Poetry


The Flag My Grandpa Knew

by Ronnie Hatfield

I remember how, each morning, he'd rise before us all,
and I'd hear his muffled footsteps, as he padded down the hall.
The many years he'd labored, had left his body bend and gray,
but Grandpa had a reason, for getting up each day.

A well-worn box sat on a shelf, beside his rocking chair,
I don't known where it came from, seems it always had been there.
Inside the box, a tattered cloth, of crimson, blue, and white,
and he'd gaze at it each morning, with tears that dimmed his sight.

On special days, he raised it still, on the pole outside our door,
and he'd tell us kids, in reverent tones what that tattered cloth stood for.
"The red reminds me of the Wheatfield, where Pickett's men were slain,
when seven thousand good men fell, amidst the bloodied grain."

"The blue, I guess, brings back to mind, the loneliness and cold,
of a Shenandoah winter, a thousand miles from home."
"And the pure white stars, well they're generals, for Jackson, Stuart, and Bee,
and that big one in the middle there, is for Robert Edward Lee!"

"Each bullet hole is a battle won, each tear is a comrade lost,
each stain is for a wounded friend, who paid the final cost."
Ol'Grandpa must have loved that flag, he stayed near it every day,
and so Grandpa took it with him, when he finally passed away.

And if there's a flagpole up in heaven, there's no tear in Grandpa's eye,
cause I know he's back in uniform, and his beloved flag flies high!

© 1994, Stonewall Productions, and Ronnie Hatfield.
Write for more information about the poetry of Ronnie Hatfield.
ronhatfield@sat.net


I Am Their Flag
by Dr. Michael Bradley

In 1861, when they perceived their rights to be threatened, when those who would alter the nature of the government of their fathers were placed in charge,
when threatened with change they could not accept, the mighty men of valor began to gather.
A band of brothers, native to the Southern soil, they pledged themselves to a cause: the cause of defending family, fireside, and faith.
Between the desolation of war and their homes they interposed their bodies and they chose me for their symbol.

I Am Their Flag.

Their mothers, wives, and sweethearts took scissors and thimbles, needles and thread,
and from silk or cotton or calico ­ whatever was the best they had ­ even from the fabric of their wedding dresses, they cut my pieces and stitched my seams.

I Am Their Flag.

On courthouse lawns, in picnic groves, at train stations across the South the men mustered and the women placed me in their hands.
"Fight hard, win if possible, come back if you can; but, above all, maintain your honor. Here is your symbol," they said.

I Am Their Flag.

They flocked to the training grounds and the drill fields. They felt the wrenching sadness of leaving home.
They endured sickness, loneliness, boredom, bad food, and poor quarters. They looked to me for inspiration.

I Am Their Flag.

I was at Sumter when they began in jubilation. I was at Big Bethel when the infantry fired its first volley.
I smelled the gun smoke along Bull Run in Virginia and at Belmont along the Mississippi.
I was in the debacle at Fort Donelson; I led Jackson up the Valley.
For Seven Days I flapped in the turgid air of the James River bottoms as McClellan ran from before Richmond.
Sidney Johnston died for me at Shiloh as would thousands of others whose graves are marked "Sine Nomine," - without a name - unknown.

I Am Their Flag.

With ammunition gone they defended me along the railroad bed at Manassas by throwing rocks.
I saw the fields run red with blood at Sharpsburg. Brave men carried me across Doctor's Creek at Perryville.
I saw the blue bodies cover Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg and the Gray ones fall like leaves in the Round Forest at Stones River.

I Am Their Flag.

I was a shroud for the body of Stonewall after Chancellorsville. Men ate rats and mule meat to keep me flying over Vicksburg.
I tramped across the wheat field with Kemper and Armistead and Garnett at Gettysburg.
I know the thrill of victory, the misery of defeat, the bloody cost of both.

I Am Their Flag.

When Longstreet broke the line at Chickamauga, I was in the lead. I was the last off Lookout Mountain.
Men died to rescue me at Missionary Ridge. I was singed by the wildfire that burned to death the wounded in the Wilderness.
I was shot to tatters in the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. I was in it all from Dalton to Peachtree Creek,
and no worse place did I ever see than Kennesaw and New Hope Church.
They planted me over the trenches at Petersburg and there I stayed for many long months.

I Am Their Flag.

I was rolled in blood at Franklin; I was stiff with ice at Nashville. Many good men bade me farewell at Sayler's Creek.
When the end came at Appomattox, when the last Johnny Reb left Durham Station, many of them carried fragments of my fabric hidden on their bodies.

I Am Their Flag.

In the hard years of so-called "Reconstruction," in the difficulty and despair of years that slowly passed,
the veterans, their wives and sons and daughters, they loved me.
They kept alive the tales of valor and the legends of bravery.
They passed them on to the grandchildren and they to their children, and so they were passed to you.

I Am Their Flag.

I have shrouded the bodies of heroes, I have been laved with the blood of martyrs,
I am enshrined in the hearts of millions, living and dead. Salute me with affection and reverence.
Keep undying devotion in your hearts. I am history. I am heritage, not hate. I am the inspiration of valor from the past.
Look Away, Dixie Land!

I Am Their Flag.

© 1995 Michael R. Bradley. All rights reserved.


