In commemoration of the battle of Fredericksburg 151 years ago today, we offer up a piece passed along to us by Daniel Weinfeld, an ECW reader with the White Plains (NY) Civil War Roundtable. This is a poem by Rev. L. P. Patch of Altoona, PA, that honors Sgt. Charles M. Hamilton’s charge with the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves—part of George Gordon Meade’s breakthrough a Prospect Hill at the south end of the battlefield.
“Respect the Flag”
Respect the flag! Brave Hamilton,
Wounded while saving flag from shame,
Who nation honored with acclaim,
Promoting him by bravery test;
With flag he saved around his form,
He lay on the field till Rebs, sixth morn,
His challenge heard, e’r safety won;
‘Strike, craven cowards,’ baring breast,
Respect of flag! Its prestige, power,
We saw in victories, ‘over there,’
An emblem proud for Yanks to bear,
Outshining all its fame before.
Meade’s breakthrough, short-lived as it was because his attack didn’t get reinforced, was the one bright spot of the entire battle for Federals. “I…will simply say my men went in beautifully, carried everything before them, and drove the enemy for nearly half a mile,” Meade said in a letter to his wife, looking for the silver lining to his otherwise embittering experience.
As one of the men who took part in the attack, Hamilton was wounded by a bullet that hit him just below the right knee, which knocked him out of the fight. (Ironically, the area along the rail line just south of where Hamilton was wounded was called “Hamilton’s Crossing.”) Hamilton went on to a colorful career, both during and after the war, before eventually passing away in 1875 at age 35. You can read a synopsis of his career here or a more narrative account (written by Mr. Weinfeld) here.
Rev. Patch’s poem about Hamilton, “Respect the Flag,” is a WWI-era piece, although its exact date is uncertain. It was reprinted in Robert B. Hamilton, Jr.’s “Hamiltons of Pine Creek, Pennsylvania,” which can be found on file at the Lycoming County (PA) Historical Society in Williamsport, PA. Our thanks, again, to Mr. Weinfeld for passing it along.