Sons of the Flag (A Toast)

Here is a poem by newspaperman, George Morrow Mayo, written during World War I, referencing the Civil War, which became quite popular. He hoped the spirit of Ulysses L. Grant would be with soldiers from the North, and the spirit of Robert E. Lee with sons of the South. The poem received stirring tributes all over the nation and even turned up in school books with lessons. Its line were also set to music. It is known as “A Toast” or “Sons of the Flag.”

Here’s to the Blue of the wind-swept North,
When we meet on the fields of France;

May the spirit of Grant be with you all
As the sons of the North advance!

And here’s to the Gray of the sun-kissed South,
When we meet on the fields of France;

May the spirit of Lee be with you all
As the sons of the South advance!

And here’s to the Blue and the Gray as one,
When we meet on the fields of France;

May the spirit of God be with you all
As the sons of the Flag advance!

When the poem was reprinted in the California State Nurses’ Association Bulletin (No. 4) in 1918, its author was described as a “young Kentuckian who was formerly a resident of Washington, and is now a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy.” Sources put Mayo’s year of birth as either 1896 or 1897, so he would have been around 21 or so in 1918. Other than this poem, Mayo is a hard fellow to track down, and it looks like he was back then as well. In a reply to a reader’s query on how to get in touch with him in 1920, The New York Times Book Review and Magazine replied “George Morrow Mayo is the son of George Mayo and Dixie (Robinson) Mayo. He was born in Bowling Green, Ky…. A letter addressed to Bowling Green would probably be forwarded to him.”

Obviously, George Morrow Mayo’s poem inspired a lot of patriotism, but he forgot one group of sons who also fought in France: the sons of the slaves, still dealing with segregation.

The poster on the right, “True Sons of Freedom,” depicts black soldiers in France with Abraham Lincoln’s spirit looking on.

Only one of Robert E. Lee’s children was still living during World War I. His daughter. Mary Custis Lee, died in 1918, a year before the war ended. Several children of Ulysses S. Grant lived to see the end of the war (and probably all heard of this poem). Grant’s daughter Nellie died in 1922. Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. lived until 1929. The last of the Grant offspring to leave terra firma was his youngest son, Jesse Root Grant, who died in 1934.

Abraham Lincoln’s only son to live to adulthood, Robert Todd Lincoln, was also still alive. He died in 1926.

More info:
Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in WW1 by Jami Bryan, On Point
Library of Congress: True Sons of Freedom reprints

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