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

April 20

The Sudbury Fight

By Wallace Rice (1859–1939)

  • Sudbury is a town nineteen miles west of Boston and was the scene of a severe battle between the Indians and whites April 21, 1676.

  • To Georgiana Rice

    YE sons of Massachusetts, all who love that honored name,

    Ye children of New England, holding dear your fathers’ fame,

    Hear tell of Sudbury’s battle through a day of death and flame!

    The painted Wampanoags, Philip’s hateful warriors, creep

    Upon the town at springtide when the skies denied us rain,

    We see their shadows lurking in the forest’s dusky deep,

    And speed the sorry tidings past dry field and rustling lane:

    Come hastily or never when the wild beast lusts for gore

    And send your best and bravest if you wish to see us more!

    The Commonwealth is quiet now, and peace her measure fills,

    Content in homes and farmsteads, busy marts and buzzing mills

    From the Atlantic’s roaring to the tranquil Berkshire hills.

    But through that day our fathers, whispering their breathless words,

    Their wives and babes in safety, toil to save their little all;

    They fetch their slender food-stores, drive indoors their scanty herds,

    They clean the bell-mouthed musket, melt the lead and mould the ball;

    Please God they’ll keep their battle till their countrymen shall haste

    With succor from the eastward, iron-hearted, flinty-faced.

    A hundred dragging twelvemonths ere the welcome joy-bells ring

    The dawn of Independence did King Philip’s devils spring

    Through April on the little town, like wolves a-ravening.

    The morning lifts in fury as they come with torch in hand,

    And howl about the houses in the little frontier town;

    Our garrisons hold steady while the flames by breezes fanned

    Disclose the painted demons, fierce and cunning, lithe and brown;

    At every loophole firing, women near at hand to load,

    The children bringing bullets, thus the Sudbury men abode.

    By night, through generations, have the eager children come

    Beside their grandsire’s settle, listening to the droning hum

    Of this old tale, with backward glances, open-mouthed and dumb.

    The burning hours stretch slowly—then a welcome sight appears!

    Along the tawny upland where stout Haynes keeps faithful guard

    From Watertown comes Mason, young in everything but years—

    Our men rush down to meet him; then, together, swift and hard,

    They force the Indians backward to the Musketaquid’s side,

    And slaying, ever slaying, drive them o’er the reddened tide.

    There stand stout Haynes and Mason by the bridge upon the flood;

    In vain the braves attack them, thick as saplings in the wood.

    Praise God for men so valiant, who have such a foe withstood!

    But Green Hill looks with anguish down upon the painted horde

    Their stealthy ambush keeping as the Concord men draw near,

    To dart with hideous noises as they reach the lower ford,

    A thousand ’gainst a dozen; but their every life costs dear

    As, sinking ’neath such numbers, one by one our neighbors fail—

    One sole survivor in his blood brings on the dreadful tale.

    Through sun and evening shadow, through the night till weary morn,

    Speeds Wadsworth with his soldiers, forth from Boston, spent and worn,

    And Brocklebank at Marlboro’ joins that little hope forlorn.

    They hear the muskets snap afar, they hear the savage whoop—

    All weariness forgotten, on they hasten in relief;

    They see the braves before them—with a cheer the little group

    Bends down and charges forward; from above the cunning chief

    His wild-cat eyes dilating, sees his bushes bloom with fire,

    The tree-trunks at his bidding blaze with fiendish lust and ire.

    A thousand warriors lurk there and a thousand warriors shout,

    Exulting, aiming, flaming, happy in our coming rout;

    But Wadsworth never pauses, every musket ringing out.

    He gains the lifting hillside, and his sixscore win their way

    Defiant through the coppice till upon the summit placed;

    With every bullet counting, there they load and aim and slay,

    Against all comers warring, iron-hearted, flinty-faced;

    Hold Philip as for scorning, drive him down the bloodstained slope,

    And stand there, firm and dauntless, steadfast in their faith and hope.

    With Mason at the river, Wadsworth staunch upon the hill,

    The certain reinforcements, and black night the foe to chill,

    An hour or less and hideous Death might have been baffled still.

    But in that droughty woodland Philip fires the leaves and grass:

    The flames dance up the hillside, in their rear less savage foes.

    No courage can avail us, down the slope the English pass—

    A day in flame beginning lights with hell its awful close,

    As swifter, louder, fiercer o’er the crest the reek runs past

    And headlong hurls bold Wadsworth, conquered by the cruel blast.

    Ye men of Massachusetts, weep the awful slaughter there!

    The panther heart of Philip drives the English to despair,

    As scalping-knife and tomahawk gleam in th’ affrighted glare.

    There Wadsworth yields his spirit, Brocklebank must meet his doom;

    Within the stone mill’s shelter fights the remnant of their force;

    When swift upon the foemen, rushing through the gathering gloom,

    Cheer Crowell’s men from Brookfield, gallant Prentice with his horse!

    And Mason from the river, and Haynes join in the fight,

    Till Philip’s host is routed, hurled on shrieking through the night.

    Defeated, cursing, weeping, flees King Philip to his den;

    Our speedy vengeance glutted on the flower of his men;

    In pomp and pride the Wampanoags ne’er shall march again.

    We mourn our stricken Captains, but not vainly did they fall:

    The King of Pocanoket has received their stern command;

    Their lives were laid down gladly at their country’s trumpet-call,

    And on their savage foemen have they set the heavier hand;

    Against our day-long valor was the red man’s fortune spent

    And that one day at Sudbury has saved a continent.

    In graves adown the hemisphere, in graves across the seas,

    The sons of Massachusetts sleep, as here beneath her trees,

    Nor Brocklebank nor Wadsworth is the first or last of these.

    Oh, blue hills of New England, slanting to the morning beams,

    Where suns and clouds of April have their balmy power sped;

    Oh, greening woods and meadows, pleasant ponds and babbling streams,

    And clematis soft-blooming where War once his banners led;

    How hungers many an exile for that homeland far away,

    And all the happy dreaming of a bygone April day!

    Wherever speaks New England, wheresoever spreads her shade,

    We praise our fathers’ valor, and our fathers’ prayer is prayed,

    That, fearing God’s Wrath only, firm may stand the State they made.