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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Shiloh: A Requiem

(Shiloh Church painted by Capt. A. M. Connett, 24th
Indiana Volunteer Infantry, a participant at the
battle at Shiloh)

One of the fiercest battles of the Civil War took place on April 6-7, 1862, at Shiloh, Tennessee. Nearly 24,000 volunteer soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured there. The Union forces managed to hold the battlefield but the war continued for another three terrible and bloody years.

The battlefield was named for the small wooden-log church of Shiloh or “place of peace” built there in 1853.

Melville published this poem in 1866.

(April 1862)

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the fields in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh —
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched one stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh —
The church, so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foeman mingled there —
Foeman at morn, but friends at eve —
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

~ Herman Melville (1819-1891), American poet and novelist, known especially for the great classic Moby-Dick and his novella Billy Budd

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