MAIL Call Journal


Mail Call Journal is pleased to present the Winners of the

1999 History Poetry Competition

American Civil War Category Winners

First Place I Second Place I Third Place I Honorable Mentions

General History Category Winners

First Place I Second Place I Third Place I Honorable Mention

Links I Contact Us



First Place . . .

"A Civil War Soldier Recounts" by Elizabeth Chasalow

Lying in an open field
The sun is slowly setting
While here in this grass I will stay
For weaker I am getting
I'll tell my story while I'm here
Of the gruesome battles fought
though I rooted for my own side
An end is what I sought
I wore my colors proudly
And marched for days on end
I was just a foolish soldier
But my rights I knew I must defend
I'd seen some dead, some dying
Wearing both blue and gray
They gave it all they had to give
And yet to my dismay
Most were dead or nearly so
Sprawled all across the land
Blood seeped into cold, hard earth
With tears of those in command
We neared the town of Gettysburg
And set ourselves up to fight
I'd chosen a large tree for protection
And hoped with all my might
That when the other side did come
Perhaps they would spare me
Behind my tree I'd be unseen
And then I would be free
Well the other side did come
And behind my tree I stood
But I knew at least I had to try
Because I knew I could
Shoot my rifle straight and true
When aiming at some game
so peeping from my hiding place
I looked and then took aim
The charging soldiers weren't deer
As perhaps I'd made-believe
I'd never killed a man before
And I wanted a reprieve
A man ran at me: old, war-hardened
Of feelings, he seemed devoid
I shot him then, and down he fell
Death I hoped to avoid
I however was too late
To save myself from harm
I felt a pain and looking to it
Found blood running down my arm
Luckily, though night was near
Another took my place
I made my way towards the camp
With a slow but steady pace
I found a medic who bound my arm
And I lay down for the evening
I tossed and turned all through the night
While through my dreams the shots would ring
Awakening in the morning
I rose to get some food
I knew the others had traded goods
On them, though, I wouldn't intrude
There were few supplies to start with
And now there was much less
We wouldn't let that stop us now
It was on that we had to press
I set my mind and found some cover
I was determined to survive
On again came the other side
But I would remain alive
Or so I thought at the time
I would automatically shoot
At the persistent, running soldiers
By now I was no new recruit
Though far from having the acute skills
That many of the older fighters had
And while reloading I felt a twinge
My second hit, and it was bad
Our men were dying left and right
And now I was dying too
I lay down right where I was
I knew the battle was nearly through
And I was right, it was soon done
But not soon enough for me
I had family waiting at home
Who I dearly wanted to see
The sun is nearly down now
The sky is rather dark
I grow weak from loss of blood
But I need an identification mark
From pocket, with a tired hand
I slowly pull a note
The paper is slightly crinkled
From staying in my coat
It was a letter from my mother
To wish me luck and health
She hoped to see me soon again
From me she expected pluck
I tuck the note into my belt
In case I am to die
Then I look at all my friends
And I roll over and I cry.

About the Author

Biography - Elizabeth Chasalow is a resident of Chester, New Jersey.


Second Place . . .

"This Long and Dreadful Field" by Larry Cawley

A Rebel Soldier
Gettysburg, The Third Day

I've waited here mid sheltering trees
So stifled by the summers heat
Deafened by the cannon roar
With which no sounds compete

Now the guns have ceased their din
Their grisly work is done
And we step smartly on the field
To carry on what they've begun

In front of me our gallant men
In line on line go fo'ard
As shot and shell begin to burst
To meet the great blue horde

With quickened pace we forge ahead
Past tortured men whose fate is sealed
Past twisted comrades we go on
O'er this long and dreadful field

Screaming souls and crashing ball
A great crescendo out of hell
Our life, our world is torn asunder
Then through our ranks the rebel yell

We reach them now and see the fear
On young and blackened face.
The horror that they see today
Please God, let time erase.

Now to my right I catch a glimpse
Of musket truly aimed
All motion stops and time stands still
As I watch the shooting flame

So suddenly I'm on the ground
The battle rages ‘round me
But, though I try I cannot move
And lidded eyes refuse to see

I'll follow comrades gone before
Where God will be my shield
And I'll not have to cross again
This long and dreadful field.

