17 - Malvern Hill
Malvern HillOne of the oldest plantations in Virginia and probably named after England's Malvern hills, Malvern Hill had been a patriot campsite during the Revolutionary War, hosting at one point the Marquis de Lafayette, and again during the war of 1812 (Marc Matrana, Lost Plantations of the South, 2009). Melville visited the Malvern Hill battlefield during his trip to Virginia in April 1864, where he purchased “a souvenir brick made from the clay of Malvern Hill” (Cohen 232). The opening reference to the elms at Malvern Hill may be sourced in The Rebellion Record 5.266 (Cohen 231)..
Ye elms that wave on Malvern Hill
In prime of morn and May,
Recall ye how McClellan's men
Here stood at bay?
While deep within yon forest dim
Our rigid comrades lay—
Some with the cartridge in their mouth“A paper cartridge containing powder and a lead ball was used for some muzzle-loading rifles. The paper was bitten open, the powder emptied into the bore, and the paper rammed in as wadding” (Cohen 233). In line 8, Melville may have drawn the graphic image of the dead lying with "fixed arms" from reports of men lying with "arms stretched upward at length” in The Rebellion Record 5.268 (See NN Published Poems, 639).,
Others with fixed arms lifted South—
The cypressCypress is associated with mourning. glades? Ah wilds of woe!
The spires of Richmond, late beheld
Through rifts in musket-haze,
Were closed from view in clouds of dust
On leaf-walled ways,
Where streamed our wagons in caravan;
And the Seven Nights and Days
Of march and fast, retreat and fight,
Pinched our grimed faces to ghastly plight—
Does the elm wood
Recall the haggard beards of blood?
The battle-smoked flag, with stars eclipsed,
We followed (it never fell!)—
In silence husbanded our strength—
Received their yell;
Till on this slope we patient turned
With cannon ordered wellBoth the Federal Army of the Potomac and Lee’s Confederate Army of Virginia exchanged heavy artillery fire to weaken each opponent’s lines. The Union barrage during Lee's infantry attack on the 130-foot high Malvern Hill decided the Union’s victory.;
Reverse we proved was not defeat;
But ah, the sod what thousands meet!—
Does Malvern Wood
Bethink itself, and muse and brood?
We elms of Malvern Hill
Remember every thing;
But sap the twig will fill:
Wag the world how it will,"'Thus we may see,’ quoth he, ‘how the world wags’” (As You Like It 2.7.23).,
Leaves must be green in Spring.