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Samuel Hawkins Marshall Byers

Samuel Hawkins Marshall Byers - Stories

Civil War (Union) · US Army

Brief Biography of S. H. M. Byers

  • Mahaska County, Iowa

BYERS, SAMUEL H. M., son of James Byers, was born in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania, July 23, 1838; he received a common school education, and studied law with Hon. Wm. Loughridge, and was admitted to the bar in 1861; upon the breaking out of the Rebellion, he enlisted in 1861 in the 5th Regiment Iowa Infantry, and was appointed quarter-master sergeant; he was soon after promoted to adjutant of the regiment; at the battle of Mission Ridge he was taken prisoner with eighty others of his own regiment, Nov. 25, 1863; he was held a prisoner for sixteen months, and was taken from one prison to another, and suffered almost everything but death. After making two attempts to escape and being recaptured, the third time, Feb. 16, 1865, he was successful. While in prison he composed the song which has become national, "Sherman's March to the Sea." After his escape Gen. Sherman sent for him, and assigned him to duty on his staff; he was selected by General Sherman as bearer of the first dispatches to Gen. Grant and the President after leaving Savannah. After the war he returned here; in 1869 he was appointed United States Consul to Zurich, Switzerland, and he has held that position since then, nine years, and is the only one of President Grant's foreign appointments that remain abroad; he married Miss Maggie Gilmore, from Michigan, in 1869; they have two children, Lawrence and Helen.>> from History of Mahaska County


    On the death of his 7 year old daughter, Byers wrote some poems in her memory. It isn't hard to see how much Helen had been loved by her father.


    She was only a child of the May-day,
    That came when the sweet blossoms fell,

    But rarer than any fair lady

    Of whom the old poets may tell.

    Then the days brought us everything sweeter
    Of sunshine and love in their train,

    But better than all and completer,
    Was Baby Helene.

    With a kiss and a smile she came to us,
    The sunshine of God in her hair,

    Ah! never a sweet wind that blew us
    A blossom so tender and rare.

    We sang a new May-song together,
    New-found and of jubilant strain,

    Ah! our hearts they were light as a feather,
    With Baby Helene.

    Would she stay with us, love us ? We bid her Unloosen the notes of her song —

    And tell where the sweet angels hid her,
    And why had we waited so long.

    Would they sorrow in Heaven to miss her ?
    Would they wait for her, weary to pain ?

    Would they anger to see us but kiss her,
    Our Baby Hele'ne ?

    And all the day long, like new lovers,
    Like words that are ever in tune,

    Like songs the fresh May-wind discovers,
    Like birds that are mating in June, —

    Together we loved and we wandered,
    Forgetting of sorrow or pain,

    Forgetting the sweets that we squandered,
    With Baby Helene.

    Oh! lips running over to kisses,

    Red cheeks kissed to brown by the sun,

    Shall we ever again know what bliss is,
    When the song and the kisses are done ?

    Oh ! baby, brown-haired, on thy tresses
    The hands of the angels had lain,

    And joy laughed new-born in caresses
    Of Baby Hele'ne.

    Years went — seven years with their story
    More bright than Aladdin's of old,

    To love and be loved was our glory,
    Our hearts were our castles of gold.

    But broken our castles, and falling,

    Hope crushed — true hearts bleeding and slain,

    God's angels in Heaven were calling
    Our Baby Helene.

    Dim-eyed, and heart-broken, we waited

    The sounds of invisible things,
    While the soul of our soul was remated,

    Borne off on invisible wings.
    In the far-away, purple and golden,

    Went up an ineffable strain,
    And the far-away gates were unfolden
    To Baby Helene.

    One moment, God's earth and its brightness
    Seemed darkened and turned into dross,

    And the manifold stars and their lightness
    Were dimmed and as nothing to us.

    For the bowl that was golden was broken,
    The hearts that were one heart, were twain.

    And the last words of love had been spoken

    By Baby Hele'ne.

    Ah! seven years gone as the dream goes,

    Oh ! baby-love, lost to our ken, — Will the brooklet still flow where the stream flows ?

    Will the lilies still blossom as then ? Will the sweet tongues of birds be unloosed to

    The songs of our love and its pain ?
    Will the violets bloom as they used to
    For Baby Helene?

    Oh! baby-love, heart-sweet, the sunlight
    That fell on the way that you went,

    Shall be to our feet as the one light,
    The lamp the sweet angels have lent.

    And the nights and the days shall be lighter,
    And the ways that were dark ways be plain,

    And the stars where thou art shall be brighter For Baby Helene.


    How beautiful to die as does the rose,
    Sweet fragrance casting on the am'rous air
    What if too lovely seemed life's way to close,
    When death still leaves us with a scene so

    Like to the rose thy life was one sweet bloom,

    Till Fate undid thee from the fair young stem;

    It is not fit, this silent pall and plume, These weeping maidens, and these sorrowing men.