About the Author

Biography - Larry Cawley is a resident of Morriston, Florida. Cawley has studied the Civil War for 35 years and counting. In addition to writing poems, he presents talks and poetry readings on the topic.


Third Place . . .

"Sons in Blue and Gray" by Jeanne Losey
(c) Jeanne Losey

When Sarah watched her two brave sons
March off to war that day,
Her Thomas wore a suit of blue
But Fredrick's suit was gray.
She felt great love for both of them,
And yet, her heart was torn,
For she had loved those brothers since
The day that they were born.
Both sons' beliefs were strong about
The Southern way of life.
Discussions oft were heated, and
The cause of family strife.
Tom joined the Union army first,
But Fredrick went with Lee.
One thought it right to keep the slaves;
One fought to set them free.
But when both sons marched off to war,
The mother sadly kneeled
And prayed they'd not meet, face to face,
Upon the battlefield.
With each report of casualties,
She'd wonder if the ones
At Gettysburg, the Wilderness,
Or Bull Run, were her sons.
And when the war was through at last,
She waited for each train.
Day after day, the soldiers came,
But her wait was in vain.
One day a stranger came to her.
He had a tale to tell.
He said, "I fought ‘long side your son
The day Atlanta fell.
He was the Captain of our troop,
As brave as he could be.
I'm here because of him, you know
He gave his life for me.
The battle raged around us, and
The Rebs were everywhere.
I caught a bullet and I fell;
He wouldn't leave me there.
He put me on his horse and said,
"I'll see you after while."
And, Ma'am, I never will forget
The Captain's cheerful smile.
But somehow, I just couldn't leave.
I knew he'd need his horse.
I tried to give it back to him
But he said no, of course.
And then, on foot, he led the charge
Right to the gates of Hell.
It looked like victory would be ours,
But then the Captain fell.
Our troops went on without him, but
I stayed there by his side,
And I was right there with him, Ma'am,
The day the Captain died
But there was something happened that
I think you ought to hear.
There was a Rebel Captain who
Was coming very near.
I saw him move, the dirty Reb,
And so, I shot him dead.
Just as he died, my Captain cried,
"Dear God, you just killed Fred!"
I hope you can forgive me for
The awful thing I've done.
I didn't know the man I killed
Would be your other son.
But when the burying was done,
I'm very proud to say
That in one grave, we laid two men,
One wearing blue, one gray."
The stranger bowed his balding head
And slowly limped away.
He'd brought the message that she feared.
There was no more to say.
The mother's heart grieved for her sons.
They'd buried Tom with Fred.
They'll always be together now,
Though both of them are dead.
Can war be called a "civil" one
When families break apart,
When brothers fight with brothers, and
They break their mother's heart?
It mattered not which uniform
Her sons chose on that day.
She loved (and lost) a son in Blue,
And also one in Gray.

About the Author

Biography - Jeanne Losey is a resident of Shelbyville, Indiana. "I love to write poetry," she says, "I now have about 150 poems about the Civil War, which I hope to put into a book. They are all strictly my imagination but I believe they could be true."

Roots - Losey's great great uncle ‘crossed over the river' in the Battle of the Wilderness. He had been in the army for about two years and died at the age of 29.

About the Poem

Says the author, "I became interested in Civil War re-enactments through a friend who was an avid fan and participant."


Honorable Mention . . .

"A Hero in Blue" by Richard H. Peterson

I was just a lad when I answered the clarion call,
To fight for the Union and give it my all,
Innocent and fearless I was at the time,
Eager to serve at the front of the battle line.

Assuming the war would be over in a hurry,
I misjudged the southerners who fought with a fury,
We were the invaders whom they naturally despised,
And rushed us with bayonets fixed, fire in their eyes.

The war dragged on for four torturous years,
While I tried mightily to suppress my pent-up tears,
Wishing each day that I had never joined the frightful fray,
And actually hoping for a wound to send me home to stay.

Desertion even crossed my battle-weary mind,
But I knew my fate should I leave my comrades in arms behind,
So I persevered in the heat of the relentless fight,
Aware the Union dead mounted with each dawn's new light.

Until Lincoln issued belatedly the Emancipation Proclamation,
I continued to struggle and stumble with much trepidation,
Finally, Grant and Sherman gave us leaders we had lacked,
And the boys in grey no longer could effectively answer back.

