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

May 12

Obsequies of Stuart

By John R. Thompson (1823–1873)

  • General J. E. B. Stuart, the famous chief of the Confederate cavalry, fell in an engagement with General Sheridan’s forces, at Yellow Tavern, Va., May 12, 1864.

  • WE could not pause, while yet the noontide air

    Shook with the cannonade’s incessant pealing,

    The funeral pageant fitly to prepare—

    A nation’s grief revealing.

    The smoke, above the glimmering woodland wide

    That skirts our southward border in its beauty,

    Marked where our heroes stood and fought and died

    For love and faith and duty.

    And still, what time the doubtful strife went on,

    We might not find expression for our sorrow;

    We could but lay our dear dumb warrior down,

    And gird us for the morrow.

    One weary year agone, when came a lull

    With victory in the conflict’s stormy closes,

    When the glad Spring, all flushed and beautiful,

    First mocked us with her roses,

    With dirge and bell and minute-gun, we paid

    Some few poor rites—an inexpressive token

    Of a great people’s pain—to Jackson’s shade,

    In agony unspoken.

    No wailing trumpet and no tolling bell,

    No cannon, save the battle’s boom receding,

    When Stuart to the grave we bore, might tell,

    With hearts all crushed and bleeding.

    The crisis suited not with pomp, and she

    Whose anguish bears the seal of consecration

    Had wished his Christian obsequies should be

    Thus void of ostentation.

    Only the maidens came, sweet flowers to twine

    Above his form so still and cold and painless,

    Whose deeds upon our brightest records shine,

    Whose life and sword were stainless.

    They well remembered how he loved to dash

    Into the fight, festooned from summer bowers;

    How like a fountain’s spray his sabre’s flash

    Leaped from a mass of flowers.

    And so we carried to his place of rest

    All that of our great Paladin was mortal:

    The cross, and not the sabre, on his breast,

    That opes the heavenly portal.

    No more of tribute might to us remain;

    But there will still come a time when Freedom’s martyrs

    A richer guerdon of renown shall gain

    Than gleams in stars and garters.

    I hear from out that sunlit land which lies

    Beyond these clouds that gather darkly o’er us,

    The happy sounds of industry arise

    In swelling peaceful chorus.

    And mingling with these sounds, the glad acclaim

    Of millions undisturbed by war’s afflictions,

    Crowning each martyr’s never dying name

    With grateful benedictions.

    In some fair future garden of delights,

    Where flowers shall bloom and song-birds sweetly warble,

    Art shall erect the statues of our knights

    In living bronze and marble.

    And none of all that bright heroic throng

    Shall wear to far-off time a semblance grander,

    Shall still be decked with fresher wreaths of song,

    Than this beloved commander.

    The Spanish legend tells us of the Cid,

    That after death he rode, erect, sedately,

    Along his lines, even as in life he did,

    In presence yet more stately;

    And thus our Stuart, at this moment, seems

    To ride out of our dark and troubled story

    Into the region of romance and dreams,

    A realm of light and glory;

    And sometimes, when the silver bugles blow,

    That ghostly form, in battle reappearing,

    Shall lead his horsemen headlong on the foe,

    In victory careering!