    Thou hadst fair youth, and life's sweet things the best,

    Knew naught of Sorrow, or its lonely consort Pain;

    Thou hadst the joys of life — leave us the rest,

    Who well have known how much of life is vain.


    Helen, sweetest name I know,
    I have never seen thee yet.

    Have thy eyes a mellow glow?
    Are they brown or violet?

    Is thy hair a sheen of gold ?

    Is it black or is it fair ? Do thy cheeks sweet dimples hold

    When the blushes hurry there?

    Little matter—light or brown,
    Each alike would be divine;

    Looking sweet, and looking down,
    I would love thee, lady mine.

    Helen, sweet, 'twere all the same; I would love thee for the name. WILL IT BE SO ?

    When I shall die, perhaps it will be so,
    That I shall see with other eyes than these,
    Deep in the skies find other lands and seas
    And beauteous isles where soft winds come and

    And know of things that now I cannot know;
    That I shall see new colors to the rose,
    New odors find in every breeze that blows,
    And thousand hues in yonder arched bow;
    That I shall hear new strains of minstrelsy,
    Strains that, to us, are but the storm and wind,
    Find every sense enlarged, and new to me,
    And wonder much that I had been so blind. .
    If it be so that death such senses give,
    Then death come quick, that I may die and


    Thy cup, half finished, flushed with joyous wine,

    The sad dregs at its bottom thou didst never reach;

    Thy night of revels had no morn's repine,
    No aching heart, no long-regretted speech.

    Thou didst not live the ignomy to own

    Of beauty faded, or of roses fled;

    Thy cheeks, they paled not, ere the buds were blown, Thou wert not fairer when thou lived, than dead.

    Death is no victor thus — we will not weep! Thou walk'st in other paths of beauty now, more strange; It is not Death we call this thing, but Sleep No parting this, but Beauty's secret change.


    Where no dear heart might ever go, to tell How sweet is death, and how all things are well.

    Then one did ask what loveliest thing there was,

    That was most fair of anything on earth,
    Of lovely flower, or eglantine, or rose,
    Or tree, or thing of most surpassing worth,
    And beauteous even from its very birth, —
    Be it of groves, or seas, of human kind, or

    Or songs of winds, of sadness, or of mirth,—
    What loveliest thing of all that ever dies,
    Were fittest first to be in Paradise.

    One said a nightingale, and one the gleam
    Of summer sunset by some constant sea, —
    And one, sweet apple-blooms that fall and

    Wind-kissed, and lulled into an ecstasy
    Of odorous death, if such a thing there be.
    And others said, for many hastened near,
    The loveliest thing in all the world to see,
    Surpassing all, to heaven and earth most dear,
    By angels welcomed, is a sorrowing tear.

    One said the fragrance of a summer rose,
    And one the melody of flutes at eve,
    Or else the music of a brook that flows,
    Murmuring farewell, and yet doth never
    leave, —

    And some said moonlight nights that weave
    In every soul sweet phantasies so deep
    That mortals may of immortality conceive,
    Nor longer wish their little lives to keep
    From that sweet death which some of them
    call sleep.

    But one there came, of others all the first,
    And laid his hand upon a little child,
    And quick there seemed a radiance to burst
    About his face, ineffable and mild.
    " This is the loveliest," he said, and smiled.
    " Surpassing this, or lovelier, there is none, —
    Rose-leaf of beauty, mortal undefiled.
    The pearly gates no soul hath ever won,
    That was not like unto this little one."

    Then children came, and laid sweet baskets down,

    Rose - leaf and violet, and every flower of worth,

    And odorous herbs, and many a wreath and crown,

    While in their midst stood one of mortal birth,

    Herself more fair than any flower of earth. Oh ! beauteous one, — oh ! face more perfect grown,

    Though all unchanged, more beautiful thou art, —

    E'en in thy angelhood, we still had known Our heart-sweet lost — our loved, our very own.

    Was it a vision that I saw her there,
    Her face all gleaming in the light of His,
    The sunlight shining on her sweet, brown

    That ever had been my delight to kiss,
    In the old days, when seeing her was bliss ?
    It must have been — and if such things there

    In fleeting visions of an hour like this,
    What an Elysium the soul must see
    In the sweet joys of an eternity !

    Tis but a year — but little more, since she
    And I were laughing by this beauteous lake;
    There is the path, and there the little tree
    I used to bend close to the ground, and make
    A springing seat — 't was easy for her sake.
    There, too, the grove, of Nidelbad the pearl,
    The beechen trees no winds could ever break,
    The cedars, bending like some plumed earl
    To her I loved, the little, laughing girl.

