“They died for you and me” – Captain John T. Boyle’s 1879 Memorial Day Poem

“Today the Capital of Pennsylvania again paid its annual tribute to the deathless fame of the men who sacrificed their lives that we might enjoy the priceless heritage of a common flag and a common country,” wrote the Harrisburg Independent on May 30, 1879.

Citizens in Harrisburg marked Decoration Day with a parade to the city’s cemeteries to mark the graves of Civil War soldiers who perished during the conflict a decade and a half before.

Decoration Day 1879
Headline from the Harrisburg Independent, May 30, 1879.

The ceremony was capped with a reading of this poem by John T. Boyle, a Civil War veteran who served with the 96th Pennsylvania from 1861 to 1864.

Composed by Captain John T. Boyle

Lightly press the hallowed ground,

Where our martyred comrades sleep;

Bow head and hart in grief profound,

And o’er their smould’ring ashes weep.

That our loved country might be free,

They died – they died for you and me.


Above them bid the old flag wave;

The dear old flag they loved so well;

The ensign which they died to save,

Dear Freedom’s starring sentinel!

Flag which the nations joy to see,

They died to save for you and me.


Cull from Flora’s fragrant bowers,

Choicest of the gems of Spring;

O’er their graves in rosy showers,

Scatter them, and softly sing;

For celestial liberty

They died – they died for you and me.

Boyle’s ode to the dead of the American Civil War was among many poems published over the course of the veteran’s life. During his service with the 96th Pennsylvania, Boyle often published sonnets in the pages of his hometown newspaper, the Miners’ Journal, including this poem from December 1861. He served with Company D, 96th Pennsylvania through many of its deadliest engagements and was wounded at Gaines’ Mill in June 1862. Captain Boyle died in Williamstown, Pennsylvania in October 1912.

“Altogether, the ceremonies, including the parade, was one of the finest demonstrations of the kind ever made in this city,” noted the Independent at the conclusion of the city’s Decoration Day festivities for 1879.

Featured Image: “Hold the Fort” by Thomas Nast, October 7, 1876 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Sketch courtesy of Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. 

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