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I'm a lover of God and His Son Jesus Christ. In addition I love to make yesterday's words come alive through the republishing of good and profitable books of old. The Civil War project is an ongoing labor of love. - Karan

THE OLD SERGEANT.

BY FORCEYTHE WILLSON.

THE carrier cannot sing to-day the ballads
With which he used to go
Rhyming the grand rounds of the Happy New Years
That are now beneath the snow;–

For the same awful and portentous shadow
That overcast the earth,
And smote the land last year with desolation,
Still darkens every hearth.

And the carrier hears Beethoven’s mighty dead-march
Come up from every mart,
And he hears and feels it breathing in his bosom,
And beating in his heart.

And to-day, like a scarred and weather-beaten veteran,
Again he comes along,
To tell the story of the Old Year’s struggles,
In another New Year’s song.

And the song is his, but not so with the story;
For the story, you must know
Was told in prose to Assistant-Surgeon Austin,
By a soldier of Shiloh;–

By Robert Burton, who was brought up on thae Adams
With his death-wound in his side,
And who told the story to the Assistant Surgeon
On the same night that he died.

But the singer feels it will better suit the ballad,
If all should deem it right,
To sing the story as if what it speaks of
Had happened but last night.

“Come a little nearer, Doctor–Thank you! let me take the cup!
Draw your chair up!–draw it closer–just another little sup!
May be you may think I’m better, but I’m pretty well used up–
Doctor, you’ve done all you could do, but I’m just a going up.

“Feel my pulse, sir, if you want to, but it is no use to try.”
“Never say that,” said the Surgeon, as he smothered down a sigh;
“It will never do, old comrade, for a soldier to say die!”
“What you say will make no difference, Doctor, when you come to die.

“Doctor, what has been the matter?” “You were very faint, they say;
You must try to get to sleep now.” “Doctor, have I been away?”
“No, my venerable comrade.” “Doctor, will you please to stay?
There is something I must tell you, and you won’t have long to stay!

“I have got my marching orders, and am ready now to go;
Doctor, did you say I fainted? –but it couldn’t have been so–
For as sure as I’m a Sergeant and was wounded at Shiloh,
I’ve this very night been back there–on the old field of Shiloh!

“You may think it all delusion–all the sickness of the brain:
If you do, you are mistaken, and mistaken to my pain;
For upon my dying honor, as I hope to live again,
I have just been back to Shiloh and all over it again!

“This is all that I remember; the last time the Lighter came,
And the lights had all been lowered, and the noises much the same,
He had not been gone five minutes before something called my name–
‘ORDERLY-SERGEANT-ROBERT-BURTON!’–just that way it called my name.

“Then I thought, who could have called me so distinctly and so slow–
It can’t be the Lighter, surely; he could not have spoken so;
And I tried to answer, ‘Here, sir!’ but I couldn’t make it go!
For I couldn’t move a muscle, and I couldn’t make it go!

“Then I thought it all a nightmare–all a humbug and a bore!
It is just another grapevine, and it won’t come any more;
But it came, sir, notwithstanding, just the same words as before,
‘ORDERLY-SEARGEANT-ROBERT- BURTON!; more distinctly than before!

“That is all that I remember, till a sudden burst of light,
And I stood beside the river, where we stood that Sunday night,
Waiting to be ferried over to the dark bluffs opposite,
When the river seemed perdition, and all hell seemed oopposite!

“And the same old palpitation came again with all its power,
And I heard a bugle sounding, as from heaven or a tower;
And the same mysterious voice said: “IT IS–THE ELEVENTH HOUR!
ORDERLY-SERGEANT–ROBERT BURTON–IT IS THE ELEVENTH HOUR!”

“Dr. Austin!–what day is this?”–“It is Wednesday night, you know.”
“Yes! To-morrow will be New Year’s, and a right good time below!
What time is it, Dr. Austin?”–“Nearly twelve.”–“Then don’t you go!
Can it be that all this happened–all this–not an hour ago!

“There was where the gunboats opened on the dark, rebellious host,
And where Webster semicircled his last guns upon the coast–
There were still the two log-houses, just the same, or else their ghost–
And the same old transport came and took me over –or its ghost!

