Thunder From The Crossroads

During the battle of Gettysburg
at the railroad cut
Rufus Dawes and the Sixth Wisconsin
stopped at the lip
and called down
for the Confederates to surrender
instead of firing
at these grey ducks
caught in an earthen barrel.

I said this because
I wanted you to know
that men are capable of such
clear thinking and restraint
during the maelstrom of battle
and we should set our expectations higher
for human behavior.

I believe you think
modern man incapable
of such courage through inaction
especially with studies
that count the educated
as moving farthest from the bible.

But I think it is peer pressure—
not religion—that motivates
people to Keep up with the Jones
especially in matters of power—
its acquisition and application
contrary to the ideal
of equal treatment under the law.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Walking In Footsteps

Follow the Iron Brigade’s march
on July first.

They got a late start.
They finished their breakfast.
Drank their coffee.

We can stop any time you want.
We may flee Gettysburg’s ghosts if you wish.

Left. Right. Left. Right.
We continue forward
along the Emmitsburg Road shoulder.

In the drainage ditch
you find a black hat.
It is the Hardee style.
The Iron Brigade wore those
and were known to their foes as the Black Hats.

You choose to try the hat on.
Hats found unexpectedly
might be portals through time
to pivotal days.

Go ahead. Put it on.
It is about the time of day
the Sixth Wisconsin
charged the railroad cut.

Wouldn’t that be something.
To form up and charge.
To follow the nation’s flag forward in righteous cause.

Yeah. You are right. We’ll turn around.
Before that sheet of flame erupts
and a leaden maelstrom
thins our ranks.

Even in imagination this might be too much.
Standing on that ground. At the right time.
Our metal tested, spattered red and riven
before the call by Rufus Dawes
for the Second Mississippi to surrender.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


I fear the title of this poem will link your brain to the song Walking in Your Footsteps by The Police on their Synchronicity album. If it had not before, it does now. So there. You have an earworm for the rest of the day.

I have walked the path mentioned in the poem. One of my habits when I visit a civil war battlefield is to study a unit, find the point where they entered the national park grounds, and walk where they walked. Advances and retreats. I do it to gain an appreciation from my feet for what those men did that day, since I am not allowed to fire a model 1861 Springfield rifle or point a saber forward and lead a charge.

Link to Wikipedia on the Railway cut.

Link to Wikipedia on the 6th Wisconsin Infantry.

Link to Hardee style hat.

If you have followed my poetry long enough, you have noted several poems that include the 6th Wisconsin and Rufus Dawes. They are a unit I have read several books about.

An adventure I would have liked to have done if I had started younger, is to walk Lewis & Clark’s footsteps on their expedition to the Pacific from St. Charles, MO to what is now Astoria, OR. My friend Mike Whitehead and I talked about doing it. It was never more than talk because of wives and families and civic/neighborhood responsibilities. It would be a great adventure. I think bicycling the Lewis & Clark historic route would be a grand adventure with a lifetime of stories from it.

When I drive across country and have no need for haste, I like to drive the rural highways and stop at every historical marker along the way. You learn such fascinating stuff about the USA. Also, you come across historical attractions that are not too far out of the way or do not impede your sense of time. You stop and learn something. Learning is what is fun about it.

As I get older and I feel my brain is nearing full, I am happy I have not lost my desire to learn. I am more picky about what I want to study and place in memory. This pickiness is a simple change of priorities as time goes by. I think it is important not to lose my sense of wonder. Nature still fills me with a sense of wonder. So I like to spend time in nature. (I like to sleep in a bed, so I do not do major excursions into nature anymore.)

Love and Light.


Fields Of Antietam

A road runs through the fields of Antietam.
The living have not forgotten the dead.
The dead are part of the land now.
Part of the corn in the fields.
Part of the scrub and woodlots.

I walk the road where Rufus Dawes once walked.
I walk to a fence that lines the road.
This modern fence is a recreation of the fence
Rufus Dawes once stood at.
I look at the fence on the other side of the narrow road.
Rufus Dawes once looked in this direction too.
His vision was blocked by a black powder haze.
Hundreds of men fired muskets at each other
across the fourteen feet that separated the two fences.
The longest twenty minutes a man ever endured.

I walk the road through the fields of Antietam.
The white painted Dunker Church is upon my right.
It is now part of the National Military Park.
It is not used for the worship of any God.

People come to visit the ground by the Dunker Church.
They tell me the dead of Antietam made it holy.
But ground is holy for being ground.
Our dead do not make it more or less holy
than the falling leaves from the witness oaks and sycamores.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Rufus Dawes, at the time of Antietam, was the Lt. Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment which belonged to the famed Iron Brigade of the West (sometimes called the Black Hat Brigade due to their distinctive black Hardee style hats).

After the war, Dawes visited all the battlefields he fought upon, but could not find it in him to return to Antietam due to the memories of the fierceness of the close proximity fighting.