“Tree of Liberty” by Garrit H. Vandenburgh

A Poem Read Before The 
“Soldiers Lyceum Of The 11th NY Battery”
At The Eighth Regular Meeting, Feb. 29th, 1864
By G.H. Vandenburg
Transcribed By Brendan Murphy

Page image is here.

The author was killed at Cold Harbor, June 12 1864.

The Tree of Liberty
We write, of that-small band who long ago-
Went-out-adventurous on the raging sea,
To seek more ‘genial sphere-where freedom to enjoy,
And conscience;-with its high prerogative; to guide
In all the ways of life, might-be obtained,
With none to check, or bend the human minds,
To other’s will.-
Of their doings-and results, that-consequent-came on,
In course of time, to make the world, no matter high, or low,
Look on and stands amazed;-
So band who wrought-, what- ages long before,
Would call supernal’; high; beyond;-
Age-far exceeding mortal powers.
A tree was plant-‘ in distant land; till then unknown, 
By all the race of men-who learned in books-
Or labored, working with the hands, in fields-
Or sought adventure in a distant region-
Far removed from all the country known,-
A tree of beauty, and like the land its life sustains,
It was unknown, nor ever had before existed on earth,
-Next to the trees that long ago, by higher hand,
And in a fairer soil were plant-; (in Eden’s Soil)
It stood, and emblem, was of freedom,-
And equal rights to man, as heaven ordained,
And grew, and spread its branches wide.-
O’er all the land; from east to west; and North; and South;
And fruit, and leaves, Upon its branches hung-
And beauteous were indeed to look upon,-
And cool the shade ‘neath, which to rest,
While gentle zephyrs soft, beneath its branches blew,
To fan the weary Peasants heated brow
Upon its top, high up in air, an Eagle,-
Native of the mountain oak, who feigneth-
Queen among the Mountain bride, was placed--
For ages; centuries; aye length of time,
Till the last sun shall ‘rise and set-,
To guard the tree, and sentinel-and ensign be,
To rally those who dwelt- in peace
And safety ate and drank and slept-,
And woke to admire the grand old tree.
And should a foe approach-to give her wonted scream;
That-those who shelter took ‘neath her boughs--
Who planted there with arduous toil
And nourished long, and faithfully, a tree,
To show to all the world, how peaceful they might-dwell,
Who free; would worship God.-
Might-come at once, to rescue and secure,-
For-only to themselves, but all that after came,-
The ‘inheritance so dear so precious.
-The world moved on, and many slept,-
(As all must die, and pay the debt to nature owed by all)
Of those whose hands employed
So near the favor’ite tree; example to the world;
They slept-beneath her shade,
And summers birds sang elegy at-eve,
While refreshed upon her boughs,
Above the sleeping dead.-
And seasons came and went,-
And with them grew each twig,
And wider spread each branch
Till land and seas, was compassed far,
And al the world looked on,
And great amazement reigned,
The nations of the Earth, of every clime,
The old in peace, in toil the middle-aged,
In sport and innocence, The youth, were all engaged,
For through the other days,
For aught- of ill or harm forebode
Complacently, upon the past-they glance,
Then futurewards, with sanguine hope they look, 
From storm, and gathering tempest shields, 
Secured in all their rights, They peaceful dwell
---But is perfection found on Earth?
And do men fabric hear that-ne’er shall fall?
Is man ordained in sunshine here below, 
To look through all his days?
And never tear bedim his eye, or cloud, his sun obscure?
Or nations priding in Themselves, with heaven-daring boast-?
Bethink themselves so great-, Their shame is covered up by this,
No matter what they do;
Come forth and see the fairer-to-be seen;
The tree was beauteous every twig; and smooth,
And lived-the blossoms were, to look upon.-
Or of its odor, to inhale, the faint delicious, the leaves
Gave health to all who might partake,-
Its roots were deep, and spreading wide-
Not-easy to be near upon nor could eradicate,
Though all the world was brought to bear in ridgid force,-
The eagle soared, her wonted course-
And watches faithful every way,
Now high in air-then gentle, veers to right-or left-
And circuits-‘round- In hasty flight-she speeds,
The gently lowering, with her feet.-
She stands upon her wounded place,
And looks with pride, and condescension,
Down on all the world.
And Kings, and Monarchs, men of high estate,-
And great renown, go passing by-
And need much-bow with reverence to the bird
Who sits aloft-. And ne’er can they approach
But-recognize the powers- they honor- and the justice of the tree.
They who its branches spreading far, from every harm protect
Sit reading books, of deeds, their fathers wrought,
And wonder, and in a stately form.
Preserved the tree, inherited by them
And too believed, they long admired their work,
Then wish, with ardent wish
They glory to themselves, their fathers had,
And this would do, the same their fathers did.
But this would not be need’
More grieveous works, and soon.
For them is coming forth--------
-------The eagle’s wings are drooped!!
She screams!!!- In wild alarm, and loud!!!-
The multitude rush out, to meet, and bold resist-the hostile foe.
When-lo!-! in great amaze, and wonder
Deep-and long-they find a foe,
A friend as wont’, and of their own,
Age brothers there raised up –with sword,
And point steel,-with vile intent,-
And burning heart-, with flame of anger lit’-
To slay their brothers there,
And ‘strew the ground with human flesh,
Endeavoring hard to rend in t’wain-
And rending kill the sacred tree
The boon their fathers gave,
And that-old eagle too, that long had soared,
In majesty above their heads,
They now would wound, and drag to earth,
And tread beneath their feet; in rage.-
The contest now begins! And of kingdoms, empires,
Monarchies, and crowns! None darst –to move!
But-stand they still with awe!-
For this is war! Yea awful war they see!
