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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XLI - Wounded at Gettysburg


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. Colin’s letter, which I have preserved to this day, was as follows : —

GETTYSBURG, July 4, 1863.

My 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 man’s 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 don’t 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 surgeons.

I’ll 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 Confederate’s 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 Willie’s 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 :

"Is that you, Colin ?"

"Yes, it is Colin," I answered. "Are you very badly hurt?"

"Well, I don’t 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, don’t talk any more, like a good fellow, and I’ll 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 don’t 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 remain,

Yours affectionately,

COLIN.


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