The Civil War Connections Blog

‘The spectral blue lights rose in vain…’

The January 24, 1863 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper carries the story of the Monitor‘s sinking on the front page. But buried within the issue was also the following poem. What I find interesting is that part two deals with the search that ensued after the sinking. There is no author listed – likely a staff writer who specialized in such quick turnaround on current events. But no matter. So, in honor of the events of 151 years ago, I bring it to you now.

The Monitor: December 31, 1862

I.

In gallant trim, with fame elate,
the foremost of our Ironsides,
the Monitor, with noble freight
forth on the Atlantic billow rides.

Monroe’s grim fort, from iron mouth,
thunders “God Speed” and “Victory!”
With answering cheer, towards the South
on steams the hero of the sea.

Old Ocean smiled, the wind was light,
the sailors wore a joyous air,
so passed the day, and so the night,
and all around was calm and fair.

But with the morning clouds arose,
which deepened, till, when evening came,
fierce on her fell those giant blows,
sending dull tremors thro’ her frame.

But as a rider strides his horse,
which rages neath his weight, so kept
our gallant boat her onward course,
and thro’ the tempest swept.

But art is weak when Nature rears
in wrath sublime her giant form,
and clothed in lurid night, rides forth
upon the volleying storm.

Down thro’ the gaping seams the wave
poured its insidious tide, as erst
o’er Arqua’s walls the invaders crept,
ere fell swoop the stormers burst.

Firm at their post, the gallant crew
struggled with night, and storm, and sea,
’twas all in vain— the tempest grew,
and battled for its victory.

The spectral blue lights rose in vain,
from the Rhode Island–soaring high–
in one brief gleam they pierce the rain,
then perish in the sky.

O’er deck and tower the maddened waves
like living creatures rush and leap
as ‘tho Old Ocean had unchained
the demons of the deep.

‘Twas the threshold of the morn–
Midnight, without a star looked on;
and as the stormy day was born,
the Monitor was gone!

For with one shuddering lurch, as tho
it knew its doom, above the wave
it rose an instant, then below
plunged deep into its grave.

Brave hearts were quenched forever then,
they died as honor loves to die,
in striking chains from fellow men–
for Truth and Liberty!

And honor to the glorious band,
who, scorning the wild tempests breath,
grappled their sinking comrades hand,
and dragged them back from death!

Worden and Bankhead—gallant twain,
for one brief minute ye may weep
your ocean home beneath the main,
then to fresh triumphs on the deep!

II.
‘Twas the last morn of ’62,
and by the long gray strips of sand
of Hatteras the seagulls flew,
at instincts blind command.

And all that day around the spot
where sank the noble Monitor,
The staunch Rhode Island cruised–
forgot were storm and oceans roar.

But fathoms deep below the wave,
our grand heroic brothers rest,
the corals guard their sacred grave;
and sea flowers deck each breast.

Where o’er their billowy pall each night
the sighing winds roll and surge,
the choral voices, vast and dim–
Old Oceans solemn dirge.