Editor’s Note: This poem was delivered by Miss Lucy Powell Harris at a concert give by the pupils at the Houston Street Female High School in Atlanta, Georgia, May, 1st, 1866. It was originally written by L. Virginia French, the daughter of a prosperous Virginia family. She relocated to Tennessee and became a teacher after her mother died and her father remarried. She married Colonel John Hopkins French of McMinnville, Tennessee in 1853 and moved to her husband’s plantation, Forest Home, where, with the exception of two years in exile during the War, she lived until her death in 1881. French edited newspapers and magazines, including The Southern Literary Messenger, and wrote novels, poetry, and plays. She exemplified the Southern educated woman and was a determined and dedicated patriot and partisan to the Southern tradition of people and place.
“In this city of Atlanta, on a dire and dreadful day,
‘Mid the raging of the conflict, ‘mid the thunder of the fray –
In the blaze of burning roof-trees – under clouds of smoke and flame –
Sprang a new word into being, from a stern and dreaded name;
Gaunt, and grim, and like a specter, rose that word before the world,
from a land of bloom and beauty, into ruin rudely hurled –
From a people scourged by exile – from a city ostracized –
Pallis-like it sprang to being, and that word is – Shermanized!
And forevermore hereafter, where the fierce Destroyer reigns,
Where Destruction pours her lava over cultivated plains –
Where Want and Woe hold carnival – where bitter Blight and Blood,
Sweep over prosperous nations in a strong relentless flood;
Where the golden crown of Harvest trodden into ashes lies,
and Desolation stares abroad with famine-frenzied eyes –
Where the wrong with iron scepter crushes every Right we prized,
There shall people groan in anguish – ‘God! the Right is Shermanized’!
Man may rule the raids of Ruin – lead the legions that despoil –
From the lips of honest Labor dash the guerdon of its toil –
‘Sow with salt’ the smiling valleys, and on every breezy height.
Kindle bale-fires of destruction, lurid in the solemn night;
He may sacrifice the aged, and exult when Woman stands,
‘Mid the sunken sodden ashes of her home, with palsied hands,
Drooping over hungered children – man may thus immortalize,
His name with haggard infamy – his watchword – ‘Shermanized”!
Nobler deeds are Woman’s province – she must not destroy, but build,
She must bring the urns of Plenty with the wine of Pleasure filled,
She must be the ‘sweet restorer’ of this sunny Southern land;
Fill our schools, rebuild our churches, take the feeble by the hand,
Aid the Press, befriend the teacher, give to Want it’s daily bread,
And never, never fail to weave above our ‘noble dead’,
The laurel garland due to deeds of valor’s high emprise,
And won by men whom failure could not sink, or – Shermanize!
With her wakened love of labor, let her labor on in love,
Still, in softness and in stillness, as the starry circles move,
Bearing light and bringing gladness, from the leaden clouds unfurled,
As the soft rise of the sunlight bringers morning to the world;
Gradually urging on Endeavor, as the gates of Day unclose,
Till the ‘solitary place again shall blossom as the rose,”
And Woman – the Re-builder – shall be freely eulogized,
By the triumph of her people, then no longer Shermanized.
God bless our noble Georgia! though her soil was over run,
And her lands in desolation laid, beneath an Autumn sun;
With the signal shout ‘To action!’ – like the boom of signal guns,
She has roused the iron mettle of her strong and stalwart sons.
May her daughters aid that effort to rebuild and to restore,
Working on for Southern freedom as they never worked before!
May Georgia as a laggard never once be stigmatized,
and her People, Press or Pulpit, never more be Shermanized!