Two poems interpret the Civil War and its impact on their Portage County neighbors

To the Portage County Volunteers

Printed in the Portage County Democrat, May 1, 1861.

Dear ones, farewell! With trembling voice, and low
We bid you hasten at a Nation’s call!
How we shall miss you–He alone can know,
Who bends from Heaven to watch our tear-drops fall,
The while with close-clasped hands we kneel and pray,
God’s blessing, and his tender care to be
The shield of those we love–while far away
With strong, true hearts–they fight for Liberty!
And yet we hide our pain–and as we take
Perchance the last sweet meaning from proud eyes,
We thank our God that for our country’s sake,
Our woman hearts may make such sacrifice!
And oh! if, where the star-gem’d banners wave–
Where sword and spear gleam in the noonday sun,
One–wildly worshiped–finds an early grave,
And sleeps in death, ere victory is won;
Still–though our lips be white as winter’s snow
Still–though we drink from wasting sorrow’s cup
And die in anguish–not a tear shall flow
In vain repentance that we gave you up!
Go! He who rules our Nation’s destiny–
Who whispered
“Peace” and the wild waves were still,
Will lead our loved ones on to victory,
And give us strength to say again–farewell.

More about Portage County and the Civil War

    *Medicine in the Civil War: Primitive and Painful

    *Four Portage County African-Americans honored with monuments, markers

    *County residents among the witnesses to Lincoln’s assassination

    *Three Portage County soldiers received a Medal of Honor

    *Persistent Patriot: Samuel H. Cole of Franklin Mills enlisted in the Union military four times

    *Three Portage County brothers fight for the Union but only one survives

    *Changing sides: John Thomas chooses the North

    *Portage County residents were not in total agreement over the draft system

    *Coverage differed among Portage County’s newspapers during the Civil War

    *Two poets interpret the Civil War and its impact on their Portage County neighbors

    *Portage County soldiers detested anti-war factions

    *Portage County’s Buel Whitney provides spiritual counsel to those on the battlefield

Helen Louisa Bostwick Bird

Among the biographical and critical notices in Coggeshall’s The Poets and Poetry of the West, there is a brief sketch of Helen Louisa Bostwick, contributed by W. D. Howells, who says:

“No woman poet of our country, as the writer of this sketch thinks, has surpassed Mrs. Bostwick in those graces of thought and style which distinguish her poems. Her choice of words is extremely felicitous; her rhyme is rich and full; her verse is always sweet and harmonious. … If her faculty does not amount to genius, it is at least transcendent talent.”

Mrs. Helen Louisa Bostwick Bird, a daughter of Dr. Putnam Barrow, was born January 5, 1826, at North Charlestown, New Hampshire, where the first twelve years of her girlhood were passed. Here she received an elementary common-school education, which was supplemented by special private tuition under Rev. A. A. Miner, of Boston. In 1838 she removed with her father and mother to a farm near Ravenna, Portage County, Ohio, where, in 1844, at the age of eighteen, she was married to Mr. Edwin Bostwick. Her husband died September 9, 1860, leaving two daughters,— Florence, who lived to be only fifteen years old, and Marion, who died at the age of thirty. Mrs. Bostwick remained in widowhood until 1875, when she became the wife of Dr. John F. Bird, and removed with him to Philadelphia, where he died January 20, 1904, and where the subject of this sketch continued to reside during the remainder of her life. She died December 20, 1907.

Nearly all of Mrs. Bird’s literary work was done in Ohio, chiefly within the period of her first widowhood. She began writing for the press at the age of eighteen, and was for many years a valued contributor to various newspapers and magazines, including the National Era, the New York Independent, the Home Monthly, the Ohio Farmer, the Home Journal, the Saturday Evening Post, and the Atlantic Monthly.

Mrs. Bird’s best poems, most of which were produced subsequently to the publication of Coggeshall’s pioneer collection, are to be found in a little volume entitled Four O’Clocks, which was issued in Philadelphia in 1888. That the brilliant promise which Mr. Howells discovered in the author’s earlier verse was not illusory, but betokened the unfolding of original powers so exceptional as to entitle their possessor to a place of distinction among the women poets of her time, is demonstrated by the contents of the volume just named, several typical selections from which are here given.


Who’s drafted? Not Harry! my son! Why man, ’tis a boy at his books;
No taller, I think, than your Annie; as delicate, too, in his looks. Why, it seems but a day since he helped me, girl-like, in my kitchen, at tasks; He drafted! Great God — can it be that our President knows what he asks?
He never could wrestle — this boy — though in spirit as bold
as the best; Narrow-chested a little, you notice, like him who has long
been at rest. Too slender for over-much study; why, his master has made
him to-day Go out with his ball on the common,— and you’ve drafted a
child at his play!

Not a patriot? Fie! did I whimper when Robert stood up
with his gun,’
And the hero-blood chafed in his forehead, the evening we
heard of Bull Run?
Pointing his finger at Harry, but turning his eyes to the wall, “There’s a staff growing up for your age, mother,” said Robert,
“if I should fall.”
Eighteen? Oh, I know; and yet narrowly,— just a wee babe
on the day When his father got up from a sick bed, and cast his last
ballot for Clay; Proud of his boy and his ticket! Said he: “A new morsel
of fame We’ll lay on our candidate’s altar,” and christened the child
with his name.

Oh, what have I done, a weak woman, in what have I meddled
with harm, Troubling only my God for the sunshine and rain on my rough
little farm, That my ploughshares are beaten to swords, and whetted
before my eyes? That my tears must cleanse a foul nation, my lamb be a sacrifice?
Oh, ’tis true there’s a country to save, man, and ’tis true there
is no appeal; But did God see my boy’s name lying the uppermost one in
the wheel?
Five stalwart sons has my neighbor, and never the lot upon one! Are these things Fortune’s caprices, or is it God’s will that is

Are the others too precious for resting where Robert is taking
his rest? With the pictured face of your Annie lying over the rent in
his breast; Too tender for parting with sweethearts, too fair to be crippled
and scarred? My boy! thank God for these tears; I was growing so bitter
and hard!

Let us sit by the firelight, Harry; let us talk in the firelight’s
shine Of something that’s nobler than living, of a Love that is
higher than mine, That shall go soldier to battle, shall stand with my
picket on guard;— My boy! thank God for these tears; I was growing so bitter
and hard!