Poetry January 25, 2017

History Through Poetry Part 2

Early 1862

After Stonewall Jackson made one of his earliest attacks
Facing two regiments of men who were untried
The fighting was shallow, not much to take note
But afterwards the Union need lodging or many would have died.

It did not take long for a new brigade to come to their aid.
Hancock, Maryland was left in one piece
But now the problem was one of space.
By March many of the soldiers had fevers that would not decrease.

The solution devised to get them to care
Was to use the canal as an easier trip
To get them to Hagerstown
Hoping it would be easy to give the Confederates the slip.

This is where the people did what they could
To help get the soldiers to their destination.
The roads were too rough and caused far to much jostling
But they would have chosen it over the boat without hesitation.

For the only boat available to use to transport them
Was one that was usually used to move coal down the line.
Seven men died trying to reach the hospital
And others ever after remembered the suffering when they were once again fine.

Transporting the Sick and Wounded

While one might think the waterway would make an ideal way
Of transporting those who need to reach help fast,
By and large this was not the case
As too many obstacles those on the water would have to face.

Of course with each crossing the South left destruction in its wake
Disrupting the flow and creating debris.
This made it tough to rely on the locks
And dams were dangerous after too many cannon shocks.

Then there was the problem of it being between the competing sides.
How could they travel safely in front of sniper eyes?
Being on the water was a much greater risk
When on the shore they could get to hiding more briskly.

And of course Mother Nature had her own way
Flooding caused damage or made repairs way too hard
So that the canal was a method to be avoided at best
When medical attention was needed, their luck best not to press.

Still that did not mean that it never did happen.
There are several tales of when it was the best chance for survival
When faced with knowledge that on the North’s side was their rival.
Then people agreed to take them with a few men with rifles.

Years of Internal Turmoil

The C&O canal was a prize to be had
Both sides kept their eyes on it for different reasons.
The Union needed it for supplies and transport
The Confederates used it to destroy and distort.

The number of times each side crossed was a lot
Making it difficult for the people who lived there
Because they could not know whose side to be on
Not feeling like either side they could really belong.

Like the rest of the country the citizens were heavily divided.
Both sides of the canal and Potomac saw their share of death
As families, neighbors, and workers turned on each other
The saddest sight to see as brother killing brother.

But the experience here was unique compared to most
As the dividing line between the North and the South
It was impossible for a citizen to safely open their mouth
A time when safety was in a large draught.

Maryland on one side sympathetic to the cause
Some felt compelled to help their southern brethren
And so their sons they then sent to fight
Not for the North, the side we now call right.

And in Virginia, the state that was firmly the Confederates
Many felt pity towards slaves or wanted in the Union to remain.
They tended to help escaped slaves in one hand
And with the other knowledge they gave the North to understand.

Full Retreat

And so it was that the war started to turn
At Gettysburg when General Lee hoped to move forward
He and his men were permanently pushed back
It was the worst battle in our history, that’s what we all learn.

In full retreat, Lee’s men needed an escape
July 6th the wounded reached Williamsport
But they did not do so along and unharmed
For fighting followed them always across the landscape.

Lee’s army went further, going to Falling Waters to cross
And on July 7th they reached the canal
But found that not only was the waterway swollen
The Federalist had destroyed their best way across.

The only option they had was to make new pontoons
Using whatever was available
From wreckage and supplies.
On the 10th they began crossing, and none too soon.

The bulk of the men crossed between the 13th and 14th at night.
Their final act was to destroy what they’d made
Hoping to thwart pursuit, that the North would be stayed.
So started the end of the war as across the canal the South took flight.

About the author

Andrea Edwards: