deeper dream,

Which I must tell thee, my Stream

Methinks I see this whole North- West

When it has grown to manhood's best,

To face about and march along thy banks



LINCOLN AND THE MISSISSIPPI. 241

In mighty tramp and serried ranks,
Thy chained doubleness to break,
Thee one and free to make.
So will be changed thy entire line
Transfigured to our new design,
Though it may bring a great earthquake
Which will the ancient building shake. ' '

Then Lincoln faced himself about
And Southward trod along the shore,
Into the distance peered he like a scout
To see what lay before.
When he had finished his forelook
Upstream his eye a new direction took,
His mind too ran the other way
In deep reflection on a future day,
And thus he to himself did say:
1 ' Our States alone in this North- West
Are the free-born and give the test
In all our Statehood of what is best —
Born of the Union and born free
Without the taint of slavery.
That Union too, which gave us birth,
We shall endow with a new worth,
Tis ours to save and to set free,
Making the whole quite such as we,
And so the mother shall our daughter be.
Thus our North- West emancipates
Not merely the enthralled South
Down to the Mississippi's mouth,

16



242 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

But the entire United States ;

The old as well as new

I see them all pass through

This free re-birth of the whole Nation.

The North is not to be omitted,

For it too needs a liberation,

By our North- West must be new-fitted,

And Yankeeland itself be manumitted.' '

So Lincoln spoke unto his heart

And told the Mississippi's part;

He heard in it the time's lament

Over the ever-deepening rent.

So strong and sudden was his mood

He felt as if just there he could

Wheel round and march the other way —

But that task is to come another day.

He has to wait and still be steady

Until the age has gotten ready,

The people too must groan in discontent

Until they start the march for betterment.

That spirit of the Eiver told,

As down the valley broad it rolled,

The ailment of the body politic,

Which was already getting sick

Of what must be a fatal malady

Unless he who the healer is to be,

Appear with the right remedy.

The sigh of the great stream is heard

By all the folk in its wide vale,



LINCOLN AND THE MISSISSIPPI. 9 243

For in their hearts is whispered that same

word
And spoken too the self-same tale.
Their own they feel that same division,
Their own it is to heal the scission
Warring* within the double flood
Which shares in human ill or good,
As if great Nature's heart knew sympathy
And hearts of men well understood.
The river-soul is only free
When too the folk-soul has won liberty.
Then the great stream will hold a mirror true
To millions who its waters view,
And who may thus their selfhood see
In its own hell or harmony.

Thus Lincoln paced the middle of night

Until the East shot up its first faint light,

He listened to the fluvial sighs,

Which he would hear out of the ripples rise.

Although his heart still felt the rent

As he turned back into his tent,

He fell asleep and had a dream

Which echoed still the voices of the stream,

But soon appeared to him the Union mother

And brought her children — the new States —

One might be white but black would be its

brother ;
And still they had to live as mates,
Born in a line each after the other,



244 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

Still in one household intermingled

With all the discords jangle- jingled

Of the collision of the races

Told in the color of their faces.

For if one child were born a new free State,

The next must be a slave at any rate ;

Deep-souled was the maternal pang

Which through the entire country rang,

Upstarting from the Capitol

It shrieked in pain from Congress hall,

And racked the ears of all

To farthest border territorial.

Repeatedly had Lincoln heard

During his youth such wretched word

See-sawing the whole land with screams,

And now he has to hear it in his dreams,

Concentered to a long dolorous shout

Which gentle sleep could not put out.

So up full-willed he sprang awake,

His fervid sympathy made him quake ;

Godward his hands upraised he both

And to the Future took an oath :

"0 Union-Mother, thou too must be set free
Of this dire birth of double progeny —
One white perchance and then one black —
That turns to bad thy noblest good,
Damning thy very motherhood,
To throes of an infernal rack ;
If now thou bear a freeman brave



LINCOLN AND THE MISSISSIPPI. £45

Thou must in turn bear next a slave.

I swear it, if Time shall lay the deed on me,

I shall enfranchise thy maternity.

