The battalion was hurried forward
to join the command of General Scott, who for a short time after the
commencement of hostilities was commander-in-chief of the Union forces.
Colonel Rolphe’s detachment failed to come up with the Union army in
time to take part in the battle of Bull Run, the first real struggle of
the war. From that time forward, however, the boys participated in
almost every battle of importance fought by their brigade.
Space will not permit us to follow
the boys through the long campaign, and we must confine the story to the
relation of a few incidents in which the young men participated.
Their battalion had been sent to
Illinois to join General Grant’s command, and in the early part of 1862,
when the general advanced into Kentucky, it formed a portion of the
Union force. The boys’ first real baptism of heavy fire occurred at the
capture of Fort Donelson.
Following closely on this was the
battle of Pittsburg Landing, where the Union forces narrowly escaped a
crushing defeat, due to the strategy of Johnston, the Confederate
leader. Grant, however, by virtue of superior generalship, the fighting
qualities of his troops, and the reinforcements he had received,
converted the day into a victory, and the Confederates were driven back
with great loss.
In this battle Colin and Willie,
who had been fighting side by side, taking such shelter as they could
find, became separated, and did not see each other until late in the
day, when they were united under somewhat thrilling circumstances.
The battle had waged fiercely for
hours. Towards evening, when the troops were pretty thoroughly
exhausted, Colonel Rolphe rode along the line, rallying his men and
encouraging them to press forward. The regimental standard was some
distance in advance and to the right of the detachment, and Colonel
Rolphe did not notice, as he wheeled his horse and made off to the left,
that a small body of Confederates, taking shelter in a long, irregular
growth of brush, were advancing stealthily, with the evident design of
capturing the flag.
Colin, who was at the extreme
right of his company which had deployed, noticed the Confederates, and
realising their design, he shouted a warning to his captain, but his
voice was drowned in the din and roar of musketry. The Confederates,
seeing that the moment had come to strike, made a wild rush for the
standard, bearing down the soldier who held it and scattering those
about him like chaff.
The incident occurred so quickly
that for a moment the Federals seemed nonplussed. Unless some one acted
instantly and with courage, the flag was gone. With a loud cheer, Colin
sprang forward, shouting to his comrades to follow, and rushing on the
Confederate company, a sharp tussle ensued. Cohn went straight at the
tall soldier, in gray who had seized the flag, and striking him down
with the butt end of his rifle, he tore the ensign from his hands and
was bearing it back, when he in turn was stricken to the earth by a
He had just sufficient
consciousness left to hold on to the flag. Raising his eyes, he
encountered the gaze of a soldier in gray about to strike, when the
whizz of a bullet was heard, and his opponent rolled over helpless. A
moment later Colin had recovered sufficiently to stagger to his feet.
His companions were still engaged in a desperate encounter with the
grays, and as the latter greatly outnumbered their antagonists, it would
have gone hard with the Federals had not succour in the form of a small
detachment been observed approaching. Before the detachment arrived,
however, the grays made a determined effort to recapture the flag.
Two stalwarts rushed upon Colin.
He got in a blow at the nearest of his enemies and laid him stunned upon
the ground, but the other was overpowering him. His antagonist was
fighting at close quarters, and in a moment it would have been all up
with poor Colin; but suddenly there was a shout, a wild rush, and the
Confederate was knocked sprawling to the ground.
The rescue party had just arrived
in time. Colin was dazed for a minute or two; he was exhausted, had lost
a good deal of blood, and had received some very hard knocks. When his
head cleared, Willie was standing over him, trying to give him some
"Why, Willie, is that you?" Colin
"Yes, old fellow," answered
Willie. "You have had a close call."
"Has the flag been saved?"
"It has, thanks to your bravery,
and here it is," added Willie, exhibiting the ensign.
Colin smiled as they surveyed the
flag, and he felt happy and at ease as his comrades carried him to the
hospital tent, where, however, he was obliged to remain for a week or
The affair was reported to the
commanding officer, and Colin was mentioned in the despatches forwarded
to Washington. The war correspondents also made much of the incident,
and the lad’s praises were sounded throughout the North.
There was a thrill of joy,
thankfulness, and pride when the news of Colin’s heroism reached the
Scotch Settlement, as it did some months after the occurrence.
Naturally, we all read with eagerness the American newspapers which
reached us in those days. We received many letters from the boys,
telling us all about their experiences, but these letters were generally
so long delayed in reaching us, owing to the defective arrangements for
carrying the mails, that we had long before received the more important
news through the medium of the newspapers.