Drafted by Edward William Thomson
Harry Wallbridge, awaking with a
sense of some alarming sound, listened
intently in the darkness, seeing overhead the
canvas roof faintly outlined, the darker stretch
of its ridge-pole, its two thin slanting rafters,
and the gable ends of the winter hut. He could
not hear the small, fine drizzle from an atmosphere
surcharged with water, nor anything but
the drip from canvas to trench, the rustling of
hay bunched beneath his head, the regular
breathing of his "buddy," Corporal Bader, and
the stamping of horses in stables. But when a
soldier in a neighboring tent called indistinguishably
in the accents of nightmare, Bader's
breathing quieted, and in the lull Harry fancied
the soaked air weighted faintly with steady
picket-firing. A month with the 53d Pennsylvania
Veteran Volunteer Cavalry had not quite disabused
the young recruit of his schoolboy belief
that the men of the Army of the Potomac must
live constantly within sound of the out-posts.
Harry sat up to hearken better, and then concluded
that he had mistaken for musketry the
crackle of haystalks under his poncho sheet.
Beneath him the round poles of his bed
sagged as he drew up his knees and gathered
about his shoulders the gray blanket damp from
the spray of heavy rain against the canvas earlier
in the night. Soon, with slow dawn's
approach, he could make out the dull white of
his carbine and sabre against the mud-plastered
chimney. In that drear dimness the boy shivered,
with a sense of misery rather than from
cold, and yearned as only sleepy youth can for
the ease of a true bed and dry warm swooning
to slumber. He was sustained by no mature
sense that this too would pass; it was with a
certain bodily despair that he felt chafed and
compressed by his rough garments, and pitied
himself, thinking how his mother would cry if
she could see him crouched so wretchedly
that wet March morning, pressed all the more
into loneliness by the regular breathing of veteran
Bader in the indifference of deep sleep.
Harry's vision of his mother coming into his
room, shading her candle with her hand to see
if he were asleep, passed away as a small gust
came, shaking the canvas, for he was instantly
alert with a certainty that the breeze had borne
a strong rolling of musketry.
"Bader, Bader!" he said. "Bader!"
"Can't you shut up, you Wallbridge?" came
Orderly Sergeant Gravely's sharp tones from the
"What's wrong with you, Harry, boy?"
asked Bader, turning.
"I thought I heard heavy firing closer than
the picket lines; twice now I've thought I
"Oh, I guess not, Harry. The Johnnies
won't come out no such night as this. Keep
quiet, or you'll have the sergeant on top of you.
Better lie down and try to sleep, buddy; the
bugles will call morning soon now."
Again Harry fell to his revery of home, and
his vision became that of the special evening on
which his boyish wish to go to the war had, for
the family's sake, become resolve. He saw his
mother's spectacled and lamp-lit face as she,
leaning to the table, read in the familiar Bible;
little Fred and Mary, also facing the table's
central lamp, bent sleepy heads over their
school-books; the father sat in the rocking-chair,
with his right hand on the paper he had
laid down, and gazed gloomily at the coals fallen
below the front doors of the wood-burning
stove. Harry dreamed himself back in his own
chair, looking askance, and feeling sure his
father was inwardly groaning over the absence
of Jack, the eldest son. Then nine o'clock
struck, and Fred and Mary began to put their
books away in preparation for bed.
"Wait a little, children," Mrs. Wallbridge
said, serene in tone from her devotional reading.
"Father wants that I should tell you something.
You mustn't feel bad about it. It's
that we may soon go out West. Your Uncle
Ezra is doing well in Minnesota. Aunt Elvira
says so in her letter that came to-day."
"It's this way, children," said Mr. Wallbridge,
ready to explain, now that the subject
was opened. "Since ever your brother Jack
went away South, the store expenses have been
too heavy. It's near five years now he's been
gone. There's a sheaf of notes coming due
the third of next month; twice they've been
renewed, and the Philadelphia men say they'll
close me up this time sure. If I had eight
hundred dollars—but it's no use talking;
we'll just have to let them take what we've got.
