By Frank H. Gassaway
“Twas the time of the working men’s great strike,
When all the land stood still,
At the sudden roar from the hungry mouths
That labor could not fill:
When the thunder of the railroad ceased,
And startled towns could spy
A hundred blazing factories
Painting each midnight sky.
Through Philadelphia’s surging streets
Marched the brown ranks of toil,
The grimy legions of the shops,
The tillers of the soil;
White-faced militiamen looked on,
While women shrank with dread;
“Twas muscle against money then
“Twas riches against bread.
Once, as the mighty mob tramped on
A carriage stopped the way,
Upon the silken seat of which
A young patrician lay.
And as, with haughty glances, he swept
Along the jeering crowd,
A white-haired blacksmith in the ranks
Took off his cap and bowed.
That night the Labor League was met,
And soon the chairman said:
“There hides a Judas in our midst,
One man who bows his head.
Who bends the coward’s servile knee
When capital rolls by.”
“Down with him! Kill the traitor cur!”
Rang out the savage cry.
Up rose the blacksmith then, and held
Erect his head of gray;
“I am no traitor, though I bowed
To a rich man’s son today:
And though you kill me as I stand
As like you mean to do —
I want to tell you a story short,
And i ask you to hear me through.
I was one of those who enlisted first
The Old Flag to defend,
With Pope and Halleck, with “Mac” and Grant
I followed to the end;
And ’twas somewhere down on the Rapides
Where the Union cause looked drear
That a regiment of rich young bloods
Came down to us from here.
“Their uniforms were by tailors cut;
They brought hampers of good wine;
And every squad had a servant , too,
To keep their boots in shine;
They naught to say to us dusty ‘vets’
And through the whole brigade,
We called them the kid-gloved Dandy Fifth
When we passed them on parade.
“Well, they were sent to hold a fort
The Rebs tried hard to take;
‘Twas the key to all our line, which naught
While it held out could break.
But a fearful fight we lost just then —
The reserves came up too late;
And on that fort and the Dandy Fifth
Hung the whole division’s fate.
“Three times we tried to take them aid,
And each time back we fell.
Till at length Joe Hooker’s corps came up,
And then straight through we broke;
How we cheered as we saw those dandy coats
Still back of the drifting smoke!
“With the bands all front and our colors spread
We swarmed up the parapet,
But the sight that silenced our welcome about
I shall never in life forget.
Four days before had their water gone;
They had dreaded that the most;
The next their last scant raton went,
And each man look a ghost.
“As he stood gaunt-eyed, behind his gun
Like a crippled stag at bay,
And watched starvation – though not defeat –
Draw nearer every day.
Of all the Fifth, not fourscore men
Could in their places stand,
And their white lips told a fearful take,
As we grasped each bloodless hand.
“The rest in stupor of famine lay,
Save here and there a few
In death sat rigid against the guns
Grim sentinels in blue;
And their colonel, he could not speak or stir,
But we saw his proud eye thrill
As he simply glanced to the shot-scarred staff
Where the old flag floated still!
“Now I hate the tyrants who grind us down,
While the wolf snarls at our door,
And the men who’ve risen from us — to laugh
At the misery of the poor;
But I tell you, mates, when this weak old hand
I have left the strength to lift
I will touch my cap to the proudest swell
Who fought in the Dandy Fifth.