35 - A Dirge for McPherson
A Dirge for McPherson,General James Birdseye McPherson, the Union's second-highest ranking officer, had distinguished himself under Grant at Shiloh and was serving under Sherman in Georgia, when, on the morning of the Battle of Atlanta, he was surprised by Confederate scouts and killed while attempting to escape.
Killed in front of Atlanta.
Arms reversed and banners craped—
Snowy horses sable-draped—
But, tell us, shall we know him more,
Lost-Mountain and lone Kenesaw?
Brave the sword upon the pall—
A gleam in gloom;
So a bright name lighteth all
Bear him through the chapel-door—
Let priest in stole
Pace before the warrior
Who led. Bell—toll!
Lay him down within the nave,
The Lesson read—
Man is noble, man is brave,
But man's—a weed.
Take him up again and wend
Graveward, nor weep:
There's a trumpet that shall rend
This Soldier's sleep.
Pass the ropes the coffin round,
And let descend;
Prayer and volley—let it sound
True fame is his, for life is o'er—
SarpedonHuman son of Zeus, the Thracian king Sarpedon fought for Troy in the Trojan War and was killed in combat with Patroclus, who wore Achilles's armor, as described in the Iliad. Sarpedon's ascension to heaven is depicted in a painting by Fuseli. Melville's choice of Sarpedon may have been influenced by his reading of Pope's treatment of Sarpedon and fame in his translation of the Iliad: "The life which others pay, let us bestow, / And give to fame what we to nature owe." Melville owned Pope's Iliad (Sealts #147). He could have found the couplet as well in his copy of an 1865 edition of Matthew Arnold's Essays in Criticism (Sealts #17; see NN
Published Poems, 655). of the mighty war.
[Melville's] Note m, page 124.
The late Major General McPherson, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, a native of Ohio and a West Pointer, was one of the foremost spirits of the war. Young, though a veteran; hardy, intrepid, sensitive in honor, full of engaging qualities, with manly beauty; possessed of genius, a favorite with the army, and with Grant and Sherman. Both Generals have generously acknowledged their professional obligations to the able engineer and admirable soldier, their subordinate and junior.
In an informal account written by the Achilles to this SarpedonMelville is confused in assigning the role of Sarpedon's avenger to Achilles, who was the friend of Patroclus and Sarpedon's rival. Sarpedon's Trojan ally Hector is the more likely figure to play the role. The passage Melville quotes is from General Sherman's "The Late Major General J.B. McPherson" in the magazine Hours at Home 2.6 (April 1866): 485-93 (See Scott Norsworthy, "If 6 was 9," https://melvilliana.blogspot.com), he says: "On that day we avenged his death. Near twenty-two hundred of the enemy's dead remained on the ground when night closed upon the scene of action."It is significant of the scale on which the war was waged, that the engagement thus written of goes solely (so far as can be learned) under the vague designation of one of the battles before Atlanta.