‘When the Regiment Came Back’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ella Wheeler Wilcox was not a Civil War poet, per se, although she did live through the war and at least had the direct experience of seeing her brothers leave to serve their country.

“One went in as a mere lad,” she said In her autobiography, “The World and I (1918),” and noted that they were “never robust afterward.” She was a mere lass herself, the youngest child in her family, growing up in Westport, Wisconsin.

Ella is most remembered today for her poem “Solitude” and the oft-quoted lines:

“Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep and you weep alone”

She did write quite a bit of other poetry during her lifetime and often commemorated events, such as The Queen’s Last Ride, a poetic eulogy that was very well received by Queen Victoria’s subjects, and even set to music.

Here is her poem “When the Regiment Came Back,” speaking to the war’s toll upon the soldiers:

All the uniforms were blue, all the swords were bright and new
When the regiment went marching down the street.
All the men were hale and strong as they proudly marched along,
Through the cheers that drowned the music of their feet,
Oh, the music of the feet keeping time to drums that beat,
Oh, the splendor and the glitter of the sight.
As with swords and rifles new and in uniforms of blue,
The regiment went marching to the fight.

When the regiment came back, all the guns and swords were black
And the uniforms had faded out to gray.
And the faces of the men who marched through that street again
Seemed like faces of the dead who lose their way.
For the dead who lose their way cannot look more wan and gray
Oh, the sorrow and the pity of the sight.
Oh, the weary lagging feet, out of step with drums that beat,
As the regiment comes marching from the fight.

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