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

May 27

The Black Regiment

By George H. Boker (1823–1890)

  • Battle of Port Hudson, May 27, 1863.
  • A place in Louisiana which was besieged by the Federal forces under Banks on May 27, 1863.

  • DARK as the clouds of even,

    Ranked in the western heaven,

    Waiting the breath that lifts

    All the dead mass, and drifts

    Tempest and falling brand

    Over a ruined land,—

    So still and orderly,

    Arm to arm, knee to knee,

    Waiting the great event,

    Stands the black regiment.

    Down the long dusky line

    Teeth gleam and eyeballs shine;

    And the bright bayonet,

    Bristling and firmly set,

    Flashed with a purpose grand,

    Long ere the sharp command

    Of the fierce rolling drum

    Told them their time had come,

    Told them what work was sent

    For the black regiment.

    “Now,” the flag-sergeant cried,

    “Though death and hell betide,

    Let the whole nation see

    If we are fit to be

    Free in this land; or bound

    Down, like the whining hound,—

    Bound with red stripes of pain

    In our cold chains again!”

    Oh, what a shout there went

    From the black regiment!

    “Charge!” trump and drum awoke;

    Onward the bondsmen broke;

    Bayonet and sabre-stroke

    Vainly opposed their rush.

    Through the wild battle’s crush,

    With but one thought aflush,

    Driving their lords like chaff,

    In the gun’s mouth they laugh;

    Or at the slippery brands,

    Leaping with open hands.

    Down they tear man and horse,

    Down in their awful course;

    Trampling with bloody heel

    Over the crushing steel,—

    All their eyes forward bent,

    Rushed the black regiment.

    “Freedom!” their battle-cry,—

    “Freedom! or leave to die!”

    Ah! and they meant the word,

    Not as with us ’t is heard,

    Not a mere party shout;

    They gave their spirits out,

    Trusted the end to God,

    And on the gory sod

    Rolled in triumphant blood.

    Glad to strike one free blow,

    Whether for weal or woe;

    Glad to breathe one free breath,

    Though on the lips of death;

    Praying,—alas! in vain.

    That they might fall again,

    So they could once more see

    That burst to liberty!

    This was what “freedom” lent

    To the black regiment.

    Hundred on hundreds fell;

    But they are resting well;

    Scourges, and shackles strong

    Never shall do them wrong.

    Oh, to the living few,

    Soldiers, be just and true!

    Hail them as comrades tried;

    Fight with them side by side.

    Never, in field or tent,

    Scorn the black regiment!