The Civil War


by Bret Harte

A Song.

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There's nothing in the history of the Civil War worthier of celebration in verse, or more to be honored in remembrance, than the organization and work of the United States Sanitary Commission. When the conditions created by the stress of the war became apparent, the compassion of kindly men and women in the North was deeply stirred by the thought that there was suffering among the soldiers which the government could not relieve, and that there were wants which could not be supplied by military agencies. The generous desire to minister to these wants and to relieve this suffering was quickly organized into action with that business-like sagacity which distinguishes the American character. The Sanitary Commission was formed as the agent and almoner of the popular generosity. It was supported entirely by voluntary contributions. It was as thoroughly organized as the army commisseriat itself, and wherever there was a comfort needed, or a wounded or sick man to be cared for, its supply wagons, its appliances, and its trained nurses were found. The affectionate gratitude of the troops toward the beneficent association is reflected in this poem. — George Carry Eggleton, editor

"How Are You, Sanitary?"

Down the picket-guarded lane
         Rolled the comfort-laden wain,
Cheered by shouts that shook the plain,
         Soldier-like and merry:
Phrases such as camps may teach,
Sabre-cuts of Saxon speech,
Such as "Bully!" "Them's the peach!"
         Wade in, Sanitary!"

Right and left the caissons drew
As the car went lumbering through,
Quick succeeding in review
         Squadrons military;
Sunburnt men with beards like frieze
Smooth-faced boys, and cries like these:
"U.S. San. Com." "That's the cheese!"
         "Pass in, Sanitary!"

In such cheer it struggled on
Till the battle front was won;
Then the car, its journey done,
         Lo! was stationary;
And where bullets whistling fly
Came the sadder, fainter cry:
"Help us, brothers, ere we die!
         Save us, Sanitary!"

Such the work. The phantom flies,
Wrapped in battle-clouds that rise;
But the brave — whose dying eyes,
         Veiled and visionary,
See the jasper gates swung wide,
See the parted throng outside —
Hears the voice to those who:
         "Pass in, Sanitary!"

Reprinted from American War Ballads and Lyrics (volume two) edited by George Carry Eggleton. Published by G.P. Putnam's sons, 1889.



Bret Harte (1836–1902) was an American author and poet. In 1987 he appeared on a $5 U.S. Postage stamp, as part of the "Great Americans" Series.

Articles in this Issue

The Revolutionary War, by James Thacher, M.D.
War of 1812, by Dr. William Beaumont
Mexican-American War, by James Nagle
The Civil War, by Bret Harte
The Spanish-American War, by Theodore Roosevelt
World War I, by Frank Buckles
World War II, by Audie Murphy
Korean War, by James Brady
Vietnam, by Crane Davis
The Iraq War, by Joshua Key
Pixels, by Clay McLeod Chapman
Clamor, by E. B. Moore