Kentucky Belle – A Civil War Poem set in Ohio

Garfield House

Today I went to a Civil War themed program at the the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.   We heard a trio from Hiram College sing songs and read poetry inspired by writings about the Civil War.  This beautiful poem about the war and a beloved horse by Constance Fenimore Woolson was read and there was not a dry eye in the house by the time it was done.

Kentucky Belle

Summer of ‘sixty-three, sir, and Conrad was gone away-
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.
We lived in the log house yonder, poor as ever you’ve seen;
Roschen there was a baby, and I was only nineteen.

Conrad, he took the oxen, but he left Kentucky Belle;
How much we thought of Kentuck, I couldn’t begin to tell-
Came from the Bluegrass country; my father gave her to me
When I rode north with Conrad, away from the Tennessee.

Conrad lived in Ohio-a German he is, you know-
The house stood in broad cornfields, stretching on, row after row;
The old folks made me welcome; they were kind as kind could be;
But I kept longing, longing, for the hills of Tennessee.

O, for a sight of water, the shadowed slope of a hill!
Clouds that hang on the summit, a wind that is never still!
But the level land went stretching away to meet the sky-
Never a rise, from north to south, to rest the weary eye!

From east to west, no river to shine out under the moon,
Nothing to make a shadow in the yellow afternoon;
Only the breathless sunshine, as I looked out, all forlorn,
Only the ‘rustle, rustle,’ as I walked among the corn.

When I fell sick with pining we didn’t wait any more,
But moved away from the cornlands out to this river shore-
The Tuscarawas it’s called, sir-off there’s a hill, you see-
And now I’ve grown to like it next best to the Tennessee.

I was at work that morning. Someone came riding like mad
Over the bridge and up the road-Farmer Rouf’s little lad.
Bareback he rode; he had no hat; he hardly stopped to say,
‘Morgan’s men are coming, Frau, they’re galloping on this way.

‘I’m sent to warn the neighbors. He isn’t a mile behind;
He sweeps up all the horses-every horse that he can find;
Morgan, Morgan the raider, and Morgan’s terrible men,
With bowie knives and pistols, are galloping up the glen.’

The lad rode down the valley, and I stood still at the door-
The baby laughed and prattled, playing with spools on the floor;
Kentuck was out in the pasture; Conrad, my man, was gone;
Near, near Morgan’s men were galloping, galloping on!

Sudden I picked up baby and ran to the pasture bar:
‘Kentuck!’ I called; ‘Kentucky!’ She knew me ever so far!
I led her down the gully that turns off there to the right,
And tied her to the bushes; her head was just out of sight.

As I ran back to the log house at once there came a sound-
The ring of hoofs, galloping hoofs, trembling over the ground,
Coming into the turnpike out from the White-Woman Glen-
Morgan, Morgan the raider, and Morgan’s terrible men.

As near they drew and nearer my heart beat fast in alarm;
But still I stood in the doorway, with baby on my arm.
They came; they passed; with spur and whip in haste they sped along;
Morgan, Morgan the raider, and his band six hundred strong.

Weary they looked and jaded, riding through night and through day;
Pushing on east to the river, many long miles away,
To the border strip where Virginia runs up into the west,
And for the Upper Ohio before they could stop to rest.

On like the wind they hurried, and Morgan rode in advance;
Bright were his eyes like live coals, as he gave me a sideways glance;
And I was just breathing freely, after my choking pain,
When the last one of the troopers suddenly drew his rein.

Frightened I was to death, sir; I scarce dared look in his face,
As he asked for a drink of water and glanced around the place;
I gave him a cup, and he smiled-’twas only a boy, you see,
Faint and worn, with dim blue eyes, and he’d sailed on the Tennessee.

Only sixteen he was, sir-a fond mother’s only son-
Off and away with Morgan before his life had begun!
The damp drops stood on his temples; drawn was the boyish mouth;
And I thought me of the mother waiting down in the South!

O, pluck was he to the backbone and clear grit through and through;
Boasted and bragged like a trooper, but the big words wouldn’t do;
The boy was dying, sir, dying, as plain as plain could be,
Worn out by his ride with Morgan up from the Tennessee.

But, when I told the laddie that I too was from the South,
Water came in his dim blue eyes and quivers around his mouth.
‘Do you know the Bluegrass country?’ he wistful began to say,
Then swayed like a willow sapling and fainted dead away.

I had him into the log house, and worked and brought him to;
I fed him and coaxed him, as I thought his mother’d do;
And, when the lad got better, and the noise in his head was gone,
Morgan’s men were miles away, galloping, galloping on.

‘O, I must go,’ he muttered; ‘I must be up and away!
Morgan, Morgan is waiting for me! O, what will Morgan say?’
But I heard a sound of tramping and kept him back from the door-
The ringing sound of horses’ hoofs that I had heard before.

And on, on came the soldiers-the Michigan cavalry-
And fast they rode, and black they looked galloping rapidly;
They had followed hard on Morgan’s track; they had followed day and night;
But of Morgan and Morgan’s raiders they had never caught a sight.

And rich Ohio sat startled through all those summer days,
For strange, wild men were galloping over her broad highways;
Now here, now there, now seen, now gone, now north, now east, now west,
Through river valleys and corn-land farms, sweeping away her best.

A bold ride and a long ride! But they were taken at last.
They almost reached the river by galloping hard and fast;
But the boys in blue were upon them ere ever they gained the ford,
And Morgan, Morgan the raider, laid down his terrible sword.

Well, I kept the boy till evening-kept him against his will-
But he was too weak to follow, and sat there pale and still;
When it was cool and dusky-you’ll wonder to hear me tell-
But I stole down to that gully and brought up Kentucky Belle.

I kissed the star on her forehead-my pretty, gentle lass-
But I knew that she’d be happy back in the old Bluegrass;
A suit of clothes of Conrad’s, with all the money I had,
And Kentuck, pretty Kentuck, I gave to the worn-out lad.

I guided him to the southward as well as I knew how;
The boy rode off with many thanks, and many a backward bow;
And then the glow it faded, and my heart began to swell,
As down the glen away she went, my lost Kentucky Belle!

When Conrad came home in the evening the moon was shining high;
Baby and I were both crying-I couldn’t tell him why-
But a battered suit of rebel gray was hanging on the wall,
And a thin old horse with a drooping head stood in Kentucky’s stall.

Well, he was kind, and never once said a hard word to me;
He knew I couldn’t help it-’twas all for the Tennessee;
But, after the war was over, just think what came to pass-
A letter, sir; and the two were safe back in the old Bluegrass.

The lad had got across the border, riding Kentucky Belle;
And Kentuck, she was thriving, and fat, and hearty, and well;
He cared for her, and kept her, nor touched her with whip or spur;
Ah! we’ve had many horses, but never a horse like her!

About SallyK

A little blog about the ordinary and not so ordinary things our family does, places we travel, things we see. Like travel, cooking, family stories, book reviews, music? You will find it all here - comments welcome!
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4 Responses to Kentucky Belle – A Civil War Poem set in Ohio

  1. Not a dry eye here, either, Sally. Beautiful poem.

  2. Reggie says:

    Yep, same here. A stirring poem…

  3. Michelle says:

    My Mothers favorite poem! We took turns reading because one of us would start crying and have to pass it to the next person to read a little more.

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