Saturday, March 31, 2012

"The Sweet Little Man of '61" A poem about "stay at Home Rangers" or cowardice in the Union

This charming little poem was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861 about a certain class of men in society who considered themselves above service in the Army. These were usually the men who fervently supported the cause of freedom and were against secession; and urged many others to join and take up arms, but somehow always managed to avoid enlistment themselves.

It is mentioned in the Civil war "Reenactor's Bible" {written by an actual Civil War Veteran by the name of John D. Billings, otherwise known as Hardtack & Coffee } I like the polite humor leveled at this oft-maligned upper class group of people in Northern society. It's irreverent, yet not entirely hateful.

here the poem is in its entirety.


Now while our soldiers are fighting our battles,
Each at his post do all that he can,
Down among Rebels and contraband chattels,
What are you doing, my sweet little man?

All the brave boys under canvas are sleeping;
All of them pressing to march with the van,
Far from home where their sweethearts are weeping;
What are you waiting for, sweet little man?

You with the terrible warlike moustaches,
Fit for a colonel or chief of a clan,
You with the waist made for sword-belts and sashes,
Where are your shoulder-straps, sweet little man?

Bring him the buttonless garment of woman!
Cover his face lest it freckle and tan;
Muster the Apron-string Guards on the Common, -
That is the corps for the sweet little man!

Give him for escort a file of young misses,
Each of them armed with a deadly rattan;
They shall defend him from laughter and hisses,
Aimed by low boys at the sweet little man.

All the fair maidens about him shall cluster,
Pluck the white feather from bonnet and fan,
Make him a plume like a turkey-wing duster, --
That is the crest for the sweet little man.

Oh, but the Apron-string Guards are the fellows!
Drilling each day since our trouble began,--
"Handle your walking-sticks!" "Shoulder umbrellas!"
That is the style for the sweet little man.

Have we a nation to save? In the first place
Saving ourselves is the sensible plan.
Surely, the spot where there's shooting's the worst place
Where I can stand, says the sweet little man.

Catch me confiding my person with strangers,
Think how the cowardly Bull-Runners ran!
In the brigade of the Stay-at-home Rangers
Marches my corps, says the sweet little man.

Such was the stuff of the Malakoff takers,
Such were the soldiers that scaled the Redan;
Truculent housemaids and bloodthirsty Quakers
Brave not the wrath of the sweet little man!

Yield him the sidewalk, ye nursery maidens!
Sauve qui peut! Bridget, and right about! Ann;--
Fierce as a shark in a school of menhadens,
See him advancing, the sweet little man!

When the red flails of the battlefield's threshers
Beat out the continent's wheat from its bran,
While the wind scatters the chaffy Seceshers,
What will become of the sweet little man?

When the brown soldiers come back from the borders,
How will he look while his features they scan?
How will he feel when he gets marching orders,
Signed by his lady love? Sweet little man.

Fear not for him though the Rebels expect him,--
Life is too precious to shorten its span;
Woman her broomstick shall raise to protect him,
Will she not fight for the sweet little man!

Now, then, nine cheers for the Stay-at-home Ranger!
Blow the great fish-horn and beat the big pan!
First in the field, that is farthest from danger,
take your white feather plume, sweet little man!

A "White Feather Man" was another name for a coward at the time. This poem is basically stating that men who thought themselves too rich to fight were girly men. Notice how it mentions their ladies often defending their husband's right to refuse the service. The overall sentiment was "maybe we should send your women to fight in your stead!"

Just an amusing little poem.

1 comment:

  1. I love these little poems. It goes to show you how important the war was to people at that time. Love the Civil War. :)