Lookout Mountain

George Dennison Prentice

Historic mount! baptized in flame and blood,
Thy name is as immortal as the rocks
That crown thy thunder-scarred but royal brow.
Thou liftest up thy aged head in pride
In the cool atmosphere, but higher still
Within the calm and solemn atmosphere
Of an immortal fame. From thy sublime
And awful summit I can gaze afar
Upon innumerous lesser pinnacles,
And oh! my winged spirit loves to fly,
Like a strong eagle, mid their up-piled crags.
But most on thee, imperial mount, my soul
Is chained as by a spell of power.
                I gaze
From this tall height on Chickamauga's field,
Where Death held erst high carnival. The waves
Of the mysterious death-river moaned;
The tramp, the shout, the fearful thuuder-roar
Of red-breathed cannon, and the wailing cry
Of myriad victims, filled the air. The smoke
Of battle closed above the charging hosts,
And, when it passed, the grand old flag no more
Waved in the light of heaven. The soil was wet
And miry with the life-blood of the brave,
As with a drenching rain; and yon broad stream,
The noble and majestic Tennessee,
Ran reddened toward the deep.
                But thou, bleak
And rocky mountain, wast the theatre
Of a yet fiercer struggle. On thy height,
Where now I sit, a proud and gallant host,
The chivalry and glory of the South,
Stood up awaiting battle. Sombre clouds,
Floating far, far beneath them, shut from view
The stern and silent foe, whose storied flag
Bore on its folds our country's monarch-bird,
Whose talons grasp the thunderbolt. Up, up
Thy rugged sides they came with measured tramp,
Unheralded by bugle, drum, or shout,
And, though the clouds closed round them with the gloom
Of double night, they paused not in their march
Till sword and plume and bayonet emerged
Above the spectral shades that circled round
Thy awful breast. Then suddenly a storm
Of flame and lead and iron downward burst,
From this tall pinnacle, like winter hail.
Long, fierce, and bloody was the strife, —alas!
The noble flag, our country's hope and pride,
Sank down beneath the surface of the clouds,
As sinks the pennon of a shipwrecked bark
Beneath a stormy sea, and naught was heard
Save the wild cries and moans of stricken men,
And the swift rush of fleeing warriors down
Thy rugged steeps.
            But soon the trumpet-voice
Of the bold chieftain of the routed host
Resounded through the atmosphere, and pierced
The clouds that hung around thee. With high words
He quickly summoned his brave soldiery back
To the renewal of the deadly fight;
Again their stern and measured tramp was heard
By the flushed Southrons, as it echoed up
Thy bald, majestic chffs. Again they burst,
Like spirits of destruction, through the clouds,
And mid a thousand hurtling missiles swept
Their foes before them as the whirlwind sweeps
The strong oaks of the forest. Victory
Perched with her sister-eagle on the scorched
And torn and blackened banner.
                Awful mount:
The stains of blood have faded from thy rocks,
The cries of mortal agony have ceased
To echo from thy hollow cliffs, the smoke
Of battle long since melted into air,
And yet thou art unchanged. Aye thou wilt lift
In majesty thy walls above the storm.
Mocking the generations as they pass,
And pilgrims of the far-off centuries
Will sometimes linger in their wanderings,
To ponder, with a deep and sacred awe,
The legend of the fight above the clouds.

On November 24th, 1863, Lookout Mountain in Tennessee was the site of a Civil War battle between Union and Confederate forces. It was fought halfway up the mountain and as the poem describes, is known as "The Battle Above the Clouds".

Not long before in September 1863, the battle of Chickamauga was fought nearby. The Confederate forces won the battle, which was one of the bloodiest of the war. Only Gettysburg resulted in more casualties.