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A Civil War Treasure
Full Shenandoah Moon
I love old books ... adore them. When I was a kid, I visited a friend of my mothers' who lived in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of the Shenandoah Valley near Cross Keys, Virginia. I remember the crisp air and the rain that dribbled all day beneath plumes of mist. To pass the time, I would wander about the old ruins of a grand 1860's style plantation house that stood nearby. I found out that the mansion was built just before the onslaught of the Civil War.
Since I enjoyed Civil War history, you could imagine the thoughts that ran through my mind as I admired that old mansion. I was truly fascinated because I was standing on private property that once was overran by Civil War soldiers and the sounds of cannon and buckshot filled my mind. I remember looking out toward the road which led away to Harrisburg and envisioned Union troops winding like a long snake of never-ending blue.
As a gift, my mother's friend gave me a copy of the "The Long Roll" by Mary Johnston, a rare turn of the century novel about life during the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. I have always held on to that novel not only because of the rich story, but because of a little treasure I found in the last pages of the book - a poem written by Willian E. Byrd - 12/30/1940 who once lived at 2.48- 37th st N.W., Washington D.C., a resident of the Georgetown University area.
I have never found this person, nor do I believe he is still alive, but I do have one other clue that is inscribed in front of the book - a little oath of love - "Harry Byrd loves Ann Shiner" written by a child's hand. I often wonder if this booked belonged to one of those famous Byrds of Virginia. My little mystery still carries on to this day and if anyone recognizes these names or the address I would love to hear about the original owner of my book.
History of the Valley
Civil War Poem
Let's Cross over the river
and rest under the trees
Thus to the [cross?] of the giver
The soul of a great man flees.
To him the end of the conflict
Urging all to press on
Awaiting his [weaken?] verdict
At the set of the May Day sun.
Thinking of country only
As he lay on a bed of panes
Fighting the battle so lonely
That he might not die in vain.
Had he live till the fighting was over
Had he been able to lead
A different story would cover
the tale of blood and deed.
William E. Byrd
December 30th, 1940
William E. Byrd wrote the poem as a posthumous tribute to Stonewall Jackson, who died may 10th, 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He was inspired by Mary Johnston's 1911 fictional novel, "The Long Roll" and on page 681, General Jackson speaks his final words, "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees", which are the first two lines of the poem notated in quotes, and with every two lines, the last words rhyme. "Panes" was a form of cloth he was laid on and the words "cross" and "weaken" were the best poetic words that could be made out.
There are a lot of Byrd's in Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC, but it should be duly noted that Stonewall Jackson was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and not too far from the town that my mom's friend lives, and so I think this book has travelled full circle.
I would like to credit my father, Bill Lawson for deciphering the old English scribe and breaking down the poem in its light penciled format.
About Stonewall Jackson
Cross Keys, Virginia
- Welcome to the Shenandoah Valley!
The official website for the Shenandoh Valley Tourist Information Center
- Famous Women Authors - Mary Johnston
EARLY in 1898 the manuscript of a Virginian romance came to the Boston office of Houghton, Mifflin & Co. bearing a new name - Mary Johnston. In time the manuscript passed through the hands of half a dozen readers, who approved it unanimously, and
- Encyclopedia Virginia: Johnston, Mary
Encyclopedia Virginia provides searchable articles on the history of Virginia. Articles can be searched by time and place on maps and in timelines.
- Stonewall Jackson Civil War Confederate General
General Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson possessed a strong military background at the outbreak of the Civil War.
"The two rode on. To left and right were lighted streets of tents, visited here and there by substantial cabins. Soldiers were everywhere, dimly seen within the tents where the door-flap was fastened back, about the camp-fires in open places, clustering like bees in the small squares, everywhere apparent in the foreground and divined in the distance. From somewhere came the strains of 'Yankee Doodle.' A gust of wind blew out the folds of the stars and stripes, fastened above some regimental headquarters. The city of tents and of frame structures hasty and crude, of fires in open places, of Butlers' shops and canteens and booths of strolling players, of chapels and hospitals, of fluttering flags and wandering music, of restless blue soldiers, oscillating like motes in some searchlight of the giants, persisted for a long distance. At last it died away; there came a quiet field or two, then the old Maryland town of Frederick."from The Long Roll
© 2012 ziyena