Monday, May 30, 2011

The Gallant Colored Soldiers Who fought for Uncle Sam

Headstone of Joshua Dunbar, father of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar
Source: Find a Grave Image provided by Mike Zander

In 1906 the great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a moving poem honoring black Union soldiers from the American Civil War. He was the son of such a man, for his own father Joshua Dunbar had a strong influence on his son, sharing stories of his battles from Ft. Wagner to Olustee Florida and beyond. Two major poems emerged from the pen, honoring his father and others like him, who had fought for freedom and won.

His poem, When Dey 'Listed Colored Soldiers" was published in 1901 and I shared that poem in an earlier blog post. But in 1906, Dunbar chose to honor all of the brave men who were engaged in the battle for freedom.  He wrote a beautiful poem almost as a ode to his own father's legacy.  Simply called, "The Colored Soldier"

In honor of Memorial Day, I share this poem with my readers.  May the legacy of these men, forever be remembered.

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

If the muse were mine to tempt it 
And my feeble voice were strong,
If my tongue were trained to measures,
I would sing a stirring song.
I would sing a song heroic
Of those noble sons of Ham,
Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam! 

In the early days you scorned them, 
And with many a flip and flout 
Said "These battles are the white man's, 
And the whites will fight them out." 
Up the hills you fought and faltered, 
In the vales you strove and bled, 
While your ears still heard the thunder
Of the foes' advancing tread. 

Then distress fell on the nation, 
And the flag was drooping low; 
Should the dust pollute your banner? 
No! the nation shouted, No! 
So when War, in savage triumph, 
Spread abroad his funeral pall -- 
Then you called the colored soldiers, 
And they answered to your call.

And like hounds unleashed and eager 
For the life blood of the prey, 
Spring they forth and bore them bravely 
In the thickest of the fray. 
And where'er the fight was hottest, 
Where the bullets fastest fell, 
There they pressed unblanched and fearless 
At the very mouth of hell.

Ah, they rallied to the standard 
To uphold it by their might; 
None were stronger in the labors, 
None were braver in the fight. 
From the blazing breach of Wagner 
To the plains of Olustee, 
They were foremost in the fight 
Of the battles of the free. 

And at Pillow! God have mercy 
On the deeds committed there, 
And the souls of those poor victims 
Sent to Thee without a prayer. 
Let the fullness of Thy pity 
O'er the hot wrought spirits sway 
Of the gallant colored soldiers 
Who fell fighting on that day! 

Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom, 
And they won it dearly, too; 
For the life blood of their thousands 
Did the southern fields bedew. 
In the darkness of their bondage, 
In the depths of slavery's night, 
Their muskets flashed the dawning, 
And they fought their way to light. 

They were comrades then and brothers. 
Are they more or less to-day? 
They were good to stop a bullet 
And to front the fearful fray. 
They were citizens and soldiers, 
When rebellion raised its head; 
And the traits that made them worthy,-- 
Ah! those virtues are not dead. 

They have shared your nightly vigils, 
They have shared your daily toil; 
And their blood with yours commingling 
Has enriched the Southern soil. 
They have slept and marched and suffered 
'Neath the same dark skies as you, 
They have met as fierce a foeman, 
And have been as brave and true. 

And their deeds shall find a record 
In the registry of Fame; 
For their blood has cleansed completely 
Every blot of Slavery's shame. 
So all honor and all glory 
To those noble sons of Ham -- 
The gallant colored soldiers 
Who fought for Uncle Sam! 

"Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam"

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