On my last trip toward Huntsville we found the track torn up, and the cross-ties still burning. Nearly half a mile was destroyed–for the iron had been heated till it was bent and useless. Guerrillas were seen at a distance. Pickets were thrown out, and the negroes and white laborers went to work. As it was getting dark, the fences were soon made into huge fires to enable the workmen to see. Suddenly a “butternut” laborer came running along the line.
“The rebels! The rebels!”
“How many?” asked the captain.
“Oh! the world is full of them!” he shouted, without stopping a second.
“The situation” had quite a serious aspect,–a small party of us, enclosed by woods, with thick undergrowth, great fires to show our position, and no knowledge of the whereabouts of Granger’s command. But “the rebels” proved to be our own men00an Indiana cavalry regiment that was hunting a mounted gang of guerrillas. One of their men had been tortured and then murdered a few days before, and these boys declared that their rule of action was death to all traitors, and to take no prisoners.
In a few hours–with really wonderful speed–the break was repaired, and we went slowly on our way. These rapid repairs have caused the Georgians to invent a new military maxim: “The Yankees carry their railroads with them.”
On these car-tops one often hears tales of deeds of heroism by privates that somehow seldom get into print.
On my last trip down, I was speaking to an officer about the hospitals. A soldier who sat next to me said he had been a steward in one of them several months. I asked him if the soldiers, when they were sick, persisted in the continuous swearing which characterizes the army.
“No, sir,” he said, “they are like little children then; they return to their father’s house.”
I saw that I had come in contact with a man worth talking to, and had a long conversation with him. Only a few scraps of it can be given now:
“Oh,” said he, “they are so grateful for the smallest favors! I have heard them say so softly, ‘thank you, sir,’ for every little thing I did for them, that I was almost ashamed. I thought I had seen brave men in battle, but I never knew what bravery was till I went to the hospital. They often told me to fix them out.”
“What is that?”
“Well, they would see that the doctor gave them up, and they would ask me about it. I would tell them the truth. I told one man that, and he asked how long? I said, not over twenty minutes. He did not show any fear–they never do. He put up his hand so, and closed his eyes with his own fingers, and then stretched himself out, and crossed his arms over his breast. ‘Now, fix me,’ he said. I pinned the toes of his stockings together; that was the way we laid corpses out; and he died in a few minutes. His face looked as pleasant as if he was asleep and smiling. Many’s the time the boys have fixed themselves that way before they died.”
I asked him another question:
“Yes,” he said, “the soldiers when they are dying almost always speak of some woman. When they are married men, it’s oftenest about their wives. If they are not married, it is mostly their mothers and sisters–oftenest a mother.”
I saw that the soldier had a Bible in his pocket.
“When I left my company,” he said, “I thought nothing of the swearing; but when I came back to it from the hospital, it seemed awful.”
Yet such is the power of the influence of association that my good friend–really and not sham pious friend–when I afterward spoke of the insurgents, got indignant at the contemplation of their conduct, and called them the d–d rebels!
Originally posted 2009-01-06 16:53:33.