“And the whole field lay before me, all deserted far and wide–
There was where they fell on Prentiss–there McClernand met the tide;
There was where stern Sherman rallied, and where Hurlbut’s heroes died–
Lower down, where Wallace charged them, and kept charging till he died!

“There was where Lew Wallace shoved them he was of the cannie kin–
There was where old Nelson thundered, and where Rouseau waded in–
There McCook ‘sent them to breakfast,’ and we all began to win–
There was where the grape-shot took me just as we began to win.

“Now a shroud of snow and silence over everything was spread;
And but for this old, blue mantle, and the old hat on my head,
I should not have even doubted, to this moment, I was dead;
For my footsteps were as silent as the snow upon the dead!

“Death and silence! Death and silence! starry silence overhead!
And behold a mighty tower, as if builded to the dead,
To the heaven of the heavens lifted up its mighty head!
Till the Stars and Stripes of heaven all seemed waving from its head!

“Round and mighty-based, it towered–up into the infinite!
And I knew no mortal mason could have built a shaft so bright;
For it shone like solid sunshine; and a winding stair of light
Wound around it and around it till it wound clear out of sight!

“And, behold, as I approached it with a rapt and dazzled stare–
Thinking that I saw old comrades just ascending the great stair–
Suddenly the solemn challenge broke, of, ‘Halt!’ and ‘Who goes there?’
‘I’m a friend,’ I said, ‘if you are.’–‘Then advance, sir, to the stair!’

“I advanced–that sentry, Doctor, was Elijah Ballantyne–
First of all to fall on Monday, after we had formed the line!
‘Welcome! my old Sergeant, welcome! Welcome by that countersign!’
And he pointed to the scar there under this old cloak of mine!

“As he grasped my hand, I shuddered–thinking only of the grave–
But he smiled, and pointed upward, with a bright and bloodless glaive–
‘That’s the way, sir, to headquarters.’==’What headquarters?’–‘Of the brave!’
‘But the great tower?’–‘That was builded of the great deeds of the brave!’

“Then a sudden shame came o’er me at his uniform of light–
At my own so old and tattered, and at his so new and bright:
‘Ah!’ said he, ‘you have forgotten the new uniform to-night!
Hurry back, for you must be here at just twelve o’clock to-night!’

“And the next thing I remember, you were sitting there, and I–
Doctor! it is hard to leave you–Hark! God bless you all! Good by!
Doctor! please to give my musket and my knapsack, when I die,
To my son–my son that’s coming–he won’t get here till I die!

“Tell him his old father blessed him as he never did before–
And to carry that old musket–” Hark! a knock is at the door!–
“Till the Union”–see! it opens!–“Father! father! speak once more!”–
“Bless you!” gasped the old, gray Sergeant, and he lay and said no more!

When the Surgeon gave the heir-son the old Sergeant’s last advice–
And his musket and his knapsack–how the fire flashed in his eyes!–
He is on the march this morning, and will march on till he dies–
He will save this bleeding country, or will fight until he dies! *

* This very remarkable poem was distributed on the first day of the year, 1863, by the carriers of the Louisville Journal.

Originally posted 2009-08-07 22:09:00.

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THE CLOTHES-LINE TELEGRAPH.–

In the early part of 1863, when the Union army was encamped at Falmouth, and picketing the banks of the Rappahannock, the utmost tact and ingenuity were displayed by the scouts and vicettes, in gaining a knowledge of contemplated movements on either side; and here, as at various other times, the shrewdness of the African camp attendants was very remarkable.

One circumstance in particular shows how quick the race are in learning the art of communicating by signals.

There came into the Union lines a negro from a farm on the other side of the river, known by the name of Dabney, who was found to possess a remarkably clear knowledge of the topography of the whole region; and he was employed as cook and body servant at headquarters. When he first saw our system of army telegraphs, the idea interested him intensely, and he begged the operators to explain the signs to him. They did so, and found that he could understand and remember the meaning of the various movements as well as any of his brethren of paler hue.

