A Soldier's Story


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, October 17, 1863

We have created an online archive of all Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the Civil War. This archive contains incredibly rich details which are simply not available anywhere else. The material allows you to not only study details of the important events, but also see the people's reaction to the events.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to the page of interest)


Nevski Flagship

Nevski Flagship


Abraham Lincoln Establishes Thanksgiving Holiday

Armed Slaves

Davis to Arm the Slaves

Confederate Ships

Confederate Rams

Russian Ships

Russian Ships

Soldier's Story

A Soldier's Story

Libby Prison

Libby Prison

Libey Prison

Libey Prison


Parade on Broadway

Libey Prison in Richmond

Libey Prison in Richmond

Russian Fleet

Russian Fleet


Pirate Cartoon




OCTOBER 17, 1863.]



"How kind you have been!" said the young soldier, gratefully.

There was something in his voice and glance which affected Margaret strangely, but with an effort she suppressed all outward signs of emotion.

"Do you think I could write a letter?" he asked, the next day.

"You have not the strength to write yourself; but if you will dictate I will write for you."

Writing materials were brought, and Margaret seated herself at a small table by the bedside.

"It is to my father," the young man said.

The letter was commenced. After an account of his falling sick and being brought to the hospital, the young soldier turned to Margaret, and said, suddenly, "You have never told me your name. I shall wish to remember in after-years to whom I am indebted for my recovery."

"My name is Margaret Thorpe," was the answer somewhat hesitatingly given.

"I shall mention to my father how much I am indebted to you."

"No, no!" said Margaret, hastily.

The young man looked at her in some surprise.

"Promise me," she said, eagerly, "never to mention my name to your father."

"Why should you be unwilling?"

"Regard it as a whim, if you please; I can not explain it."

The letter was finished, and no further allusion was made to the subject. Only on the margin of the letter Herbert Wentworth—for it is time to give his name—contrived, unobserved by Margaret, to write, "Come."

Some days passed. The fever had turned, and Herbert was rapidly regaining his health. Margaret was seated by his bedside reading to him when steps were heard approaching. Supposing it to be the physician, she looked up, composedly. The next minute she had arisen from her seat, and with uncertain steps strove to leave the room.

"Margaret," said the new-comer in a low, clear, penetrating voice.

She turned, irresolutely.

"Now that we have met after so many years, would you leave me so soon?"

"Why should you wish me to remain, Henry? You have had good cause to forget me."

"But I have not forgotten you, Margaret. I have never wished to forget you."

"Even when I wronged you most?"

"Not even then."

He came forward and took her hand. It trembled in his own.

"Ought I to take your hand? Am I worthy?" said Margaret, humbly.

"You have repented the wrong you did me—you have nursed my son back to life. If you sinned you have atoned also. I think you have suffered, Margaret." He said this gently, noting regretfully the changes which time and grief had wrought.

"If you have forgiven me, Henry, I shall live happier henceforth. Yet I wronged myself not less than you. No sooner had I uttered the bitter words that parted us than I would have given worlds to recall them. But my unhappy pride prevented that. From that day we have not met. In solitude I have mourned over hopes which I myself had blighted. My punishment has been not less great than my sin."

"Let both be forgotten. When I go back to Wisconsin, Margaret, will you go with me?"


"As my wife, Margaret."

"No, no, it can not be."

"When I tell you that it will promote my happiness—that I have a family of young children to whom you can be a second mother—will not that alter your resolution?"

"Give me time to think—it is all so sudden. It is not right that so much happiness should fall to my lot."

Margaret's scruples were at length silenced. At the altar she plighted her faith to him who had so long possessed her heart. The cross which she had so long borne fell from her shoulders. A sweet and grateful peace softened the gravity of her face. When she returned to Nortonville to arrange her affairs previous to her transfer of residence, the villagers hardly recognized in her the cold, statue-like woman who had repelled all by her coldness. They knew not that the lost harmony had been restored to her soul, and that with her the way of duty had led into the path of peace.


