Memorial Day Homage
It is Memorial Day, 2021, a day to honor Americans who died in service to their country. This Memorial Day we are emerging from the ravages of COVID-19. We have nearly 600,000 souls in the U.S. to mourn and memorialize, millions more around the world. This Memorial Day, it seems fitting to hold in our hearts all who have struggled this last year against terrible odds - doctors, nurses, medical support staff, grocery workers, those who lost jobs, children out of school, those sickened by the virus, those who died and those left behind to mourn. You might, like me, have that vast array of people on your mind this weekend.
And as we think about those lost or those who have suffered, it seems appropriate to go back to the 19th Century, where Memorial Day began in 1868 to honor Civil War dead (1861-1865). My great-great-uncle, Sergeant Emile Mettetal, fought with the Union Forces. Emile survived countless battles including the terrible Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, was captured and imprisoned, in Andersonville and Florence, SC, Confederate prisoner of war camps. He survived only to die on a ship, The General Lyon, which caught fire and sank in a storm, on its way north taking soldiers for convalescent care.
This poem below was written by his mother, my great-great grandmother, Angelique Mettetal. Her pain, like the pain of mothers all over the world whose children have died is palpable through her words. Now, 155 years later, as we in the U.S. honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, Angelique’s pain implores us to cry along with her for all of these brave young men and women.
Think of Emile today and as we do, perhaps it will remind all of us that the ones we love are held here on this earth, even 155 years later, in their stories, in history and in love.
Fate of Sergeant E. Mettetal – poem
A Poem: Composed in 1890 by A. M. Mettetal
A prisoner lies in the Florence cell
With languid thoughts of home
Of parents dear, of friends beloved
From whom he sought to roam.
He heard his country’s wild alarms
At traitrous hands upraised
To rend the banner, that our sires
With blood and sufferings raised.
The patriotic fires that glowed
Within his manly breast
Roused stern ambitions voice for fame
Sought in the fair lands oppressed.
Decked in a suit of deepest blue
And soldier’s knapsack bound
He bade his home and friends adieu
For deeds of glory crowned.
At Fredericksburg the rebel hosts
Were met in strong attire
There many of our brave boys fell
Neath Secessions galling fire
At Fitz Hugh’s landing we will find
our bravest boys in blue
At Gettysburg they fought, they bled
Still to their country true
On many a battle field they fought
On fair Virginia’s plains
And many of our twenty fourth
Were numbered with the slain.
At the battle of the Wilderness
The fate of one is told
The ‘dashing sergeant’ here was missed
Yet dear the prize was sold
To southern dungeons he’s reduced
To pine away in grief
While friends at home who know his fate
Can send him no relief
For long – long months he’s thus confined
With naught his heart to cheer
Though far away, are parents dear
From whom he longs to hear.
At length a message from the north
Proclaimed the captive free
Proclaimed him free to seek the home
And friends he longed to see.
Alas! poor Emile! tragic fate
Which we must call thine own
Has taken from thy parents dear
A worthy, noble son.
On board the ‘General Lyon’ bound
To fair Potomac’s shore
He little thought that he should see
His native land no more
Yes! there upon the burning deck
Me thinks I see him stand
With features turned to catch a glimpse
Of his dear native land.
Alas! the billows madly toss
Hope dies within his breast
Now conscious that he soon must lie
Beneath the ocean’s crest
The angry waves roll o’er the wreck
At midnights awful gloom
And he’s left struggling with the tide
Against a frightful doom
But all in vain, exhausted now
He sinks beneath the wave
That rolls above that sinking form
To shroud the soldier’s grave
Still do I hear those accents mild
Oh father! mother! hear thy child
He sinks! he dies! he’s gone
No little mound of earth is left
On which to strew my flowers
No marble slab by which to kneel
Mid Elmwoods shady bowers
There’s but one solitary rock
On Carolina’s shore
Cape Hatteras on the Atlantic side
Mid billows deafening roar.
Yes! there he sleeps our darling boy
Who fought our flag to save
But why these tears since now he fills
A martyred patriots grave.
A father’s locks are turning gray
A mother’s voice is dumb.
The sisters smiles have flown away
While I bedeck his tomb.
O! brave defender of our rights
Renew affections chain
The memory of one blighted flower
Can make it strong again
O! Emile we can never forget
The laurels thou hast won
Has made thee follower of our
Brave Gallant Washington.
Composed by A. M. Mettetal
This very beautiful poem laments a mother’s tragic loss. It is an excellent example of late-Victorian memorial poetry.The poem was composed in 1890 by: Angelique Martine Mettetal
Angelique was born 10-23-1816 and died 4-27-1911.
She is buried in Redford Cemetery, Wayne County, Detroit, Michigan