THE CONGRESSMEN CAME OUT TO SEE BULL RUN by Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943)

The congressmen came out to see Bull Run, The congressmen who like free shows and spectacles. They brought their wives and carriages along, They brought their speeches and their picnic-lunch, Their black constituent-hats and their devotion: Some even brought a little whiskey, too. (A little whiskey is a comforting thing For congressmen in the sun, in the heat of the sun.) The bearded congressmen with orator's mouths, The fine, clean-shaved, Websterian congressmen, Come out to see the gladiator's show Like Iliad gods, wrapped in the sacred cloud Of Florida-water, wisdom and bay-rum, Of free cigars, democracy and votes, That lends such portliness to congressmen. (The gates fly wide, the bronze troop marches out Into the stripped and deadly circus-ring, "Ave, Caesar!" the cry goes up, and shakes The purple awning over Caesar's seat.) "Ave, Caesar! Ave, O congressmen, We who are about to die Salute you, congressmen!" Eleven States, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, Michigan, and the gathered West, Salute you, congressmen! The red-fezzed Fire-Zouaves, flamingo-bright, Salute you, congressmen! The raw boys still in their civilian clothes, Salute you, congressmen! The Second Wisconsin in its homespun grey, Salute you, congressmen! The Garibaldi Guards in cocksfeather hats, Salute you, congressmen! The Second Ohio with their Bedouin-caps, Salute you, congressmen! Sherman's brigade, grey-headed Heintzelman, Ricketts' and Griffin's doomed and valiant guns, The tough, hard-bitten regulars of Sykes Who covered the retreat with the Marines, Burnside and Porter, Wilcox and McDowell, All the vast, unprepared, militia-mass Of boys in red and yellow Zouave pants, Who carried peach-preserves inside their kits And dreamt of being generals overnight; The straggling companies where every man Was a sovereign and a voter--the slack regiments Where every company marched a different step; The clumsy and unwieldy-new brigades Not yet distempered into battle-worms; The whole, huge, innocent army, ready to fight But only half-taught in the tricks of fighting, Ready to die like picture-postcard boys While fighting still had banners and a sword And just as ready to run in blind mob-panic, Salutes you with a vast and thunderous cry, Ave, Caesar, Ave, O congressmen, Ave, O Iliad gods who forced the fight! You bring your carriages and your picnic-lunch To cheer us in our need. You come with speeches, Your togas smell of heroism and bay-rum. You are the people and the voice of the people And, when the fight is done, your carriages Will bear you safely, through the streaming rout Of broken troops, throwing their guns away. You come to see the gladiator's show, But from a high place, as befits the wise: You will not see the long windrows of men Strewn like dead pears before the Henry House Or the stone-wall of Jackson breathe its parched Devouring breath upon the failing charge, Ave, Caesar, ave, O congressmen, Cigar-smoke wraps you in a godlike cloud, And if you are not to depart from us As easily and divinely as you came, It hardly matters. Fighting Joe Hooker once Said with that tart, unbridled tongue of his That made so many needless enemies, "Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?" The phrase Stings with a needle sharpness, just or not, But even he was never heard to say, "Who ever saw a dead congressman?" And yet, he was a man with a sharp tongue.