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In remembrance of Memorial Day I thought I would share the poem “Our Federal Dead,” written by Ellen Hebron of Amsterdam, Mississippi. While Ellen was very much a Southern girl, and a stalwart supporter of the Confederacy, she was also a devoted Christian, and her sympathy for the Federal soldiers who fought and died in the Vicksburg Campaign is very evident in these verses. It would have been easy for Ellen to hate Union soldiers; her brother, Jeremiah Ellington, died while serving in the 18th Mississippi Infantry, and her brother-in-law, George B. Hebron, an officer in the 21st Mississippi Infantry, was mortally wounded at the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Her husband, John L. Hebron, survived the war, serving as a surgeon in the 2nd Arkansas Infantry, but his family’s orchards outside of Vicksburg, one of the largest commercial fruit growing operations in the South, were destroyed by Union troops during the Vicksburg Campaign.
But Ellen Hebron was not the kind of person to hold a grudge; when she published her first book of poetry it was dedicated “To The Good And The True, Wherever They May Be Found, Irrespective Of Age, Sex, Or Nationality;” and I believe that she did look for the best in everyone she met. Her poem “Our Federal Dead” was published in the December 28, 1877, edition of the Vicksburg Weekly Herald, and she prefaced the verses with a brief statement: “While walking through the cemetery at Jackson, Miss, my attention was arrested by many rude, low headboards in a group; and upon inquiry I was told they were ‘soldiers graves.’ Running eagerly up the mound I began to read when my informant added ‘they are Yankee soldiers.’ Being pressed for time, and also considerably disappointed, I turned away; yet could but reflect, while slowly retracing my steps, how bitterly sad it must be to ‘sleep the last sleep’ in a land where one is scarcely welcome to a grave.”
Our Federal Dead
Ye came in the strength of martial might to a far-off goodly land, with costly armor burnished bright, ye were a valiant band! Your reveille so quick and glad awoke each glistening glade, while your sunset-drum more sweetly sad was Southland’s serenade.
Your warriors walked amid our homes In all the pomp and pride that ever with the victor comes, his loved ones by his side; while our poor starving heroes wept for country and for home, or wrapped in honor’s colors slept where sad defeats ne’er come.
Great battles raged, brave warriors waged their strength in deadly blows, while earth’s deep wounds somewhat assuaged grew pure ‘neath Winter’s snows – Spring came; and o’er each soldier’s grave, the Southron’s, Northman’s too, her fairest flowers began to wave beneath her skies so blue.
While ‘mid them all the songster’s plaint came nestling low and sad as though he feared ‘neath such restraint to echo notes so glad – Peace sounded o’er a prostrate land, and armies passed afar – But ye left the noblest of your band Beneath our evening star!
And shall we pass them coldly by while nestling at our feet? Shall we refuse a heart-felt sigh for lives so grand, so fleet? O God! Thou know’st all things; what parts man from his fellow-men; But earth, and Heav’n and human hearts all plead for love again.
Ellen Hebron had a long and fruitful life, raising three children to adulthood, one of whom became a state senator. She was a tireless worker for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and an honorary member of the Mississippi Press Association. Ellen published her first book of poetry, “Songs from the South,” in 1875, and her second, “Faith or Earthly Paradise,” in 1890.
Ellen Hebron died on November 4, 1904, but her spirit lives on through the verses she so lovingly crafted.Published in