The slaves sought refuge behind Union forces,
As Rebs fell dead next to their gallant but exhausted horses,
At last, even the noble Lee abandoned the futile strife,
And I thanked God for having spared my battered life.

At home I was celebrated as a hero in blue,
But nobody could appreciate the hell I'd been through,
Even my young wife while holding my trembling hand,
Failed to recognize the boy she had lost in a bearded, bitter man.

About the Author

Biography - A resident of San Diego, California, Richard H. Peterson, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus of History at San Diego State University. Peterson taught American History for 25 years and is the author of three scholarly books, including "The Bonanza Kings: The Social Origins and Business Behavior of Western Mining Entrepreneurs, 1870-1900" and "Bonanza Rich: Lifestyles of the Western Mining Entrepreneurs." In addition to writing numerous historical articles and book reviews, Peterson has published poetry extensively in literary magazines and anthologies.


Honorable Mention . . .

(Untitled) by Jennifer L. Theoret

It was a chance encounter -
who could have known
that the fate of a nation
would rest upon the road?
With Northern cavalry
and Southern infantry opposed
and a little Pennsylvania town
where some shoes might be found -
at Gettysburg.

From the Wheat Field to Little Round Top
this nation lost her best
A generation of sons
there were laid to rest -
and the sons that they would have had
would never see the day
of the peace in our nation
for the price their fathers paid
at Gettysburg.

Now the guns are silent
grass waves on the hill
but if you listen closely
you can hear them still -
the cannon blast, the Rebel yell, the cries of wounded men
when there at night
the ghosts live the fight
of Gettysburg again.

About the Author

Biography - Jennifer Theoret is a resident of Alburg, Vermont.


Honorable Mention . . .

"Mr. Lincoln's Tears" by Sandra E. McBride

He rode the train to Gettysburg
That cold November day.
The question tearing at his heart
Was "What words can I say?"

Upon the damp and bitter wind
That stung his haggard face
He heard the sighing of the dead
Who whispered pleas for peace.

He walked the streets of Gettysburg
Where armies last had trod,
While houses scarred by cannon shot
In silent witness stood.

He saw the barren, cropless fields
Where life and hope were lost,
And shook his head in silent grief
At victory's awful cost.

The brass band played at Gettysburg
And banners gaily waved
As widows cried and comrades mourned
For those who'd been too brave.

Up Cemetery Hill he climbed
To face the throng that day.
With reverence in his trembling voice
Spoke words that live today.

He rode the train to Washington
Alone with his worst fears,
That all the blood of Gettysburg
Could not be purged by tears.

Now all of Mr. Lincoln's boys
Lie cold beneath the sod.
The question tearing at his heart
Is "Where, oh where, was God?"

About the Author

Biography - Sandra McBride is a resident of Mechanicville, New York, where she lives on a small farm. She enjoys writing poetry and children's stories. She has had a life-long interest in American history.

Roots - Two of her great-great-grandfather's brothers died at Andersonville, Georgia, after being taken prisoner at Drewry's Bluff.

About the Poem

"I've long been an admirer of Abraham Lincoln," says the author. "When my peers were buying Elvis Presley records and hair gel, I spent my money on my own copy of Carl Sandburg's ‘Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years.'

"A visit to Gettysburg two years ago was a profoundly moving experience. When I began thinking about writing this poem, I wanted to portray the inner pain and anguish that tore at this compassionate man as he saw the still-grim battlefield sights when he arrived in Gettysburg for the cemetery dedication.

"Lincoln was a man tortured by the death and destruction wrought by the Civil War. Even though he believed firmly and unwavering in the battle to preserve the Union, he surely must have often felt that God had indeed abandoned him in his hour of need, and nowhere more so than at Gettysburg."


Honorable Mention . . .

"The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg" by Kevin P. Radcliffe

On the thirteenth of December in eighteen sixty-two
An early morning fog envelops ranks of men in blue
Smoke rises from the burning town, cannon rumbles from the west
As the "Fighting 69th" prepares to give its best

Lines of grey, determined faces, in the distance wait
As the fog is slowly rising, bracing for the coming spate
They cannot see the Union forces, but listen to their bands
And hear the sounds of barking orders and officers' commands

Riding down the lines of his Irish Brigade
Their General, Thomas Meagher, on inspection parade
On their hats they wear sprigs of boxwood green
"Do your duty, boys" calls the General on the scene.

