I’m old, my young ones. Soon I’ll have to leave.
But ere we part I have just one tale more
To share—a tale of valor. Never grieve
A grandpa who helped win the Civil War!

Back then I was a farmer, country-born,
Ohio bred, blessed with an upright wife.
But once the South seceded I was sworn
To help preserve the Union with my life.

So Lincoln sent me to New Mexico,
A territory then—untamed and bold—
With Spanish ranches, cowboys, Navajo…
The trail to California’s ports and gold.

Back East the War hit Shiloh and Bull Run.
Great generals led like Sherman, Grant and Lee.
New Mexico claims no such famous son—
Yet here the Union won its victory!

When Texan soldiers marched on Santa Fe
We Union troops marched south from Colorado.
Bullets flew between the Blue and Grey
And cannons rained down death with grim bravado.

We failed to see the Southern troops amass
And had to flee the field at deadly cost.
The rebel soldiers then attacked the Pass.
If Glorieta fell then all was lost!

Although our troops retreated in alarm
We vowed to keep the Territory free!
Outgunned, we met in stealth at Johnson’s farm
And there devised our winning strategy:

A group of us slipped past the foe as spies
And gained advantage with this covert feat:
We found and then blew up the South’s supplies!
The Texans had no choice but to retreat!

The War fought in the East was far from through.
But rebels never claimed the West again.
That was March of 1862—
A year that cost 200,000 men.

You say you love this country. Don’t forget
We fought at Glorieta Pass for you—
Our lives and honor pledged to stop a threat
That tried to rip this sacred land in two!

So many valiant men have fought and died
Because we thought our country worth the fight.
The devil take the idiots who’ve lied
With claims this nation doesn’t strive for right!

America’s a land just like your mother—
Not quite unflawed but blest in her creation.
Where worth is based on work and nothing other—
The fairest way to build a righteous nation.


Poet’s Note: The Battle of Glorieta Pass—frequently dubbed “the Gettysburg of the West”—was the decisive battle of the New Mexico campaign of the Civil War. It took place March 26-28, 1862. The Union victory put an end to Confederate dreams of taking California and the Southwest.



Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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19 Responses

  1. Wayne

    you failed to mention General ‘Whiskey’ Keg Sibley for his inept command of the rebels

    • Brian Yapko

      Thanks for reading my work, Wayne. It’s true, I did not mention him or other notables. One can only pack so much into history into a poem. Reading about Sibley it seems like he would be an interesting narrative subject all by himself. The other famous character I avoided was Colonel John Chivington who later became infamous as the result of the Massacre at Sand Creek. I didn’t want to shift the spotlight from my narrative.

  2. Peter Hartley

    I’d never heard of the Battle of Glorieta before so this poem was very instructive for me, and now I think I know why the Mexican/USA border stops at Tijuana / San Diego. A stirring poem and well-written.

    • Wayne H Frazier

      you need to read Hampton Sides book, Blood and Thunder. you’ve missed the Gadsden Purchase, and the War with Mexico.

      • Brian Yapko

        Thank you for the suggestion of Blood and Thunder, not just for the Mexican War. Here in northern New Mexico Kit Carson’s footprint is ubiquitous. The Kit Carson National Forest is close by and Carson’s house in Taos has been turned into a fascinating museum.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Peter! If you’re interested, the California border with Mexico probably has more to do with the Mexican War of 1846. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended that war set most of the U.S.-Mexican boundaries.

  3. Margaret Coats

    Brian, again a great use of the speaker to give an emotionally laden picture of what took place. And you keep up that emotion so well as he moves straight into applied history. I’m wondering if you have an actual individual in mind. Men who do re-enactments often take on the identity of one soldier, finding out everything about him, and playing his part at a re-enactment gathering or telling his story to school groups. Once again, you have written a poem that local media or teachers or homeschool groups might like.

    There is a little problem with “strived” used as past participle. The OED says this usage is rare, showing that “strive” has been overwhelmingly recognized by writers as a strong verb, with past tense “strove” and past participle “striven.” You can, of course, go with the minority of writers who take the verb as a weak one, with “strived” for both past tense and past participle. I much prefer to maintain the traditional use of Anglo-Saxon strong verbs, and you could do that with the easy change of “didn’t strive” for “hasn’t strived.” Or you could say “hasn’t striven” and change your meter by adding a very light syllable many readers won’t pronounce (as in “giv’n” or “heav’n”).

