"THE BROKEN MUG"*
                                             BY JOHN ESTEN COOKE 
(The following poem, written by John Esten Cooke
in the summer of 1865, on breaking the mug he had carried through the war, will be read with peculiar interest just now in view of the recent lamented death of the distinguished author, who was widely known in the literary world for the many productions of his facile pen, but who will live in the hearts of old confederates as one who was "true to his colors" to the last-who, unlike the infmaous G.W. Cable, "did not desert during the war, and has not deserted since".
 


My mug is broken, my heart is sad;
     What woes can fate still hold in store?
The friend I cherished a thousand days 
     Is smashed to pieces on the floor;
Is shattered, and to Limbo gone;
     I'll see my mug no more!

Relic, it was, of joyous hours,
    Whose golden memories still allure--
When coffee made of rye we drank,
   And gray was all the dress we wore;
When we were paid some cents a month,
   But never asked for more!

In marches long, by day and night,
   In raids, hot charges, shocks of war,
Strapped on the saddle at my back 
    This faithful comrade still I bore--
This old companion, true and tried 
    I'll never carry more!

Bright days, when young in heart and hope
    The pulse leaped at the words "La Gloire!"
When the gray people cried, "hot fight!
   Why we have one to four!"
 When but to see the foeman's face
     Was all they asked --no more.

From the Rapidan to Gettysburg--
     "Hard bread", behind, "sour krout" before--
This friend went with the cavalry 
     And heard the jarring cannon roar
 In front of Cemetery Hill--
      Good Heavens! how they did roar!

Then back again, the foe behind,
    Back to the "Old Virginia shore" --
Some dead and wounded left--some holes
    In flags the sullen graybacks bore:
 This mug had made the great campaign,
      And we'd have gone once more!

Alas!  we never went again! 
     The red cross banner, slow but sure,
"Fell back"--we bade to sour krout
      (Like the lover of Lenore)
A long, sad, lingering farewell--
      To taste its joys no more.

But still we fought, and ate hard bread,
     Or starved--good friend our woes deplore!
And still this faithful friend remained
     Riding behind me as before--
The friend on march, in bivouac,
     When others were no more.

How oft we drove the horsemen blue 
     In Summer bright or winter frore!
How oft before the Southern charge
     Thro' field and wood the bluebirds tore!
 I'm harmonized" today, but think 
       I'd like to charge once more.

Oh Yes!  we're all "fraternal" now,
      Purged of our sins we're clean and pure,
Congress will "reconstruct" us soon --
     But no gray people on that floor!
 I'm harmonized --"so called"--but long
      To see those times once more!

Gay days!  the sun was brighter then,
      And we were happy, though so poor!
That past comes back as I behold
      My shattered friend upon the floor,
 My splintered, useless, ruined mug,
      From which I'll drink no more.

How many lips I'll love for aye,
      While heart and memory endure,
Have touched this broken cup and laughed--
      How they did laugh!---in days of yore!
Those days we'd call "a beauteous dream
       If they had been no more!"

Dear comrades, dead this many a day,
       I saw you weltering in your gore
After those days, amid the pines
       On the Rappahannock shore!
When the joy of life was much to me,
        But your warm hearts were more!

Yours was the grand heroic nerve
       That laughs amid the storm of war--
Souls that "loved much" your native land,
       Who fought and died therefor! 
You gave your youth, your brains, your arms,
       Your blood --you had no more!

You lived and died true to your flag!
      And now your wounds are healed, but sore
Are many hearts that think of you
      Where you have "gone before."
 Peace, comrade!  God bound up those forms--
       They are "whole" forevermore!

Those lips this broken vessel touched,
       His, too!--the man's we all adore--
That cavalier of cavaliers, 
      Whose voice will ring no more--
 Whose plume will float amid the storm 
       Of battle nevermore!

Not on this idel page I write
       That name of names, shrined in the core
Of every heart!  Peace! foolish pen!
       Hush!  words so cold and poor!
His sword is rust; the blue eyes dust, 
        His bugle sounds no more!

Yet even here write this:  He charged!
       As Rupert in the years before,
And when his stern, hard work was done,
       His griefs, joys, battles o'er--
His mightily spirit rode the storm,
      And led his men once more!

He lies beneath his native sod,
      Where violets spring, or frost is hoar,
He recks not--charging squadrons watch 
      His raven plume no more!
That smile we'll see, that voice we'll hear,
       That hand we'll touch no more!

My foolish mirth is quenched in tears;
      Poor fragments strewed upon the floor,
You are a type of nobler things
      That find their use no more --
Things glorious once, now trodden down--
       That make us smile no more!

Of courage, pride, high hopes, stout hearts--
      Hard, stubborn nerve, devotion pure. 
Beating his wings against the bars, 
      The prisoned eagle tried to soar!
Outmatched, overwhelmed, we struggled still--
       Bread failed--we fought no more!

Lies in the dust the shattered staff
      That bore aloft on sea and shore 
That blazing flag, amid the storm!
      And none are now so poor!
 So poor to do it reverence
       Now when it flames no more!

But it is glorious in the dust,
      Sacred till time shall be no more.
Spare it, fierce editors, your scorn!
      The dread "Rebellion's o'er!
Furl the great flag, hide cross and star.
      Thrust into darkness star and bar,
But, look!  across the ages far 
       It flames forever more! 


 




 

*Southern Historical Society Papers,Richmond, VA
Volume 14, January-December, 1866 Pages 223 - 226

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