This poem was recited to great applause to crowds in Philadelphia in 1915 at the Forty-Second Annual Reunion of the Army of the Potomac and included in the published Report of Proceedings.
The poem was created on the scene of the reunion by Captain Jack Crawford and was based on the arrest of an old soldier a “day or two” before the meeting. The soldier who was arrested was quoted as saying “I did it, yes I did it, and I’d do it again.”
Assault with Attempt to Kill
“Benjamin White,” the Court clerk cried, and “Benjamin White” again,
When a man of apparently sixty came out of the prisoners’ pen.
He leaned on a cane of hickory wood, and walked with a limping gait,
And stood at the bar with determined face, and there awaited his fate.
“Benjamin White,” his Honor cried, as the crowd in the court grew still,
“The charge which 1 see against your name, is assault with intent to kill.
How do you plead? ’Tis a serious charge, with a heavy penalty;
The Court would advise that you ponder well before you enter a plea.”
The old man slowly raised his head and looked into the Judge’s face,
And said, “It is true, w’at you tell me, Judge, and I know it’s a serious case.
I ain’t a-goin’ to make no trouble for the Court and lawyers here,
For all the witnesses in the world I guess couldn’t get me clear.
But if you will hear what 1 got to say, I won’t take much of your time.
Twill show you the power as urged me to do this most desperate crime.
By strikin’ a human bein’ with this cane with my utmost might,
A deadly weapon you call it, an’ I reckon that’s nearly right.
“Way back in ol’ Indiany, on joinin’ farms there were two
Young boys as were constant playmates, an’ together they upward grew.
In all o’ their sports and pleasures, they were like two common pins,
They stuck so closely together, the folks called ’em Siamese Twins.
One of ’em was me, your honor, an’ the other leg o’ tongs
Was a tow-headed rascal named Billy, a son of ol’ Simon DeLong’s.
We sot in the school house together an’ we helped one another on sums,
In all o’ that deestrick I reckon, there wa’n’t sichaffectionate chums.
“We grew up from boyhood to manhood, our friendship still solid an’ true,
In fact it got brighter and brighter, and stronger the older we grew,
Folks talked about Damon an’ Pythias, some chaps o’ the long ago days,
An’ hinted as how me an’ Billy wer’ copying arter their ways.
We’d heard that a war was cornin’, an’ one April day us two chums
Hitched up an’ went into the village, an’ there heard the fifes and drums,
An’ Billy DeLong he says, ‘Benny, them drums is fer me an’ fer you,
Let’s ’list an’ go fight for our country, as all loyal men ort to do.’
“Well, we both enlisted, your honor, an’ was ordered right off to the South,
To do our duty as soldiers, e’en right at the hot cannon’s mouth,
An’ in all o’ the marches an’ sieges, in all o’ the desperate fights,
Us chums would be found right together, an’ we bunked together o’ nights.
We shared with each other our rations, we shared all our sorrows an’ joys,
An’ I reckon, your Honor, we acted jus’ like we did w’en we was boys.
Fur I tho’t the hull world of Billy, an’ Billy tho’t likewise o’ me;
There wasn’t two chums in the Army more lovin’ than we was, you see.
“One day in the heat o’ the battle my chum got a shot in the breast,
An’ when I was kneeling beside him, he made a most urgent request
That I’d say good-by there an’ leave him. You see, we was bein’ driv’ back,
An’ the rebs was a-whoopin’ an’ yellin’ like demons close on to our track.
4 Flo, Benny,’ he said, ‘an’ God bless you! Fall back with the regiment, fur I
Must stay where I am, you can’t move me, an’ here perhaps I may die.
If you live till the conflict is over, an’ back to the ol’ home should go,
Please tell them I fell like a soldier, that I fell with my face to the foe.’
“ I looked in his eyes for a moment, the eyes I had long loved so well,
An’, Jedge, if ol’ General Satan with all o’ the forces o’ Hell,
An’ all armed with blazin’ hot sabers, had over that bloody field come,
A-wagin’ of extermination, I’d a stayed right therewith my chum.
I knowed all the horrors of capture, starvation in filth-reeking pen,
The blows and the curses o’ demons, dressed up in semblance of men;
Exposure to storms and privations, and suffering no tongue could portray,
But there was my chum lying helpless, and right there by him I would stay.
“They tuck us ’way down to Atlanta in cattle cars all of the way,
I sot all crouched up in a corner; in my lap poor of Billy’s head lay,.
I’d fixed up his wound as I could, sir, for all of the surgeons behind
Was busy a-tending the wounded o’ their own Confederate kind.
He kept up a-twistin’ an’ groanin’, fur the pain nearly drove the boy wild,
An’ I kept a-soothin’ an’ cheerin’ just like he was only a child.
