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To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave

To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave: American Poetry and the Civil War

Faith Barrett
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave
    Book Description:

    Focusing on literary and popular poets, as well as work by women, African Americans, and soldiers, this book considers how writers used poetry to articulate their relationships to family, community, and nation during the Civil War. Faith Barrett suggests that the nationalist “we” and the personal “I” are not opposed in this era; rather they are related positions on a continuous spectrum of potential stances. For example, while Julia Ward Howe became famous for her “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” in an earlier poem titled “The Lyric I” she struggles to negotiate her relationship to domestic, aesthetic, and political stances. Barrett makes the case that Americans on both sides of the struggle believed that poetry had an important role to play in defining national identity. She considers how poets created a platform from which they could speak both to their own families and local communities and to the nations of the Confederacy, the Union, and the United States. She argues that the Civil War changed the way American poets addressed their audiences and that Civil War poetry changed the way Americans understood their relationship to the nation.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-214-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION The Rhetoric of Voice in Civil War Poetry
    (pp. 1-16)

    “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” writes Julia Ward Howe in the opening lines of her career-making “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Beginning with a solitary speaker’s declaration of her prophetic vision of the future of the nation, the piece builds to a dramatic climax in the fifth and final stanza which enacts rhetorically the forging of the collective of Union supporters: “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” In moving from the singular “I” to the collective “us,” Howe’s “Battle Hymn” exemplifies the sense of political...

    (pp. 17-40)

    During the early years of the Civil War, three American songs became essential anthems for the communities that adopted them, and each of these songs helped define and affirm the bonds that constituted those communities. These three songs were Dan Emmett’s “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land,” the Sorrow Song “Let My People Go: A Song of the ‘Contrabands’ ” (now better known under the title “Go Down, Moses”), and Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a variant version of the popular soldiers’ song “John Brown’s Body.” Underlining the powerful legacy of Civil War culture, all three...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “WE ARE HERE AT OUR COUNTRY’S CALL” Nationalist Commitments and Personal Stances in Union and Confederate Soldiers’ Poems
    (pp. 41-86)

    On a rainy Decoration Day in May 1869, George Bryant Woods was one of a number of invited speakers who stood before the monument for fallen soldiers in his hometown of Barre, Massachusetts. As an eighteen-year-old, Woods had served for six months as a private in the Eighth Massachusetts Battery before returning to his civilian job as a journalist and newspaper editor. His speech offers memories of other young Barre men who enlisted in the war’s early years and describes their combat service. At Antietam, in the midst of artillery fire, Woods finds a Barre friend who is fighting with...

    (pp. 87-129)

    For amateur soldier-poets, the genre of poetry offers the flexibility of changing perspectives, moving swiftly between the nationalist “we” of the military collective and the decentered “I” of individual experience. Soldier-poets can represent combat or can argue—with the authority of their wartime experience—that it defies representation. They can imagine women’s relationships to battlefield violence—or they can suggest that women are too far removed from the field of combat to be able to understand the soldier’s experience. While poetry offers nineteenth-century women writers extraordinary freedoms—the freedom to speak in the first person in the voice of a...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR ADDRESSES TO A DIVIDED NATION Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and the Place of the Lyric I
    (pp. 130-186)

    “War feels to me an oblique place,” Emily Dickinson writes in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson in February 1863, three months after Higginson traveled to South Carolina to take command of a black regiment (JL 280).¹ Scholars who examine Dickinson’s poetry often cite this passage as an example of Dickinson’s ambivalent relationship toward the Civil War in particular and toward expressing political commitments more generally. We expect Dickinson, as one of the first American modernists, to position herself at a skeptical and oblique angle in relation to the war and its ideologies. We look for Dickinson to posit a...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE ROMANTIC VISIONS AND SOUTHERN STANCES Henry Timrod, Sarah Piatt, and George Moses Horton
    (pp. 187-250)

    While Northern poets like Whitman and Dickinson find in romantic landscape description an important topos for representation of battlefield violence, for Southern poets representation of the natural world becomes still more central, all but essential to the poetics of war. For Southern writers, as this group is usually understood—white Confederate men—the construct of the Confederate nation is inseparable from the Southern natural world: Southern writers represent the new nation through the prism of nature, including images of the Southern flora and climate that foreground the South’s iconic status as an Edenic paradise, a land of natural harmony and...

  11. CHAPTER SIX “THEY ANSWERED HIM ALOUD” Popular Voice and Nationalist Allegiances in Herman Melville’s Battle-Pieces
    (pp. 251-280)

    Like his contemporary George Moses Horton, Herman Melville produces a body of war poetry that is remarkable for the range of aesthetic stances it includes. Like all of the writers examined here, Melville uses his wartime poetry to examine the possibilities that poetic voice offers for speaking to and for the divided nation; in the boldness of its experimentation with both traditional and innovative poetic stances, however, Melville’sBattle-Piecesforegrounds with particular clarity questions about how poetry might work to fracture, to unify, and to redefine the nation. While scholars who have analyzed Melville’s war poems have often approached them...

  12. EPILOGUE Civil War Poetry in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
    (pp. 281-294)

    On September 14, 2001, a nationally televised memorial service for the victims of the September 11 attacks was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Called “A Day of Prayer and Remembrance,” the service included a performance by the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters of Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The congregation, which included former presidents and other political leaders, rose and joined in the singing. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” the song begins, linking individual singers and listeners together through an imaginatively shared experience of prophetic vision. Though Howe...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 295-328)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 329-337)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 338-338)