26 - Chattanooga*
Chattanooga.First appearing in June, 1866, "Chattanooga" is one of five Battle-Pieces poems to appear in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (33:44). The poem's last stanza (which does not appear in the Harper’s version) was derived from "Inscription for the Slain at Fredericksburgh"; see Revision Narrative below for a fuller account. The poem itself treats the Chattanooga Campaign of October/November, 1863, in which, after significant losses on both sides, Grant's Union forces seized control of the Tennessee River by taking the central transportation hub of the rivertown Chattanooga. Union victory was achieved when Grant deployed regiments against Confederate artillery strongholds on the surrounding heights of the city, first taking Lookout Mountain and then Missionary Ridge, on November 24 and 25th, respectively. A likely source for reports of Union cheering and the dead is from The Rebellion Record 8: 235 (NN Published Poems 645-46).
A kindling impulse seized the host
Inspired by heaven's elastic airOriginally, for the Harper’s version, Melville had written "October air," which sets the taking of Missionary Ridge a month too early. Melville's "Note J" in the Battle-Pieces version of the poem seems to justify the mis-timing of "October," but Melville removed "October" when he revised to "elastic air," thus obviating the weather concerns in Note J., j
Their hearts outran their General's plan,
Though Grant commanded there—
Grant, who without reserve can dare;
And, “Well, go on and do your will,”
He said, and measured the mountainPossibly Lookout Mountain but more likely the series of hills making up nearby Missionary Ridge. then:
So master-riders fling the rein—
But you must know your men.
On yester-morn in grayish mist,
Armies like ghosts on hills had fought,
And rolled from the cloud their thunders loud
The Cumberlands far had caught:
To-day the sunlit steeps are sought.
Grant stood on cliffs whence all was plain,
And smoked as one who feels no cares;
But mastered nervousness intense
Alone such calmness wears.
The summit-cannon plunge their flame
Sheer down the primal wall,
But up and up each linking troop
In stretching festoons crawl—
Nor fire a shot. Such men appall
The foe, though brave. He, from the brink,
Looks far along the breadth of slope,
And sees two miles of dark dots creep,
And knows they mean the copeVault of the skies..
He sees them creep. Yet here and there
Half hid 'mid leafless groves they go;
As men who ply through traceries high
Of turreted marbles show—
So dwindle these to eyes below.
But fronting shot and flanking shell
Sliver and rive the inwoven ways;
High tops of oaks and high hearts fall,
But never the climbing stays.
From right to left, from left to right
They roll the rallying cheer—
Vie with each other, brother with brother,
Who shall the first appear—
What color-bearer with colors clear
In sharp relief, like sky-drawn Grant,
Whose cigar must now be near the stump—
While in solicitude his back
Heaps slowly to a hump.
Near and more near; till now the flags
Run like a catching flame;
And one flares highest, to peril nighest—
He means to make a name:
Salvos! they give him his fame.
The staff is caught, and next the rush,
And then the leap where death has led;
Flag answered flag along the crest,
And swarms of rebelsSee step six in the Revision Narrative below. fled.
But some who gained the envied AlpAny mountain, and in this case, the heights of Missionary Ridge.,
And—eager, ardent, earnest there—
Dropped into Death's wide-open arms,
Quelled on the wing like eagles struck in air—
Forever they slumber young and fair,
The smile upon them as they died;
Their end attained, that end a height:
Life was to these a dream fulfilled,
And death a starry night.See Revision Narrative below, especially steps 4 and 5, for discussion of earlier versions of the last stanza and its final image of death as "a starry night."
[Melville's] Note j, page 90.
Although the month was November, the day was in character an October one—cool, clear, bright, intoxicatingly invigorating; one of those days peculiar to the ripest hour of our American autumn. This weather must have had much to do with the spontaneous enthusiasm which seized the troops—an enthusiasm aided, doubtless, by glad thoughts of the victory of Look-out Mountain won the day previous, and also by the elation attending the capture, after a fierce struggle, of the long ranges of rifle-pits at the mountain's base, where orders for the time should have stopped the advance. But there and then it was that the army took the bit between its teeth, and ran away with the generals to the victory commemorated. General Grant, at Culpepper, a few weeks prior to crossing the Rapidan for the Wilderness, expressed to a visitor his impression of the impulse and the spectacle: Said he, "I never saw any thing like it:" language which seems curiously undertoned, considering its application; but from the taciturn Commander it was equivalent to a superlative or hyperbole from the talkative.
The height of the Ridge, according to the account at hand, varies along its length from six to seven hundred feet above the plain; it slopes at an angle of about forty-five degrees.
Editors’ Revision Narrative.
