“But it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual…so I let him alone.” —Major Patrick Ferguson, British Expeditionary Force

What if it had been a different man
Scouting along the Brandywine that day
Near Chad’s Ford, where the fleet-flowing creek ran
Wide through the wooded hills and blocked the way?
If a lesser man had discerned the neigh
Of approaching horses, would he have erred
As the Captain did, or gunned down the prey?
Oh, thank fortune for the shot never heard!

Creeping among densely-packed trees, the plan
Was to gather where the rebel lines lay.
A gift came soon after the search began:
Two officers served as on gilded tray,
One on a black mount, in Hussar array;
A few steps behind, the other attired
In blue and buff, riding a white-faced bay.
Oh, thank fortune for the shot never heard!

This sharpshooter born from a Scottish clan
Could have bathed both men in a leaden spray,
But, in him, honorable thoughts foreran,
So, as he aimed, an inner voice said, “Nay,”
And he allowed those men to ride away.
How much would our history have altered
If from conscience he had chosen to stray?
Oh, thank fortune for the shot never heard!

This land would be quite different today
If Captain Ferguson’s soul had not stirred,
For one of the men his convictions spared
Birthed this nation from colonial clay.
Oh, thank Heaven for the shot never heard!


Ron L. Hodges is an English teacher and poet who lives in Orange County, California. His works have appeared in The Road Not Taken, Ancient Paths, Calvary Cross, and The Society of Classical Poets Journal 2015 and 2016. He won the Society’s prestigious Annual Poetry Competition in 2016.

Related Post

‘Ode to the Great Highland Pipes’ by Joseph Char... For Bill Horn Send up on wings of blood our fathers’ cry, Though the unhearing dead brook not your sound, And flesh yet binds us to the groaning gr...

8 Responses

  1. Fr. Richard Libby

    What a wonderful reminder of the value of poetry! Mr. Hodges’ poem teaches history, yes, but also teaches an important lesson about honor and integrity.

  2. Joe Tessitore

    Great poem!

    I didn’t know anything about this – an excellent lesson in history as well! What ever became of Captain Ferguson?

    Believe it or not, I just heard on the news that a lock of George Washington’s hair has been found pressed in a book! How timely is that?

  3. Monty

    If it’s a true story, Ron, it’s a remarkable one; given that this was in an era when soldiers could kill with impunity . . fearless of any judicial consequences.

    True or not, the poem is exquisitely worded; pleasingly descriptive (‘creek blocking the way’, etc); and the phrasing has a delightfully-ancient feel to it. It doubtless displays an extensive vocabulary on your behalf.

    But, for me, above all is the truly imaginative angle from which you approached the story; which is simply encapsulated in the very first line. How different the land (and history) would’ve been ‘if it’d been a different man that day’.

    • Monty

      I feel duty-bound to mention a slight anomaly: In the foreword, Mr Ferguson is referred to as a Major: but in the poem, a Captain. Seemingly trivial, I agree, but it was enough to throw me slightly off-target when – with Major Ferguson in mind – I reached the word Captain in Line 7; and proceeded to think that was someone other than Mr Ferguson. Indeed, it wasn’t till I reached the words Captain Ferguson in Line 26, that I was assured it was the same person . . . after which I was able to re-read the poem with ease, and was hence able to absorb how wonderfully crafted it is.

      It’s not difficult to see why you won an SCP Competition . . .

      • Ron

        Thanks for the gracious feedback. The discrepancy is a matter of ranking when the event occurred and what he achieved later. The foreward is him recalling the event after he had been promoted.

  4. Monty

    Cheers for the explanation, Ron. As much as it now makes perfect sense; I’m sure I would never have worked it out for myself. But then, I don’t think any reader(s) could reasonably be expected to gather that fact for themselves; as exemplified in Mr Tessitore’s comment above: “Whatever became of Captain Ferguson?” (‘though we now know it to be Major Ferguson). I truly hope that such a minor quirk doesn’t distract future readers from this masterpiece.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.