Chatham Roberdeau (“Bob”) Wheat was a Virginian by birth but gained his greatest fame as a major of a Louisiana unit. Born the son of an Episcopal minister in 1826, Wheat was studying law when the Mexican War broke out in 1846. In an odd turn of events, he ended up an oficer in the Mexican Army some years later after abandoning a successful criminal law practice in his adopted home of New Orleans to fight in Latin America with Lopez, Caravajal, Walker, and Alvarez. The outbreak of the War Between the States found him fighting for Garibaldi in Italy with the English Volunteers. He returned home to enlist with the First Louisiana Special Battallion or “Wheat’s Special Battalion,” better known as the Louisiana Tigers. This regiment numbered 500 men—mostly “street tough” immigrants from Ireland and Germany. Although shot through both lungs at the Battle of First Manassas, Wheat stubbornly refused to die and continued on through the Valley Campaign of 1862. His death on the field at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill on 27 June 1862 was immortalized in this historic poem.
There is some dispute as to who authored the poem. In the February 1864 issue of The Southern Literary Messenger (pp. 110-111), the poem was published and prefaced by the following note:
“The following lines commemorative of the gallant Wheat, were written by a Southern lady in New Orleans upon the reception of the sad tidings in that city of his death upon the bloody field of Gains’ Mill. Written amid the most trying scenes of Butler’s brutal despotism, the tender pathetic devotion to the memory of the slain patriot which they express, affords an appropriate requiem to one of the most noble spirits that ever glowed with responsive warmth to the appeals of an oppressed country. It afford [sic] too, a proud evidence of the defiant spirit of the fair daughters of Louisiana, in whom not even the iron hoof of despotism could check the utterance of an unwavering devotion to country, and veneration for the martyred heroes, who die in defence of a holy cause. “Bury me on the field, boys,” were the last words which Wheat uttered.”
Another account, appearing in the Confederate Veteran, Volume 17 (pp. 168-169) attributes the poem to Rev. David H. Porter, D. D., written in July 1862 from his residence in Savannah, Georgia.
“Major Wheat’s request to be buried on the battlefield was made the subject of several poems which were published in various papers of the South, accompanied by eulogistic notices of his character and services on behalf of the Confederacy. The following verses interpret his request most correctly, and in perfect agreement with his known sentiments upon the subject. The subsequent interment in “Hollywood” [Cemetery] was thought by his friends to be a virtual compliance, for all the neighborhood of Richmond was included in the battlefield.” [Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 17, page 59]
[Readers are referred to an article appearing in Louisiana Life, entitled “The Saga of the Original Louisiana Tiger” appearing in May-June 2013.
“Bury me on the field, boys,” and away to the glorious fight,
You will come this way, again, boys, in your triumph march tonight;
But when you pass this spot, boys, I would not have you sigh—
In holy cause of country, boys, who would not gladly die?
“Bury me on the field, boys,” where a soldier loves to rest,
And such shall be my sleep, boys, upon my county’s breast;
For she is dearer far, boys, than ought this world can give,
And gladly do I die, boys, that she may proudly live.
“Bury me on the field, boys,” and away to meet the foe,
Hands that have dug a grave, boys, shall lay their legions low;
Eyes that have wept this morn, boys, shall smile at close of day,
For soon their hearts shall triumph, boys, in the Northerner’s dismay.
“Bury me on the field, boys,” and then to make a stand,
Which shall loose the tyrant’s grip, boys, from our sunny Southern land;
And teach the invading foe, boys, in Freedom’s holy strife,
The Southern heart will sever, boys, the fondest ties of life.
“Bury me on the field, boys,” I do not die in vain,
For freedom’s rose shall spring, boys, from out this bloody rain;
And soon the South shall rise, boys, all beautiful and fair,
With sunlight rays around her, boys, and stars upon her hair!
“Bury me on the field, boys.” This vision bright and sweet,
Was truly sent to cheer me, boys, in this my own defeat;
There—take my trembling hand, boys, I thank you for your care,
But let each soldier’s heart, boys, ascend with mine in prayer.
From the battlefield of life, boys, all wounded, weary, sore,
Pray that my fainting soul, boys, may reach the heavenly shore.
And in that land of love, boys, the weary may find rest,
And the poor expectant soldier, boys, find shelter ‘mong the blest.
“Bury me on the field, boys,” for life is ebbing fast.
One moment more of pain, boys, and then the trial is past;
I cannot see you now, boys—there is a mist before my sight,
But hark! I hear sweet music, boys, Thank God, we’ve won the fight!