The Ensign Bearer, Never mind me, Uncle Jared

Never mind me, Uncle Jared, never mind my bleeding breast!
They are charging in the valley and you're needed with the rest.
All the day long from its dawning till you saw your kinsman fall,
You have answered fresh and fearless to our brave commander's call;
And I would not rob my country of your gallant aid to-night,
Though your presence and your pity stay my spirit in its flight.
 
All along that quivering column see the death steed trampling down
Men whose deeds this day are worthy of a kingdom and a crown.
Prithee hasten, Uncle Jared, what's the bullet in my breast
To that murderous storm of fire raining tortures on the rest?
See! the bayonets flash and falter—look! the foe begins to win;
See! oh, see our falling comrades! God! the ranks are closing in.
 
Hark! there's quickening in the distance and a thundering in the air,
Like the roaring of a lion just emerging from his lair.
There's a cloud of something yonder fast unrolling like a scroll—
Quick! oh, quick! if it be succor that can save the cause a soul!
Look! a thousand thirsty bayonets are flashing down the vale,
And a thousand thirsty riders dashing onward like a gale!
 
Raise me higher, Uncle Jared, place the ensign in my hand!
I am strong enough to float it while you cheer that flying band;
Louder! louder! shout for Freedom with prolonged and vigorous breath—
Shout for Liberty and Union, and the victory over death!—
See! they catch the stirring numbers and they swell them to the breeze—
Cap and plume and starry banner waving proudly through the trees.
 
Mark our fainting comrades rally, see that drooping column rise!
I can almost see the fire newly kindled in their eyes.
Fresh for conflict, nerved to conquer, see them charging on the foe—
Face to face with deadly meaning—shot and shell and trusty blow.
See the thinned ranks wildly breaking—see them scatter to the sun—
I can die, Uncle Jared, for the glorious day is won!
 
But there's something, something pressing with a numbness on my heart,
And my lips with mortal dumbness fail the burden to impart.
Oh I tell you, Uncle Jared, there is something back of all
That a soldier cannot part with when he heeds his country's call!
Ask the mother what, in dying, sends her yearning spirit back
Over life's rough, broken marches, where she's pointed out the track.
 
Ask the dear ones gathered nightly round the shining household hearth,
What to them is dearer, better, than the brightest things of earth,
Ask that dearer one whose loving, like a ceaseless vestal flame,
Sets my very soul a-glowing at the mention of her name;
Ask her why the loved in dying feels her spirit linked with his
In a union death but strengthens, she will tell you what it is.
 
And there's something, Uncle Jared, you may tell her if you will—
That the precious flag she gave me, I have kept unsullied still.
And—this touch of pride forgive me—where death sought our gallant host—
Where our stricken lines were weakest, there it ever waved the most.
Bear it back and tell her fondly, brighter, purer, steadier far,
'Mid the crimson tide of battle, shone my life's fast setting star.
 
But forbear, dear Uncle Jared, when there's something more to tell,
When her lips with rapid blanching bid you answer how I fell;
Teach your tongue the trick of slighting, though 'tis faithful to the rest,
Lest it say her brother's bullet is the bullet in my breast;
But if it must be that she learn it despite your tenderest care,
'Twill soothe her bleeding heart to know my bayonet pricked the air.
 
Life is ebbing, Uncle Jared, my enlistment endeth here;
Death, the Conqueror, has drafted—I can no more volunteer,—
But I hear the roll call yonder and I go with willing feet—
Through the shadows of the valley where victorious armies meet,
Raise the ensign, Uncle Jared, let its dear folds o'er me fall—
Strength and Union for my country—and God's banner over all.