Local Commentary

Editorial: Did this Happen in Our Falls Church?

Could Walt Whitman be describing a scene inside our beloved historic Falls Church during the Civil War? The building, still standing and in weekly use, was known to be a hospital during the war. But whether exactly here or not (no precise location was known or given), it definitely described a scene in this area.

Yes, this horror of war was endured by our forebears in our very midst, mere walking distance from one of our many coffee shops, owing its origin to the horrible slave owners who formed into the Confederacy to violently exact the blood of over 600,000 lives of young Americans in a vain attempt to persist in their inhuman cruelty of slavery.

Put yourself in the right mood now, and for a moment attend to this:

A Civil War Poem of Walt Whitman:

A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown.

A route through a heavy wood with muffled steps in the darkness.

Our army foil’d with loss severe, and he sullen remnant retreating,

Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted building,

We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted building.

‘Tis a large old church at the crossing roads, now an impromptu hospital,

Entering but for a minute I see a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made,

Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps,

And by one great pitchy torch stationary with wild red flame and clouds of smoke,

By these, crowds, groups of forms vaguely I see on the floor, smoke in the pews laid down,

At my feet more distinctly a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death (he is shot in the abdomen),

I stanch the blood temporarily (the youngster’s face is white as a lily),

Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o’er the scene fain to absorb it all,

Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity, some of them dead,

Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, the odor of blood,

The crowd, O the crowd of bloody forms, the yard outside also fill’d,

Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-spasm sweating,

An occasional scream or cry, the doctor’s shouted orders or calls,

The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the torches,

These I resume as I chant, I see again the forms, I smell the odor,

Then hear outside the order given, Fall in, my men, fall in;

But first I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me,

Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,

Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching on in the ranks,

The unknown road still marching.