MAIL Call Journal


Mail Call Journal is pleased to present the Winners of the

First Annual Fall 1997 History Poetry Competition

American Civil War Category Winners

First Place I Second Place I Third Place I Honorable Mentions

Links I Contact Us



First Place . . .

"Dead Soldiers" by Naunerle Calhoun Farr

I died at Gettysburg one day
on Cemetery Ridge, they say;
and this winds up my sorry story.
The end was sadness, hardly glory.
All those who fought and bled and died
deserved the tears that many cried:
Those left at home in each direction --
North or South, the same connection;
mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers,
lovers cried out with the others.
The Cause was just. Perhaps we dead
remembered that when we were led
to battle -- that the Cause was just.
Whichever side, then fight we must
and did. The soldiers aimed and fired
and fell...both blue and gray attired.
Not politics but love of home
and pride and courage forced us on
until surrender brought an end
to bloody battles. Some could wend
their weary homeward way once more,
North or South. They must restore
a nation they'd been fighting for.
Remember all who've fought and died
in all the wars where men have tried
(and women, too) to save, restore
our nation, homeland, ever more.
For North or South, it should be said
that we comprise the Honored Dead.

About the Author

Biography - Naunerle Farr, who resides in North Conway, New Hampshire, is a freelance writer who has published many scripts on American history and biography. Farr ventured into poetry in 1992. But "Dead Soldiers" is the first time Farr combined the two interests. Farr's poem, "Continuance" was published in the Fall 1997 issue of Mail Call Journal.

Roots - Farr had great-grandfathers fighting on both sides during the American Civil War. Two, at least, survived. One, fifteen years old at the time, ran away to enlist in the army... any army... and became a Confederate. Another was a young surgeon from Massachusetts who went south to serve with the Union forces, married a girl from Kentucky, and settled in Kentucky after the war. Farr was also related to Colonel Richard Redd, a Confederate cavalryman and lay preacher of a small rural church. After the war, "Cousin Dick" as he was called, participated in many gatherings of Confederate veterans where he and his horse "Major" would parade with the old troops again. During the war, Farr's great-grandmother visited Confederate prisoners at the Louisville, Kentucky, prison.


Second Place . . .

"The Battle of the Bees" by John W. Crawford

When guns were fired on Sumpter Fort
Arkansans did not know
That in good time they too would be
drawn into the gory show.

Arkansans thought they would be free
from all the ghostly fight;
But soon they found that Ozark land
could be a sickly sight.

The conflict of the North and South
touched Arkansas one day,
And brothers battled brothers then
because each chose his way.

One battle sight was old Spoonville,
a village in the raw;
But it well shows what havoc came
to all of Arkansas.

The good thing now about this fight,
unlike the heavy ones,
Is that both sides were routed out
and both gave up their guns.

The story goes that Gen'ral Steele
advanced to Spoonville slow;
And April 2 of sixty four
the sides began the show.

The Blue and Gray fought side by side,
the guns exploding strong;
And little did they realize
that both were in the wrong.

About the time their wrath did peak,
when all good sense was gone,
A sudden wind with lightning came
and rain and hail fell on.

The men withdrew and took a rest
assured that Sol would come;
Assured that God was on their side
and soon each would go home.

But just as clouds began to clear
and just as light moved in,
A Union soldier of the Blue
made sure that none would win.

In haste the soldier hit a hive
that hung high in the trees,
And soon he wished that he was gone -
the air was full of bees.

From right, from left, from up above,
from there and all around,
The Blue boys heard the buzzing bees -
they learned the humming sound.

They each began to run away
to flee the horrid stings;
But everywhere they moved their hands
they touched soft yellow wings.

When Gray men saw the Blue men run,
they thought they had them beat,
So in their hate they chased the Blues
and deemed it good retreat.

No sooner had the Grays begun
to chase the Blues away,
than in their midst strange sounds evolved -
the bees were in full sway.

From right, from left, from up above,
from there and all around,
The Grays now heard the buzzing bees -
They learned the humming sound.

Before the night was ushered in,
before the moon was gone,
The men of both the Blue and Gray
had wished they were at home.

And even though a few were caught
by either side that day,
There is no doubt the bees did win,
and God did have His way.

About The Author

Biography - John W. Crawford, of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, is a professor of English at Henderson State University. Crawford is a native of Arkansas, with earned degrees from Ouachita Baptist University, Drake University (Iowa), and Oklahoma State University. Crawford writes frequently for literary magazines and for newspapers and is also a poet, having had two volumes of verse published by Edwin Mellen Press, New York. His two poetry volumes are "Making The Connection" and "I Have Become Familiar With The Rain." Crawford has won the Poets Roundtable of Arkansas' Sybil Nash Abrams Award twice, the Byron Reece International Award of the Georgia State Poetry Society once, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Crawford reads his poetry frequently at state poetry societies, professional literary meetings, and at area and regional poetry readings. Crawford has a strong interest in history, as well as literature.