Death Not Written In Blood
Originally Published in The Atlanta Journal, 12 Apr 1931

"Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy. I. E. Avery."
This message, one of the most stirring ever written, is displayed in the Hall of History, the museum of the North Carolina Historical Commission, in Raleigh. It was penned with the life blood of Colonel Isaac Erwin Avery, of the Sixth Regiment, North Carolina State Troops, who was mortally wounded in the late afternoon of the second battle of Gettysburg. His superior officer having already been wounded, Colonel Avery was commanding Hoke's Brigade in the charge up Cemetery Heights when he fell.

Shot from his horse and aware that he was dying far from his comrades, Colonel Avery's first thought was of his aged father, Isaac Erwin Avery, Sr., who lived near Morganton, N.C. The soldier's right hand was paralyzed from his wound, but, by using his left hand, he drew a scrap of coarse paper from his pocket. Plucking a twig from a nearby bush, he dipped it into his swiftly flowing blood, and scrawled the message, which was addressed to his friend, Major Samuel McDowell Tate. The note reached the elder Avery a week after his gallant son had been buried on the battlefield.

Thousands have gazed upon Colonel Avery's "message from the grave," and other thousands have received a surge of inspiration upon hearing it recounted in sermons and stories.

On the occasion of the unveiling of a statue to Sir Walter Raleigh, the Englishman for whom the North Carolina capital was named, Theodore Roosevelt, then President of the United States, stood before a distinguished gathering in the Hall of History. In his big, expressive hands, the President held the little scrap of yellow, blood-stained paper. Slowly he read aloud the almost illegible message. His hands trembled, his eyes filled with tears; he became almost speechless with emotion. Then as if the little paper were some holy thing, he passed it to Lord James Bryce, Britain's minister to the United States.

The English minister read the paper, studied it for a moment, and passed it back. "President Roosevelt," he said, "we have nothing to compare with this in the British Museum."

A great hush fell upon the audience for a moment, as silence paid tribute to a courage that rose far above sectionalism and beyond the bounds of nations. The two statesmen who stood reading this note saw only a youthful colonel leading his men into battle, dashing so far ahead of them that when he fell, dying, he found himself alone. They cared not whether he lived north or south, whether he was born American or English. They knew he lived a soldier and died a hero. They saw, without being told, that the ink he used was his own blood, and his pen some chance twig that lay in reach of the left hand, with which he laboriously wrote.

"Tell my father I died with my face to the enemy."

The simple little message, read aloud by the American President, burned its way into every pulsing heart. It is a sentence which sums up all of life's battles into one triumphant, grand Amen.

A week after the battle in which Colonel Avery was killed, an old southern gentleman sat alone on the porch of his country home in the Carolina hills, near Morganton He was thinking of his five boys, out on various battlefields, praying that all was well with them, when his thoughts were broken by a sudden excitement among the negroes. Lige, the body-servant of their young Marse Isaac, was approaching! But the cries of joy suddenly were hushed, for Lige was coming home alone.

The old man saw the servant at about the same time the negroes did, and he too, was straining for the sight of his great, tall son and namesake. But the negro was alone. The father shook himself to throw off an anxious thought. He hoped his son had just stopped somewhere on his way home, and was sending his man on ahead with a message. He could not know how true it was that the negro was bringing a message from his boy. As Lige slowly neared, the house, there was no mistaking his mission. His hesitating gait, his abject appearance, all too eloquently told the tragic story he was bringing. When he at last reached the porch, he made a deep bow to his aged master. Very quietly and simply he told how his young Marse Isaac had been killed at Gettysburg. The old man accepted the little note which had been found in the colonel's still hand; it was mute evidence of the struggle his son had made to bring comfort to his lonely heart. Then his boy's sword and watch were gently laid upon his knee.

The servant stood back, not willing to intrude upon the first moments of his master's sorrow. After what seemed an endless silence, Mr Avery looked up as if he had forgotten that Lige was there. A slow nod of his head indicated that he was now ready to hear the story.

"Old Marse," the man choked, "I did all I could for young Master. He called me to him the night before he was killed, and told me if anything happened to him in the charge the next day, I was to bring his sword and watch to you. He did look so grand the next day, when he rode away. But I am sure he felt he would never come back, for he was so particular about telling me good-bye. And then he turned back and called to me, saying, 'Remember my orders, Lige.'

"It was late in the afternoon when the message came back to headquarters that Marse Isaac had been killed. The battle was still raging, but I started right out to find him, hoping he had only been wounded. I hunted for hours, looking in every direction, until night came upon me. I was stumbling around, almost ready to give up, when I looked around and there he lay right by me, the moon shining on his peaceful face and in his hand this little note that I knew was meant for you.

"Marse Isaac had fallen nearer the enemy than any other man, Old Marse. He died leading his soldiers right into the face of the guns. Major Tate and me buried him there on the very top of Cemetery Heights, where he had fallen."

The last command of his young master obeyed, the negro Lige felt that his life's work was ended, and he never wanted to leave the old plantation. Through the long years that followed, his thoughts never wandered far from his "Marse Isaac," who had stood 6 foot 2 in his stocking feet, unmatched by any man in the section for physical strength.

"People from all parts of the world, " remarked the curator of the Hall of History, "have come to read this message. Besides Roosevelt, Presidents Taft & Wilson visited the hall to see it. Many and many a sermon has been preached on it."

"I died with my face to the enemy."

What more could any son say or any father wish to hear?