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Once More Before They Die

   the only one left riding- 
        his horse was mortally wounded 
    but faithful even so 
         Haskell, mounted, was wounded 
           -but slightly- 
 the 71st Pennsylvania was reforming 
        or at least regrouping, 
   on the relatively safe side of 
      Cemetery Ridge 
             behind the 72nd 

     Haskell rode towards these boys 
  from his mount he could see 
          the stone wall 
 they were the first to retreat 
 they should be the first to charge 

   speaking, 'Major, lead your men 
        over the crest, they will follow' 

 was it cowardice? 
        after all, these boys bore 
    more than black eyes 
          and bloody noses 
   or was it exhaustion? 
       whichever, he could 
   do little more, 
     'by tactics,' the Major reasoned, 
   'i understand my place is in the 
              rear of the men' 

 Haskell's frustration leaked well 
         through sarcasm: 
   'your pardon, sir; i see your place 
             is in the rear of the men. 
       i thought you were fit to lead.' 

this was second nature, 
      instinct now dictated 
           through Haskell: 
  'Captain Suplee, come on with your men.' 
       and now was it cowardice 
    for Suplee to be mindful of 
            friendly fire from the rear? 
 'we shall be hit by our own men' 

      again, instinct, piercing 
   with the need for those poor leaderless boys 
             growing with every passing 
        pounding heartbeat 
                  there was no time now 
     for courtesy of compliments 

       but without blood rising, 
 'Let us take care of this in front first' 

    Haskell, running out of officers 
       turned to the color bearer, 
           a sergeant of the 72nd 
   also stunned by the force of the 
         rebel charge 

  six men before this sergeant had 
     fallen baring the colors 
      the flag staff itself was 
  but a splintered stump 
          a bullet had smashed its 
    way through it 
     enroute to one of the six 

 'Sergeant, forward with your color! 
    let the rebels see it close once more 
       before they die!' 

 the color sergeant, gripping to the smashed 
      stump of the national colors with his life 
   both hands now, 
        madly waving 
   ran wildly charging toward the wall 
      maybe he shouted, screamed 
   blood curdling hot rage 
       this one man assault 

 Haskell must have been touched 
     such valor! 
              one man 
   but he would not plead 

 'Will you let your color storm the 
           wall alone?' 
what should have happened upon 
      the regimental heart 
            took place individually 
  one man, rifle at the ready 
     bolted towards the wall 
        following his color 
 it would not storm alone! 

  how absurd this must have looked 
     the colors charging smoke and bullets 
         and blood and men dying, screaming 
  and one man faithfully following 

                a shot, 
  but indistinguishable from any of the 
        countless others 
   and the colors fall 
     the brave sergeant with them 
          staining the ground 
   and bringing a deeper 
              red to his flag 

 regimentally it was time 
   something snapped 
       up and without orders 
 the once statue like soldiers 
     spring in a spontaneous 

 'a strange resistless impulse' 

  charging endlessly to meet the enemy 
         to flash, hot so close 
    even burning clothes, 
              hair, bodies 
    degenerating into a 
           bloody street brawl 

 when bullets were not enough 
         rocks and rifle butts 
   clubbing and stabbing 
                to bare-fisted pounding 
   it seemed to hang 
         in the beating sun 
 a constant storm 
      amalgamation churning 
    to hold one stone wall