13258678 War between the States - Origin of the "Conquered Banner"
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War between the States
Origin of the "Conquered Banner"

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THE CONQUERED BANNER
by Abram Joseph Ryan
(1838-1886)

Furl that Banner, for 'tis weary;
Round its staff 'tis drooping dreary;
Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there's not a man to wave it,
And there's not a sword to save it,
And there's no one left to lave it
In the blood that heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
Furl it, hide it--let it rest!

Take that banner down! 'tis tattered;
Broken is its shaft and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered
Over whom it floated high.
Oh! 'tis hard for us to fold it;
Hard to think there's none to hold it;
Hard that those who once unrolled it
Now must furl it with a sigh.

Furl that banner! furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly.
And ten thousands wildly, madly,
Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman's sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
O'er their freedom or their grave!

Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner--it is trailing!
While around it sounds the wailing
Of its people in their woe.

For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
But, oh! wildly they deplored it!
Now who furl and fold it so.

Furl that Banner! True, 'tis gory,
Yet 'tis wreathed around with glory,
And 'twill live in song and story,
Though its folds are in the dust;
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages--
Furl its folds though now we must.

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently--it is holy--
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not--unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people's hopes are dead!

Perhaps no poem ever touched and thrilled the hearts of the people of the South as did the "Conquered Banner," by Father Ryan. It came from the heart of the poet at the time when the Southland stood in grief and in untold sorrow. Though his face wore a serious and almost sad aspect, he dearly loved to gather children about him, as he seldom spoke to older people. He always held that little children were angels and walked with God, and that it was a privilege for a priest to raise his hand and give spotless childhood a blessing, writes "Aquila," in the Colorado Catholic.

It was several years ago that "Aquila" met with a young lady from the South, who related to him the following beautiful and touching incident in the poet's life. The little story is as follows:

"One Christmas - I was then a little girl," says the young lady - "I came to Father Ryan with a bookmark, a pretty little scroll of the 'Conquered Banner,' and begged him to accept it. I can never forget how his lips quivered as he placed his hands upon my head and said (a little kindly remembrance touched him so): 'Call your little sisters, and I will tell them a story about this picture. Do you know, my children,' he said as we gathered about his knee, 'that the "Conquered Banner" is a great poem? I never thought it so,' he continued in that dreamy, far-off way so peculiarly his own; 'but a poor woman who did not have much education, but whose heart was filled with love for the South, thought so, and if it had not been for her this poem would have been swept out of the house and burned up, and I would never have had this pretty book-mark or this true story to tell you.'

"'O you are going to tell us how you came to write the "Conquered Banner!" ' I cried, all interest and excitement.

"'Yes,' he answered, 'and I am going to tell you how a woman was the medium of its publication.' Then a shadow passed over his faces a dreamy shadow that was always there when he spoke of the lost cause, and he continued: 'I was in Knoxville when the news came that Gen. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court-House. It was night, and I was sitting in my room in a house where many of the regiment of which I was chaplain were quartered, when an old comrade came in and said to me: "All is lost, Gen. Lee has surrendered." I looked at him. I knew by his whitened face that the news was too true. I simply said, "Leave me," and he went out of the room. I bowed my head upon the table and wept long and bitterly. When a thousand thoughts came rushing through my brain. I could not control them. That banner was conquered; its folds must be furled, but its story had to be told. We were very poor, my dear little children, in the days of the war. I looked around for a piece of paper to give expression to the thoughts that cried out within me. All that I could find was a, piece of brown wrapping paper that lay on the table about an old pair of shoes that a friend sent me. I seized this piece of paper and wrote the "Conquered Banner " Then I went to bed, leaving the lines there upon the table. The next morning the regiment was ordered away, and I thought no more of the lines written in such sorrow and desolation of spirit on that fateful night. What was my astonishment a few weeks later to see them appear above my name in a Louisville paper! The poor woman who kept the house in Knoxville had gone, as she afterward told me, into the room to throw the piece of paper into the fire, when she saw that there was something written upon it. she said that she sat down and cried, and, copying the lines, she sent them to a newspaper in Louisville. And that was how the "Conquered Banner" got into print. That is the story of this pretty little scroll you have painted for me.'

"'When I get to be a woman,' I said, ' I am going to write that story.'

"'Are you?' he answered. 'Ah! it is dangerous to be a writer, especially for women; but if you are determined, let me give you a name,' and he wrote on a piece of paper 'Zona.' 'It is an Indian name,' he said in explanation, 'and it means a snowbird to keep your white wings unsullied. A woman should always be pure, and every mother should teach her boys to look upon a woman as they would upon an altar.' "

Thus was the incident related to me by my Southern friend. Many and many a time in the hurry and bustle of the noisy world the words of the gentle poet-priest came back to me, and in writing this little sketch of how it was through a woman's thoughtfulness that the great Southern epic was given to the world I can not refrain from repeating this little talk, which was the outgrowth of this story, and which might prove a help and a benediction in many a woman's life.

No inspiring column marks the spot where the priest, patriot, and poet is sleeping, but his words still live in the hearts of the people, and the regard, the respect, the high esteem he held for woman bespeaks the purity of his soul.

Rest there, saddest, tenderest, most spiritual poet heart that has sought our hearts and breathed in them a music that the lapse of years can not still, sleep and rest on! The visions that came to the mind of the priest as he walked down the valley of silence, down the dim, voiceless valley alone, are living on, for they are prayers.

Upon reading this account of the origin of the "Conquered Banner," Mrs. J. William Jones (wife of our Chaplain-General, and a devoted Confederate from that day in the early spring of 1861 when she buckled her husband's armour upon him and sent him to the front down to the present day) has written the following lines:

HOW FATHER RYANS CONQUERED BANNER WAS RESCUED FROM OBLIVION.

He shared their every hardship, as he did their hopes and joys,
Inspiring faith and courage as he cheered those ragged boys.
Our soldier-priest and poet stood unflinching at his post,
Till the news of Lee's surrender told the story: "All is lost."

He could bare his breast to bayonet, be torn with shot and shell:
With victorious, tattered banner, he could bleed and die so well.
But when those dreadful words, "All lost," broke o'er him like a flood.
His very heart seemed Weeping, and his tears all stained with blood.

How illy could he bear it all, so sudden was the blight,
glut for the poet's genius, which filled his soul with light.
He sought in vain material his burning words to give
To future generations, and to hearts where he would live.

A crushed brown paper on the floor served then his purpose well
For though it seemed a conquered cause, he must its story tell.
He wrote it out and fell asleep: next morn thought of it not.
New troubles filled the poet's heart his poem was forgot.

The morning dawned: that broken priest, but soldier never
Was gone, but left, all blurred with tears that paper on the floor.
A woman, loving well our cause, found, and its folds unfurled,
The "Conquered Banner," and it floats unconquered to the world.

At last he bivouacs in peace: no monument stands guard
To point us where the poet-priest sleeps sweetly ‘neath the sod
His glorious rhythmic poems rare a monument will stand;
He was its architect, and built both gracefully and grand:

Miller School, Va., August 9, 1897


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