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Subject: Battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775 by Thomas Dunn English
Date: Tue, 2 May 2006 19:21:18 EDT
Battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775.
The Fight at Lexington.
A Ballad of Massachusetts by Thomas Dunn English
Tugged the patient, panting horses, as the coulter keen and thorough,
By the careful farmer guided, cut the deep and even furrow;
Soon the mellow mould in ridges, staightly pointing as an arrow,
Lay to wait the bitter vexing of the fierce, remorseless harrow -
Lay impatient for the seeding, for the growing and the reaping;
All the richer and the readier for the quiet winter-sleeping.
And his loom the pallid weaver, with his feet upon the treadles,
Watched the threads alternate rising, with the lifting of the heddles -
Not admiring that, so swiftly, at his eager fingers' urging,
Flew the bobbin-loaded shuttle 'twixt the filaments diverging -
Only labor dull and cheerless in the work before him seeing,
As the warp and woof uniting brought the figures into being.
Roared the fire before the bellows, glowed the forge's dazzling crater
Rang the hammers on the anvil, both the lesser and the greater;
Fell the sparks around the smithy, keeping rhythm to the clamor,
To the ponderous blows and clanging of each unrelenting hammer;
While the diamonds of labor, from the curse of Adam borrowed,
Glittered like a crown of honor, on each iron-beater's forehead.
Through the air there came a whisper, deepening quickly into thunder,
How the deed was done that morning, that would rend the realm assunder;
How at Lexington the Briton mingled causeless crime with folly,
And a king endangered empire by an ill-considered volley.
Then each heart beat quick for vengeance, as the anger-stirring story
Told of brethren and of neighbors lying corses stiff and gory.
Stops the plow and sleeps the shuttle, stills the blacksmith's noisy hammer,
Come the farmer, smith, and weaver, with a wrath too deep for clamor;
But their fiercely-purposed doing every glance they give avouches,
As they hurry from the work-shops, from the fields and from the forges.
Venting curses deep and bitter on the latest of the Georges.
Matrons gather at the portals, some with children round them grouping,
Some are filled with exultation, some are sad of soul and drooping -
Gazing at our hasty levies as they march unskilled but steady,
Or prepare their long-kept firelocks, for the combat making ready -
Mingling smiles with tears, and praying for our men and those who lead them,
That the gracious Lord of Battles to a triumph sure may speed them.
I was but a beardless stripling on that chilly April morning,
When the church-bells backward ringing, to the minute-men gave warning;
But I seized my father's weapons - he was dead who one-time bore them -
And I swore to use them stoutly, or to nevermore restore them;
Bade farewell to sister, mother and to one then even dearer,
Then departed as the firing told of red-coats drawing nearer.
On the Britons came from Concord - 'twas a name of mocking omen;
Concord nevermore existed 'twixt our people and the foemen -
On they came in haste from Concord where a few had stood to fight them,
Where they failed to conquer Buttrick who had stormed the bridge despite
On they came, the tools of tyrants, 'mid a people who abhorred them;
They had done their master's bidding, and we purposed to reward them.
We, at Meriam's Corner posted, heard the fifing and the drumming,
In the distance creeping onward, which prepared us for their coming;
Soon we saw the lines of scarlet, their advance to music timing.
When our captain quickly bade us pick our flints and freshen priming.
There our little band of freemen, couched in silent ambush lying,
Watched the forces, full eight hundred, as they came with colors flying.
Twas a goodly sight to see them; but we heeded not its splendor,
For we felt their martial bearing hate within our hearts engender,
Kindling fire within our spirits, though our eyes a moment watered,
As we thought on Moore and Hadley, and their brave companions slaughtered;
And we swore to deadly vengeance for the fallen to devote them,
And our rage grew hotter, hotter, as our well-aimed bullets smote them.