This is, I see, the highest liberation,

This will first make us a free Nation."

Such was the oath that Lincoln swore

Along the Mississippi's shore,

Whereat the waters roared more troubled,

As if they fought themselves redoubled

On each side of the warring stream:

At least so ran his day-lit dream.

But Lincoln soon himself bethought :

' * Now must there something real be wrought :

Another oath to-day I have to take,

For I am to be mustered in,

Which strangely seems to me akin

To what I pledged for Mother Union's sake.

So outwardly diverse each oath !

And yet one sense must lurk in both."

At once the sun burst on his face

As he stepped forth to take his place

In front of his ranked company

Who greeted him now merrily,

But for them he could not dig up a joke,

Though pleasantly a sober word he spoke :

1 ' I have to leave you here awhile,

And go alone a little mile,

To be sworn into service now —

'Tis to my country my first vow,



246 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

For Uncle Sam and I must be united
In the heart's pledge not to be slighted,
By me here and hereafter too,
Whatever I may have to do,
A sacred Yes will plight my troth
When I to him have ta'en the oath
To bond us aye forever,
But violated — never. ' '



II.

Contemplative now Lincoln started,

Inside of him the lightning darted

As through the prairie grass he strode ;

He cared not for the beaten road,

But went his even way forthright.

Still everywhere upon his path,

In a dim wispy sort of light,

Eose up that bodeful water-wraith

With its foreshadow fleetly thrown

And on his future overstrown.

Beside a foreland oft he stood

And watched the Mississippi's flood,

As it would roll out of his view

It seemed to be quite cut in two,

And every little orbed bubble

Was dancing to his fancy double,

E 'en though all sought one stream to be

And onward rollick to the Sea;

But still another shape would not him leave,



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. 247

Would with the river somehow interweave ;
It was that fleeing woman slave —
And her he had a hundred times to save
Out of the double river 's watery grave,
For in his fancy's whirring strain
She would come up again, again,
Eepeating him that self-same prayer
Voicing the future's voiceless air.

Headquarters came he to at last

When he the river Eock had passed,

A weather-boarded house he stood before

And heard loud words come out the door,

In hot but still genteel debate

Between some officers of State,

Who showed a sign of coming storm

In spite of their tight-fitting uniform

Which they kept buttoned though 'twas warm.

The stalwart captain of the West

Felt a fresh throbbing in his breast

From just a word or two thrown out

In the discussion round about;

With awkward strut he gave a wrench

As he was beckoned to a bench,

His long legs crooked down to the seat,

And he drew up his ample feet,

The knobbed knuckles of his fisted hand

After his helved maul seemed planned;

Then slowly crossing his spare shanks

And bending down his meagre flanks,



248 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

Intently there he oped his ear

The drift of that debate to hear,

Which roused the more his interest

As it kept heightening in zest,

And that same knotty point involved

Which he for once had just resolved.

Again turns up in talk two-sided

Among these officers that inner rent

Which had his camp erstwhile divided

To throes of civil discontent.

These officers — who were they — who?

Clad in their coats of broadcloth blue —

Sent far away from home out here

To this uncivilized frontier!

Each was a Southern cavalier

Now neighbored with the volunteer —

With this chaotic Westerner

Whose etiquette did not go far,

He only wished to win the war.

But still the Rutledge sword he bore

Whose scabbard scribbled round the floor.

Scarcely had Lincoln touched his coonskin

cap
In military grand salute
Of the backwoods recruit,
When a Lieutenant gave a slap
Upon the table board before him there
With an up strung bitter air
And did his sentiments declare :
"Calhoun I love for his defiance,



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. 249

I put in Jackson no reliance,

And I would fight the President,

If ever troops were by him sent

Into a sovereign State

Unless it gave its own consent :

Such act will have my lasting hate."

