THE CAVALRYMAN'S STORY.
"TELL again," the grandsire faltered,
Sitting by the farm-house door,
"Tell again the tale unaltered,
How you rode of yore;
It will quicken the slow beating
Of my pulse once more."
And the bronzed and bearded yeoman,
Of the wondrous, daring ride,
Through the country of the foeman
In the bright springtide,
Told with homely grace the story
By the old man's side.
"Good twelve thousand were we, gran'ther;
Every man of us was tough
As the wiry, brown-haired panther,
And our hands were rough
As the clothes you wore when granny
Spun and wove the stuff.
"We had wintered by the river
In the muddy, hutted camps,
Where we had to fight forever
With the twitching cramps
That came prowling round at night-time
Through the fogs and damps.
"But the sunny spring had brought us
Round as right as men could be;
Had you been there you had thought us
Each a gnarled oak-tree;
I could eat of leathery bacon
Then enough for three.
"Dashed we through the Rappahannock,
By brave Stoneman gayly led,
Each man eager for a square knock
On an F. F.'s head:
How our horses stirred the mud up
In the river's bed!
"Oh! the wild, exciting gallop
Round behind the traitors' lair;
Where a foe was left to wallop
Surely we were there,
Terror through the basements sending
Of his rising hair.
"Hissed the delicate-handed ladies,
Shrill between their rage and fear;
But the dark-eyed, half-bleached babies
Grinned from ear to ear,
And their sable, gladdened mothers
Never showed a sneer.
"And the brawny bondmen weary,
Stood up once erect and high,
As upon their midnight dreary
Broke a morning sky:
Guess it was the light of freedom
Flashed as we went by.
"The defenseless and the lowly
Tenderly we left unharmed;
God had made their weakness holy
And their safety charmed;
But we pounced, like sudden falcons,
On the traitors armed.
"How we thundered down the highways
To the frightened villages;
How we scouted all the by-ways
Underneath the trees;
How we stung the rebel minions
Like a swarm of bees!
"Over swamps and dusty ridges
Rushed we to the sacred streams,
And the ponderous wooden bridges,
Tracked for iron teams,
Quick as thought went bursting skyward,
With their clamps and beams.
"Flamed the well-filled army storehouse—
Bacon smoked as ne'er before;
Burst the doors of every warehouse,
Ruined was their store;
Many a rebel missed his rations
For a month and more.
Rumor buzzed along before us,
Threatening death to every man,
And at times its shadow o'er us
Darkened like a ban;
But we rode so swift that
Rumor Hardly kept the van.
Then at dark we camped so wary
Out upon the lonely heights,
With the solemn heavens starry
Holding all our lights;
And the picket's tread was muffled
Through the silent nights.
"Ten long, reckless days of danger
Swept we through the foeman's land,
Every keen-eyed, daring ranger
Bearing in his hand
All of life's uncounted value
Lightly as his brand.
"Though the perils gathered thickly
Hour by hour on every hand—
Fiery signals leaping quickly
Onward through the land—
Through a hundred leagues of foemen Scathless came our band.
"Oh! the memories of battle
Stir me, gran'ther, by your side;
I can hear the fiery rattle
Echo far and wide;
And forever in my dreaming
That wild raid I ride."