One summer morning a daring band
Of rebels rode into Maryland
Over the prosperous, peaceful farms,
Sending terror and strange alarms,
The clatter of hoofs and the clang of arms.
Fresh from the South, where the hungry pine,
They ate like Pharoah’s starving kine;
They swept the land like devouring surge,
And left their path, to its furthest verge,
Bare as the track of the locust-scourge.
“The rebels are coming!” far and near
Rang the tidings of dread and fear;
Some paled, and cowered, and sought to hide –
Some stood erect in their fearless pride –
And women shuddered and children cried.
But others – vipers in human form,
Stinging the bosom that kept them warm –
Welcomed with triumph the thievish band,
Hurried to offer the friendly hand,
As the rebels rode into Maryland:
Made them merry with food and wine,
Clad them in garmen’s rich and fine,
For rags and hunger to make amends;
Flattered them, praised them, with selfish ends; -
“Leave us scatheless, for we are friends!”
Could traitors trust to a traitor? No!
Little they favoured friend or foe,
But gathered the cattle the farms across,
Flinging back with a scornful toss –
If ye are friends ye can bear the loss!”
Flushed with triumph, and wine, and prey,
They neared the dwelling of Ishmael Day,
A sturdy veteran, grey and old,
With heart of a patriot, firm and bold,
Strong and steadfast – unbribed, unsold.
And Ishmael Day, his brave head bare,
His white locks tossed by morning air,
Fearless of danger, or death, or scars,
Went out to raise by the farm-yard bars,
The dear old flag of the Stripes and Stars.
Proudly, steadily, up it flew,
Gorgeous with crimson and white and blue!
His withered hand, as he shook it freer,
May have trembled, but not with fear,
While, shouting, the rebels drew more near.
“Halt!” – They had seen the hated sign
Floating free from old Ishmael’s line. –
“Lower that rag!” was their wrathful cry.
“Never!” rung Ishmael Day’s reply;
“Fine, if it please you – I can but die!”
One, with a loud defiant laugh,
Left his comrades and neared the staff
“Down!”- came the fearless patriot’s cry –
“Dare to lower that flag, and die!
One must bleed for it – you or I!”
But caring not for the stern command,
He drew the bollards with caring hand!
Ping! went the rifle-ball – down he came
Under the flag he had tried to shame –
Old Ishmael Day took careful arim!
Seventy winters and three had shed,
Their snowy glories on Ishmael’s head;
But though cheeks may wither and locks look grey
His fame shall be young and fresh alway –
Honour be to old Ishmael Day!
- Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

Title:The Ballad of Ishmael Day


Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:March 4th 1865

Keywords:politics, war


This poem, published first in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, recounts the tail of an elderly veteran bravely defending Union territory from an incursion by Confederate rebels. It is interesting I that it gives an indication that British readers were as enthralled by the legends emerging from the American Civil War as their transatlantic counterparts. Published late in the conflict, when a Union victory was all but assured, there is a clear sympathy here for the northern side of the war. By this stage of the war there are very few implicit poetic examples of support for the Confederacy which occasionally appeared in newspapers previously. – SR