“Not Far from the Plank Road’s Turning”

William R. Ramsey was a Sergeant in Co. F of the 150th Pennsylvania Bucktails. Surviving the vicious fighting at Gettysburg unscathed, Ramsey was severely wounded on May 6, 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness, and was subsequently captured. His left leg was amputated, and he would spend the next several months a prisoner until his exchange in September 1864.

While recovering from his amputation, Ramsey struck up a conversation with a wounded soldier from New York who, like Ramsey, had been left on the Wilderness battlefield following his wounding on May 5. The New Yorker recalled that a short distance from him on the battlefield had laid a man who appeared to be in great agony. Another New Yorker crawled over to see if he could help, finding that the man had been badly wounded in the thigh and shot in the back. The wounded man said he belonged to Company F of the 150th – the same company of Ramsey.

The Wilderness

The wounded Bucktail was deemed too bad off to be moved and was left on the field by the Confederates. The New Yorker saw the woods catch fire and presumed that the man was ultimately consumed in the flames. His name could not be recollected, but based on this evidence Ramsey believed the soldier to be his comrade, Jim Stevenson. Ramsey did not take his wound until May 6, and that morning everyone in his company had been accounted for except for Stevenson.

The service record for James Stevenson shows that he survived until ca. May 15, 1864, expiring from his wounds while a prisoner of war. However, believing Stevenson perished in the flames, Ramsey composed the following poem in his memory…

“In Memoriam”

‘Mid the tangled brake, on that May day, 
Not far from the Plank Road’s turning,
With shatter’d leg, a Union soldier lay,
While the woods were fiercely burning.

With our charging lines he had reached this spot,
Cheering and urging his comrades on,
Till struck by an unseen foeman’s shot,
He staggered, and fell with a groan. 

Just then was heard that well known rebel yell,
And trebled lines of men in gray,
Swept thru’ the woods, and dash’s, a living Hell, 
Upon our ranks, which soon gave way. 

So thus was left, on that May morn lying,
Not far from the Plank Road’s turning, 
Amid heroes dead, this hero dying,
While the woods were fiercely burning. 

But, tho swiftly was his life blood flowing,
The crackling flames swept on apace; 
Tho’ fainter was each pulsation growing,
The dreaded fire fiend won the race. 

Its work, thank God! was brief, it soon pass’d on,
And naught but a heap of ashes lay,
By which to mark the spot, when it had gone,
Where a hero’s spirit left its clay. 

Sacred is, forever more, that spot to me,
Not far from the Plank Road’s turning, 
Where still, with memr’y’s eye, I seem to see
The woods so fiercely burning…

4 Responses to “Not Far from the Plank Road’s Turning”

  1. The poem is moving and reflects the sentiment and writing style of the day. Thank you for posting.

  2. The reports of the burning vegetation at The Wilderness battle are haunting. This poem humanized the tragic situation

  3. Thanks for this post! The poem’s second stanza has a misspelling: “Till struck by an unseen foreman’s shot,” Should be “foeman’s shot.” Cheers, John

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