Editor’s Note: Base transcription is from the CD-ROM version of The Confederate Veteran at Eastern Digital. Minor corrections were made by Brett Schulte.
STORY FROM THE RANKS.1
DR. H. W. MANSON, OF ROCKWALL, TEXAS, TELLS A THRILLING STORY.
It was the 2d day of April, 1865. I was acting Sergeant Major in Capt. Dale’s Battalion of Sharpshooters, near Petersburg, Va. I had sat up nearly all the night before playing chess with a red headed Captain of the First Tennessee. A little before day, firing was heard on the picket line, and the sharpshooters under Dale, Harris and Beaumont were ordered to the front. After going to the place where the picket line should have been, it was found that the enemy had broken it and that also, by a flank movement, they had broken the main line between our position on that line and Petersburg. There was nothing left for us to do but to make our way back to the breastworks and rejoin the brigade (Archer’s) as quickly and as safely as possible. It was no very easy thing to do under the circumstances, as any body of men coming from the direction in which the soldiers thought the enemy were, would surely be fired on without stopping to ask any questions. But each minute was worth a million of dollars. If we remained a little longer the whole command would be surrounded and captured. Besides, our brigade needed our help. The writer was ordered to double quick to the main line, take the chances of being shot by our own men, pass rapidly down on top of the breastworks, causing our men to hold their fire until Capt. Day could oblique his sharpshooters into the main line or the breastworks.
After a hard run and escaping a number of bullets sent to meet us by the men in the works, the line was gained, and the sharpshooters were safely over the works, with but few wounded. We were not a moment two (sic) soon. The enemy had broken through and was reaching out in the rear, but when they struck our part of the line the old brigade, with a yell and a charge, retook some of the works in a regular devils’ picnic.
While engaged in this movement, a tall, angular Federal, standing on the works more exposed to the fire than anyone, brought his gun to bear on my face at a point blank range of less than forty steps. A dodge behind a corner of a rude log hut built for winter quarters saved my life, for at that moment the bark spattered in my face as the ball grazed the log. With a prayer for the soul of the bravest Yankee I ever saw my trusty Sharpe’s rifle was aimed at the tall man’s breast, and at the crack of the gun he fell from the earth-works.
About this time Capt. Arch Norris ordered me to rally the sharpshooters and try to check the column on our left. At the rally call a handfull (sic) of seven responded—seven men that would try anything—and they charged that column. Some were killed and others wounded. At the first volley I tumbled to the ground with a broken leg. I had hardly touched the ground when John Harlin, of Wilson county, Tenn., Jim Hearn, —- Coles, and another man, name forgotten, had me on a stretcher and were trying their best to get me to the rear. By this time the line was broken and the enemy had it all their own way.
They soon sent their bullets so thick around and into the litter-bearing party that the men were forced to leave me to my fate. Another minute found me in the hands of the advance skirmishers, and they proceeded to relieve me of my watch and money; but a big, red-faced, thick-set Major made his way to me, and, after a friendly grasp of the hand, he had my valuables returned and four of his men detailed to take me back to the field hospital, and by no means to leave me until I was safely in charge of a certain surgeon, a Mason and the Major’s friend. On the way back Jesse Cage, of Nashville, was picked up, with his leg broken, and placed in the same ambulance. About 4 o’clock that evening, as the wounded men lay on a bed of straw in a large hospital tent, Cage was carried out under the trees and, as the tent flap was thrown back, I could see him under the influence of chloroform while the surgeons took his leg off. He was soon brought back to his straw bed, and with a shudder I heard the litter-bearers say, “Your time next.” I was placed on the table, chloroform was administered and, when I awoke from slumber, my dancing days were over and I was a hopeless cripple for life.
Two days after the above I saw the man I had fired at on the breastworks walk into the tent, but, to my astonishment, he was shot in the back part of his jaw. Calling him to my bed, I found that he was the same man, and his wounds were explained by himself thus: “I shot at a feller at the corner of a cabin, and missed him, when he shot me in the breast here,” pulling open his shirt, “the ball hitting in front on the collar-bone and knocking me off the works. Some of our own cowardly fellows shot me in the jaw after I got up.” I explained that I was the “feller that drew a bead” on him, and explained that the want of force in the ball was due to the inferior cartridges used.
These two soldiers ended their war here. The one that walked waited on the one that couldn’t walk, and they two who had shot at each other would have risked their lives each in the other’s defense. I cannot now remember this brave man’s name. He belonged to a Pennsylvania regiment. The acquaintance lasted only three days, but that was long enough for God to teach two erring mortals that brave men bore no malice, and, as they grasped each other’s hand for a final separation, they each breathed a sigh of thankfulness that “I didn’t kill you.”
Reader, please pardon the apparent egotism. We can only write what came under our immediate observation. The death and wounding of great men, the victory and defeat of armies, have been and will be told by a thousand pens, but there are none to tell these little incidents except the actors themselves.
- Manson, H. W. “Story from the Ranks.” Confederate Veteran, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 68 ↩