Civil War poetry

A Song for the 200th Pa. Vols.

By John Rice, Co. I, 208th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, as his regiment watched the assault of their comrades in the 200th Pennsylvania during the Petersburg Campaign…

The Two Hundredth Pennsylvania, The Bravest in the field

Can whip the Johnny Rebels, Who are under General Lee.

We’re the boys of Pennsylvania, The truest and the tried;

And we love the old Union As the husband loves the bride.


Oh! Then, come along, come along, make us no delay;

We come from Pennsylvania, and we are not afraid.

We’re bound to beat the Johnnies, for our motto is “go ahead;”

And we’ll tell the starving Rebels, Our army is well led.

There are seven more patriotic verses similar in spirit to this first verse. The poem is meant to be sung to the tune of Uncle Sam’s Farm, a popular ditty during the war years. It shows rather dramatically how the morale of the Army of the Potomac had changed since 1862. Now, in the spring of 1865, with fresh troops, mountains of provisions, competent leadership in Grant, and Lee’s forces holed up in the trenches in Petersburg, many soldiers could sense the end coming. Pride and esprit de corps had replaced frustration for the common foot-soldier.

Here are the other verses…

The Two Hundredth Pennsylvanians Are determined not to yield –

We fought in front of Petersburg All in the open field.

Of all the daring soldiers, In the East or in the West,

This Pennsylvania regiment Is the greatest and the best.


And when the Keystone boys shall move, The foe shall go before

The Two Hundredth Pennsylvanians Of the Ninth Army Corps.

The Two Hundredth Pennsylvanians, You’ll find we will never lag;

For they are all determined to Stick to the Union flag.


The Two Hundredth Pennsylvanians, Are ready for the fray.

But we’ll never forget our dearest wives, and sweethearts far away.

But we’ll dream about them, And wonder if they’re right.

While we are in the army Determined all to fight.


We marched along in Hatcher’s Run, And Nottaway River far –

The Two Hundredth Pennsylvanians Are fearless sons of War.

And General Grant now ever famous, And ever famed shall be;

For he’s about to lick the Rebels, And catch old General Lee.


Twas on the second day of April, 1865, We fought our greatest battle,

Where many lost their lives. It was the greatest battle,

That ever I had heard; But on next morning we all marched

Right into Petersburg.


Our first exploit was marching One hundred miles or more;

And now I’m glad to tell you, This cruel war is o’er.

Now all good Union soldiers, You need not be alarmed;

For Uncle Sam is rich enough To give us all a farm.


May all with one opinion, The Union  laws obey

Throughout the whole Dominion, In North America;

And live to hail that season, Which Prophets have foretold,

When all shall live in love and peace, And have no rebels bold.

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The old family Bible

A friend of mine here in York County, Pennsylvania, and I were talking about the Civil War over dinner one evening. I gave him a copy of my new Gettysburg and Antietam human interest stories books, and we had a pleasant conversation on books, Civil War history, and a number of other interesting topics. Unlike me, who moved here from Ohio in 2001, Dick’s family has been here for several generations.

Sometime later, in looking through his old family Bible, he noticed a very old newspaper clipping, a Civil War poem written late in the 19th Century. It turned out that the poem was written by John Rice of the 208th Pennsylvania Infantry to commemorate the attack of the 200th Pennsylvania on Fort Steadman during the Petersburg siege, as well as their valor on other fields.

This led my friend and I to wonder what the connection was between his grandfather’s Bible and this old poem, and also led me to wonder why a man in the 208th PA would write a poem about another regiment. Today, with some time at lunch to do some digging, I found some answers. My friend’s great- grandfather, the Bible’s owner, was a soldier in the 200th PA – his name appears in the old muster rolls of this 1-year regiment that was raised in York, Cumberland, and Dauphin counties. I then found some more information on his grandfather in various archives, and will give him the information the next time we are together for dinner.

In Samuel Bates’ old book on the PA volunteers, I looked up the 200th PA. Lo and behold, the book includes a map (a rarity for this book!) of the fight at Fort Steadman which shows the relative position of the 200th and 208th. As the two regiments charged forward, John Rice and the men of the 208th had a clear view of the 200th as it advanced. Rice may have been an eyewitness to this attack, and he celebrated their bravery at this fight and others in his lengthy poem, which I will reproduce at some point in a future blog post.

I am a fan of old 19th Century Civil War poetry, and John Rice’s verses were new to me. I had never seen them before, or heard of a poem honoring the 200th, one of York County’s own regiments.

The moral – get out those old diaries, Bibles, letters, steamer trunks, etc. and have a look. You might find some connection to your ancestors’ Civil War heritage!

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Yankee Gettysburg poetry

It was the languid hour of noon,

When all the birds were out of tune,

And nature in a sultry swoon,

            In pleasant Pennsylvania!


When—sudden o’er the slumbering plain,

Red flashed the battle’s fiery rain—

The volleying cannon shook again

            The hills of Pennsylvania!


Beneath that curse of iron hail,

That threshed the plain with flashing flail,

Well might the stoutest soldier quail,

            In echoing Pennsylvania!


Then, like a sudden summer rain,

Storm driven o’er the darkened plain,—

They burst upon our ranks and main,

            In startled Pennsylvania!


We felt the old ancestral thrill,

From sire to son, transmitted still

And fought for freedom with a will,

            In pleasant Pennsylvania!


The breathless shock—the maddened toil,

The sudden clinch—the sharp recoil—

And we were masters of the soil,

            In bloody Pennsylvania!


To Westward fell the beaten foe,—

The growl of battle, hoarse and low

Was heard anon—but dying slow,

            In ransomed Pennsylvania!


Sou’westward, with the sinking sun,

The flash of battle, dense and dun,

Flashed into fire—and all was won

            In joyful Pennsylvania!


But ah!—the heaps of loyal slain!

The bloody toil!—the bitter pain!

For those who shall not stand again,

            In pleasant Pennsylvania!


Back through the verdant valley lands,

Fast fled the foe, in frightened bands,

With broken swords and empty hands,

            Out of Pennsylvania!


Gilbert Adams Hays, Under the Red Patch, The Sixty-third Regiment
Pennsylvania Volunteers
1861—1864 (Pittsburgh: Regimental Association, 1908).

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