Herman Melville’s Poem “The Fall of Richmond”

Herman Melville by Joseph O. Eaton

Herman Melville (1819-1891) is best known for writing novels, like Moby Dick, and short stories, like Bartleby, the Scrivener, but he also wrote poetry, including poems about the Civil War. In 1866, he published a book of 72 Civil War poems written during the war called Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War: Civil War Poems . (During the war, Melville visited a cousin of his at the battlefields in Virginia, and he had other family members who participated in the war, so he had some feel for the subject). The book did not sell well, and reviews were mixed; it wasn’t until long after Melville’s death that the poems would gain wider acclaim in literary circles.

One of Melville’s Civil War poems was “The Fall of Richmond”, about the capture of the Confederate capital in April of 1865. In its three verses, he writes about the joy in the North upon hearing the news, gives credit to Ulysses S. Grant’s generalship, and credits the northern people for staying the course despite horrific losses on the battlefield. A “glaive”, mentioned in the second stanza, is a sword.

The Fall of Richmond

The tidings received in the Northern Metropolis.
(April, 1865.)

What mean these peals from every tower,
And crowds like seas that sway?
The cannon reply; they speak the heart
Of the People impassioned, and say–
A city in flags for a city in flames,
Richmond goes Babylon’s way–
Sing and pray.

O weary years and woeful wars,
And armies in the grave;
But hearts unquelled at last deter
The helmed dilated Lucifer–
Honor to Grant the brave,
Whose three stars now like Orion’s rise
When wreck is on the wave–

Bless his glaive.
Well that the faith we firmly kept,
And never our aim forswore
For the Terrors that trooped from each recess
When fainting we fought in the Wilderness,
And Hell made loud hurrah;
But God is in Heaven, and Grant in the Town,
And Right through might is Law–
God’s way adore.

Fall of Richmond by Currier and Ives


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