Lieutenant Davis was that speaking one,

Foref ronted with the name of Jefferson,

Kentucky gave him birth,

But that fair land seemed too far North,

The spirit bade his father emigrate

Into a still more Southern State,

So very hot the clime must be,

Too cold it was in Tennessee,

Through which the household onward passed

Until it reached the land at last

Whose border kissed the warm Gulf Stream

In passionate sunshiny dream.

When Davis had flamed out the burning word,

An officer at once demurred —

Another young Lieutenant there upstood,

Who also was of right Kentucky blood ;

He spake with resolution : " No !

That were our country's overthrow;

I shall be found on fhe other side,

Such is my oath, such too my pride,

Obedience to the Union I have sworn,

I shall obey, as a true Southron born."

The knightly youth, blue-coated, shoulder-
strapped,



250 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

For emphasis with pencil tapped
Upon a book of Tactics which he held
While from his heart his fervent words up-
welled.
Lieutenant Eobert Anderson
Gave answer thus to fiery Jefferson
With flashing eyes that meant the cannon's

flame,
If ever such unhappy crisis came —
No braver man the day beshone,
In soldier 's worth he could not be outdone,
He too was on this famed frontier
When Lincoln came a volunteer,
Who just in time felt all the heat,
And soon upstraightened in his seat,
As if he glimpsed a coming fight,
Which rose between the white and white.
Some Indians too were present there
Squatting in corners anywhere
The talk they could not understand,
They came as spies against their band,
In them was seen the red man 's strife.
The Indian took the Indian's life.
The darkey too is there astir
A servant has each Southern officer,
Allowed him by the Army Kegulations
And counted with his other rations.
Here then, we find again a many-tinted set
Away from which we cannot somehow get ;
It always will be drawn together



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. 251

By some unsighted tether;

And here is marked that deep division

Which underlies the racial collision.

But now another question rides on top
And will not let thought 's seesaw stop ;
Again Young Anderson, Lieutenant bold,
His wilPs strong utterance could not with-
hold:
' ' Let not the single State the whole deny
Of which it is a forming piece,
Let Caroline not nullify :
That would be national decease
Our Union's chain, so we must think
Is just as strong as its least link.
My dear Kentucky, I dare say,
Cannot be brought to go that way,
Will help to put rebellion under
E 'en to the tune of cannon 's thunder :
But never may I see the day ! ' ■
Lincoln again could not sit still
At that brave resonance of will,
He fumbles at his sword-hilt with his fingers,
But feeling it he thoughtful lingers ;
He too was a Kentuckian,
In him both sides to strive began ;
That State pre-figured the deep rent
In its two military sons,
Whose call is war to represent
Not by their tongues but by their guns ;



252 C&NTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

He scarce could quench his agitation,

For in the State he felt the Nation.

But Davis flashed up to respond,

Of disputation somewhat fond :

1 ' My native State will follow me

Whenever strikes the hour of destiny.' '

He spake it out in haughty air

As he with face firm-knit rose from his chair,

His thin-lipped mouth in lines of daring cut,

With fierce resolve would firmly shut ;

Aristocratic his disdain

Revealed his character's last strain,

But Robert Anderson before him there

Making response, quailed not a hair,

For also he knew how to dare.

To Davis then he put this test,

For of the man he made the quest :

1 * Tell me, would you, my friend and mate,

If called for by the President

To go in arms down to Palmetto State,

Obey such summons duly sent

By chief commander of the Nation —

Or would you give up your vocation I ' '

Lieutenant Davis thus replied

With lofty mien and doubly dignified :

1 ' I have already writ my resignation,

And here it is, you may it read,

I bide my time in God's own speed."

Whereat out of a pigeon hole

He plucked a folded paper scroll,



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. 253

Proceeded then it to unroll :

1 ' This is my word, next comes my deed

If there be need."

