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James B. Stronks is an Assistant Professor of English at the Navy Pier branch (Chicago) of the University of Illinois. His particular interest L· in the early realistic writers of the Middle West. From Atlanta to the Sea: Verse by a Soldier-Poet JAMES B. STRONKS, Editor the following verse—we can scarcely call it poetry—about Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah was written by Major Joseph Kirkland for his wartime magazine, The Prairie Chicken. Kirkland saw plenty of action as aide to Generals George B. McClellan and Fitz-John Porter in the Peninsular Campaign, but his own original unit was the Twelfth Illinois Infantry, which was later to take part in Sherman's March to the Sea. After the court-martial of General Porter, Kirkland resigned his commission and returned to private life in Tilton, near Danville, Illinois, where he kept in touch with his friends in the Twelfth Illinois. Manager of a local coal mine and station agent for the railroad, Kirkland took time to turn out his little four-page monthly, The Prairie Chicken, primarily to raise funds for the United States Sanitary Commission, but also probably to satisfy his literary hankerings. It was in the April, 1865 issue, only a few days before Appomattox, that he printed these interesting, if somewhat slow-starting and footsore, couplets. Like his realistic novel about the fighting at Fort Donelson and Shiloh (The Captain of Company K, 1891), these lines show Kirkland's downto -earth habit of reporting the war from the infantryman's point of view, and his sharp ear for recording Union Army slang and idiom. The footnotes and glossary are Kirkland's own. 23 24JOSEPH KIRKLAND About our march across, Sir, there is[n]'t much to tell, But I and all the rest of us, we liked it very well. What Uncle Billy1 tells them, his boys will always do, Th[e]y'll go for2 any thing he wants, and likely get it, tool From Atlanta to Savannah is a long, long tramp, March and camp, day and night, march and camp, march and camp; Past the towns and the forests, on the never-ending roads, And a musket and a cartridge-box are pretty heavy loads. Forty rounds a-piece we carried—(more sweat than blood we shed!) When you start, they seem all powder, but by night they seem all lead. The knapsack straps are tedious, where they bind across the breast, Some fixing might be made, I think, that would relieve the chest— (A yoke that rested on the hips would do it to a charm; One shoulder then could pack3 the gun, the other swing the arm) The men would keep in better health if loads were made more light, For now, by day, men throw away the clothes they'll need at night. Then there's canteen, can and haversack, the strings cut in so deep, You're apt to dream you're carrying them long after you're asleep. But it's all gone by morning, you wake up fresh and gay, And only wish to morrow may be like yesterdayI No enemy to bother us and keep us on the go, And you, sir, have campaigned it quite long enough to know That soldiers' love of fighting, recruits may talk about— The Veteran fights when told to, but he's just as well without. Kilpatrick with his cavalry, they kept the road so free, Graybacks4 were scarce as greenbacks5 from Atlanta to the sea. The forty rounds I started with, I carried them all through— (Quite different that from Mission Ridge, when I fired ninety-twoi) Tecumseh8 knew the subject he talked of, very well, When he said that all of rebeldom was nothing but a shell. A shell indeed we found it, his words turned out no cheat, Not a bomb-shell full of powder, but an egg-shell full of meat. When forty men as foragers each regiment detailed, They made a commissary train that almost never failed. And ohi the rations that they brought, they did delight the eyes Of men whose only luxuries had long been "Sherman's pies."7 We sometimes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 23-25
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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