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The Centenarian's Story


  (At Washington Park, Brooklyn, assisting the Centenarian.)

1Give me your hand, old Revolutionary; The hill-top is nigh—but a few steps, (make room, 
Up the path you have follow'd me well, spite of your  
 hundred and extra years;
You can walk, old man, though your eyes are almost  
Your faculties serve you, and presently I must have  
 them serve me.
2Rest, while I tell what the crowd around us means; On the plain below, recruits are drilling and exercising; There is the camp—one regiment departs to morrow; Do you hear the officers giving the orders? Do you hear the clank of the muskets? 3Why, what comes over you now, old man? Why do you tremble, and clutch my hand so convul- 
The troops are but drilling—they are yet surrounded  
 with smiles;
Around them at hand, the well drest friends and the  
While splendid and warm the afternoon sun shines  
  [ begin page 20a ]ppp.00473.358.jpg Green the midsummer verdure, and fresh blows the dal- 
 lying breeze,
O'er proud and peaceful cities, and arm of the sea be- 
4But drill and parade are over—they march back to  
Only hear that approval of hands! hear what a clap- 
5As wending, the crowds now part and disperse—but  
 we, old man,
Not for nothing have I brought you hither—we must  
You to speak in your turn, and I to listen and tell.


6When I clutch'd your hand, it was not with terror; But suddenly, pouring about me here, on every side, And below there where the boys were drilling, and up  
 the slopes they ran,
And where tents are pitch'd, and wherever you see, 
 south and south-east and south-west,
Over hills, across lowlands, and in the skirts of woods, And along the shores, in mire (now fill'd over,) came  
 again, and suddenly raged,
As eighty-five years a-gone, no mere parade receiv'd  
 with applause of friends,
But a battle, which I took part in myself—aye, long ago  
 as it is, I took part in it,
Walking then this hill-top, this same ground.
7Aye, this is the ground; My blind eyes, even as I speak, behold it re-peopled  
 from graves:
The years recede, pavements and stately houses disap- 
  [ begin page 21a ]ppp.00473.359.jpg Rude forts appear again, the old hoop'd guns are  
I see the lines of rais'd earth stretching from river to  
I mark the vista of waters, I mark the uplands and  
Here we lay encamp'd—it was this time in summer also.
8As I talk, I remember all—I remember the Declara- 
It was read here—the whole army paraded—it was  
 read to us here;
By his staff surrounded, the general stood in the mid- 
 dle—he held up his unsheath'd sword,
It glitter'd in the sun in full sight of the army.
9'Twas a bold act then; The English war ships had just arrived—the king had  
 sent them from over the sea;
We could watch down the lower bay where they lay at  
And the transports, swarming with soldiers.
10A few days more, and they landed—and then the  
11Twenty thousand were brought against us, A veteran force, furnish'd with good artillery. 12I tell not now the whole of the battle; But one brigade, early in the forenoon, order'd forward  
 to engage the red-coats;
Of that brigade I tell, and how steadily it march'd, And how long and how well it stood, confronting death.
13Who do you think that was, marching steadily, stern- 
 ly confronting death?
It was the brigade of the youngest men, two thousand  
  [ begin page 22a ]ppp.00473.360.jpg Rais'd in Virginia and Maryland, and many of them  
 known personally to the General.
14Jauntily forward they went with quick step toward  
 Gowanus' waters;
Till of a sudden, unlook'd for, by defiles through the  
 woods, gain'd at night,
The British advancing, wedging in from the east, 
 fiercely playing their guns,
That brigade of the youngest was cut off, and at the  
 enemy's mercy.
15The General watch'd them from this hill; They made repeated desperate attempts to burst their  
Then drew close together, very compact, their flag  
 flying in the middle;
But O from the hills how the cannon were thinning and  
 thinning them!
16It sickens me yet, that slaughter! I saw the moisture gather in drops on the face of the  
I saw how he wrung his hands in anguish.
17Meanwhile the British maneuver'd to draw us out  
 for a pitch'd battle;
But we dared not trust the chances of a pitch'd battle.
18We fought the fight in detachments; Sallying forth, we fought at several points—but in each  
 the luck was against us;
Our foe advancing, steadily getting the best of it, push'd  
 us back to the works on this hill;
Till we turn'd menacing, here, and then he left us.
19That was the going out of the brigade of the young- 
 est men, two thousand strong;
Few return'd—nearly all remain in Brooklyn.
  [ begin page 23a ]ppp.00473.361.jpg 20That, and here, my General's first battle; No women looking on, nor sunshine to bask in—it  
 did not conclude with applause;
Nobody clapp'd hands here then.
21But in darkness, in mist, on the ground, under a  
 chill rain,
Wearied that night we lay, foil'd and sullen; While scornfully laugh'd many an arrogant lord, off  
 against us encamp'd,
Quite within hearing, feasting, klinking wine-glasses  
 together over their victory.
22So, dull and damp and another day; But the night of that, mist lifting, rain ceasing, Silent as a ghost, while they thought they were sure of  
 him, my General retreated.
23I saw him at the river-side, Down by the ferry, lit by torches, hastening the embar- 
My General waited till the soldiers and wounded were  
 all pass'd over;
And then, (it was just ere sunrise,) these eyes rested on  
 him for the last time.
24Every one else seem'd fill'd with gloom; Many no doubt thought of capitulation. 25But when my General pass'd me, As he stood in his boat, and look'd toward the coming  
I saw something different from capitulation.


26Enough—the Centenarian's story ends; The two, the past and present, have interchanged; I myself, as connecter, as chansonnier of a great future, 
 am now speaking.
  [ begin page 24a ]ppp.00473.362.jpg 27And is this the ground Washington trod? And these waters I listlessly daily cross, are these the  
 waters he cross'd,
As resolute in defeat, as other generals in their proudest  
28It is well—a lesson like that, always comes good; I must copy the story, and send it eastward and west- 
I must preserve that look, as it beam'd on you, rivers of  
29See! as the annual round returns, the phantoms  
It is the 27th of August, and the British have landed; The battle begins, and goes against us—behold! through  
 the smoke Washington's face;
The brigade of Virginia and Maryland have march'd  
 forth to intercept the enemy;
They are cut off—murderous artillery from the hills  
 plays upon them;
Rank after rank falls, while over them silently droops  
 the flag,
Baptized that day in many a young man's bloody  
In death, defeat, and sisters', mothers' tears.
30Ah, hills and slopes of Brooklyn! I perceive you  
 are more valuable than your owners supposed;
Ah, river! henceforth you will be illumin'd to me at  
 sunrise with something besides the sun.
31Encampments new! in the midst of you stands an  
 encampment very old;
Stands forever the camp of the dead brigade.
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