Published in Shadowed Grounds: Poems by Eve Brackenbury. (Revised Edition, 2014)
Forgive Me, Mother. My Heart is Blue
My Dearest Mother, forgive me,
for today I stood before God
and swore loyalty to mine enemy.
My sons and husband are dead,
and I am asked to bury my hatred.
I have done so and I have begged
that I might return home to you.
Forgive me, Mother,
my heart has turned cold and Blue.
What was not burned has been picked at
by packs of wild dogs. Full of mange,
full of rage and madness, they took over
looting after Ewing’s dogs left.
And now these dreaded dogs,
they plunder our fields for bones.
The murderous rage of those bent on abolishing
all we had has taken all from me!
I returned to what has been called a vast cemetery.
It seems to me a generous assessment,
for even our graves were turned out.
Snow and ash cover what few stones remain,
a Grey reminder.
And in that respect, a vast cemetery indeed.
Mother, I beg for your forgiveness,
for I buried your Bible next to your bones,
thinking you might keep it safe.
And the silver comb Father brought back
from the old country to give to his bride.
I knew not what else to do;
we were given only a fortnight to flee.
We have been punished for our honor,
most severely and without mercy.
Mother, forgive me if you can find it in your heart,
for I have chosen to marry a Union man.
He carries a Bible close to his breast
and has offered absolution for my sins.
His very dog he pledged to me for protection.
A silver comb, his bridal gift to me.
General Order No. 11:
This poem is about a fictional woman who suffered during a very real and very devastating consequence of the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Ewing, commander of the District of the Border issued the infamous General Order No. 11 on August 25th, 1863. It was in direct response to the raid on Lawrence on August 21st, 1863. In the order, Ewing banished the citizens from in the border counties—Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties, Missouri . It was assumed the citizens, most likely so, in these counties gave support to the guerrillas. Those who swore allegiance to the Union were exempt from the order. Yet, loyal or disloyal, the citizenry suffered under a ruthless execution of revenge. Buildings and homes were burned, livestock and possessions were taken, people were murdered even while trying to evacuate and follow the order. Many buried what possessions they couldn’t take with them and later returned to find them dug up and burned. The land was completely desecrated. The area became a wasteland. It is estimated that 25,000 people were displaced. In January of 1864, those who swore loyalty to the Union were allowed to return. Two years later, a minister named George Miller returned to the area and noted, “For miles and miles we saw nothing but lone chimneys. It seemed like a vast cemetery — not a living thing to break the silence … Man no longer existed here.”
About The painting: Text taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Order_No._11_%281863%29
American artist George Caleb Bingham, who was staunchly pro-Union, called Order No. 11 an “act of imbecility” and wrote letters protesting it. Bingham wrote to Gen. Ewing, “If you execute this order, I shall make you infamous with pen and brush,” and in 1868 created his famous painting reflecting the consequences of Ewing’s harsh edict (see above). Former guerrilla Frank James, a participant in the Lawrence, Kansas raid, is said to have commented: “This is a picture that talks.”
Bingham, who was in Kansas City at the time, described the events:
It is well-known that men were shot down in the very act of obeying the order, and their wagons and effects seized by their murderers. Large trains of wagons, extending over the prairies for miles in length, and moving Kansasward, were freighted with every description of household furniture and wearing apparel belonging to the exiled inhabitants. Dense columns of smoke arising in every direction marked the conflagrations of dwellings, many of the evidences of which are yet to be seen in the remains of seared and blackened chimneys, standing as melancholy monuments of a ruthless military despotism which spared neither age, sex, character, nor condition. There was neither aid nor protection afforded to the banished inhabitants by the heartless authority which expelled them from their rightful possessions. They crowded by hundreds upon the banks of the Missouri River, and were indebted to the charity of benevolent steamboat conductors for transportation to places of safety where friendly aid could be extended to them without danger to those who ventured to contribute it.