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Henry S. Washburn wrote this poem in 1861 to immortalize a young soldier, John W. Grout, who perished in the Battle of Ball's Bluff. Grout's body was returned to his family just before Thanksgiving. Shortly thereafter George F. Root set the poem to music.
The VACANT CHAIR, or WE SHALL MEET BUT WE SHALL MISS HIM (Thanksgiving, 1861)
1. We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him while we breathe our evening prayer.
When a year ago we gathered, joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden cord is severed, and our hopes in ruin lie.
Refrain: We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.
2. At our fireside, sad and lonely, often will the bosom swell
At remembrance of the story how our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner thro’ the thickest of the fight,
And uphold our country’s honor, in the strength of manhood’s might. Refrain
3. True they tell us wreaths of glory ever more will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only sweeping o’er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, o early fallen, in thy green and narrow bed,
Dirges from the pine and cypress mingle with the tears we shed. Refrain