Sunday, April 24, 2011

When Dey Listed Colored Soldiers


Someone recently asked if anyone had a favorite Civil War poem. Well I do have a favorite Civil War Poem It was not written during the War, but after the war, by noted poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.  

I have loved the poem because it puts a human face on the hundreds of black soldiers who enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War years. The poem was published in 1911 in the book Candle Lightin' Time  by Dunbar. For many years I have owned and treasured my first edition copy of that book.

Told from the perspective of an enslaved woman, she speaks about her husband Elias, whom she lovingly calls, 'Lias. She speaks about the time that, "dey listed colored soldiers, and her 'Lias went to war." Written in the old then called  " negro dialect" it reflects the southern cadence in which many slaves spoke, and it captures the sounds and the times as they were.

With this beautiful poem, photographic images were also published, all taken by the Hampston Institute Camera Club.

In honor of my ancestors who were among the many who joined when "dey listed colored soldiers",  I gladly share this poem so well written by Dunbar.  (His own father Joshua Dunbar was also one who enlisted in the US Colored Troops.) Dunbar also wrote another poem about black Civil War soldiers, called simply "The Colored Soldiers".  This one, however, speaks to me the most.

DEY was talkin' in de cabin, dey was talkin' in de hall;
But I listened kin' o' keerless, not a-t'inkin' 'bout it all;
An' on Sunday, too, I noticed, dey was whisp' rin' mighty much
Stan'in' all erroun' de roadside w'en dey let us out o' chu'ch.
But I did n't t'ink erbout it 'twell de middle of de week,
An' my 'Lias come to see me, an' somehow he could n't speak.
Den I seed all in a minute whut he'd come to see me for; --
Dey had 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias gwine to wah.

Oh, I hugged him, an' I kissed him, an' I baiged him not to go;
But he tol' me dat his conscience, hit was callin' to him so,
An' he could n't baih to lingah w'en he had a chanst to fight
For de freedom dey had gin him an' de glory of de right.
So he kissed me, an' he lef' me, w'en I'd p'omised to be true;
An' dey put a knapsack on him, an' a coat all colo'ed blue.
So I gin him pap's ol' Bible f'om de bottom of de draw', --
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

But I t'ought of all de weary miles dat he would have to tramp,
An' I could n't be contented w'en dey tuk him to de camp.
W'y my hea't nigh broke wid grievin' 'twell I seed him on de street;
Den I felt lak I could go an' th'ow my body at his feet.
For his buttons was a-shinin', an' his face was shinin', too,
An' he looked so strong an' mighty in his coat o' sojer blue,
Dat I hollahed, "Step up, manny," dough my th'oat was so' an' raw, --
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

Ol' Mis' cried w'en mastah lef' huh, young Miss mou'ned huh brothah Ned,
An' I did n't know dey feelin's is de ve'y wo'ds dey said
W'en I tol' 'em I was so'y. Dey had done gin up dey all;
But dey only seemed mo' proudah dat dey men had hyeahed de call.
Bofe my mastahs went in gray suits, an' I loved de Yankee blue,
But I t'ought dat I could sorrer for de losin' of 'em too;
But I could n't, for I did n't know de ha'f o' whut I saw,
'Twell dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

Mastah Jack come home all sickly; he was broke for life, dey said;
An' dey lef' my po' young mastah some'r's on de roadside, -- dead.
W'en de women cried an' mou'ned 'em, I could feel it thoo an' thoo,
For I had a loved un fightin' in de way o' dangah, too.
Den dey tol' me dey had laid him some'r's way down souf to res',
Wid de flag dat he had fit for shinin' daih acrost his breas'.
Well, I cried, but den I reckon dat 's whut Gawd had called him for,
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

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This poem has always touched me.  I have two gr. grandmothers who lost their loved ones in the Civil War, and I dedicate this poem to them.  

Amanda Young Barr, lost her husband Berry Young, left to join the US Colored Troops. With him went her father and son as well. None were ever seen again.

Lydia Walters Talkington, whose husband John Talkington (Tuckington) joined the 83rd US Colored Infantry was severely injured at Jenkins Ferry and died from his wounds.  This week will mark the anniversary of the battle of Jenkins Ferry.

For these women, and these men, and those who loved them, I appreciate the fact during that difficult time, that indeed,  "Dey Listed Colored Soldiers" and my kinsmen, went to war."

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Pvt John ( AKA Tuckington) Talkington
Headstone - John Tuckington (aka Talkington)
(Photo Taken by Tonia Holleman)

Rest in Peace John Talkington, you are still remembered as I call your name.

Berry Young, Rest in Peace wherever you may be.

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