Mission Statement

To Submit Content

The Battle of the Alma
by John Campbell Shairp

Once more the peaceful years
From their long slumber leap,
And British guns and British cheers
Are thundering by the Pontic deep.
There the mighty of the West,
On Humanity's behest,
France's bravest, England's best,
Are marshalling on the far Sarmatian shore.

Through that chill dawning grey
No bugle muster sung,
All noiseless to their war array
From the damp earth the warriors sprung.
Fair the autumn morning shines
On the red and azure lines,
Sweeping o'er the long declines
Between Crimean uplands and the main.  

Lo! where that mountain flank
Down toward ocean runs,
Legions of Russia, rank o'er rank,
Stand ready by their yawning guns.
Yonder France to battle springs,
Cloud on cloud, her Zouaves flings
Up the crags, as borne on wings;
While great broadsides are bellowing on the shore.

Full on our British front
The loud hill cannonades,
As full against that awful brunt
Yon Chieftain cheers his brave Brigades.
Forward, gallant Fusileers!
Forward, where your Chief appears,
Young in heart, though blanched with years;
Who would not follow where he leads the way?

Breast-deep the stream they ford,
The thundering hill-side scale,
While down their close ranks, like a sword,
Shears the broad sheet of iron hail.
Though the foremost files are low,
Clutch the colours, upward go,
Breast to breast against the foe,
And silence those death-breathing guns.  

They are silenced - Fusileers!
Stern work ye had to do,
Mowed down in front of all your peers,
To Duty and your Country true:
Still from yonder mountain-crown
Dark the battle-front doth frown,
Massive squares are moving down
The current of the conflict back to roll.  

Ho! Guardsmen, with your bold
Battalions to the van!
Charge, Clans of Scotland! as of old,
With level bayonets, man to man.
There the Guards, black-helmed and tall
Solid as a rock-hewn wall,
'Gainst the storm of shell and ball
In firm battalions up the mountain move.  

And there the Mountaineers,
How terribly they come!
With bayonets down and ringing cheers
Campbells and Camerons charging home.
O to have heard their Highland shout!
Bursting past the dread Redoubt,
When the foemen rolled in rout,
Shrank from the onset of the plaided Clans.  

Thou, Leader Chief of all!
Who, battle-days long gone,
Hast stood, while thousands round did fall,
By the right hand of Wellington,
Say, for thou canst witness yield,
Hast thou looked on siege or field,
E'er by braver life-blood sealed,
Than that which consecrateth Alma's hills?  

Aye! Britain's standard waves
O'er Alma's uplands bare,
But all its path lies strewn with graves
Of them who died to plant it there!
Gently warrior hands have spread
Green turf o'er their brothers' head;
Leave them there, our noble dead,
Their dust to that far land, - their souls to God.

Editor's Notes: Principal John Campbell Shairp of St. Andrews University (1819-1885.)  This poem is one of his earlier works.  It may be found in his "Glendessary and Other Poems, Lyrical and Elegiac," which was posthumously released in 1888.