Sometimes I thought he was dying, and the pain in my own bosom got
’Most as bad as poor Billy was sufferin’ from that awful Confederate shot.
“When we got to Atlanta they ordered me out of the car with the rest.
I told them of Billy’s condition, of the great gapin’ wound in his breast,
An’ 1 asked if 1 couldn’t stay with him, appealed to their feelin’s as men,
But with blows and with curses they rushed me inside of a great prison pen.
The next day we were ordered to Richmond, a-leavin’ poor Billy behind.
My heart an’ my soul was in torture, an’ my eyes with hot tear drops were blind.
My God! how I suffered, your Honor, with a most unendurable pain
When a horrible thought kept a-comin’, ‘I’ll never see Billy again.’
“Three months on Belle Isle, an’ I reckon your Honor knows well what that means.
Three months in that Hell hole o’ Satan, amid the most horrible scenes,
But all my woes was forgotten, an’ my heart was just crazy with joy,
When with a new batch of arrivals I saw the dear face o’that boy.
From his wound he had nearly recovered, an’, Jedge, you may laugh if you choose,
But we hugged an’ we kissed just like women, an’ danced in our of soleless shoes,
Till the boys must have thought we were crazy, but we didn’t care, not a pin,
For Billy was livin’ an’ kickin’ an’ we was together ag’in.
“We then formed a plan for escapin’ by tunnelin’ under the line,
An’ took in a regular soldier, a fellow named Jonathan Stine;
An’ week after week there we labored till freedom seemed drawin’ to hand,
An’ we cherished the blessed assurance that soon with our comrades we’d stand.
The sun down the west was declinin’, an’ ere it again would appear
We felt that we three would be stealin’ toward our own colors so dear.
But alas! for our fond expectations, an’ all of our labor an’ pain,
The guard to our tent came a-marchin’, an’ we found ourselves carrying chains.
“That spawn o’ the devil betrayed us, that damnable regular cheat
Had told of our plot to the rebels for the sake of a mouthful to eat.
An’ Billy an’ me made a promise, if we ever should light on his trail,
We’d bust in his treacherous noggin if we spent ahull lifetime in jail.
I met him right here in the city, an’ all of the sufferin’ an’ pain
That Billy an’ me had encountered came rushin’ back to me again.
And right on the instant I downed him, as I would any treacherous cur,
An’ I laughed fer to hear him a-beggin’ when I tol’ him just what it is fur.
“They tell me the blow nearly killed him, but that he’s recoverin’ now,
An’ wants me to rot in a prison for sort o’ fulfilling my vow.
But one boomin’ thought will sustain me, that if Billy DeLong isn’t dead,
He’ll some day run on to the rascal an’ follow my lead on his head.
An’ I hope time has dealt more indulgent with him, an’ he’s stronger than me,
His muscles more solid and stringy, his sinews more active an’ free,
So’s his stroke ’ll be more satisfyin’, an’ fall with more power, for then
The world will be rid o’ a critter that ain’t fit to live among men.
“An’, Jedge, please your Honor, I reckon as how I can’t get any bail,
An’ instead o’ the A. P. Reunion I guess I must languish in jail.
You see I have ’tended reunions almost since the war, right along,
In hopes I might meet my boy comrade, my chum, dear of Billy DeLong,
An’ at of Philadelphia to-morrow the boys in reunion will meet,
I was here on my way when I met him an’ downed the of cuss on the street.
An’ if some loyal comrade would bail me, right back from of Philly I’d come
An’ report to your Honor for service, fur you see I might light on my chum.”
The Judge called the District Attorney, an’ whispered some words in his ear.
The lawyer seemed filled with amazement, and to tell of the Court it was clear
That he looked on the old man with favor; his story had struck the right place,
For a tear and a look of compassion was fixed on the old Judge’s face.
He drew from his pocket a check book an’ filled in the blank with a jerk,
With quick nervous movement he signed it an’ handed it down to the clerk.
“Misdemeanor, the charge has been made, sir, and guilty your plea;’’ then he said,
“The Court puts the fine at $10 with costs, and the fine has been paid.’’
The Court was adjourned, and his Honor came down from his seat on the stand,
Made his way through the lawyers and bailiffs, and grasped the old man by the hand,
And hustled him out of the court room and into a carriage nearby,
Each man in a crowd staring after with wonderment fixed in his eye.
Then followed a rambling discussion, some blaming the Judge for his act,
While others with weighty opinions his actions with eloquence backed.
But all were of just one opinion when a bailiff cried out to the throng,
“You lose sight of the name of his Honor; that check was signed WILLIAM DELONG.”