My brother Ben marched off to war.
He said he'd be back soon.
Silk banners waved as brass bands played a jaunty marching
O, Glory Day, two hundred feet went tramping out in time.
I was so proud of brother Ben, a-marching in that line.
My brother Ben came home from war.
He came back way too soon.
While banners waved, a bugle played a plaintive, wailing
There in a lonely graveyard on the other side of town,
They laid my only brother in the cold and dark, damp ground.
I swore I'd get those rebels who had shot my brother dead.
I took his gun and went to war, though I was fraught with
But I'd be like my brother Ben,
Courageous, brave and strong.
I figured that I'd come back soon.
I'd not be gone for long.
I joined a New York company.
We marched through rain and fire
A-chasin' after rebel troops through woods and fields and
Along the Chickahominy as I stood watch one night,
A ragged southern soldier boy appeared there in my sights.
"You give me just one reason not to shoot you on this spot!"
"Wal, here's my reason, feller. It's the only one I got."
He pulled a tattered picture out,
Its edges frayed and curled.
The dim light of the big full moon shone on a pretty girl.
"This here's my little sister, and I'm all that she's got
You Yanks have killed our family, burned our home.
We're sore bereft."
I trained my rifle on his chest and fought against the tears
That burned there in my eyes that night.
I fought the pain that seared my heart for all the brothers
The homes burned to the ground.
I looked into that boy's sad eyes, and set my rifle down.
Along the Chickahominy, the night owls hooted low
As crickets chirped and rabbits squealed.
I let that rebel go.
I sat down on the river bank and cried that steamy night.
Oh how I prayed that what I'd done was just and fair and
I pulled the kepi off my head and let my hair fall loose.
What kind of sister am I? Oh, what folly did I choose?
A soldier, I had failed to do a soldier's job that night.
But as my brother's sister, gave a girl her brother's life.
by Sandra E. McBride
... who is a feature writer for a local weekly newspaper, and
whose poem, "A Frightened Boy", was awarded the 2000 First Place
prize in Civil War poetry by Distant Frontier Press. Her poetry
has been published in Mail Call Journal, in six
anthologies by June Cotner, and a collection entitled Mist
Upon the Pond (2005). Her children's story, "The Enemy",
based on the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, was published in October
2006 by Highlights for Children. Other freelance
writings have been published in NEWN,
Her Circle, Once Upon a Time,
and Magic Lark Journal. She is a member of the
Halfmoon Historical Society and the Friends of Saratoga