THE COLLEGE COLONEL by Herman Melville (1819-1891)

He rides at their head; A crutch by his saddle just slants in view, One slung arm in splints, you see, Yet he guides his strong steed -- how coldly too. He brings his regiment home -- Not as they filed two years before, But a remnant half-tattered, and battered, and worn, Like castaway sailors, who -- stunned By the surf's loud roar, Their mates dragged back and seen no more -- Again and again breast the surge, And at last crawl, spent, to shore. A still rigidity and pale -- An Indian aloofness lines his brow; He has lived a thousand years Compressed in battle's pains and prayers, Marches and watches slow. There are welcoming shots, and flags; Old men off hat to the Boy, Wreaths from gay balconies fall at his feet, But to him -- there comes alloy. It is not that a leg is lost, It is not that an arm is maimed, It is not that the fever has racked -- Self he has long since disclaimed. But all through the Seven Days' Fight, And deep in the Wilderness grim, And in the field-hospital tent, And Petersburg crater, and dim Lean brooding in Libby, there came -- Ah heaven! -- what truth to him.

Soldier Life