The Virginia Cadets

by Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke

Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke

Shun! dress! shoulder a'ms!
Fours right! Forward! March!
That was how they kept us at it;
Heads up stiff as starch.
We were Virginia boys, three hundred,
In Virginia's military school.
The war was raging North and South,
And how could we fiery lads keep cool?
For we were bred in a battling time,
And ours was our fathers creed.
The Old Dominion,
In our opinion,
Was bound for the South to bleed;
And that being so, we'd all agree
That under the Lord and Robert Lee
The South was sure to succeed.
So ev'ry day it was "Shoulder a'ms!"
In a stiff battalion drill,
And ev'ry night there was news of a fight,
With Lee in Richmond still,
While the men who stood
With the gallant Hood
Held Tennessee with a royal will.
I reckon 'twas only good news we got,
For we always gave it a cheer,
And when our three hundred loosed their lungs
Twas something the deaf might hear.
To double up Grant was just the job
We expected of Lee, and we called him Bob,
Our brave old General Lee.
But it don't need bugles or rattling drums
To spread it around when bad news comes.
One day in May it was in the air.
Like a ghost or a mist we felt rise
A droop to the lip
Of Colonel Ship,
A mournful flap to the company flags,
A husky note to the chaplain's prayer,
And a cavalry major dressed in rags,
With gaunt brown face and with eager eyes,
Clattering into the Institute Square.
"Virginia calls for her fighting sons!"
That was all he said, but its sharp appeal
Meant danger at hand from Fed'ral guns,
A call to battle and steel to steel.
Dumbly we stood for a moment's space,
Then each lad lifted up his face,
On many a cheek a pitying tear;
But out from our hearts there rose a cheer,
And the Colonel raising his hand, said then,
"I'll bring Virginia three hundred men!"
In a minute's time we were wild with joy.
In all our ranks there was not one boy.
We had grown to be men at the Colonel's word.
The cavalry Major seemed in doubt.
"All under sixteen years fall out!"
But never a lad from a company stirred.
If they'd waited the step of a single cadet,
That young battalion would stand there yet.
Next morning, though, at the big bell's toll,
We lacked twenty-five at the muster roll.
"They're under the age," the Colonel said.
"Too young, God knows, for Yankee lead."
"To bring them to fight the law forbids."
The Major said, "So we ve caged the kids.
But Lord, how they pled with groans and tears,
To be rated just once at sixteen years.
Ain't seen the like since the war began,
And the smallest of all was the biggest man.
How he did beg, and struggle, and strive!"
Then we two hundred and seventy-five
Sent up a cheer for the little chap,
And the captain of Company A,
Saluting the Colonel, touched his cap,
And, tossing his curly head, did say:
"We'll fight for three hundred just the same!"
Our flags here fluttered upon the wind
"We'll fight for Virginia and all the South,
Through storm and sunshine, fire and flame,
Up to the Yankee cannon's mouth.
Good luck to the men we leave behind!"
Shun! dress! shoulder a'ms!
Rang out the loud command,
And we marched away
By the noon that day
To fight for the Southern land.
Two twenty-five with the infantry
And the rest with the guns in the battery,
Down by Shenandoah's grassy banks
And not a mustache in our marching ranks.
Next day we fell in with the conscripts rough
From the upland farms with any sort of arms.
Day after that with the vet rans tough,
In their joy and their rags,
With their tattered flags;
And how they cheered us and made us proud,
As boldly we marched into camp, and "allowed
We were "jest sot up as men should be
Fit for to fight under old Bob Lee."
"Sigel is coming!" the word was spread.
"Pushing for Lynchburg straight ahead."
So the batteries limbered; the cavalry clanked;
Fires were put out; the infantry ranked.
And Breckinridge, grim as an iron man,
Rode off with his staff, and our fight began
Where the hills to the valley roll gently down,
And the pike runs by New Market town.
Woods on the right, and a deep ravin,
Cross centre and left, lay there, beteen
The boys in blue and the boys in gray
In their battle rally,
The batteries loudly beginning the fray,
And a rainstorm driving up the valley.
The tale of the battle I cannot tell.
We stood till arose on our left the yell
Of the Southern boys at the word "Advance!"
Then forward, too, with our hearts wild beating
And ev'ry throat the yell repeating:
"Capture the guns beyond the ravine!"
"Zip!" went the bullets past heedless ears,
"Chunk!" fell the shells, up rose our cheers,
Down the ravine with a rush and tumble,
Up the ravine with a pitch and stumble,
Out on the plateau. "Halt, form line!"
"On double-quick !" Crash came shell
Into our faces, fired pell mell.
A spurt of blood as the next boy fell;
Not mine! We were hit, but we never broke,
And charged like mad for the cannon smoke
With red, quick flashes leaping from its heart.
Three hundred yards to the mouths of the guns.
"Virginia calls for her fighting sons!"
Here we are coming as fall three score
In their blood and their pride,
And we rush before
Like a breaking tide,
Virginia boys! Virginia sons!
Over the dead see our school flag float;
But our pride strikes top of its mad joy when
We hear from our general s rough old throat:
"Well done, Virginians! Well done, MEN!

Last updated January 14, 2019