Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Confederate Hopes

Confederate Hopes
When I told Pa
I was joining up
to fight the Yankees,
he got madder then a wet hen.
"What's wrong with you, boy?
It's not our fight.
We don't own slaves.
Let those rich plantation owners,
who live like kings
and lord it over us small farmers,
get themselves killed,
not a smart boy like you."

I couldn't tell Pa
I hated the farm
and this was my chance
to get away from back-breaking labor,
as well as kill some Yankees
for telling us what to do.

He tried to talk me out of going,
told me how bad it was
when he fought
in the Mexican War,
more soldiers dying of disease
then were killed in battle.
But I wouldn't listen.
My friends were going,
so I was going with them.
Beau said we'd whomp them good
and be home in a month or two.
So despite Pa's warning
I set out on an adventure.

We whupped them bluebellies good
at Manassas,
watched them run like rabbits,
but some of my friends got killed
and some were wounded,
arms and legs smashed,
later cut off by the surgeon.
Little Billy had his head took off
by a cannonball,
his neck gushing blood,
his body standing there
until it finally fell.
It wasn't what I expected.

But Colonel Dunwiddie,
the biggest plantation owner
in our part of South Carolina,
which made him our commander,
told us it would be over soon,
because the Yankees had enough.

So we waited and waited,
more and more boys
sickening and dying
without firing a shot.
And we heard stories
of fighting in the west,
some place called Shiloh,
in Tennessee, or Kentucky,
but General Johnston
just kept us sitting around.

Then General Lee took over.
He was a handsome man.
I wished Pa looked like that.
He got us marching off
to fight the Yankees
at Manassas again
and we whupped them good again,
but this time they didn't run,
just moved back steadily.
and it was clear
them Yankees
was learnin how to fight.

I guess General Lee
figured we had to try
something new,
so we invaded Maryland
and the Yankees met us
at a place called Antietam.
It took a while for me to know
how to say it,
but I'll never forget it.

We stood shoulder to shoulder
shooting at the Yankees
a hundred paces away,
and they did the same thing.
Smoke covered the battlefield,
the roar of cannon,
the crack of rifles
was deafening.
It looked like a picture of hell
in Ma's bible.
Bodies were falling on both sides
like leaves in a storm,
thousands and thousands,
in the bloodiest day I ever saw.

We moved out that night
so I guess we lost the battle.
The Yankees learned how to fight.
I learned something too.
What I thought about the war
was completely wrong.
It wasn't an adventure.
It was a brutal business.

When I said one day
I missed General Johnston
some of the Virginia boys
like to beat the stuffin out of me,
so I learned to shut my mouth.

General Lee marched us off
to a place called Fredericksburg
where we whupped the boys in blue
and watched them retreat again.
They left thousands on the battlefield,
wounded and dead.

So the year ended.
We were still in Virginia
and it was the first time
I hadn't spent Christmas at home
with Pa, Ma and the girls.
Why don't those Yankees give up?


Gary Beck

The above is a poem from 'Voices of War', that reveals a soldier's hopes and fears in the violence of battle, and shows the similarity of war throughout the ages: ‘Confederate Hopes'.
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 7 published chapbooks and 2 others accepted for publication. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways (Winter Goose Publishing). Perceptions and Displays will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press) Acts of Defiance (Artema Press). His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City