    There are the Alps — there they will ever be, —

    A thousand years will make no change in them,

    Though rivers fail, and all the mighty sea, Still they will wear their gracious diadem, Storm and the clouds their snowy mantles hem,

    And they will shine as they have shone of old —

    Their tops aflame, as on some evening, when
    We watched the sun their palaces unfold, —
    The sapphire roofs — the colonnades of gold.

    And Zurich lake! thy waters ever will
    Be dearer far than other scenes to me,
    For I have wandered by thy shores until
    My very being seemed akin to thee.
    Each bank I knew, and every brook and

    Each vine-clad hill, and every hamlet fair,
    And more I loved thee every day, that she
    Was born to us amid a scene so rare, —
    My heart will be forever turning there.

    Forever turning to that beauteous scene,
    Where she and I, the happy years agone,
    Looked on the hills and the blue lake be-

    The blushing mountains in the dim beyond,
    The ice-built palaces, and rocks whereon
    A thousand years the frost-king travelleth,
    Where the red sun, at evening and at dawn,

    Spreads all in gold, as with a fairy's breath.

    We looked and dreamed, but never dreamed of death.

    And it is done! One morn, the little bird
    That waited ever at her window-pane
    For some dear crumb, or for some dearer

    Plumed its sweet breast, and waited there in vain.

    Sweet heart! dear soul! she without any stain,

    Too pure for earth, born of far fairer skies,
    Thoughtless of death, of darkness, or of pain,
    Looking on us as if with other eyes,
    Let go our hands and passed to Paradise.

    With gentle hands, and gentle prayers, we laid

    Her body where the violets do blow;

    And if sometimes they should be thought to fade,

    With our warm tears we '11 water them, and so For love of her, they will forever grow.

    And many days, with broken hearts, we said, " Could one return, or could we only know

    She liveth yet, whom we have thus called dead,

    Our souls in this might still be comforted."

    And days and nights, we waited for a sign, Praying and hoping she might linger there,

    That word or look might lessen death's repine,

    One single word might lighten our despair — Might make the yoke more possible to bear.

    We sought of silence — there was answer none,

    We sought of moonlight, and of earth and air,

    There was no answer. Would she never come One moment back, and strike all doubting dumb?

    And longing thus, as once I wept alone,

    With heart bowed down, and face' all wet with tears,

    I felt her presence — felt my very own, —

    And in that moment was the bliss of years.

    Gone were my doubts, and gone were all my fears.

    No dream was it — no phantasy could be
    So like to her — the very thought endears.
    It was no dream, that vision sweet — I see
    Her dear form yet, and feel her kissing me.

    One moment only, and one sweet embrace —
    I felt her warm arms resting on my breast —
    Her soft, warm cheek I felt against my face.
    A thousand times I 'd put that head to rest,
    Those little hands a thousand times caressed.
    Dear eyes, sweet eyes! I know their tender

    How oft their look some sorrowing heart hath blessed —

    Dearer this night, than they did ever seem,
    Dear one I love, I know it was no dream.

    'T was but a moment, but that moment was
    Rich in significance of things that are :
    As some faint light behind the hill-top shows
    The coming moon and her attendant star,

    So with new eyes I saw, and from afar
    Heard sweetest tones, and in the rosy West
    Where they had left the golden gates ajar,
    That she might come to give my spirit rest,
    I looked and saw the Islands of the Blest.

    Or dream, or waking, I may never know,
    Alike the joy, no words may ever tell, —
    I saw the isles where roses ever blow,
    I saw the shores where bright seas ever
    swell —

    It was the land where the blest spirits dwell.
    I saw fair barks, by angels piloted
    O'er roseate seas that only rose and fell
    To notes of flutes, that thus were hallowM,
    While silver moons shed soft light overhead.

    I saw the gardens of the happy Blest, —
    The lotus-blooms, and golden asphodel,
    And flowering shrubs angelic hands had

    Red-berried ash, and the sweet mountain bell.
    And thornless rose that doth forever smell,
    And lilies fair, and waters all in tune

    With odorous winds that came like fairy spell
    Out of the night, to cool the parched noon,
    And make the jrear a never-ending June.

    I saw the fields that are forever green,
    And purple hills that melt into the sea,
    The thousand brooks that sing their way

    One and a part of His great minstrelsy.
    Not far away that happy sea may be,
    Not far those sails by rapturous breezes bent,
    With mortal eyes, at times, we almost see,
    So near they are to our own firmament —
    The Blessed Isles, where all men are content.

    Gone is the vision of that blessed hour,
    Like to some dream that with the morn is

    I saw the Isles, and every tree and flower Melt and grow dim, as when a cloud is blown Across a moon that had that moment shone. But as that moon and all her star-lit train, Will still shine on, when the dark cloud is gone,

    So will the clouds that hide my vision wane,
    And I shall see the Blessed Isles again.

