On July 1, 1862, the Union and Confederate armies met for a bloody battle at Malvern Hill, also known as the battle of Poindexter’s Farm, near Richmond, Virginia, being the last of the Seven Days Battles, which was the climax of Union General George B. McClellan’s failed Peninsula Campaign, the object of which was the Confederate capital.  When Confederate commander-in-chief Joseph Johnston was injured during the campaign, Robert E. Lee assumed command and it was he whom McClellan faced during the battle of Malvern Hill.  While the Union achieved a tactical victory, its object was thwarted.  Lee was hailed for saving Richmond and McClellan was criticized for not being present on the battlefield, a charge which would continue to follow him thereafter, including during his failed presidential campaign two years later.  The battle resulted in more than 8,600 casualties.

Today’s writing is Herman Melville’s poem written shortly after the battle, Malvern Hill.

The Librivox recording.

Ye elms that wave on Malvern Hill
In prime of morn and May,
Recall ye how McClellan’s men
Here stood at bay?
While deep within yon forest dim
Our rigid comrades lay—
Some with the cartridge in their mouth,
Others with fixed arms lifted South—
Invoking so
The cypress glades? Ah wilds of woe!

The spires of Richmond, late beheld
Through rifts in musket-haze,
Were closed from view in clouds of dust
On leaf-walled ways,
Where streamed our wagons in caravan;
And the Seven Nights and Days
Of march and fast, retreat and fight,
Pinched our grimed faces to ghastly plight—
Does the elm wood
Recall the haggard beards of blood?

The battle-smoked flag, with stars eclipsed
We followed (it never fell!)—
In silence husbanded our strength—
Received their yell;
Till on this slope we patient turned
With cannon ordered well;
Reverse we proved was not defeat;
But ah, the sod what thousands meet!—
Does Malvern Wood
Bethink itself, and muse and brood?

We elms of Malvern Hill
Remember every thing;
But sap the twig will fill;
Wag the world how it will,
Leaves must be green in Spring.