About The Poem

It is difficult to see humor in wartime, but this particular battle resulted in a win for Mother Nature more than for either the North or the South. This poem is fiction, based on fact. The Civil War skirmish referred to occurred in the old Spoonville, Arkansas, area in Clark County (now called Hollywood). Crawford read this poem in 1996 at a Malvern, Arkansas, history society meeting. It is a humorous, though serious account.


Third Place . . .

"The Union Soldier's Dilemma" by Richard H. Peterson

I awakened from a tent-hard sleep and brushed my tattered uniform clean,
I could hear the rustling sound of troops being mustered out across the deep ravine,
Beyond the hill the bugler's blare was urgently calling men of unspoken daring.
Would I be one who crossed the line with bayonet fixed and flintlock flaring,
Or would I run when stalked by death like a trembling deer in fractured flight?
I couldn't say that fateful day, I would have to await the command to fight.

Of course, a soldier wasn't supposed to fuss about such deeper meaning,
I had orders to follow faithfully and weapons and brass in need of cleaning.
But when I thought at all of my life before the wretched war,
It was of my family in Ohio, our farm, and father's general store,
And if I could go home again to plow the fertile fields I knew,
Or leave my battered, bloated body shrouded by the morning's dew,
A casualty of a conflict that I probably never fully understood,
Except that folks up north told me it was for the nation's good,
For the Union and the slave, could I risk my life this most uncertain way?

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.

About The Poem

The poem was written to capture and expose the feelings, fears, and self-doubt many ordinary, drafted Union soldiers must have experienced on the eve of battle. It is a product of Peterson's longtime study and teaching of American History, including the Civil War. Although Peterson has read letters of common soldiers, no specific or actual individual served as a reference for this poem. "In a larger sense," Peterson says, "I wrote the poem to symbolize the universal uncertainty of many who undoubtedly questioned why they were placing their lives in such grave danger, especially given the high mortality rate and total casualties of the Civil War."

Peterson says, "Rather than focusing on well-known elites, such as generals and political leaders, I wanted to get inside the mind of the more or less typical, unknown soldier. By doing so, the poem serves to illustrate history from what is commonly called 'the bottom up.' "

This poem was published in the Fall 1996 issue of Mail Call Journal.

Honorable Mention . . .

"The Angel And The Soldier" by Vernon Dutton

He lay on the ground, this dead soldier.
His wounds had been earned with Pride.
He'd carried the regiment's colors
in the middle of the battle's tide.

They'd assailed the Yankee Army
near Franklin's contested ground.
The minnie balls had been thick and deadly.
The cannon's roar did abound.

The first bullet grazed his forehead
and felt like the sting of a bee.
The second shot was fatal.
His right breast was pierced terribly.

He still clutched the colors tightly
as his regiment was driven back.
Two comrades took him with them
as the Southern army fled the counter attack.

They traveled as fast as possible
with their friend held fast between them.
While the rapid flow of his life's blood
caused his strength to quickly dim.

They had to allow him to rest
He could no longer walk upright.
They gave him water and comfort
as they allowed a quick respite.

The Yankees were still advancing.
Hood's Boys were totally beaten.
The soldier passed the colors to his comrades
and sent them to a safer haven.

He could hardly move his arms now.
His back was against a tall pine.
His pain would soon be gone now.
For he knew that he was dying.

He slipped away quite swiftly.
Earth faded from his sight.
It was as if he had gone to sleep
for the darkness was as if it were night.

She appeared by the soldier suddenly
with her hands folded cross her white robe.
She was God's heavenly angel.
Her long hair was like burnished gold.

Her beauty was so classic.
Her face brought solace and peace.
Her look was one of compassion.
Her skin was white as fleece.

She looked at the poor dead soldier
as if one of her children had been killed.
She had felt his death pangs hit her
as she had been called to him.

She slowly glided forward
and touched his ravaged head and chest.
The soldier stirred ever so gently
and woke from his peaceful rest.

He wondered who had woken him.
It was as if his mother had called.
His senses were so muddled.
He tried so hard to recall.

God's beautiful angel had retreated
to watch the miracle unfold.
The joy on her countenance
was glorious to behold.

One of her beloved children
had come home from Earth's dread strife.
She had watched and hovered o'er him
through his brief and short-lived life.

As the soldier recalled the battle,
the death, the din and the gore,
He wondered where the pain was
that had left his body so sore.

Then suddenly he felt her presence.
It was this being who had called.
He saw the angel looking at him
and he gasped in fear and awe.

But the look of a doting mother
put his fears all to rest.
He grasped her hands in praise.
His life had passed the test.

She permitted the boy to hold her hands.
He pressed them to his head.
Then she patted him and bid him rise.
He had nothing left to dread.

