Abram Joseph Ryan (February 5, 1838 or August 15, 1839 - April 22, 1886), CM, was an American poet, an active proponent of the Confederate States of America, and a Roman Catholic priest. He has been called the "Poet-Priest of the Confederacy."
Ryan was born in Norfolk, Virginia, to Irish immigrants Matthew Ryan and Mary Coughlin Ryan of Clogheen, County Tipperary. He moved with his family to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was educated at the Academy of Christian Brothers, then studied for the priesthood at Niagara University in New York State. On November 1, 1856, he was ordained a priest in the Vincentian order.
As a new priest, he taught theology first at the university and then the diocesan seminary in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, until the start of the American Civil War. Ryan joined the Confederate Army on September 1, 1862, and served as a chaplain throughout the conflict. His first attempts at poetry—"In Memoriam" and "In Memory of My Brother"—came in response to his brother's death, killed fighting for the Confederacy.
Starting in 1865, after war's end, Ryan moved from parish to parish throughout the South, with stays in Biloxi, Mississippi; Nashville, Knoxville, and Clarksville, Tennessee; and Macon and Augusta, Georgia. On May 19, 1866, his most famous poem, "The Conquered Banner", appeared in the pages of the Freeman’s Journal. Published thirteen months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, it captured the spirit of sentimentality and martyrdom then rising in the South. Its exquisite measure was taken, as he told a friend, from one of the Gregorian hymns. Within months it was being recited or sung everywhere from parlors to public meetings.
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;
That hallowed our land
With the blood they shed in a tide for us?
In Augusta, Georgia, he founded The Banner of the South, a religious and political weekly in which he published most of his poetry. He then retired to St. Mary's parish in Mobile, Alabama, where he continued to write poems in the Lost Cause style for the next two decades. Among the more memorable are "C.S.A.", "The Sword of Robert E. Lee", and "The South". All centered on themes of heroic martyrdom by men pledged to defend their native land against a tyrannical invader. As one line goes, "There’s grandeur in graves, there’s glory in gloom." Within the limits of the Southern Confederacy and the Catholic Church in the United States, no poet was more popular. Ryan also published several volumes of verse, including Father Ryan's Poems and A Crown for Our Queen.
Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently—it is holy--
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not—unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people's hopes are dead!
—The Conquered Banner.
In 1880 his old restlessness returned, and he headed north for the twofold object of publishing his poems and lecturing. He spent December in Baltimore, Maryland, where his "Poems: Patriotic, Religious, and Miscellaneous" were published. He also delivered his first lecture on "Some Aspects of Modern Civilization". During this visit he made his home at Loyola College. In return for the Jesuit fathers' hospitality, he gave a public poetry reading and devoted the $300 proceeds to establish a poetry medal at the college. On the whole, however, his lecturing tour was not successful, and in a few months he returned to the South, where he continued to lead a restless life.
Ryan died April 22, 1886, at a Franciscan monastery in Louisville, Kentucky, but his body was returned to St. Mary's in Mobile for burial. He was interred in Mobile's Old Catholic Cemetery. In recognition of his loyal service to the Confederacy, a stained glass window was placed in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana, in his memory. In 1912 a local newspaper launched a drive to erect a statue to him. Dedicated in July 1913, it included a stanza from "The Conquered Banner" below an inscription that reads: "Poet, Patriot, and Priest."