Times have been bad right along around here,
anyhow, with new competition, and so many
farmers gone to the war, and more gone West. If
Jack had stopped to home—but I've had to pay
two clerks to do his work, and then they don't
take any interest in the business. Mind, I'm
not blaming Jack, poor fellow,—he'd a right to
go where he'd get more'n his keep, and be
able to lay up something for himself,—but
what's become of him, God knows; and such
a smart, good boy as he was! He'd got fond
of New Orleans,—I guess some nice girl there,
maybe, was the reason; and there he'd stay
after the war began, and now it's two years and
more since we've heard from him. Dead,
maybe, or maybe they'd put him in jail, for he
said he'd never join the Confederates, nor fight
against them either—he felt that way—North
and South was all the same to him. And so
he's gone; and I don't see my way now at all.
Ma, if it wasn't for my lame leg, I'd take the
bounty. It'd be something for you and the
children after the store's gone."
"Sho, pa! don't talk that way! You're too
down-hearted. It'll all come right, with the
Lord's help," said Harry's mother. How
clearly he, in the damp cold tent, could see her
kind looks as she pushed up her spectacles and
beamed on her husband; how distinctly, in the
still dim dawn, he heard her soothing tones!
It was that evening's talk which had sent
Harry, so young, to the front. Three village
boys, little older than he, had already contrived
to enlist. Every time he saw the Flag drooping,
he thought shame of himself to be absent
from the ranks of its upholders; and now, just
as he was believing himself big and old enough
to serve, he conceived that duty to his parents
distinctly enjoined him to go. So in the night,
without leave-taking or consent of his parents,
he departed. The combined Federal, State,
and city bounties offered at Philadelphia
amounted to nine hundred dollars cash that
dreadful winter before Richmond fell, and
Harry sent the money home triumphantly in
time to pay his father's notes and save the store.
While the young soldier thought it all over,
carbine and sabre came out more and more
distinctly outlined above the mud-plastered
fireplace. The drizzle had ceased, the drip into
the trench was almost finished, intense stillness
ruled; Harry half expected to hear cocks crow
from out such silence.
Listening for them, his dreamy mind brooded
over both hosts, in a vision even as wide as the
vast spread of the Republic in which they lay as
two huddles of miserable men. For what were
they all about him this woful, wet night? they all
fain, as he, for home and industry and comfort.
What delusion held them? How could it be
that they could not all march away and separate,
and the cruel war be over? Harry caught his
breath at the idea,—it seemed so natural, simple,
easy, and good a solution. Becoming absorbed
in the fancy, tired of listening, and soothed by
the silence, he was falling asleep as he sat,
when a heavy weight seemed to fall, far away.
Another—another—the fourth had the rumble
of distant thunder, and seemed followed by
a concussion of the air.
"Hey—Big Guns! What's up toward City
Point?" cried Bader, sitting up. "I tell you
they're at it. It can't be so far away as Butler.
What? On the left too! That was toward
Hatcher's Run! Harry, the rebs are out in earnest!
I guess you did hear the pickets trying
to stop 'em. What a morning! Ha—Fort
Hell! see that!"
The outside world was dimly lighted up for a
moment. In the intensified darkness that
followed Bader's voice was drowned by the
crash of a great gun from the neighboring fort.
Flash, crash—flash, crash—flash, crash succeeded
rapidly. Then the intervals of Fort
Hell's fire lengthened to the regular periods for
loading, and between her roars were heard the
sullen boom of more distant guns, while through
all the tumult ran a fierce undertone,—the
infernal hurrying of musketry along the immediate
"The Johnnies must have got in close somehow,"
cried Bader. "Hey, Sergeant?"
"Yes," shouted Gravely. "Scooped up the
pickets and supports too in the rain, I guess.
Turn out, boys, turn out! there'll be a wild day.
Kid! Where's the Kid? Kid Sylvester!"
"Here! All right, Barney; I'll be out in
two shakes," shouted the bugler.
"Hurry, then! I can hear the Colonel shouting
already. Man, listen to that!"—as four of
Fort Hell's guns crashed almost simultaneously.