"I REMEMBER one evening near Westminster, Maryland, which stands out in my memory like an oasis in the desert. We were marching hard, driving Stuart before us. Day and night, with hardly an interval, we had been at it steadily, and every body was in a chronic state of sleepiness. My orderly, Thompson, fell into an uneasy slumber on horseback, and soon afterward his horse followed the example, while in the very act of marching. I heard a sudden shriek behind me, and, looking back, saw Thompson very wide awake sticking his heels violently into his horse's side as the animal, with nodding head, was gently subsiding to the earth. Of course, there were several halts as the column straggled, or got too close. On one occasion, the whole battery, men and horses, who led us in the line of march, got so fast asleep that they did not hear the troops ahead move on; and so we remained stationary for an hour or two, with no idea what could be the matter. The men slid to the ground and lay on the road-side by their horses, and some of the officers followed their example. I, however, felt very wide awake, in a mood for supper and society. Just where we halted was one of those nice snug little villages of Northern Maryland, which are such a contrast to the collections of houses called towns in Virginia. The house nearest to me was cheerful with lights, and had altogether a cozy, home look that was irresistible to

a man who had been on rough service at the front for a couple of years. I did not attempt to resist the attraction but moved boldly forward, knocked at the door, and entered.

"Bright lights, soft carpets, pretty furniture, were all pleasant sights to one used to decay and devastation; and a table spread with a white table-cloth, covered with country fare neatly arranged, was by no means disagreeable to a hungry man; but there was something in the room which was more attractive than any of these. There were pretty faces smiling out of nice curled or braided hair, dainty forms rustling in fresh muslin, sweet voices uttering hearty welcome from such charming lips, that my heart gave a bound and throb which made me for a moment lose my appetite. I can not say exactly how many girls there were in that room; I only know that I was encircled in a halo of muslin, my hands grasped by yielding palms, and myself escorted in triumph to the tea-table. There were three or four other officers there already, but I did not find time to speak to them. An angel in curls was asking me if I took sugar and milk, while an ethereal being with black eyes was heaping my plate with cold beef, ham, and pickles. Then a darling little creature, whose beauty did not suggest any thing but pure flesh and blood, was sitting by my side helping me to butter, and asking me with such a sympathizing expression, whether I was not very tired and hungry, that my appetite came back with a vengeance, only disturbed by my desire to talk to her and bring her eyes back to mine. Such eyes! my dear fellow. They did not sparkle or flash or any of that nonsense; but there was such a steady, gentle light in their blue depths that I would have fallen fatally in love then and there, if a pair of black orbs had not done my business a year or two previous.

"Well, Sir, I made an uncommonly good supper; and after that was over, of course, I flirted, or was flirted with, whichever you choose to call it; the first is the proper form of words, the other is most accordant with the facts. And it was all right too. I am sure we had fought enough to win some little attention; and it would have been very unkind in them not to treat us in a different style from the home-keeping youths with very homely wits who were the usual recipients of their little delicate affections. There was a pretty, artless, mischievous-looking damsel of seventeen who soon took possession of me. She sat down on a dear little sofa by my side, and very close indeed, asking me all sorts of questions about marching and fighting, fingering my sabre, and trying to draw it with her little hands. How she thrilled when I told about Brandy Station; what a glow lit up her face as I described our charge; and how sadly she dropped a tear or two as I mentioned our last sight of our dead Major lying across a rebel corpse, his sabre still in his hand! Her head drooped so that it almost rested on my shoulder, and I really could find no place for my left arm except around her waist.

