The weary to sleep, and the wounded to die

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

quincy-thomas-crane-library-2quincy-thomas-crane-libraryAt the Thomas Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts today, while doing some research, I by chance picked up a faded old work, published in 1902, called History of the Fifth Massachusetts Battery. The book details the unit’s involvement in the US Civil War. I opened it at a random page and found this poignant, haunting, beautiful and timeless piece of writing. It has nothing at all to do with the industry I usually write about it, but I hope and believe you will find it of moment:

diary-gettysburg-firstFrom the diary of Corporal Thomas E. Chase, aged 24, written during the Battle of Gettysburg:

“Darkness quelled the dreadful storm and in the evening and through the night all was still, as though death was satisfied with the slaughter of the combatants. Remained around a bivouac fire all night, chatting with two intelligent rebel prisoners from the 8th Georgia Regiment, Longstreet’s Corps. Exchanged buttons with one of them.

This was the situation at nightfall of July 2, 1863, when as in Campbell’s ‘Soldier’s Dream’:

Our bugles sang truce, for the night-cloud had lower’d,
And the sentinel stars set their watch in the sky;
And thousands had sunk on the ground overpower’d;
The weary to sleep, and the wounded to die.

I wonder what strange twist of fate made me discover the words of Corporal Chase, words that have probably lain unread for over a century? I wonder what life he subsequently led, having survived this most brutal of wars (as the footnote in the book suggests he did)? I wonder what man, husband, father he became?

I and we will never know that. But at least through this Blog’s readership and my own social media, Corporal Thomas E. Chase’s powerful, plaintive words might find some kind of voice again and perhaps resonate with those who abhor the barbarity of war, while simultaneously admiring the astonishing, enduring bravery of those compelled to wage it.

Maybe too some of my readers might turn to the work of Thomas Campbell (1777-1844). It transpires that he was (and in some circles still is) a celebrated poet. He won particular fame for ‘Soldier’s Dream’, written in 1804, in which he addressed the plight of the common soldier, touching a nerve first among the British public during the Crimean War and later with a global audience. Among the latter was a certain German composer called Ludwig van Beethoven, who set the poem to music (‘Des Soldatem Traum’ – see YouTube video below) and, most poignantly of all, a wounded young American Corporal who would recall it amid scenes of terrible human carnage nearly 60 years later.

The Soldier’s Dream – Thomas Campbell

Our bugles sang truce, for the night-cloud had lower’d,
And the sentinal stars set their watch in the sky;
And thousands had sunk to the ground overpower’d,
The weary to sleep and the wounded to die.

When reposing that night on my pallet of straw
By the wolf-scaring fagot that guarded the slain,
At the dead of the night a sweet Vision I saw,
And thrice ere the morning I dreamt it again.

Methought from the battlefield’s deadly array
Far, far I had roam’d on a desolate track:
T’was Autumn, and sunshine arose on the way
To the home of my fathers, that welcomed me back.

I flew to the pleasant fields traversed so oft
In life’s morning march, when my bosom was young;
I heard my own mountain-goats bleating aloft,
And knew the sweet strain that the corn-reapers sung.

Then pledged we the wine-cup, and fondly I swore
From my home and my weeping friends never to part;
My little ones kiss’d me a thousand times o’er,
And my wife sobb’d aloud in her fullness of heart.

“Stay-stay with us!-rest!-thou art weary and worn!”-
And fain was their war-broken soldier to stay;-
But sorrow return’d with the dawning of morn,
And the voice in my dreaming ear melted away.

~Thomas Campbell

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‘Darkness quelled the dreadful storm…’
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… and in the evening and through the night all was still, as though death was satisfied with the slaughter of the combatants.

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