The Union army’s futile frontal attacks on December 13 against entrenched Confederate defenders on the heights behind Fredericksburg is remembered as one of the most one-sided battles of the American Civil War, with Union casualties more than twice as heavy as those suffered by the Confederates.


Fredericksburg

With frosted breath we wait the break of day;
Our bravest wishing night would stay the morn;
When we will face a bristled wall of gray,
And wonder who will die upon the horn;
December thirteenth breeds a foggy dawn;
We gathered musket, sword, and God divine;
To Marye’s Heights we marched in columns drawn,
To fall in brother’s blood at Longstreet’s line;
With grey a third the blue at Burnside’s feet,
And Franklin’s troops as dead and surely done,
We crossed the Rappahannock in defeat;
Our legacy but graves with nothing won.
A northern snow has whitened up the ground;
Beneath a virgin sea our ghosts are drowned.

 

 

Claire Marie de la Grange is a published classical poet residing in Olympia, Washington.

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  1. Lew Icarus Bede

    ON DE LA GRANGE’S FREDERICKSBURG

    By Lew Icarus Bede

    I recently came across a poem by Claire Marie de la Grange entitled Fredericksburg. It is a poem I enjoyed and found worth reading and reading closely. I am interested in analyzing it, because it does some of the things I am trying to do in my own work.

    Structurally, the poem is an English sonnet of fourteen lines with a rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefgg. The poem is a poem of two sentences: the first sentence is twelves lines long, each line ending with a comma (4) or semi-colon (7); the second sentence is the couplet with one semi-colon. The meter, iambic pentameter, is rigorously adhered to.

    The rhymes are all exact. The pace is quick; the imagery succinct. There is no room for explanation or digression; so much so, that in the opening line of the sestet, one must grasp that “a third” as many Southerners died in the battle, as Northerners. [In that same line, I am not clear why gray is spelled grey.] Each quatrain moves at lightning speed until the final couplet.

    Poetic elements abound. The cadence of the opening quatrain utilizes the assonance of the long a: wait, break, day, bravest, stay, face, gray; and the alliteration of br, st and w. The echoic sounds, frequently at similar points in the lines, are neatly done. The opening words immediately catch the coldness of the setting. The harshness that the Northerners must face is shown effectively in De la Grange’s metaphoric description of the Southern rifles as “a bristled wall of gray.” It is interesting that the first person plural point of view is from the Northern side.

    Why I particulalry admire the second and third quatrains, despite the trailing adjectives in lines six and seven, and the unsatisfying line ten, which surely could have been done differently (though generally my artistic practice is far worse than this!), is its use of named realities, in short, proper nouns. De la Grange gives us a real event from history, the date in 1862 of the First Battle of Fredericksburg, several of its leading participants, and then in line nine the brilliant, climactic phrase: “We crossed the Rappahannock in defeat,” which perfectly coincides with historical narratives and runs trippingly off the tongue. This is what I am trying to do in my own work: face the real world, respond to it, and do so as effectively as De la Grange has done here.

    The twelfth line and the couplet serve as a quiet, and not entirely unconvincing counterpoint and denouement to the rush above. The alliteration of the g’s, graves, ground, ghosts, unites the lines linguistically and thematically. At the conclusion, I am left in thought, thinking on the futility of that particular historical event, which is what, I imagine, De la Grange is striving for.

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