Shielded by a stonewall, high on Marye's heights
The Rebels dig in deep, with the Yankees in their sights
With a clear line of fire from their vantage spot
They mow down coming troops with cannon, shell and shot

Within an hour of battle, in an attempt to reach the top
Three Brigades lay massacred, as they come to a full stop
The survivors try to pull back but find the going rough
A dying soldier to his friend cries "Don't you think we've had enough"

But Burnside persists with this dreadful escapade
And it's left to General Hancock, to continue the charade
The force of Colonel Zook is next sent up the hill
Despite their desperate efforts, they are "taken out" at will

Meagher's men are next in line as they quickly double stepped
With their green flag and green sprigs, they appear to be well prepped
They push on valiantly to within fifty yards from the top
But eventually they're mowed down and come to a full stop

Looking down upon the carnage Lee is deeply moved
And of the Union tactics he surely disapproved
As he sees the 69th valiantly heading to the grave
He remarks to those around him "Never were men so brave"

Upon the plains that night lay the dying, dead, and maimed
The poor lingering dead the freezing night soon claimed
As the Northern Lights illumined the dark wintry sky
Men stood around in groups and sadly wondered why

There was one man who lost half of his Brigade
Completely disillusioned and utterly dismayed
Kneeling by his bedside, prayed out loud and cried
"Dear God, please forgive this folly of Burnside"

About the Author

Biography - Kevin Radcliffe is a resident of New York City, New York.




First Place . . .

"I Am The Auschwitz Wind" by Eric van ‘t Zelfde

Arbeit Macht Frei
is a phrase I know:
I am the Auschwitz wind
and round the camp I blow.

I fly through rustic ovens
echo voices gone
remember soldiers laughing
and hear their marching song.

I am the camp's music
I am the death beat drum
I am the smiling villain
saying my time has come.

I am the hated Jew
I walk through Polish snow
I am carbon dioxide
up the oven pipe I go.

Music drowns my screams
music from a fiddle
I am six million deaths
I am the greatest riddle.

I am a bar of soap
I am an oven door
I am the camp commander
shouting send me more.

I dig my solemn grave
and obey a kicking boot
I close my blood shot eyes
and hear the soldiers shoot.

I am a cursed Jew
I am a walking bone
I am 2000 degrees Fahrenheit
in an oven far from home.

I am the death train whistle
arriving in the rain
my family and I
never to meet again.

I am the naked woman
I am the soldiers' jest
I am the naked baby
I am the doctor's test:

For I am the Auschwitz wind
a sad ghost from the past
I am the Auschwitz wind
dreaming it's free at last.

About the Author

Biography - Eric van ‘t Zelfde is a resident of Schiedam, The Netherlands.

About the Poem

"I wrote this poem after I saw how Auschwitz was liberated. I have read so much of late about the concentration camps that I found myself writing this poem one night in August. I cannot understand at all how these atrocities ever came about though neo-fascism is lurking round the corner in every country in Europe. This poem should also serve as a lesson for mankind," says van ‘t Zelfde, "for though we have all sworn this would never happen again, we found ourselves faced with death camps halfway through the nineties in Yugoslavia."


Second Place . . .

"A Christmas Truce" by Kevin P. Radcliffe

On the frozen fields of Flanders, one cold December night,
Across the field of battle, all was very calm and bright.
As the stars shone down upon, each opposing side,
Crouching in the trenches, between No Man's Land divide.

It was Christmas in the trenches, no yuletide carols were sung,
As men huddled in their fox holes, brushing off the frost that clung.
Then a young German voice, from across the great divide,
Sang the carol "Stille Nacht" known throughout the worldwide.

As soon as he was finished, there was a reverent pause,
Then cheers broke out on both sides with tremendous applause.
"God rest ye merry Gentlemen" sang a young British boy,
And both sides joined in chorus with "Tidings of Great Joy."

Suddenly there appeared upon the plain so bright
The figure of a German lad, holding a truce flag tight.
Singly from the trenches, men walked into No Man's Land
Without guns and ammunition, they met there hand to hand.

