James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

May 2

Keenan’s Charge (Part II)

By George Parsons Lathrop (1851–1898)

  • At the battle of Chancellorsville, in Virginia, which was fought on May 2, 1863, the Confederates under Lee defeated the Federals under Hooker. See full text.

  • BY the shrouded gleam of the western skies,

    Brave Keenan looked in Pleasanton’s eyes

    For an instant—clear, and cool, and still;

    Then, with a smile, he said: “I will.”

    “Cavalry, charge!” Not a man of them shrank;

    Their sharp, full cheer, from rank on rank,

    Rose joyously, with a willing breath—

    Rose like a greeting hail to death.

    Then forward they sprang, and spurred, and clashed;

    Shouted the officers, crimson-sashed;

    Rode well the men, each brave as his fellow,

    In their faded coats of the blue and yellow;

    And above in the air, with an instinct true,

    Like a bird of war their pennon flew.

    With clank of scabbards and thunder of steeds,

    And blades that shine like sunlit reeds,

    And strong brown faces bravely pale,

    For fear their proud attempt shall fail,

    Three hundred Pennsylvania close

    On twice ten thousand gallant foes.

    Line after line the troopers came

    To the edge of the wood that was ring’d with flame;

    Rode in and sabred and shot—and fell:

    Nor came one back his wounds to tell.

    And full in the midst rose Keenan, tall

    In the gloom, like a martyr awaiting his fall,

    While the circle-stroke of his sabre, swung

    ’Round his head, like a halo there, luminous hung.

    Line after line, ay, whole platoons,

    Struck dead in their saddles, of brave dragoons

    By the maddened horses were onward borne

    And into the vortex flung, trampled and torn;

    As Keenan fought with his men, side by side.

    So they rode, till there were no more to ride.

    But over them lying there, shattered and mute,

    What deep echo rolls? ’Tis a death salute

    From the cannon in place; for, heroes, you braved

    Your fate not in vain: the army was saved!

    Over them now—year following year—

    Over their graves the pine-cones fall,

    And the whippoorwill chants his spectre-call;

    But they stir not again; they raise no cheer:

    They have ceased. But their glory shall never cease,

    Nor their light be quenched in the light of peace.

    The rush of their charge is resounding still,

    That saved the army at Chancellorsville.