Not long after, his wife, who had come with him, expressed a great anxiety to be allowed to go over to the other side as servant to a “secesh woman,” whom General Hooker was about sending over to her friends. The request was granted. Dabney’s wife went across the Rappahannock, and in a few days was duly installed as laundress at the headquarters of a prominent rebel General. Dabney, her husband, on the north bank, was soon found to be wonderfully well informed as to all the rebel plans. Within an hour of the time that a movement of any kind was projected, or ever discussed, among the rebel generals, Hooker knew all about it. He knew which corps was moving, or about to move, in what direction, how long they had been on the march, and in what force; and all this knowledge came through Dabney, and his reports always turned out to be true.

Yet Dabney was never absent, and never talked with the scouts, and seemed to be always taken up with his duties as cook and groom about headquarters.

How he obtained his information remained for some time a puzzle to the Union officers. At length, upon much solicitation, he unfolded his marvellous secret to one of our officers.

Taking him to a point where a clear view could be obtained of Fredericksburg, he pointed out a little cabin in the suburbs near the river bank, and asked him if he saw that clothes-line with clothes hanging on it to dry. “Well,” said he, “that clothes-line tells me in half an hour just what goes on at Lee’s headquarters. You see my wife over there; she washes for the officers, and cooks, and waits around, and as soon as she hears about any movement or anything going on, she comes down and moves the clothes on that line so I can understand it in a minute. That there gray shirt is Longstreet; and when she takes it off, it means he’s gone down about Richmond. That white shirt means Hill; and when she moves it up to the west end of the line, Hill’s corps has moved up stream. That red one is Stonewall. He’s down on the right now, and if he moves, she will move that red shirt.”

One morning Dabney came in and reported a movement over there. “But,” says he, “it don’t amount to any thing. They’re just making believe.”

An officer went out to look at the clothes line telegraph through his field-glass. There had been quite a shifting over there among the army flannels. “But how do you know but there is something in it?”

“Do you see those two blankets pinned together at the bottom?” said Dabney. “Yes, but what of it?” said the officer. “Why, that’s her way of making a fish-trap; and when she pins the clothes together that way, it means that Lee is only trying to draw us into his fish-trap.”

As long as the two armies lay watching each other on opposite banks of the stream, Dabney, with his clothes-line telegraph, continued to be one of the promptest and most reliable of General Hooker’s scouts.

Originally posted 2009-08-05 15:27:05.

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A GALLANT BAND.–

A soldier gives the following account of one of the most brilliant exhibitions of bravery and daring that occurred during the war:

“When the advance of the rebel cavalry arrived at Manassas Junction, on the evening of the 26th of August, 1862, about fifty stragglers belonging to different regiments in Pope’s and McClellan’s commands gathered around the railroad depot, with loaded muskets, uncertain whether to run or stay by and try to defend the place. Among the number was one Samuel Conde, a member of the Eleventh New York battery, who for the previous two months had been on duty at General Pope’s headquarters, and was then on his way to Washington. Finding there was no commissioned officer to take command, and that the rebels were close upon us, this brave young man seized a musket, and calling upon his comrades to rally and follow him, he posted his little company at a short distance from the railroad, near an old rebel fortification, and awaited with fixed bayonets the approach of the enemy. The first that appeared was a squadron of cavalry, who dashed up furiously towards the depot. No sooner had they passed us than our little band, led by their new commander, charge I with a shout at the enemy, scattering them in all directions. On reaching the depot, we were surrounded by a whole regiment of rebel infantry, who commanded us to surrender. ‘Never,’ shouted our brave leader, and with the words ‘come on, boys,’ we dashed through their ranks, only to find ourselves still further surrounded by a large force of cavalry. Here, for a moment, we faltered; but hearing our leader still urging us on, we pushed forward through, a heavy volly of musketry, and soon passed the enemy’s lines with the loss of more than half of our little band, including our brave commander. Finding it folly to remain longer in that vicinity, we took to the woods, and arrived at Fairfax Station early the next morning. It would be impossible for me to give the names of any of this little band, for we are all strangers to each other, and I can only bear testimony to the fearless bravery of our leader, who, I fear, has fallen a victim to a rebel bullet, hoping that, if this ever meets the eye of any of his friends, they may have the gratification of knowing that he died a hero.”

Originally posted 2009-08-04 19:30:19.

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