Then in overpowering numbers, charging bayonet, came their flankers;
We were driven as the ships are, by a tempest, from their anchors;
But we loaded while retreating, and regaining other shelter,
Saw their proudest on the highway, in their life's blood fall and welter,
Saw them fall or dead or wounded, at our fire so quick and deadly,
While the dusty road was moistened with the torrent raining redly.
From behind the mounds and fences poured the bullets thickly, fastly;
From ravines and clumps of coppice leapt destruction grim and ghastly;
All around our leaguers hurried, coming hither, going thither,
Yet when charged on by their forces, disappearing, none knew whither;
Buzzed around the hornets ever, newer swarms each moment springing,
Breaking, rising and returning, yet continually stinging.
When to Hardy's Hill their weary, waxing-fainter footsteps brought them,
There again the stout Provincials brought the wolves to bay and fought them;
And though often backward beaten still returned the foe to follow,
Making forts of every hill-top and redoubts to every hollow.
Hunters came from every farm-house, joining eagerly to chase them -
They had boasted far too often that we ne'er would dare to face them.
How they staggered, how they trembled, how they panted at pursuing,
How they hurried broken columns that had marched to their undoing;
How their stout commander, wounded, urged along his frightened forces,
That had marked their fearful progress, by their comrades' bloody corses;
How they rallied, how they faltered, how in vain returned our firing.
While we hung upon their footsteps with a zealousness untiring.
With nine hundred came Lord Percy, sent by startled Gage to meet them,
And he scoffed at those who suffered such a horde of boors to beat them;
But his scorn was changed to anger, when on front and flank were falling,
From the fences, walls and roadside, drifts of leaden hail appalling;
And his picked and chosen soldiers, who had never shrunk in battle,
Hurried quicker in their panic when they heard the firelocks rattle.
Tell it not in Gath, Lord Percy, never Ascalon let hear it,
That you fled from those you taunted as devoid of force and spirit;
That the blacksmith, weaver, farmer, leaving forging, weaving, tillage,
Fully paid with coin of bullets base marauders from their pillage;
They, you said, would fly in terror, Britons and their bayonets shunning;
But the loudest of the boasters proved the foremost in the running.
Then round Prospect Hill they hurried, where we followed and assailed them;
They had stout and tireless muscles, or their limbs had surely failed them.
Stood abashed the bitter Tories, as the women loudly wondered -
That a crowd of scurvy rebels chase to hold eleven hundred,
Chased to hold eleven hundred, grenadiers both light and heavy,
Leading Percy of the Border, on a chase surpassing Chevy.
Into Boston marched their forces, musket-barrels brightly gleaming,
Colors flying, sabres flashing, drums were beating, fifes were screaming.
Not a word about their journey; from the General to the drummer,
Did you ask about their doings, than a statue each was dumber;
But the wounded in their litters, lying pallid, weak and gory,
With a language clear and certain, told the sanguinary story.
'Twas a dark and bloody lesson; it was bloody work to teach it;
But when sits on high Oppression, soaring fire alone can reach it.
Though but raw and rude Provincials, we were freemen, and contending
For the rights our fathers gave us, and a country worth defending;
And when foul invaders threaten wrong to hearthstone and to altar,
Shame were on the freeman's manhood should he either fail or falter.
On the day the fight that followed, neighbor met and talked with neighbor;
First the few who fell they buried, then returned to daily labor.
Glowed the fire within the forges, ran the plowshare down the furrow,
Clicked the bobbin-loaded shuttle - both our fight and toil was thorough;
If we labored in the battle, or the shop or forge or fallow,
Still there came an honest purpose, casting round our deeds a halo.
Though they strove again, these minions of Germaine and North and Gower,
They could never make the weakest of our band before them cower;
Neither England's bribes or soldiers, force of arms nor titles splendid,
Could deprive of what our fathers left as rights to be defended;
And the flame from Concord spreading, kindled kindred conflagrations
Till the Colonies United took their place among the nations.
Transcribed by Janice Farnsworth