How Many a Story of Fame for Us…

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

When Jean was at Georgia Southern 25 years ago – a quarter century! – we made a point of getting together early in May to celebrate Mother’s Day and her birthday.

One year we had some extra time and walked around Statesboro, a southern county seat, to get a feel for it apart from its academic presence. That was the day I discovered the Confederate memorial of Bulloch County, Georgia.

In researching some other material I read that all of Georgia’s counties have their own memorial: a standing soldier, a cannon or just a large boulder. Bad history, says Fayette historian Carolyn Cary. There are really very few.

Bulloch’s, as I recall, is a soldier on a pillar on the courthouse lawn, his rifle at parade rest.

Around the base of the Statesboro statue is a verse from a poem, entitled simply C.S.A:

How many a glorious name for us,

How many a story of fame for us

They left: Would it not be a blame for us

If their memories part

From our land and heart,

And a wrong to them, and shame for us?

There was no attribution. I read the verse over and over again, and the more I did, the more certain I was that this was by Georgia’s poet-son Sidney Lanier. But I found nothing to nail down his identity.

We didn’t have the Internet “back then” so I resorted to phone calls and letters. The first place I looked was in Complete Works of Sidney Lanier which Dave had given me a year or so before. The lines were not there.

I dug into Bartlett’s Quotations – No go.

OK. Try the Bulloch County Library. Called the reference librarian and she didn’t have a clue.

Then I phoned The Statesboro Herald. The person I spoke to was likewise clueless. After a few more tries, my own interest began to wane, although I did bring it up again whenever I met someone from Statesboro.

The cadence of the poem is so familiar I was certain it was really Sidney Lanier in disguise. Read the mystery verses (above) out loud, then read a few lines of Lanier, like these from The Marshes of Glynn:

As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,

Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:

I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies

In the freedom that fills all the space 'twixt the marsh and the skies:

By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod

I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God.

Maybe it’s the romance of these poems, or my own love of Nature in words that capture Earth and those who went before us. Something slipped up behind me when I least expected it and said, “Let’s look again, now that Google has made writing easier.”

Another American poet is instantly recognizable as author of The Song of Hiawatha:

There he sang of Hiawatha,

Sang the Song of Hiawatha,

Sang his wondrous birth and being,

How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,

That the tribes of men might prosper,

That he might advance his people!

Sounds almost Biblical, doesn’t it? Since I gave space to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Sidney Lanier, it’s time to get serious about our unknown poet.

I was going to call the Herald again. In the intervening years surely they would have hired someone with the curiosity – or age – to run down that long-ago scriber.

But first, I reasoned, back to the library lady who would wrest the truth from the Internet. It was late in the afternoon and she said she would call me back first thing in the morning. I softened, told her she shouldn’t stay late or come in early for a quest I had left unsatisfied all these years.

She was as good as her word and next morning I found the following in my inbox:


Here is a link to a newsletter that gives the entire poem as well as the author. I found the poem and author on numerous links, so I feel fairly confident that the information is correct. If you will type in the poet's name in a search box, you can also bring up information about him. I hope this helps. Let me know if you need anything else.


And will the real Mystery Poet please stand up? Ta da! Father Abram Joseph Ryan (1838~1886). Born in Norfolk, Va., studied for the priesthood at Niagara University, N.Y. Was Southern to the core in spite of his Irish heritage and Northern upbringing. Enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862, served as a chaplain, carrying the wounded to safety and performing last rites on the battlefield. His first piece of poetry was inspired by the death of a younger brother in action, and he quickly became known as the "Poet-Priest of the Confederacy." Died in Louisville, Ky. in 1886, interred in the Catholic Cemetery in Mobile, Ala.

Here is the last verse of C. S. A.:

But their memories e'er shall remain for us,

And their names, bright names, without stain for us,-

The glory they won shall not wane for us,

In legend and lay

Our heroes in Gray

Shall forever live over again for us.

And now you know.

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