Brief and terse shot out his speech

Which like a bullet just the mark did reach,

Then spake forthright young Anderson:

1 ' But I shall stand for Union,

And keep my country's flag unfurled

In face of all the world;

And though thou be my very brother,

We still may have to fight each other,

Be it to save our common mother. ' '

But see uprise the Captain tall

From sitting on his little stool,

He could not keep himself so small,

He too must be a member of the school

Which with a shot had opened in that room,

Forecasting in its clash a day of doom;

Though he possessed no rule,

In every word he heard a distant boom,

And that last phrase of Anderson

Would in his memory jump up and run,

For to the Union-Mother it spoke troth

To whom he also swore an oath,

Which had him now with Anderson united,

Both in a common pledge to Nation plighted.

And there besides these speaking two

Stood other gallant men in view,

High-buttoned in the army's broadcloth blue :



254 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

Captain Harney very fine to see,

Who was born down in Tennessee

Silent he sat and undecided,

He seemed within himself divided

By these disputing officers,

Who were like him, both Southerners ;

And still another's scabbard glistened

Along with polished tinsel on his coat ;

There Albert Sidney Johnson listened

But let no sound escape his throat.

They all on Captain Lincoln gazed,

And at his shooting eye-balls were a bit

amazed ;
Unconsciously a center he had made
Out of himself yet not a word had said ;
But when he must their gathered glances meet
He seemed to drop in pieces to his seat.

And still the embers glowed of that debate
It flared again as if blown on by fate,
The battle had to be fought out
Between the two contestants stout;
Lieutenant Anderson renewed his task :
"I have another question still to ask —
There is a fort in Charleston Bay
Which boldly stands athwart the way
Of those who would the Government deny,
And its supremacy with arms defy —
It rides the waves as if it swam,
And guards the passage in and out ;



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. 255

That fort belongs to Uncle Sam,

His loyal ever-watchful scout;

Fort Sumter is its gracious name,

Methinks 'tis destined to some fame

If South Carolina plays this game ;

Already I have had a sort of dream

That to this fort I might be sent

By our new President ;

'Tis Andrew Jackson whom I mean

Who will be chosen at this fall's election,

Since from his ranks there seems no great

defection.
Now tell me, Davis, if you resign,
Would you go down to Caroline
And join her nullifying band!
Perchance you might be chosen to com-
mand" —
The sitting Captain startled at the word
As if in it the future's voice he heard
Resounding from afar in dreadful toll
Which echoed to the bottom of his soul,
As Davis spoke in sudden gush
While flamed his face in crimson flush:
1 ' That is just what I long to do ;
Let come what may — I shall be true. ' '
He stepped aback as to prepare
For fighting something in the air
And slowly emphasized his words with care :
11 Just that is what — I must it say —
What I expect to do and \>p some day;



256 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

Events are marching all that way

I tell it not in brag or fun,

Lieutenant Eobert Anderson,

If you should happen to be there

And Sumter should resistance dare,

I would it not a moment spare,

But open on you all my fire

Till you surrender — or expire.' '

Advancing boldly to the attack,

"And I — I would fire back."

Said Anderson in sentence brief

Which seemed to burst up in relief

Of his loud thumping swollen heart

As to the door he made a start,

Leaving to time the dread arbitrament

For now there could be no true settlement.

Then Captain Harney followed him away,

Lieutenant Johnston though would stay,

Whose sympathy to Davis leaned

As far as from his action could be gleaned,

Yet not a word he had to say.

The years will never fail to realize
Of this debate the prophecies,
The speakers twain will meet again
And sing the same old warlike strain
Yet not in words will it roll o 'er,
But voiced in battle 's furious roar.
The talk revealed anew the time two-sided,
A people growing up divided,



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. 257

Nor should we fail this fact to face

Which turns the winning of the race:

The Southerners will not unite

Though they must take part in the fight ;

They cannot get to be as one,

But stay as Davis or as Anderson.

To that debate our Captain hearkened

While all his inner being darkened,

As if he heard the overture of fate

Preluding notes of love and hate

In strains of elemental strife

Which intertwined his life.

He felt he saw the very man

Who was to weave with him the deepest plan

Of overseeing Providence,

To whom they both were instruments.

He sensed himself with Davis bound

In some fierce wrestle whirling round and

round
Which sped the cycle of its years
Berained with all the people 's tears.
So Lincoln here with Davis was first mated
As antitype to be associated
With him adown all History :
They cannot part while Time may be.

