It seems like Almost Yesterday that Father Abraham Joseph Ryan was well-known as ‘the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.’ A controversial individual, Father Ryan was born in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1838 to Irish immigrant parents.
Now more than a century since his death, Father Ryan is the subject of books, articles, and dissertations. His poetry continues to be read on the floor of state legislatures and he is frequently quoted in political debate. High schools have been named for him, statues erected in his honor, and visitors to Biloxi, Mississippi can stay in the beautiful Father Abram Ryan Bed & Breakfast.
Few residents of Southeast Missouri are aware that this famous Catholic priest was a Vincentian educated at Saint Mary’s of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri, and once served as a teacher at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Cape Girardeau, now the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University.
Although he was an opponent of slavery, Father Ryan was an ardent Confederate, who disliked Abraham Lincoln so intensely that he altered his first name from “Abraham” to “Abram.”
Father Ryan served the Confederate cause throughout the Civil War as an unofficial chaplain, administering to the needs of the wounded and presiding over countless funerals of Confederate soldiers. Once criticized for not serving to bury a fallen Union soldier, Father Ryan disagreed, saying, “On the contrary, I would like to bury them all.”
After the war he produced a number of poems that celebrated the Confederacy and the ‘lost cause.’
His most well-known poem, “The Conquered Banner,” has received renewed interest due to controversies about the public flying of the Confederate flag.
It seems like Almost Yesterday.