"There was a tall young gentleman in the room, who looked as civilians are apt to look on such occasions, as if he did not know what to do with himself. The young ladies neglected him; we did not want to talk with him; he had no sabre to play with, and no spurs to finish off his boots; and consequently he did not know what to do with his hands and feet or tongue, while he was not civilized enough to keep quiet with a good grace. This tall young gentleman, therefore, chose to occupy himself with me and my companion, and our proceedings did not appear to yield him particular gratification. So, as I rose to take leave, he tried to interpose between us, with some whispered remonstrances to the young lady. Whew! didn't he catch a look! And then the girl flashed out, 'You stay at home, and make money, and have all your comforts about you, and then choose to be jealous of our feelings for those who are giving their lives for us, whom we shall never see again, and may hear of to-morrow as lying dead upon the battle-field! I am not ashamed of what I feel for them, and I am not afraid to show it. Major, good-by! I kiss the sword which I know that you will use well for us, and I kiss you for doing so.' As she said this she put her little hands on my shoulders to lift her face to mine. It was not very hard to bring the two together. And then all the other girls came up and kissed us, and I went away decidedly happy, with something to think about for the rest of the night. That girl gave me a new idea of the duty of young ladies to cavalry officers; and though I did not require others to kiss my sabre, I always insisted on their saluting myself during the remainder of the campaign.

"I had about forgotten the tall young man by the next afternoon, when a rather dashing-looking fellow, in a sort of extemporaneous uniform, mounted on a very good horse, and well armed and equipped, came riding after our column. As soon as he came to where I was he drew rein and addressed me. I then saw that it was the same person who had involuntarily done me such a favor the night before.

" 'Major,' he said, 'I ain't much of a soldier or a fine-spoken man, but I am mighty fond of that same little piece that was so smart last night. She got so set up about you fighting fellows that I don't expect to have much of a show, unless I make an offer at the secesh on my own hook. I suppose it won't hurt you much to let me go along and see what's going on, will it? It's only another man dead or alive, you know.'

"It was a queer sort of a proposition, and I took a good look at the fellow to see whether he was a fool or in sensible earnest; for a man of the former kind would have been a perfect nuisance, of course. The man stood my scrutiny well. By daylight, and on horseback, he looked active, vigorous, and intelligent; and there was a gleam of cool daring and perfect self-reliance in his eye which assured me that, though no soldier, he would not be behindhand in a fight. So I told him that, if he chose to act as an orderly to me, he might do so, though, of course, I could not put him in the ranks. I could see, as he assented, that he had a sort of

notion that he might enter into a sort of rivalry with me in the next fight, and that he intended to do something heroic at the first opportunity. Naturally amused by the fancy, I turned round to take a fresh look at him as he rode in his citizen fashion beside my other orderly, and I could hardly keep from laughing at the expression with which he and the soldier were contemplating one another. Each had such a perfect conviction of his own superiority, and each was so afraid that the other would not admit it; and at the same time they were each conscious of certain weaknesses in their respective panoplies.

"If I wanted to, I could employ half an hour in detailing the amusing circumstances attending Dan Simpson's campaign with the Jersey cavalry; but they would be merely episodes, and in no way connected with the main incident of my story. So I shall hurry on to the fight at Gettysburg.

"We got on to the field for the second day's fight, and lay behind the right of the line. The rebels at one time drove our infantry from the crest of the hill above us, and we were deployed as skirmishers, dismounted to assist in checking them. I never feel at home or self-reliant on foot, and so I kept the saddle; and though Thompson wisely dismounted, Simpson felt too heroic to descend from his saddle while I remained in mine. The lines were only about two hundred yards apart, and the firing was heavy; but our men, snugly ensconced behind a fence, and lying down, were perfectly safe, and managed to inflict considerable damage upon the enemy. It was the first time that Dan had ever heard the peculiar noise of a Minie ball, and you know the sensation produced by that sound when the shot is approaching you. I heard a laugh from my men, in which the grim chuckle of Thompson was particularly distinguishable; and, looking round, I saw Simpson's heels in the air, while his head was descending toward his horse's crupper. How he had managed to twist himself into such an extraordinary attitude I do not know, but no circus rider could have struck it more promptly. It seems that just as he mounted the hill a particularly vicious discharge was sent from the opposing skirmishers. The balls came humming on. Simpson gave a start, then a dodge forward on his horse's neck; then, suddenly thinking that that brought him in closer range, he rapidly reversed his position. This, accompanied by a plunge of the horse, brought him helpless over the animal's tail, which he clutched frantically, and with one foot still held by the stirrup, the other around the horse's neck, he writhed in shame and dismay. Thompson released him from his predicament, led him into a corner of the fence, and proceeded to give him good counsel as to the evil of indiscriminate dodging, and the way to accomplish the same with prudence and good judgment. In the mean time both parties kept popping away vigorously, and presently poor Simpson got a little used to the sound of the bullets, and was able to hear one fifty yards off without thinking that his hour was come. Then his indignation against the enemy, who had made him appear ridiculous, was excited, and he began to pop away at them as fast as he could. He shot well too, and once or twice won the applause of the men by a quick shot and fatal aim. So ultimately he came out of the engagement a little subdued as to his heroical impulses, but still without the crushing humiliation attending his first appearance.

