African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Maurice Corbett, "The First colored Regiment (1st South Carolina) and Port Hudson" (1914)

The First Colored Regiment (1st South Carolina) and Port Hudson.

To Florida at length was sent
The South Carolina regiment
Of colored troops with the intent
Of making an experiment.
Their officers firmly believed
That they would never be deceived
In these black boys when the time came
On war's grim fields to gather fame.

A frowning fortress, strong and good,
For Southern arms, Port Hudson stood.
To capture it Hunter had planned,
With the mixed troops of his command.
Arrived at length the fateful hour,
When colored men must face a shower
Of flying missies, shells and shot,
To prove that they would falter not.

Charge!" rang out the sharp command,
And, up the hill, in order grand,
With eager strides, these troopers go,
Anxious to strike a telling blow
On those who held them in their grip,
And on their persons plied the whip,
Who, them on equal terms must meet,
And with cold steel their owners greet.

The rebels fire, they feel the blow;
They waver, Do they falter? No!
By the right, flank their lines deploy,
Then face to front, with shouts of joy;
Madly towards the fort they run
Not stopping once to fire a gun;
While right and left the rebel shell
Filled with explosives, bursting, fell.

But on, not heeding death, they go,
When falls brave Captain Callioux,
The black hero, who, filled with shot,
Return unto the rear would not,
But shouting, "Forward, boys," he fell,
Dying of wounds from bursting shell,
His white companions standing by
Were taught how blacks could bravely die.

"Colonel, this flag in honor'll fly,
Or God shall know the reason why,"
Spake Planciancios, just before
The flag he into battle bore,
And ere the ground with blood was red,
A cannon ball took off his head.
Stretched were his limbs on the thirsty sod,
While he reported unto God!

Two Sergeants at his banner caught,
And, to possess it fiercely fought,
Till death, by shot from rebel gun,
Declared who'd be the honored one.
This banner leading, on they go,
Anxious to grapple with the foe;
Nor can the rbs this war-cry stop:
"The bottom rail is now on top!"

The moat they reach, and there they meet
A deadly fire and they retreat;
They halt, they wheel, their ranks they close,
Then charge again upon their foes.
Seven times advance and fall back they,
Because they cannot find a way;
Charge as they will, to reach the fort,
Because of depth and width of moat.

At length the curtains of the night
Upon them fall, stopping the fight;
And twinkling stars their halo shed
O'er bloody field of Negro dead.
Peeps down the moon in sympathy
Upon black men in agony
From gasping wounds from which they lie
Stretched on the battle-field to die.

To take the fort, these men had failed,
Yet they with loud acclaim were Hailed.
Why do men praise, what had they done
To win respect from every one?
Why do white soldiers raise a shout
When these black boys came near about?
Why do the rebels rant and swear
When Negro soldiers' names they hear?

There must be cause why men despised
As were these men, are lionized;
Something they must have done averse
That rebel leaders fume and curse.
Sing of their valor, let all know
Why men had changed toward them so;
Speak out, that every man who reads
May know of Negro soldiers' deeds!

Their pluck had opposition moved
'Gainst them as soldiers, when they proved
That cravens they had never been,
But brave were they as any men!
Taught they the 'stonished world to know
How nobly would they strike a blow
The nation's life to help preserve,
And in her cause in honor serve!

Stepped they the biting words of scorn
which pricked their hearts as poisonous thorn
Flesh punctured by it, sore inflames,
Or horrid fang of serpent maims,
And poisons those within whose veins
A particle of it remains.
All were amazed, had none a breath
Of scorn for men who laughed at death!

Proud felt they of the name they'd won;
That day a mighty deed they'd done;
They'd sounded in the nation's ears
Where she'd find willing volunteers,
Ready to answer battle call,
Fearless of hissing cannon ball,
Happy to suffer, bleed and die,
If thus they might a man's rights buy.

No more had men reason to doubt
That black men would their blood pour out
In storming fortress or redoubt,
Or that their hearts were brave and stout;
No more could scoffers prophesy
That belching guns would make them fly,
Or that a single white man's face
Could more two hundred Negroes chase.

A rain of shells they bravely bore,
And then they beg to be once more
In battle sent where bullets, singe,
That they their comrades' deaths avenge;
But they no longer plead in vain,
For to the nation was it plain
That the rebellion would decline
With black men on the firing line.

Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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