Lincoln had lapsed into a kind of swound
So that he scarcely heard the sound
Of the Lieutenant's haughty call :
"What can I do for you, my man?"

17



258 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

It was the voice of Davis to the tall

Lank visitor whom he began

With greater interest to scan.

The dreamy volunteer was far away,

Whither his soul had fled he could not say ;

A second louder question then upset

His free fantastic revery,

Sternly commanded by the martinet

He swam back from futurity ;

Lincoln awakened by the din —

' ' I came, ! ' he said, i i to be sworn in

As Captain of my Company"

And told the facts as they might be.

* ' Eise from your seat, ' ' was the command,

And then the words: "Hold up your hand"

This Lincoln did with outreach high

As if that clutch hung out the sky

Over the spruce Lieutenant's head —

That awful clutch with digits spread

Like talons of the American eagle,

Eeady to pounce upon his foxy foe,

Who cannot always him inveigle

To fend off final overthrow.

It was indeed a giant hand

Which chopped down trees and cleared the

land,
Wielding the axe with keenest edge,
Whirling the maul down on the wedge,
And with its ponderous master stroke
It tore the rail out of the oak;



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. £59

It ditched the bog and cut the road,
It tamed the monster earth for man's abode.
That hand rose up the representative
Of what the West would do or give,
Belaboring the soil with might
Gigantic, or, if need be, fight.
But Lincoln had another hand, the left,
With which he could of deeds be deft,
It firmly laid itself upon the hilt
Which haled the sword of Rutledges,
As if it might in sudden stress
Draw for the instant tilt.
The servant black of Davis stood
Behind his master not far away
In a half -frightened attitude,
As if that hand might drop some day
And something break — just what he could
not say.

But Lincoln now spoke out his troth
In weighty words to back his oath :
' ' I swear the Constitution to support
And to obey the laws. ' '
Such was the adjuration short
Which never was to make a pause
In maintenance of worthiest cause.
Whereat he clenched his high-held hand,
His bony fingers no more outspanned,
Knotted his knuckles to a fist,



260 CANTO VII— LINCOLN'S DOUBLE OATH.

Which, when it smote, the object never

missed;
He thwacked it down upon the table,
Which was not made so very stable,
But patched together of board and buck
On which lay loose official truck.
That table trembled with a rattle
The inkstand toppled o'er,
The sand-box spilled upon the floor,
The darkey sprang out of the door,
As if already had begun a battle
With giant hand dropped from the sky
In knuckled panoply.
Lieutenant Davis, brave as he was,
Leaped back amain with startled look,
Till he observed the sudden cause
Which him and the whole cabin shook.
Might he have had some dim forefeeling
Of a terrific upheld hand
Which would come down upon the land,
And send the ages forward reeling
Upon another course new-planned!
The act was to the rules contrary,
It was indeed unmilitary,
So a rebuke was well in order
To train this wild folk of the border :
■ ' Better than that you ought to know, ' '
The wroth Lieutenant sternly said ,
But soon calmed to a smiling nod of head :
"You are a Captain, so now go."



LINCOLN AND JEFFERSON DAVIS. 261

Lincoln again uprighted straight,

But with a louder-beating heart,

And spoke a word which had the toll of fate

To him who seemed his counterpart :

"Bethink, that was my first-born oath

Unto my country sworn forever ;

I meant it somehow for us both,

Never to be foresworn by me aye never !

That is my soul's last creed,

To be made ever good by deed."

At that bold-worded stalwart form

Davis looked a little storm,

But still he held from speech aloof,

Although the edge of a reproof

He must have felt for his too-telling mouth

In that debate presageful of the South,

Heard by this Captain of the mauling fist :

But each had met his coming man,

With whom he was bound up in God's own

plan,
Each now first measured his antagonist.
And so they stood and looked apace,
Wondering at each other's face,
In which each sought the lines to read


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Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderLincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest → online text (page 11 of 16)