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

October 17

The Field of the Grounded Arms

By Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790–1867)

  • After the second battle of Saratoga, fought on Oct. 17, 1777, Burgoyne and his army surrendered to the Americans. By the terms of the agreement the British marched out of camp with the honors of war and piled their arms in an appointed place.

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    THE FOREST leaves lay scattered cold and dead,

    Upon the withered grass that autumn morn,

    When with as withered hearts

    And hopes as dead and cold,

    A gallant army formed their last array

    Upon that field, in silence and deep gloom,

    And at their conqueror’s feet

    Laid their war-weapons down.

    Sullen and stern, disarmed but not dishonored;

    Brave men, but brave in vain, they yielded there:

    The soldier’s trial task

    Is not alone “to die.”

    Honor to chivalry! the conqueror’s breath

    Stains not the ermine of his foeman’s fame,

    Nor mocks his captive’s doom—

    The bitterest cup of war.

    But be that bitterest cup the doom of all

    Whose swords are lightning flashes in the cloud

    Of the Invader’s wrath,

    Threatening a gallant land.

    His armies’ trumpet-tones wake not alone

    Her slumbering echoes: from a thousand hills

    Her answering voices shout,

    And her bells ring to arms!

    Then danger hovers o’er the Invader’s march,

    On raven wings, hushing the song of fame,

    And glory’s hues of beauty

    Fade from the cheek of death.

    A foe is heard in every rustling leaf,

    A fortress seen in every rock and tree,

    The eagle eye of art

    Is dim and powerless then,

    And war becomes a people’s joy, the drum

    Man’s merriest music, and the field of death

    His couch of happy dreams,

    After life’s harvest home.

    He battles heart and arm, his own blue sky

    Above him, and his own green land around,

    Land of his father’s grave,

    His blessing and his prayers,

    Land where he learned to lisp a mother’s name,

    The first beloved in life, the last forgot,

    Land of his frolic youth,

    Land of his bridal eve,

    Land of his children—vain your columned strength,

    Invaders! vain your battles’ steel and fire!

    Choose ye the morrow’s doom—

    A prison or a grave.

    And such were Saratoga’s victors—such

    The Yeomen-Brave, whose deeds and death have given

    A glory to her skies,

    A music to her name.

    In honorable life her fields they trod,

    In honorable death they sleep below;

    Their sons’ proud feelings here

    Their noblest monuments.