"Brownie! Greasy Cook! O Brownie!"
"Here!" shouted the cook.
"Get your fire started right away, and see
what salt horse and biscuit you can scare up.
Maybe we'll have time for a snack."
"Turn out, Company K!" shouted Lieutenant
Bradley, running down from the officers'
quarters. "Where's the commissary sergeant?
There?—all right—give out feed right away!
Get your oats, men, and feed instantly! We
may have time. Hullo! here's the General's
As the trooper galloped, in a mud-storm,
across the parade ground, a group of officers ran
out behind the Colonel from the screen of pine
saplings about Regimental Headquarters. The
orderly gave the Colonel but a word, and,
wheeling, was off again as "Boot and saddle"
blared from the buglers, who had now assembled
"But leave the bits out—let your horses
feed!" cried the Lieutenant, running down again.
"We're not to march till further orders."
Beyond the screen of pines Harry could see
the tall canvas ridges of the officers' cabins
lighted up. Now all the tents of the regiment,
row behind row, were faintly luminous, and the
renewed drizzle of the dawn was a little lightened
in every direction by the canvas-hidden
candles of infantry regiments, the glare of
numerous fires already started, and sparks
showering up from the cook-houses of company
Soon in the cloudy sky the cannonade rolled
about in broad day, which was still so gray that
long wide flashes of flame could be seen to
spring far out before every report from the guns
of Fort Hell, and in the haze but few of the
rebel shells shrieking along their high curve
could be clearly seen bursting over Hancock's
cheering men. Indistinguishably blent were
the sounds of hosts on the move, field-guns
pounding to the front, troops shouting, the
clink and rattle of metal, officers calling, bugles
blaring, drums rolling, mules screaming,—all
heard as a running accompaniment to the
cannon heavily punctuating the multitudinous
"Fwat sinse in the ould man bodderin' us?"
grumbled Corporal Kennedy, a tall Fenian dragoon
from the British army. "Sure, ain't it as
plain as the sun—and faith the same's not
plain this dirthy mornin'—that there's no work
for cavalry the day, barrin' it's escortin' the
doughboys' prisoners, if they take any?—bad
'cess to the job. Sure it's an infantry fight, and
must be, wid the field-guns helpin', and the
siege pieces boomin' away over the throops in
the mud betwigst our own breastworks and the
inner line of our forts.
"Oh, by this and by that," the corporal
grumbled on, "ould Lee's not the gintleman I
tuk him for at all, at all,—discomfortin' us in the
rain,—and yesterday an illigant day for fightin'.
Couldn't he wait, like the dacint ould boy he's
reported, for a dhry mornin', instead av turnin'
his byes out in the shlush and destroyin' me
chanst av breakfast? It's spring chickens I'd
"You may get up to spring-chicken country
soon, now," said Bader. "I'm thinking this is
near the end; it's the last assault that Lee
will ever deliver."
"Faith, I dunno," said the corporal; "that's
what we've been saying sinst last fall, but the
shtay of them Johnnies bates Banagher and the
prophets. Hoo—ow! by the powers! did you
hear them yell? Fwat? The saints be wid us!
who'd 'a' thought it possible? Byes! Bader!
Harry! luk at the Johnnies swarmin' up the face
Off there Harry could dimly see, rising over
the near horizon made by tents, a straggling
rush of men up the steep slope, while the rebel
yell came shrill from a multitude behind on the
level ground that was hidden from the place
occupied by the cavalry regiment. In the next
moment the force mounting Fort Hell's slope
fell away, some lying where shot down, some
rolling, some running and stumbling in heaps;
then a tremendous musketry and field-gun fire
growled to and fro under the heavy smoke round
and about and out in front of the embrasures,
which had never ceased their regular discharge
over the heads of the fort's defenders and immediate
Suddenly Harry noted a slackening of the
battle; it gradually but soon dropped away to
nothing, and now no sound of small-arms in any
direction was heard in the lengthening intervals
of reports from the siege pieces far and near.
"And so that's the end of it," said Kennedy.
