Stuart Connell Nottingham relates in prose and poetry the beautiful story of a woman who served “in a small way in four wars.” Thank you, Stu, for contributing to Leaves of Grass.
Charlotte Anderson Smith, my great-grandmother, was born February 12, 1851, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She told me about fixing sandwiches for and talking with Union soldiers camping near her home in 1863. The following poem retells her experience.
During the Spanish American War Charlotte and her husband, Frederick Gildner, lived in Newport News, Virginia. Troops bound for Cuba were bivouacked across the road. When it rained she sheltered some of the troops on her porch and fixed sandwiches for them.
In 1916 troops bound for France were again assembled across from her home. Again Charlotte fixed sandwiches for them and listened to their fears.
In 1943 during the Second World War Charlotte lived with my family in Norfolk. One of her grandnephews was stationed at the Norfolk Navy base. Walter spent weekends with Charlotte and our family when his ship was in port.
Charlotte Anderson Smith Gildner was a remarkable woman, serving in a small way in four wars. She died in 1946 at age 95 and is buried back home in Philadelphia.
Charlotte Anderson Smith
(Philadelphia April 1863)
Charlotte is just growing into girlhood
when the Union soldiers
camp in the meadow
next to her house.
They are as green as the April grass,
scared and lonely
as they conjure up battles to come,
think about how they will
fare when faced with the enemy.
Charlotte fixes them sandwiches
and listens to their fears.
She stands in for mothers,
sisters and sweethearts.
One boy from Vermont,
thin and shaking as with ague,
fixes pale blue eyes on Charlotte,
asks her to write to him,
asks her to be his special girl.
He is the first of many.
Far down below I hear the river rush, / And standing in this city of the dead, / The voice of waters seems a human cry….
The poems of Innes Randolph would probably be utterly forgotten today were it not for Ry Cooder’s performance of “The Good Old Rebel,” in The Long Ride (on youtube). Yet that bitter song’s dialect and blunt expressiveness is not at all in character with Randolph’s other poetry, nor was it his most popular work during his lifetime.
Born in 1837, Randolph was “brought up in Virginia in a time when the old-fashioned, narrow ideas of ‘pursuits proper to a gentleman’ held full sway,” as his son wrote in the preface to his father’s poems. Those ideas and the Civil War, which broke out “at the critical moment of his life and robbed him of four of its best years,” also robbed Randolph of a career as a sculptor or musician. Instead, he trained as a lawyer, fought in the Confederate Army, and “drifted into journalism” in Baltimore, where he and his family moved after the war. Randolph died after a “painful and distressing illness” in 1887. Randolph’s devoted son gives us a poignant story in his father, a succession of failed dreams and futile struggles.
Randolph’s greatest hit was “Twilight at Hollywood,” an elegant work set in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, and more in keeping with an educated, conventional “gentleman.” Written at the request of a women’s association instrumental in honoring the Confederate dead at the cemetery, “Twilight at Hollywood” was read on various occasions, including Decoration Day (now called Memorial Day) 1866, and the 1869 dedication of the Confederate Memorial. Southern Opinion awarded it $100 in 1867, in a contest for poems honoring the Confederate dead.
By today’s lights, “Twilight at Hollywood” reads as over-sentimental, but a few lines capture a feeling of place that lingers to this day:
Far down below I hear the river rush,
And standing in this city of the dead,
The voice of waters seems a human cry,
That rises from the breadth of all the land,
Of shivered hearthstones and of broken hearts….
Innes Randolph, Poems at archive.org