"That, however, was mere play for the cavalry. It was the next day that our serious work began. At the extreme right of our position, beyond the Gettysburg turnpike, between a large stone barn and a small line of wood, occurred one of the sharpest cavalry fights ever witnessed, and yet so fierce was the main engagement that this combat of some fifteen or twenty thousand mounted men has been scarcely noticed. Our regiment had the honor of opening the ball, most of us dismounted as skirmishers, while a squadron, under Hart, was held mounted in the little woods before-mentioned. I was with the skirmish line, and this time Simpson and Thompson both attended me. The men went up boldly, through ground intersected by stone-walls; but on rising the crest of a little hill they were saluted by such a storm of balls that they could not go forward. The enemy had filled the stone barn with sharpshooters, who were, of course, completely protected from our fire. A battery was immediately brought into position on the hills behind us, and opened on the barn. As we counted afterward, the barn was hit twenty-five times, and though there were plenty of wooden buildings around it, not one of them was touched. I call that pretty accurate gunnery. The enemy had to evacuate those premises rapidly, and then our boys went forward with a rush. It is curious, but the moment our men get off their horses they seem almost insensible to danger in this sort of skirmishing. Right on we pushed, driving the enemy before us from every point until we had actually made a gap in their lines. The Third Pennsylvania worked with us as skirmishers, and kept pace with us well. After a while word was sent to the General that our ammunition was giving out, and some other regiments were sent to relieve us. It was a curious fact that they could not be got up to the point where our men were standing. Their officers formed them behind a fence several hundred yards in our rear, and then we were ordered to fall back behind them. This gave the enemy a chance which he was quick to take advantage of. Across the space thus left free he charged a brigade. The Michigan troops were ordered to meet it. They rode up gallantly to a stone-wall; but, instead of pushing across it, they stopped and commenced firing with their repeating rifles. The enemy came on in spite of their fire. The Michigan men (it was either the Fifth or the Seventh) held their ground until the rebels got through the wall, and then turned, the enemy pressing them sharply. Just then the First Michigan (old troops) charged. They broke the rebels completely, and drove them back pell-mell, suffering severely from the rifles of the other regiments. I had remained in that part of the field, allowing the skirmishers to go back

under charge of a captain; and I had been made very indignant by the reluctance of the relieving regiments to advance; so when the charge took place I joined in. My little sorrel mare took me right over a six-barred fence, upon the flank of the rebels, close to where their guidon was. A few bounds more and I could have had it; but I had only my two orderlies with me, and the rebels clustered thick around it; so I had to draw in with the head of the Michigan. Then all tried who could be first. And now Simpson had another chance to distinguish himself. His horse was very fast, and the first thing that I knew he was dashing past me with a hurrah. Some of the rebels were just beginning to rally as our men tailed off in the pursuit; and at a party of three of these he rode, waving his sabre high in air. Making for the foremost of them, he drew rein and dealt him a tremendous blow. Unfortunately he had not been drilled in the manual, and consequently instead of cutting, he merely whacked his opponent. The next thing I saw was the rebel's horse coming down upon Dan's, and rolling him in the dust. I was making as much haste as I could; but the rebel's sabre would have put an end to poor Simpson before I got there, had not Thompson fortunately put a bullet through him. The other two fellows had hesitated whether to run or fight. Before they had quite made up their minds I came thundering up, giving point at one of them as I passed. My weapon slipped into his throat with a sound that I shall never forget, and he fell, bleeding like a slaughtered bullock. At the same moment Simpson regained his feet, and sprang at the other one. The fellow threw up his arms and surrendered, and Dan, mounting his horse, proudly conducted him to the rear.