Exchanged chocolate, cigarettes, scotch and cognac
Showed photographs of home, slapped each other on the back.
Played a game of soccer, on the field so bright.
After that talked "peace on earth" under the starlit night.

On frozen Flanders' fields, as the dawn broke through,
Men met in the middle of No Man's Land, to bid a sad adieu.
As they walked back to the trenches, they waved a last farewell
And thought about the weeks ahead, when the going would be hell!

It's Christmas Day in Flanders, as the snow lies on the ground
A grey haired German mother kneels amid crosses all around.
She prays for her young son Hans, who held that truce flag tight,
On the frozen fields of Flanders, on that cold December night.

About the Author

Biography - Kevin Radcliffe is a resident of New York City, New York.

About the Poem

"A great example of an informal truce, says the author, "is the Christmas truce of 1914, when the troops voluntarily left the trenches and intermixed. They swapped gifts, played soccer, drank scotch and cognac and sang Christmas carols. Sadly they eventually had to return to the nasty business of war."


Third Place . . .

"kinda the same" by Paul Zesso Sperou
© 1990

excuse me if my talk is broke,
been like this for a spell,
my crutch came back from viet nam,
since when I fought and fell,
I must a walked a million miles,
along those jungle trails,
a jerkin up and down and back,
a dodgin inbound mail,
a hometown boy that made it back,
so now it's me and mom,
when her voice goes cracked,
then I don't look up,
and I don't talk viet nam -
yeah I hobble down on main street,
and I tell the gals hello,
sure they all say hi right back on me,
with somethin' they know I don't know,
well I may not have a lady love,
but I got me a couple of pals,
with a thing or two in common,
yeah, we all walked outta hell ...
So I lean my crutch agin' the wall,
when it's them I come to see,
and I'm sorry to say they do the same,
with their crutches -
just like me ...

About the Author

Biography - Paul Sperou is a resident of Sun City, California.


Honorable Mention . . .

"The War Memorial" by Jessica G. de Koninck

sixty-five roses in a metal box
alternative remains of hometown heroes
victorious victims
of that war
to end all wars
before the war to end all wars
and the second world war
cold war
six days war
wars we wouldn't call wars
military encounters
and violent escapades
that left them irrevocably dead
for all time and for all wars

encased in a base of a flag kept flying night and day
so men too old to fight
and women knotted in pain
at the loss beyond all loss
the loss to end all losses
a mother's loss
could try to pridefully remember
as if that wind whipped unfurled banner
fraying ‘round the edges
were not indistinguishable at night
from dark storm clouds

sixty-five roses left to dry
encased in concrete
or a not quite substitute for peace
dedicated to freeocracy
by lucky men who lived
who built the stores
gave the schools and purified the milk
never were dried petals in a box

the leveler time
has left them all
leaving us to reinvent our history
out of scraps in baby books
and metal plaques affixed to poles
where the wind
when it blows
cannot stir the dead
or lift those petals
from their burial ground

About the Author

Biography - Jessica de Koninck is a resident of Montclair, New Jersey. She is a graduate of Brandeis University, where she studied history. In 1999, she served a second term as city council woman and liaison to the Township's Historic Preservation Commission; celebrated her tenth year as counsel to the Historic Preservation Commission of the City of Paterson, New Jersey; served as special counsel to the Trenton, New Jersey, Public Schools; and as a consultant to the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College. Her poem chronicling highlights of Montclair history is included in Oliver Lake's multi-media production, "Broken in Parts."

About the Poem

The city of Montclair, New Jersey, is home to the first memorial in the state of New Jersey dedicated to casualties of World War I. Sixty-five individuals from Montclair lost their lives in the First World War, the number of roses placed in the memorial box. Other references draw from contemporary accounts of public life in Montclair from the turn of the 20th century to the teens.


Other History Poetry Competition Winners





History Poetry Competition Victory Parade Home Page

About the History Poetry Competition I

HistoryOnline.Net Home Page I History Articles & Short Story Competition


published by
Distant Frontier Press


Views expressed by the winners of this competition in their poetry
do not necessarily reflect those of the competition sponsor.

All material is copyrighted by the respective authors.

The 1999 competition closed September 15, 1999.

Updated January 2006