“The Northern mother to her son” – A poem from the 96th Pennsylvania

Among the officers of the 96th Pennsylvania was a prolific poet. Captain John T. Boyle wrote frequently to the editors of the Miners’ Journal in Pottsville throughout his service with the regiment.

He wrote letters describing the unit’s activities, but mostly he wrote lengthy verses that touched on the emotional aspects of a nation at war. These verses were written on December 8, 1861 as the unit sat in Camp Franklin and had begun construction of its winter quarters.

Written from the perspective of a mother on the Northern home front, Boyle touches on the mixture of patriotism and fear that gripped families back home in communities that had given hundreds of sons to the Union Army.


The poem was published in the December 28, 1861 edition of the Miners’ Journal. 

The Northern Mother to Her Son

By J.T.B.

Go, boy, the loving mother said,

Your country needs your aid,

And bids you, in the name of God,

Unsheathe your willing blade!

Go and defend the sacred trust

Recorded in that Will,

Which your fathers sealed at Yorktown,

And wrote on Bunker Hill.

A horde of princely traitors

Would spirit it away,

And give us for its living soul

A nothingness of clay –

Would wrest the treasure from me,

And give us in its stead,

A writing fraught with misery,

Blood-stained and sealed with lead.

Go forth and meet them face to face,

And fight them till you die,

Rather than they should pluck a Star,

From Freedom’s azure sky:

For better for to fill the grave,

Than live within our land,

With its States held in their places

By a fragile rope of sand.

And when the combat deepens,

And its thunder shakes the ground,

And the lightening of its angry glare,

Disturbs the blue profound;

Think how your brave forefathers’ fought

In the trying days of yore,

When the minions of a foreign king

Beleaguered all our shore;

Perhaps, I’ll never kiss your cheeks,

Will never see you more,

Nor hear the echo of your voice,

As in the days before –

Ah! Sad the thought and mournful;

It moves my heart to tears,

And fires my brain with agony,

Life of my failing years!

For you I trod life’s thorny path,

And I struggled in the fray;

For you I sacrificed and toiled

To smooth its weary way;

In you my heart is centered;

A mother’s love is thine,

And a deeper, purer, brighter love

There never was than mine –

Yet, I tear affection’s sacred cords,

And stifle nature’s voice

And thank our Heavenly Father

With a holy, calm rejoice;

That He has blest with me with a son,

As brave and fair as mine,

To offer as a sacrifice,

On Freedom’s holy shrine.

And were I mother of a race

Of brave ones such as thee,

I’d yield them all without a sigh

In this emergency –

For adjuster, nobler cause than this

Has never stirred the earth,

Since the morning stars together sang

O’er fair creation’s birth.

Go, boy, and God be with you.

And with His might arm,

Encompass and protect you

And keep you free from harm;

And when the white-winged messenger

Recalls you from the field;

Come in the pride of victory,

Or borne upon your shield.

Camp Franklin, Va., December 8, 1861

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