From May 5 – 7, 1864, one of the great bloodlettings of the Civil War took place in a forbidding and isolated section of Virginia countryside known as the Wilderness of Spotsylvania. Among the estimated 61,025 Confederate troops engaged in the battle were Humphrey’s, Harris’, and Davis’ brigades of Mississippi infantry, Richard’s Mississippi Battery, and the Jeff Davis Legion of Cavalry. This poem, which I found in The American Citizen, (Canton, Miss.), April 26, 1866, is about an unnamed casualty from one of these commands that fell during that titanic struggle in the forest. The author of the poem is identified only as “SIGMA,” which is a shame, as I would love to know more about him. The man certainly had a way with words:
[For the Citizen]
“He’ll See it when he wakes”
We remember at the Wilderness, a gallant young Mississippian had fallen, and at night, and just before burying him, there came a letter from her he loved best. One of the group around his body – a minister whose tenderness was womanly – broke the silent tearfulness with which he saw the dead letter; he took it and laid it upon the breast of him whose heroic heart was stilled: ‘Bury it with him. He will see it when he wakes.’ It was the sublimest sentence of his funeral service.
Amid the clouds of battle smoke
The sun had died away,
And where the storm of battle broke
A thousand warriors lay.
A band of friends upon the field,
Stand round a youthful form,
Who, when the war cloud’s thunders peal’d,
Had perish’d in the storm.
Upon his forehead, on his hair,
The coming moonlight breaks;
And each dear brother standing there,
A tender farewell takes.
But e’er they laid him in his home
There came a comrade near,
And gave a token that had come,
From her the dead held dear.
A moment’s doubt upon them press’d
The one the letter takes,
And lays it low upon his breast:
‘He’ll see it when he wakes.’
Oh! thou, who dost in sorrow wait,
Whose heart with anguish breaks,
Though thy dear message came too late,
He’ll see it when he wakes.
Ne’er more amid the fiery storm
Shall his strong arm be seen,
No more his young and manly form,
Press Mississippi’s green.
And e’en thy tender words of love –
The words affection speaks –
Came all too late: but oh! thy love –
‘Will see them when he wakes’
No sound disturbs his gentle rest,
No noise his slumber breaks,
But they words sleep upon his breast,
‘He’ll see them when he wakes!’