An army marches through Frederick during the Civil War

Mid-Maryland Magnified: “Look up at that Flag, with its Thirty-four Stars!”

The citizens of Frederick, Maryland, had much to question and fear in the early weeks of April 1861. Seven states had seceded from the Union, while fiery debates raged in communities across the nation. Tensions grew and tempers flared as the spring dragged on. Many argued over whether the country was still one, albeit divided, body or two separate, independently sovereign ones.

One such “argument” appeared in the pages of the Frederick Examiner, the city’s pro-North, pro-Union newspaper, on April 24. The author, a resident of the village of Woodsboro, took a more creative approach, making a poetic plea for unity:

Look up at that Flag, with its Thirty-four Stars!

By J. B. O. of Woodsborough

 

Look up at that flag as it ripples and sways

On the roofs of our cities—the ships in our bays;

Count the starts, count their cost, count their glories—aye, do;

And then dare, ye “dissolvers,” to tear it in two.

 

Look abroad on the land—gaze the beauty and worth

Of the envy, the wonder, the glory of earth—

And then seized oath-bound friends would shrink to undo,

And, with Washington’s sword, cut the compact in two.

 

The arch-demon, for treason from Paradise hurled,

Who dissolved the first Union, twixt God and the world,

As he triumphed in Eden, will triumph anew

In that hour,—should it come,—when our one shall be two.

 

Away with such threatenings! On Liberty’s soil,

Shall her sons break her image—her temple despoil;

It cannot, it will not, it must not be true;

Whom God joined together, shall never be two.

 

April 11th, 1861.

Not only did the author count the seceded states as an enduring part of the Union (hence the total of “thirty-four stars”), but they argued that the nation couldn’t be divided because God had mandated that it must stand united. Division, it seems, would give Satan (“the arch-demon”) an impossibly resounding victory. It was a powerful statement, and it’s clear that some degree of spiritual agony mixed with the fear and passion of those early weeks of April.

Sadly, it was too late to do anything. Although the poem is dated April 11, its publication date of April 24 means that it was printed after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Pratt Street Riot; and the Confederate seizure of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The Civil War had already begun.

Still, it’s possible that, in the days following the outbreak of war, the citizens of Frederick read this poem and felt hope that the nation would soon stand united again.

 

Images used in this post are courtesy of the historic newspaper archive at Crossroads of War and the Maryland Room, C. Burr Artz Public Library.

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