THE following year, shortly after President Lincoln
had issued his Emancipation Proclamation, setting at liberty all the
slaves, I received a letter from Colin, informing me that Willie had
been badly, he did not think fatally, wounded, in the great battle of
Gettysburg, where a terrible slaughter had occurred. Colinís letter,
which I have preserved to this day, was as follows : ó
GETTYSBURG, July 4,
DEAR UNCLE WATTY: We have just had a
terrible battle (over fifty thousand lying dead on the field, blood
flowing in rivulets down the slopes), something so awful that it would
horrify you if I set it down here. I escaped as if by a miracle.
The bullets rained about us for hours. The smell of the smoke and the
roar of musketry appear to bring out all that is savage in a manís
nature, and after a time I seemed to revel in the work. But now that it
is over, I feel satiated with war, and if it please God to bring me
safely through this campaign, nothing but the most urgent call of my
country will ever induce me to take up arms again. If the world could
have but looked on the spectacle during the last three or four days, and
witnessed for itself the awful scenes that were enacted here, I would be
safe in saying that there would
be fewer wars. Willie was severely wounded in the engagement. I donít
think the wound is fatal, although it is of such a nature that it is
difficult to tell for some days what the result will be. He was shot
through the right lung. Fortunately, I was near him and saw that he was
immediately conveyed to the rear and placed in the hands of the
Iíll tell you how it came about.
As you perhaps know, we were both promoted after the flag incident at
Pittsburg Landing. We had received stripes before, but after that we
received commissions. We are still in the same company, and were
fighting together. It was growing dusk on the second evening of the
battle, and we were expecting to receive orders to cease firing. 1
noticed that a considerable detachment of mounted Confederates was
moving swiftly in the direction of our staff, which was stationed upon a
little hillock. General Meade, the commander, was seated upon his horse,
in the centre of the group. It was growing dark so rapidly that none of
the staff noticed the approach of the enemy. I had been watching the
movements of the detachment, and suspecting the object, I hurriedly
rallied the men of my company, and hurrying forward, we interposed
between the general and his staff, and the approaching enemy.
Of course our forces were unequal,
but we checked the oncoming detachment. The angry grays slashed right
and left as we came into collision, and for a time we had a tough
encounter. We could not have been more than three hundred yards from the
knoll upon which the staff was located, and I could easily distinguish
the commanding general in the midst. So could our antagonists, and one
of them, bringing his rifle
to his shoulder, was taking
deliberate aim at Meade, when Willie, observing the action, swung his
rifle round with terrible force, and just as the Confederateís gun
exploded, he was knocked sprawling to the ground, stunned and bleeding.
But Willie, while he may have saved the life of the commander, paid
dearly for his act. He had scarcely time to turn his head when another
Confederate, who had witnessed the act, drew a pistol from his breast
and emptied its contents into Willieís chest. I shall never forget the
feeling that came over me as Willie fell near my feet.
Flinging my rifle to the ground
(for what cared I for other things, when Willie lay, as I thought, dying
at my feet), I raised him in my arms, and looked into his face. He was
stunned at first, and I thought him dead, but he suddenly opened his
eyes and said : ó
"Is that you, Colin ?"
"Yes, it is Colin," I answered.
"Are you very badly hurt?"
"Well, I donít think so," answered
Willie. "I have a stinging feeling here (putting his hand over his right
breast), and I know I was hit by a bullet."
"Well, donít talk any more, like a
good fellow, and Iíll have you taken to the hospital."
Another minute, and the
Confederates had given up their enterprise and retired.
In a moment we had Willie on a
stretcher and had him carried to the hospital, where the surgeon
examined him. He found that the bullet had entered his right breast and
passed through the lung. The bullet was so near the surface on his back
that the doctor was able to extract it without difficulty. The lung bled
a little, but the doctor told me that unless blood poisoning set in, he
believed he would recover. It was, of course, a very serious wound, he
said, and it was impossible to tell what complications might occur, but
the young man was strong and hardy, and he hoped for the best.
And now, dear uncle, I donít want
you to let mother know how badly Willie has been wounded. I would not
have her endure unnecessary pain for all the world. I think, however,
that she should know something about it, in case the worst happens.
You cannot imagine how terribly
lonesome I shall be without Willie, for we have been inseparable
companions. The doctor thinks that even if he recovers, he will not be
fit for active service for three months.
With best love to you all, I