"By this time the Second Brigade of the rebels was coining down at the charge, and General Custer was gathering his men to meet them. They outnumbered us heavily, but still we went boldly at them. It was curious to see the two bodies approach. First came the steady trot; then each took the gallop, gradually quickening as they approached. Then, as we got nearer and nearer, I could feel how our men closed together, and how, almost involuntarily, there was a slight holding in of the horses. Then there was an evident check and wavering among the rebels. Instantly our fellows let out their horses with a yell, and the ranks in front of us broke and turned. At the same moment Hart with his few men dashed at their flank, as if he had a regiment behind him; and then the whole field was covered with their flying squadrons. There was no more fighting. All that we could overtake yielded themselves prisoners, and we drew off just in time to avoid a savage fire from their artillery.

"As I went back to hunt for the regiment I came upon Dan quietly sitting on the fence, with his prisoner in front of him.

" 'Hallo, Sir!" said I, "why have you not taken that man to the rear and given him up?'

" 'Well, Major,' answered my amateur, 'I was thinkin' of taking this chap back home to show to Amandy. You see, she'll think then that I really did something; but if I don't have any thing to show for it, why I might as well have staid back.'

"I could not help laughing at the cool way in which he had converted a rebel horseman into his own private property; but, much to his indignation, obliged him to resign his prize to the provost marshal.

"Immediately on the retreat of the rebels we were pushed in pursuit, and Simpson prepared to return to his home covered with time glory which he had acquired. The last that I saw of him was when he was bidding adieu to Thompson, who made him a short farewell address in the following terms:

" 'You see, my friend, you're a very nice young man at home; but you made a little mistake. I don't speak of your natural objection to hard tack, and your slight disinclination to attend to your horse. Neither do I lay much weight on your finding the ground less comfortable than a feather-bed. But you though you could come and be a soldier right off without any trouble; that it was easy to stand fire without being used to it; and that fighting came natural to a man. I know you thought I was a coward when I got off my horse and got behind a fence the other day; but you yourself found it wasn't pleasant to be on horse-back. I don't say any thing about the Major, for he's an officer, and as such has to take a few more risks than we for the good of the regiment; but what was the use of your putting yourself up as a mark first, and making a fool of yourself afterward?

"Now you go home to that nice young woman that you talks about, and get married, and talk as big as you like; but you just take my advice, and don't you come out soldiering again until in the nature of things you gets tired of her, and takes to it in the way of business.'

"With these words they parted, and we saw Simpson's face no more.

"A few days ago, however, I got a letter very prettily written, but with rather questionable spelling. It was signed 'Amanda Simpson,' and gave me to understand that she had rewarded Daniel's valor with her hand. She was still uncommonly affectionate in her language to me, and ended by promising me another kiss when I came back—'in spite of Dan.' Immediately after these words came the following postscript: 'He says that he can spare you one kiss, for that after he came back from the battle I gave him twenty, all of my own accord. The wretch! And if I did it's a shame for him to make me tell you about it. And he says that he's going to make the same bargain about the other one; and I say that he sha'n't.' Here there was a big blot, and after it the explanation: 'That came there because he has been taking them beforehand; but didn't I slap his ears!' I think Mr. Dan is going to have some trouble in bridling that rather skittish young woman. Don't you? I hope, at any rate, that we will have another invasion of the North, for then there is really something like campaigning."




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