Complete Poetical Works

Caldwell of Springfield

(New Jersey, 1780)

Bret Harte

HERE’S the spot. Look around you. Above on the height
Lay the Hessians encamped. By that church on the right
Stood the gaunt Jersey farmers. And here ran a wall,—
You may dig anywhere and you’ll turn up a ball.
Nothing more. Grasses spring, waters run, flowers blow,
Pretty much as they did ninety-three years ago.

Nothing more, did I say? Stay one moment: you’ve heard
Of Caldwell, the parson, who once preached the word
Down at Springfield? What, no? Come—that’s bad; why, he had
All the Jerseys aflame! And they gave him the name
Of the “rebel high priest.” He stuck in their gorge,
For he loved the Lord God—and he hated King George!

He had cause, you might say! When the Hessians that day
Marched up with Knyphausen, they stopped on their way
At the “farms,” where his wife, with a child in her arms,
Sat alone in the house. How it happened none knew
But God—and that one of the hireling crew
Who fired the shot! Enough!—there she lay,
And Caldwell, the chaplain, her husband, away!

Did he preach—did he pray? Think of him as you stand
By the old church to-day,—think of him and his band
Of militant ploughboys! See the smoke and the heat
Of that reckless advance, of that straggling retreat!
Keep the ghost of that wife, foully slain, in your view—
And what could you, what should you, what would you do?

Why, just what he did! They were left in the lurch
For the want of more wadding. He ran to the church,
Broke the door, stripped the pews, and dashed out in the road
With his arms full of hymn-books, and threw down his load
At their feet! Then above all the shouting and shots
Rang his voice: “Put Watts into ’em! Boys, give ’em Watts!”

And they did. That is all. Grasses spring, flowers blow,
Pretty much as they did ninety-three years ago.
You may dig anywhere and you’ll turn up a ball—
But not always a hero like this—and that’s all.

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