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At Port Royal

by: John Greenleaf Whittier

In November, 1861, a Union force under Commodore Dupont and General
Sherman captured Port Royal, and from this point as a basis of
operations, the neighboring islands between Charleston and Savannah were
taken possession of. The early occupation of this district, where the
negro population was greatly in excess of the white, gave an opportunity
which was at once seized upon, of practically emancipating the slaves
and of beginning that work of civilization which was accepted as the
grave responsibility of those who had labored for freedom.

THE tent-lights glimmer on the land,
The ship-lights on the sea;
The night-wind smooths with drifting sand
Our track on lone Tybee.

At last our grating keels outslide,
Our good boats forward swing;
And while we ride the land-locked tide,
Our negroes row and sing.

For dear the bondman holds his gifts
Of music and of song
The gold that kindly Nature sifts
Among his sands of wrong:

The power to make his toiling days
And poor home-comforts please;
The quaint relief of mirth that plays
With sorrow's minor keys.

Another glow than sunset's fire
Has filled the west with light,
Where field and garner, barn and byre,
Are blazing through the night.

The land is wild with fear and hate,
The rout runs mad and fast;
From hand to hand, from gate to gate
The flaming brand is passed.

The lurid glow falls strong across
Dark faces broad with smiles
Not theirs the terror, hate, and loss
That fire yon blazing piles.

With oar-strokes timing to their song,
They weave in simple lays
The pathos of remembered wrong,
The hope of better days,--

The triumph-note that Miriam sung,
The joy of uncaged birds
Softening with Afric's mellow tongue
Their broken Saxon words.

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