Southern History Series: March of the Deathless Dead

Father Abram Joseph Ryan is buried in Mobile:

“At Catholic Cemetery on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, his gravesite is easy to spot. It is marked by a stark white marble cross and slab lying underneath a flying Christian flag.

But it was another flag – the flag of the Confederacy – that helped make a name for Father Abram Joseph Ryan, the “poet-priest of the South” who considered Mobile home enough to want to be buried here.

In a Tennessee rectory just after the South surrendered, the Catholic priest wrote an epitaph for a fallen nation called “The Conquered Banner.” At one point in time, it was required reading for schoolchildren.

In his day, Ryan was nationally known for his sermons, lectures and writings, but in the 1870s, he was based in Mobile, first as assistant at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and then as pastor at St. Mary’s church.

Today, Ryan isn’t well known in Mobile, so you won’t hear his name unless you bump into a historian or visit the local archives. Yet there’s an upstairs study at the Portier House on Cathedral Square that houses his portrait and bust. There’s also a 6-foot-tall statue of the priest at Springhill and N. Bayou, near Broad Street, in the middle of a park bearing his name.

Who knew? …”

Even though almost no one remembers who he was today for obvious reasons, he has his own monument in Mobile which hasn’t been torn down yet. Check out his poems.


DO we weep for the heroes who died for us? 
Who living were true and tried for us,
And dying sleep side by side for us;–
The Martyr-band
That hallowed our land
With the blood they shed in a tide for us.

Ah! fearless on many a day for us
Who fell while wearing the gray for us.
Ah! fearless on many a day for us
They stood in the front of the fray for us,
And held the foeman at bay for us,
And tears should fall
Fore’er o’er all
Who fell while wearing the gray for us.

How many a glorious name for us,
How many a story of fame for us,
They left,–would it not be a blame for us,
If their memories part
From our land and heart,
And a wrong to them, and shame for us?

No–no–no–they were brave for us,
And bright were the lives they gave for us,–
The land they struggled to save for us
Will not forget
Its warriors yet
Who sleep in so many a grave for us.

On many and many a plain for us
Their blood poured down all in vain for us,
Red, rich and pure,–like a rain for us;
They bleed,–we weep,
We live,–they sleep–
“All Lost”–the only refrain for us.

But their memories e’er shall remain for us,
And their names, bright names, without stain for us,–
The glory they won shall not wane for us,
In legend and lay
Our heroes in gray
Shall forever live over again for us.


LAND of the gentle and brave!
Our love is as wide as thy woe;
It deepens beside every grave
Where the heart of a hero lies low.

Land of the sunniest skies!
Our love glows the more for thy gloom;
Our hearts by the saddest of ties,
Cling closest to thee in thy doom.

Land where the desolate weep
In a sorrow no voice may console,
Our tears are but streams making deep
The ocean of love in our soul.

Land where the victor’s flag waves,
Where only the dead are the free;
Each link of the chain that enslaves,
But binds us to them and to thee.

Land where the Sign of the Cross
Its shadow hath everywhere shed,
We measure our love by thy loss,–
Thy loss–by the graves of our dead!


GATHER the sacred dust
Of the warriors tried and true,
Who bore the flag of our People’s trust
And fell in a cause, though lost still just
And died for me and you.

Gather them one and all!
From the Private to the Chief,
Come they from hovel or princely hall,
They fell for us, and for them should fall
The tears of a Nation’s grief.

Gather the corpses strewn
O’er many a battle plain;
From many a grave that lies so lone,
Without a name and without a stone,
Gather the Southern slain.

We care not whence they came,
Dear in their lifeless clay!
Whether unknown, or known to fame,
Their cause and country still the same–
They died–and wore the Gray.

Wherever the brave have died,
They should not rest apart;
Living they struggled side by side–
Why should the hand of Death divide
A single heart from heart.

Gather their scattered clay,
Wherever it may rest;
Just as they marched to the bloody fray;
Just as they fell on the battle day;
Bury them breast to breast.

The foeman need not dread
This gathering of the brave;
Without sword or flag, and with soundless tread,
We muster once more our deathless dead;
Out of each lonely grave.

The foeman need not frown,
They all are powerless now–
We gather them here and we lay them down,
And tears and prayers are the only crown
We bring to wreathe each brow.

And the dead thus meet the dead,
While the living o’er them weep;
And the men by Lee and Stonewall led,
And the hearts that once together bled,
Together still shall sleep.

Note: Father Abram Joseph Ryan used to be required reading in the South. I can see now why our children are exposed instead to … Harriet Tubman.

About Hunter Wallace 12367 Articles
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  1. This has reminded me of a moment at my Catholic boys’ high school, just outside Philadelphia. While one or two of my classmates and I were conversing about something or other with one of the faculty members, a priest, I mentioned matter-of-factly, with respect to I-don’t-know-what, that the slavery that had been practiced by American Southerners was immoral.

    “No,” replied the priest, whose eyes sharpened toward me. He added something like, “It was just an arrangement to which they were accustomed.”

    Although his remark didn’t convince me that slavery hadn’t been odious–and that the South hadn’t caused great problems for itself and the rest of the white world by insisting on preserving it–what he’d said hadn’t struck me as outrageous.

    That was nearly half a century ago, of course, and I vaguely remember hearing of the death of that priest, who was a Southerner himself, with something of a Southern accent. Never did I see him show signs of having really taken offense, not even on that occasion when my remark prompted him to defend his native region, and never did I see him act harshly as he put necessary limits on our boys’ school mischief. His habit of staring quietly at the blackboard when a question of some kind had captured his thinking prompted adolescent satire from some of my fellow students, and I, confused about many things at that point, didn’t have the courage to say I admired it.

    I’ll add only that he was one of those naturally-technical persons, as could be seen when he struggled with what seemed to be an ailing transmission on our school bus he drove. Before he entered the priesthood, as another of the priests once told me, he’d worked in jet-engine development, at what was then, at least, a large and well-known American corporation. From his stint as a math and science teacher at my high school, he moved on, I think I heard, to missionary work in Africa, and that, I guess, was his final exertion.

  2. Fascinating. Never heard of him. And what is all the more interesting, is that no American RC has ever sought ecclesial ‘blessing’ (beatification, etc.) for him.

    If they can make a female Amerindian [ Kateri Tekakwitha] a ‘saint,’ they should easily make a priest, a saint…. oh wait. Juniperro Serra. I forget- we are in the era of Vatican Ewww…. NO DWEM’s need apply. Sigh……

  3. Yeah, Catholic authors and oddly enough Jewish authors, bring up the one Roman Catholic, opposed to the horde of Roman Catholics who descended on the South from the North. Whole corps of German and Irish Roman Catholics! Sort of like that Jewish woman who wrote the nice poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. We know where that got us.

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