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A MARCH IN THE RANKS HARD-PREST,
AND THE ROAD UNKNOWN
.

A MARCH in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown;
A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in the
darkness;
Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant
retreating;
Till after midnight glimmer upon us, the lights of a
dim-lighted building;
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the
dim-lighted building;
'Tis a large old church, at the crossing roads—'tis now
an impromptu hospital;
—Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all
the pictures and poems ever made:
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving
candles and lamps,
And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red
flame, and clouds of smoke;
By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the
floor, some in the pews laid down;
At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in
danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the ab-
domen;)
I staunch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is
white as a lily;)
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene,
fain to absorb it all;
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in
obscurity, some of them dead;
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell
of ether, the odor of blood;


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The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers
—the yard outside also fill'd;
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers,
some in the death-spasm sweating;
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders
or calls;
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the
glint of the torches;
These I resume as I chant—I see again the forms, I
smell the odor;
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men,
Fall in;
But first I bend to the dying lad—his eyes open—a
half-smile gives he me;
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to
the darkness,
Resuming, marching, as ever in darkness marching, on
in the ranks,
The unknown road still marching.

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