    Shall ever think how very thin the veil
    That floats at times betwixt myself and her,
    Like mist of morn, or like some dewy sail, —
    Ethereal cloud — so vapor-like, as't were
    A touch of wind, a gentle breath, might stir
    Its shining folds — and I again should see,
    Spread out like gold, as in my vision fair,
    The Happy Isles, the far-off shining sea,
    And her I loved, waiting to welcome me.

    So I shall walk as now the earth along,
    Dearer to me for one that has been here,
    Nor shall the way seem very dark or long
    To those Blest Isles whose confines do ap-

    And if, sometimes, in fancy I should hear
    A. dear, soft voice, or some light footstep's

    I shall be sure that she is very near,
    And, thinking so, be gently comforted,
    And live and love, as by her spirit led.
    And many times my hand in hers will be,
    And we will walk by pleasant ways alone,
    And I shall look into her face, and see
    The dearest eyes that ever yet have shone —
    And cheeks more sweet than any roses

    And when, sometimes, light song and pleasantry

    Fill every heart but mine, to silence grown, They will not know that, at that moment, she Sits by my side and keeps me company.

    SHM Byers---briefly

      Byers, Samuel Hawkins Marshall (July 23, 1838–May 24, 1933)

      –poet—was born in Pulaski, Pennsylvania. His mother died soon after he was born. In 1851 his father took him to Burlington, Iowa, finally settling in Oskaloosa in 1853. Byers received a few years of frontier education and studied law with an Oskaloosa attorney. He was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1861.

      Byers was profoundly influenced by a visit to Memphis, Tennessee, where he witnessed slaves being whipped and beaten. Thus, when the Southern states seceded, Byers was one of the first to enlist in a company of volunteers from Newton, Iowa. The company became B Company, Fifth Iowa Infantry, and Byers was promoted to quartermaster sergeant. He saw action at Iuka, Corinth, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. The Fifth Iowa participated in the attack on Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga, where Byers and about 80 of the regiment were captured.

      It is not known if Byers had any literary ambitions before the war, but military service and wartime captivity made him a writer. He spent seven months in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, and was transferred to Macon, Georgia, in 1864. He escaped from the Macon camp only to be recaptured. He was transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, and then to "Camp Sorghum" just outside Columbia, South Carolina. He escaped again and was captured again. After the camp was closed, the prisoners were moved into Columbia itself and housed in a large building that had previously served as a state mental asylum. The Union prisoners, shut off from the outside world, had no idea how the war was progressing. A slave, assigned to carry food to the prisoners, hid an article from a South Carolina newspaper inside a loaf of bread. The article carried news of General William Sherman's victory at Atlanta and his triumphant march across Georgia to Savannah. Byers read the article and was inspired to write a poem that he titled "Sherman's March to the Sea."?Another prisoner, W. O. Rockwell, set the poem to music, and soon the camp's glee club was singing it. The song rapidly worked its way through the network of prisoners. When another prisoner, Lieutenant Daniel W. Tower, was exchanged by way of an Alabama prison camp, he left the prison carrying a copy of the song with him, smuggled through the lines in his wooden leg. Once available outside the prisons, the song quickly became a national sensation. It gave Sherman's march its famous name and became a Union rallying cry.

      Byers, still in prison, had no idea that his song had become so popular, but when Sherman's army closed in on Columbia, his troops were singing Byers's song right along with "John Brown's Body" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."?With Sherman getting closer to Columbia, the prisoners were taken from the asylum and transferred out of the state. Byers and a few others took advantage of the confusion to hide in the attic of the building and were overlooked as the other prisoners were taken away. When the Yankee soldiers entered Columbia, Byers was one of the first to greet them. General Sherman heard that Byers was in the town and was eager to meet the poet. He rewarded Byers with a position on his staff. Back in Iowa, Byers was promoted to the rank of brevet major by Governor William M. Stone.

      Byers would always be known for his song, but it was just the start of a long and distinguished career. His articles on the war for the Annals of Iowa and his books What I Saw in Dixie: Or Sixteen Months in Rebel Prisons, With Fire and Sword, and Iowa in Wartime are invaluable contributions to Civil War scholarship. He served as U.S. consul to Switzerland from 1869 to 1884, which resulted in the books Switzerland and the Swiss and Twenty Years in Europe. He wrote articles for Harper's and the Magazine of American History as well as several volumes of poetry. His best-known poems are about Iowa. In 1911 the state legislature declared "Song of Iowa" Iowa's state song.

      Byers moved to Los Angeles in his later years and wrote poetry for the Los Angeles Times. He died in Los Angeles on May 24, 1933. Sources For more on Byers, see Charles Aldrich, "The Song 'Sherman's March to the Sea,'" Annals of Iowa (1913), 215–17; Ruth A. Gallaher, "S. H. M. Byers," Palimpsest 13 (1932), 429–69; and Benjamin F. Gue, History of Iowa (1903). Contributor: Kenneth L. Lyftogt