African American Poetry (1870-1927): A Digital Anthology

John Wesley Holloway, "San Juan!" (1919)

SAN JUAN!

OH, list the stirring story
That is told of San Juan!
Of Roosevelt's Rough Riders,
And the fate they fell upon!
This hill, the point of vantage,
Withstood a bold attack
From tried and trusty soldiers,
And these had fallen back.
The colonel, through his glasses,
Had seen it from afar;
He drew nigh with his cavalry
And loosed his dogs of war.
"Up, men!" the colonel shouted,
"The block-house on the hill!"
He spurred his charger forward!
They followed with a will!
Oh, 'twas a gallant company
Rode up the hill that day!
They never had been daunted,
Nor ever brought to bay!
But they met a hail of bullets
No mortal flesh could stand;
And, so, for once retreated,
A decimated band.
From tree-top, trench, and cactus,
The leaden shower poured,
While from the smoking block-house
The deadly cannon roared!
"Halt, company!" See the colonel's face
All deadly set, and grim!
"'Bout face!" Once more they're charging
That fated hill with him!
But galling fire pours fore and aft,
Which levels horse and men ;
They fall as fast as they advance,
And, so, must down again!
Again the colonel's orders, "Halt!"
Once more they face about!
Once more they meet that deadly fire
And still more deadly rout!
But help is nigh! A band strikes up
Down there upon the right;
And when they come there'll surely be
"A hot time-in the old town-to-night!"

Who are these sable boys in brown
That dare to take the place
Of Roosevelt's Rough Riders,
And hope to win the race?
They charge afresh! They charge and sing!
They neither shrink nor shirk!
They'd charge the very Gates of Hell,-
But singing at their work!
It hailed! It rained! It belched! It blew!
That storm of fire and lead!
They sang! They fell! They fairly flew!
But always straight ahead!
"To the rear!" their captain shouted,
And thitherward went he!
His men went pressing up that hill,
As straight as straight could be!
They never wavered! Up, and up
They sang and staggered, till
They reached the top, and nobly took
That block-house on the hil!
All hail the gallant Twenty-fourth!
The band that day played right:
They prophesied it, and there was
"A hot time-in the old town-to-night!"


Published in From the Desert1919

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