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Margaret. As always, I greatly appreciate your generosity in reviewing my poetry. I actually did not have any individual in mind when writing this poem. I just pictured a grandfather sometime in the 1920s telling his story to his family. My view regarding poems like this which try to present a nugget of history is that a first-person narrator is more interesting than a third-person, and allows for greater identification between the poet and the reader.

      I understand your concern about “strived” versus “strove.” Another tough choice for me. I’m going to partially accept your suggestion by making it present tense “doesn’t strive” for right. (I’ve written Mike B. and asked him to make that little change.) The reason I’m going in this direction with the fix is because this poem has a political agenda. It’s meant to rebut many of the far left who try to make it sound like America’s only role in history has been to promote racism. I very much wanted to remind the reader that the Union Army fought the Civil War at great cost and with huge loss of life in an effort to eradicate slavery and preserve the Union. No one seems to remember the terrible sacrifice of people striving to do the right thing. So when I bring this poem home to its conclusion my idea is to demonstrate that America has tried — and continues to try — to do the right thing. (I’m infuriated when the opposite is claimed because it’s ideological and factually wrong.) That’s why I feel the shift to “doesn’t strive” works — it brings the reader into the present (the speaker’s present, anyway) a little earlier than I originally intended but which is exactly where the last quatrain picks up. I hope this solution works for you! And thank you again, Margaret!

    • Margaret Coats

      You made an even better choice than my suggestion! The use of “do” as an auxiliary verb makes the action appear ongoing. “Didn’t strive” would make it ongoing in the past, while “doesn’t strive” makes it ongoing in the present. Even if that is the speaker’s present, it is a more forceful way to present your idea.

  4. Jeff Eardley

    Brian, thank you for plugging a gap in my knowledge of that brutal conflict. I remember that epic documentary series of many years ago by Shelby Foote that was on our screens all over the Christmas period accompanied by the lovely fiddle tune, “Ashoken Farewell.” A splendid poem and a most informative history lesson. Thank you

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Jeff. I remember that series on the Civil War. It was excellent! And it introduced me to a bunch of period music I had never heard before.

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I love this poetic slice of history written from the point of view of “A grandpa who helped win the Civil War!”.

    ‘The Battle of Glorieta Pass’ is a poem that is educational, emotional and beautiful. I’ve certainly learned something of the history of this significant battle. I like the fact that it’s portrayed through the eyes of a first-person narrator – the voice of a grandpa who many will relate to. This reminds me of my granddad telling stories of his experiences in WWII… the emotional touch. And then, there’s the beauty. The beauty lies in the smooth clarity of a story told within the constraints of strict meter and spot-on rhyme.

    Brian, you make this challenging task look so easy – the clear sign of an excellent poet! There are some wonderful end rhymes here – Mexico/Navajo, Colorado/grim bravado (my favorite) to name but two… and I love the magnificent picture chosen by Evan. Wonderful stuff! Thank you!

    • Brian Yapko

      Susan, thank you so much for your comment, which has me smiling broadly. I don’t generally see it as the poet’s task to educate but attempting a a historical narrative of this sort was a challenge I wanted to take up. Plus I like to display a little regional pride in the place I call home.

      I wasn’t sure about having a grandfather as narrator, but he seemed like a good (if imperfect) bridge between the Civil War and the present. As I mentioned to Margaret, there’s something about a first person narrative (at least for me) that makes the subject matter more immediate, more emotionally-resonant. Plus, I find it fun to put myself in other people’s shoes. Browning is my hero on this type of poetry. I’m also grateful for you singling out the rhymes and the narrative, both of which were a challenge.

      Thank you again for your appreciation and words of encouragement.

      And a huge thanks to Evan for choosing a marvelous picture!

  6. C.B. Anderson

    Brian, what you failed to do was stumble over the potholes that many writers encounter when writing serious narratives. You did not twist syntax, you achieved good rhymes without straining, and you never got diverted by anything that might have impeded the flow and thrust of the narrative. If nothing else, this poem is a model of how good verse should sound to the mind’s ear.

    • C.B. Anderson

      And also, Brian, your lines were as well-composed and as apposite as almost any written by Longfellow.

      • Brian Yapko

        Thank you again. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Longfellow is a huge honor.

    • Brian Yapko

      C.B. I am so honored by this comment — thank you very much! I’ve learned a lot on this site by studying the work of its very accomplished poets. And since you are one of the ones I learn from the most, you have truly made my day!

      • C.B. Anderson

        First of all, Brian, let’s make one thing clear: I am nobody. Just continue doing what you have already done, i.e., compose lines in good standard English and keep in mind the direction in which you are headed.

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