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

May 24

Second Review of the Grand Army

By Francis Bret Harte (1836–1902)

  • At the close of the Civil War on May 24, 1865, the united armies of Grant and Sherman, 200,000 strong, were reviewed in Washington by the President and his cabinet.

  • I READ last night of the Grand Review

    In Washington’s chieftest avenue—

    Two Hundred Thousand men in blue,

    I think they said was the number,—

    Till I seemed to hear their trampling feet,

    The bugle blast and the drum’s quick beat,

    The clatter of hoofs in the stony street,

    The cheers of people who came to greet,

    And the thousand details that to repeat

    Would only my verse encumber,—

    Till I fell in a revery, sad and sweet,

    And then to a fitful slumber.

    When, lo! in a vision I seemed to stand

    In the lonely Capitol. On each hand

    Far stretched the portico; dim and grand

    Its columns ranged, like a martial band

    Of sheeted spectres whom some command

    Had called to a last reviewing.

    And the streets of the city were white and bare,

    No footfall echoed across the square;

    But out of the misty midnight air

    I heard in the distance a trumpet blare,

    And the wandering night-winds seemed to bear

    The sound of a far tattooing.

    Then I held my breath with fear and dread;

    For into the square, with a brazen tread,

    There rode a figure whose stately head

    O’erlooked the review that morning,

    That never bowed from its firm-set seat

    When the living column passed its feet,

    Yet now rode steadily up the street

    To the phantom bugle’s warning:

    Till it reached the Capitol square, and wheeled,

    And there in the moonlight stood revealed

    A well-known form that in state and field

    Had led our patriot sires;

    Whose face was turned to the sleeping camp,

    Afar through the river’s fog and damp,

    That showed no flicker, nor waning lamp,

    Nor wasted bivouac fires.

    And I saw a phantom army come,

    With never a sound of fife or drum,

    But keeping time to a throbbing hum

    Of wailing and lamentation:

    The martyred heroes of Malvern Hill,

    Of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville,

    The men whose wasted figures fill

    The patriot graves of the nation.

    And there came the nameless dead,—the men

    Who perished in fever-swamp and fen,

    The slowly-starved of the prison-pen;

    And, marching beside the others,

    Came the dusky martyrs of Pillow’s fight,

    With limbs enfranchised and bearing bright:

    I thought—perhaps ’twas the pale moonlight—

    They looked as white as their brothers!

    And so all night marched the Nation’s dead,

    With never a banner above them spread,

    Nor a badge, nor a motto brandished;

    No mark—save the bare uncovered head

    Of the silent bronze Reviewer;

    With never an arch save the vaulted sky;

    With never a flower save those that lie

    On the distant graves—for love could buy

    No gift that was purer or truer.

    So all night long swept the strange array;

    So all night long, till the morning gray,

    I watch’d for one who had passed away,

    With a reverent awe and wonder,—

    Till a blue cap waved in the lengthening line,

    And I knew that one who was kin of mine

    Had come; and I spake—and lo! that sign

    Awakened me from my slumber.