She gestured for him to follow her
to Heaven's great delight.
He raised his hand in abeyance.
He wanted to view Earth's sight.

His eyes were no longer limited.
The world could be completely seen.
He saw the total creation
and man's small part of the scheme.

He remembered his life's story.
It had been one of constant combat.
He was glad it was finally over
and he smiled that he was gone from that.

He nodded that he was through looking
and the angel guided him away.
He never looked over his shoulder.
He was now on the Heavenly Way.

About The Author

Biography - Vernon Dutton is a resident of Little Rock, Arkansas.

About The Poem

Fictional poem about a dead Confederate soldier being taken to Heaven by his Guardian Angel.


Honorable Mention . . .

"The Vicksburg Choir" by Ann Weisgarber

The boys are singing tonight.
Sweet voices from the battlefield
sing tunes of sweethearts, bold adventures,
and better days around the bend.

The day is done, the smoky haze is clearing some,
the evening's cooling down.
Rifles are cleaned, the bullets counted,
trenches tidied, buddies buried.

Nightfall in Mississippi; the boys are singing tonight.
Grant broods and Pemberton paces
listening to the entwined blue and gray voices
who number far fewer today than they did yesterday.

The boys are singing tonight,
wondering tonight -
who will be here for tomorrow's choir?

About The Author

Biography - Ann Weisgarber is a resident of Des Moines, Iowa.

About The Poem

Fictional poem based on fact. It is about the men who fought and lived in the trenches during the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, June 1863. The author's inspiration for this poem came from the battlefield itself, having spent several days there imagining what it must have been like for the foot soldiers.

Weisgarber says, "One intent of the poem is to express the idea that war becomes a routine; a job, and as with any job, soldiers need to relax at the end of a day's work. However, soldiers cannot ever truly rest. Another intent of the poem is to show that enemies in the Civil War spoke the same language, sang the same songs, and dreamed the same dreams. Surely this irony must have been an additional burden for the commanding officers."


Honorable Mention . . .

"The Last Entry" by Patrick Greiffenstein

I was a boy, not quite a man
when war did split this land.
I wore the blue, I bore the gun
and gave a fighting hand.

I saw men die, I saw men bleed,
we pitted ‘gainst ourselves;
But here's a tale you will not find
among library shelves.

At Bull Run I saw carnage,
The Wilderness was hell.
But at Gettysburg I saw a thing
I feel the need to tell.

Like touching on an unhealed wound
I fight the need to wince
as I recall a memory
that has held me ever since.

Among the dead and dying men
that on that field there lay,
A few of them lay peacefully,
their clothes in disarray.

Because a soldier, who on the field,
had felt the bite of lead,
Would search himself for gutwounds that
would surely make him dead.

As I walked back among the fallen,
before me, to my right,
I caught a glimpse, an awkward scene,
A most imposing sight.

A lad, still young, just now a man,
propped up against a rise,
His head thrown back in mild repose,
calm face and restful eyes.

And as I neared the lifeless boy
and got a closer look,
I saw his hand, there by his side,
and in it was a book.

No blood was seen from where I stood,
and surely hit soldiers would bleed;
It seemed to me, that while the fight,
the boy had stopped to read.

Now my attention captured,
I needed to inspect,
And assure myself that what I see
is not what I expect.

Upon arrival, now I saw,
indeed this man was cut
by musketball that through the air
had flown into his gut.

And then I saw the little book
that in his hand was still.
It was, in fact, a diary,
a soldier's only will.

The book was new and only told
events of recent ages,
But there his thumb was wedged between
the last two of the pages.

The last page blank except for these
three words, that to this day,
have held me in their mystic trance,
the words... "I died today."

About The Author

Biography - Patrick Greiffenstein, a resident of Miami, Florida, has a degree in Anthropology and intends to enroll in medical school.

About The Poem

Greiffenstein says of this poem, which was written on 12 November 1992, "It is in the simple tone and voice of a common soldier and in a straightforward and accessible style - quite traditional. If I were a believer of such things, I would say that it was the voice of a long-dead soldier of the war speaking to me from the beyond. More likely, I think, it was the result of dozing off to Ken Burn's video with a belly full of tortilla ships and my ‘Red-Eye Special Salsa.' Still, I sometimes wonder..."

This poem was published in the Fall 1997 issue of Mail Call Journal.


Honorable Mention . . .

"Army Dispatch" by Paul Sperou

A country church, a prayer to God,
A barefoot boy, a firing squad,
A war's excuse, its drums to roll,
Then who is left? To bless my soul?
Some grasses wet, with only sweat,
Some wet with red, red, death,
A list of names in Washington,
A mother draws a breath...

About The Author

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

About The Poem

This poem appears in Sperou's manuscript, "The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln."





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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 Fall 1997 competition closed September 15, 1997.

Updated January 2006