Such war was ne’er before.-
Where beauty-, peace, and power combined,
Were rife and full; complete;
Now clamour fills the air, and fire & sword come forth,
And tears, and sighs, and groans, take place of joy and peace,
Such thousands, who but-days before , in mirth,
Were sporting ‘neath the shade-now fall in haste,
And pass away-the earths their bodies saturate,
And thousands take their place.-
The sun may ‘rise, as er’re before,
But –still she seems enrobed in blood,
The moon and stars who nightly watch-
Companion to the sentinel as on his lonely beat,
Now pace to & fro-seem modestly to blush!
As though they glad would hide their face.-
From mouths of hell, now ope’d on earth.
As one volcanic beast-engulfing all.-
Or hast’ the early dawn, when Sol’s transcending rays-
Shall hide them from the scene.----
----but still the eagle flutters there-just-o’er the highest top
Anon she Screams!!- then salley forth in phalanx strong,
The hosts-who still endured, uphold her there-
Uphold her till they die.-
The tree is standing yet-.-But look around.
The nether side, exploding toward the gulf,
Is not in bloom! Nor yet-is lede’ with fruit,
But-sparsely clad, with leaves and these in withering state,
Now speak of ill, to branches or to roots. 
And many standing by, are hear to say,
Methink the tree will die.----
----there were of those, who did not war,
Nor sally forth, with sword in hand.
To smite their fellows down,-
But still within remained
For weightier matters of the law.-
To council and improve, to regulate.
And justice to mete out, to all
They in their wounded sphere, turned quick their minds, 
To search, and find it might be found, 
The cause whereby, the strife and withering of the tree came on,
And why their member should divide
And envy each his own.-and that which was renowned, 
And favor of them all , should be torn down,
And ‘tinder sent,- they searched the ancient books
And all the books of law. But-nothing could be confound therein,
To prove the cause----
At –length a man of age, and miser than the rest-,
The chief among them all; assembled, 
And sagely counseling them all, Bespake them of the tree,
If aught-about the roots, whence came the vitals up,
Might have become annoyed, by nauseaous worms,
Or vile insect-, Of death & swift decay, the sure precursors,
They whither haste enmasse And dig the earth on every side,
Till on the nether side, on nether roots,
They find defect and visible decay.-
They with his brawny arms-for heavier work
And more severe, by far, once used.-
He smites the root-!-while all look on, some wondering,
Some caviling, some boldly venturing to prevent-,
Scriptures, prophecies, prognostications, many used,
That all would be destroyed.-the blow would wound-,
And blast-the hope their fathers gave, them only hope,
But heeding not-their cry, nor looking right-or left-,
Their sire observes his work and soon perceives,
What ere he guessed, he struck the blow to find,
A reptile of most hideous form, and Serpentine, 
And venomous, and filmy sliming aught-it-touched
With poisonous deathly shine.-Lay secret-in the nether root.
And sent his fumes up with the sap,
To every branch, and twig, which emanated thence,
Through leaves and blossoms, casting forth effluvia on the air
Than all who might-inhale would maddened be.-
And of the fruit-whoever ate, would seize him hydrophobic fit
And cause his brain to reel in maddened fury.-
But- only on the side.-The nether side, were these,
Extending ‘toward the gulf.
Yea-had he there remain; the poisonous asp,
The tree must-wholey die.-thus maddened were they all
Who duel’d beneath the boughs, that-cast-The dread miasma on the air
And fascinated with the charm, to each of them, 
The serpent-gave.-they aught-to uphold its power.-
-And like to them of old, who made them Gods in Seas
And demonlike preferring Gods of War to those of peace & heaven,
-If though concealed as yet, they might perchance
Bring forth to open view at last-and dragging ‘neath their feet
The faithful eagle, crush her to the death,-
Then place there in her stead,
That foul and hideous serpent.
But-faithful to her trust, the Eagle mounts,-
Her wings are strengthening now.-
A million brawny arms bear sword and spear to her appeal;
And will not-let-her-sink.
The maddened few, seek her no more
But-voluntarily let-her fly
As er’er before, in majesty-she flew.-
But-seek to sunder far the tree.
Or if perchance a branch, they may but-take
They will have caught – on which to see the serpent up.-
And this he knew who wisely struck the blow.
And therefore did he strike.----
The Serpent quick recoiled
Then trembling seized his frame,
And turned upon his back; to die.
And long-and slow-the death.-
Though small and long concealed.
How great his work.-how near destroyed the tree.
So costly planted there.-and now-anon!-
His throes of death, cause quaking through the land.
And all the nations shake in dire alarm!-
He casts his venom on the air, but-all in vain!
E’en those who rise caressed, now turn against-Their fell destroyer
To cause his certain death.-
The grand old tree begins to bud
And beauty ‘gins to beam.
Where withering, bloating shades so lately hung.
Most glooming and darkening all around.-
Now had doth seem the course of fate.-
A million voices long have cried
In bitter wailing through the land,
And scream of blood flowed free.
And sigh of broken hearts, and dying young,
Have rent- the air so long-
And all the fiendish serpents work.-
The tree was wisely planted there.
And nourished with the greatest skill;-
But-none so perfect here below-
That-he can do a perfect work-
For had those fathers long ago; when planting;
Scrutinized the germ, from which the tree came forth;-
Inspecting every crack and mark
Of bark or sprig with greatest-care
They might-perchance have seen,-
The infant-serpent, though so small,
And killed him ere the tree had grown
Or harm was done at all
Gerrit-H Vandenburg
11th N.Y. Battery
Army of Potomac