When Colonel Bartlett and the Massachusetts 49th Regiment made their proud way through Pittsfield on their return from battle, the local press noted that "Herman Melvill" was in charge of the flags and festoons decorating South Street. There was no mention of his fading status as a writer. Yet the poet Melville captured the occasion for posterity in "The College Colonel," including these lines about those "flags and festoons":
There are welcoming shouts, and flags;
Old men off hat to the Boy,
Wreaths from gay balconies fall at his feet. . . .
All this adulation seems to have little effect on the young officer in Melville's poem, who has seen too much of war to think a celebration is necessary. He rides stoically through town, pale and rigid, and still weak from his wounds. "He has lived a thousand years," Melville says,"compressed in battle's pains and prayers."