The poem Melville finally titled “Chattanooga” exists in six versions—in ink (twice), facsimile, magazine, book, and pencil—documented throughout NN Published Poems (66-68, 321, 645-47, and 866-67). The first two are manuscript versions of a separate poem containing wordings that end up in the last stanza of “Chattanooga.”
(1) The first manuscript version is the six-line “Inscription For the Slain at Fredericksburgh” (transcribed below), which Melville submitted, as early as January 1864, in response to a request by Alexander Bliss and John Pendleton Kennedy for his contribution of an “autograph” (i.e. handwritten) poem to be photo-reproduced in their collection of facsimiles of poems by other celebrated writers, titled Autograph Leaves of Our Country’s Authors (Baltimore, [April] 1864). The poem memorializes the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia (December 13-15, 1862), a bloody Union defeat.
For the Slain
——— * ——
A glory lights an earnest end;
In jubilee the patriot ghosts ascend.
Transfigured at the rapturous height
Of their passionate feat of arms,
Death to the brave’s a starry night,—
Strown their vale of death with palms.
(2) On March 22, 1864, Melville submitted a revised manuscript version of this poem, with “Slain” in the title changed to “Dead,” “glory” augmented to “dreadful glory,” and “Strown” corrected to “Strewn.” The effect of the less poetic "Dead" is to damper, if only slightly, the apparent exuberence of the "patriot ghosts" happy in their ascent to heaven. Similarly, "dreadful glory" adds a spritual freight to mere "glory." Melville is making a direct quotation from Isaac Watts's hymn based on Psalm 65, which is itself a version of the KJV wording "terrible things in righteousness." Here, "dreadful" (like "terrible") means something more like "shocking" or "awe-inducing" (See Norsworthy, Melvilliana, 12/21/12). The soldiers' transfiguration on "rapturous heights" is a likely reference to the final, disastrous battle of Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg; the carnage included 6000 to 8000 Union dead and wounded and 1200 Confederate casualties. Since Marye's heights is a slope culminating in a fifty-foot summit, Melville's modifier "rapturous" has more to do with the rapture of transfiguration than of breathtaking height. Melville's intention was that his revised manuscript would be substituted in Bliss and Kennedy’s compendium for the original.
(3) However, the original manuscript (as displayed and transcribed above) was already in production, and the original (not the revised version) appeared in Bliss and Kennedy’s Autograph Leaves. Neither version of this “Inscription” would appear in Battle-Pieces. Instead, Melville composed a second and different Fredericksburg "Inscription," the seven-line “Inscription for Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg” (see Poem 59), which memorializes the battle’s bloodiest encounter. Here, rather than the transfiguration of "patriot ghosts," the soldiers' "deathful tumult" is memorialized as something "more than victory." Notably absent in the Marye's "Inscription" is Melville's "starry night" image, although some vestige of it may be found in two lines—"with eyes / Upon the heavenly flag intent" (Marye's, ll. 2-3)—which reveal a dormant association in the original manuscript "Inscription" poem between night stars and the field of stars in the Union battle flag.
(4) The 1866 battle-piece “Chattanooga,” which focuses on the Union victory in the Chattanooga Campaign of late fall 1863, is linked to Melville’s 1864 “Inscription For the Slain/Dead At Fredericksburgh” because the last stanza of "Chattanooga" draws wording directly from the "Inscriptions," especially the moving image of death as “a starry night.” In addition, both the Fredericksburg "Inscription" and “Chattanooga” relate battles involving Union forces storming Confederates occupying the upper ground. The emphasis is on versions of up, or elevation. "Chattanooga" first appeared in the June 1866 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (33: 44). However, curiously, the “starry night” stanza does not appear in the magazine version. Either it was omitted because the final (odd numbered) stanza would not fit the magazine's double-column arrangement of the poem, or the final stanza did not exist at the time, and Melville added it later, before the reappearance of "Chattanooga" in Battle-Pieces.
(5) Apart from the addition of the “starry night” final stanza, the only other substantive changes in the Battle-Pieces print version of “Chattanooga” are the addition of the sub-title’s dateline of “(November, 1863),” which does not appear in the Harper’s version and the revision of the Harper’s phrasing “October air” to the Battle-Pieces phrase “elastic air” in line 2. The magazine and book versions also differ in 25 places regarding punctuation and capitalization. A likely revision scenario regarding "Chattanooga" and Melville's two "Inscription" poems regarding Fredericksburg is that, either just before or just after the poem's June 1866 publication in Harper’s, Melville converted his jubilant Fredericksburg "Inscription" to his more mordant Marye's Heights "Inscription" and, in doing so, also preserved his "starry night" image for the final stanza of "Chattanooga."
(6) In the left margin next to line 54 of his Copy C of Battle-Pieces, Melville inscribed “foemen” in pencil as a possible alternate wording for “rebels.”