"Sure it was hot work for a while! Faix, I
thought onct the doughboys was nappin' too
long, and ould Hell would be bullyin' away at
ourselves. Now, thin, can we have a bite in
paice? I'll shtart wid a few sausages, Brownie,
and you may send in the shpring chickens wid
some oyshters the second coorse. No! Oh,
by the powers, 'tis too mane to lose a breakfast
like that!" and Corporal Kennedy shook his
fist at the group of buglers calling the regiment
In ten minutes the Fifty-third had formed in
column of companies. "Old Jimmy," their
Colonel, had galloped down at them and once
along their front; then the command, forming
fours from the right front, moved off at a trot
through the mud in long procession.
"Didn't I know it?" said Kennedy; "it's
escortin' the doughboys' prisoners, that's all
we're good for this outrageous day. Oh, wirra,
wirrasthru! Police duty! and this calls itself
a cavalry rigiment. Mounted Police duty,—escortin'
doughboys' prisoners! Faix, I might
as well be wid Her Majesty's dhragoons,
thramplin' down the flesh and blood of me
in poor ould Oireland. Begor, Harry, me
bhy, it's a mane job to be setting you at,
and this the first day ye're mounted to save
"Stop coddin' the boy, Corporal," said Bader,
angrily. "You can't think how an American
boy feels about this war."
"An Amerikin!—an Amerikin, is it? Let
me insthruct ye thin, Misther Bader, that I'm
as good an Amerikin as the next man. Och, be
jabers, me that's been in the color you see ever
since the Prisident first called for men! It
was for a three months' dance he axed us first.
Me, that's re-enlishted twice, don't know the
feelin's of an Amerikin! What am I here for?
Not poverty! sure I'd enough of that before
ever I seen Ameriky! What am I wallopin'
through the mud for this mornin'?"
"It's your trade, Kennedy," said Bader, with
"Be damned to you, man!" said the corporal,
sternly. "When I touched fut in New
York, didn't I swear that I'd never dhraw
swoord more, barrin' it was agin the ould red
tyrant and oprissor of me counthry? Wasn't I
glad to be dhrivin' me own hack next year in
Philamedink like a gintleman? Oh, the paice
and the indipindence of it! But what cud I do
when the counthry that tuk me and was good to
me wanted an ould dhragoon? An Amerikin,
ye say! Faith, the heart of me is Amerikin, if
I'm a bog throtter by the tongue. Mind that
now, me bould man!"
Harry heard without heeding as the horses
spattered on. Still wavered in his ears the
sounds of the dawn; still he saw the ghostlike
forms of Americans in gray tumbling back from
their rush against the sacred flag that had
drooped so sadly over the smoke; and still, far
away beyond all this puddled and cumbered
ground the dreamy boy saw millions of white
American faces, all haggard for news of the
armies—some looking South, some North, yearning
for the Peace that had so long ago been
the boon of the Nation.
Now the regiment was upon the red clay of
the dead fight, and brought to halt in open
columns. After a little they moved off again in
fours, and, dropping into single file, surrounded
some thousands of disarmed men, the remnant
of the desperate brigades that Lee had flung
through the night across three lines of breastworks
at the great fort they had so nearly
stormed. Poor drenched, shivering Johnnies!
there they stood, not a few of them in blue
overcoats, but mostly in butternut, generally
tattered; some barefoot, some with feet bound
in ragged sections of blanket, many with toes
and skin showing through crazy boots lashed
on with strips of cotton or with cord; many
stoutly on foot, streaming blood from head
Some lay groaning in the mud, while their
comrades helped Union surgeons to bind or
amputate. Here and there groups huddled
together in earnest talk, or listened to comrades
gesticulating and storming as they recounted
incidents of the long charge. But far the
greater number faced outward, at gaze upon the
cavalry guard, and, silently munching thick flat
cakes of corn-bread, stared into the faces of the
horsemen. Harry Wallbridge, brought to the
halt, faced half-round in the saddle, and looked
with quick beatings of pity far and wide over
the disorderly crowd of weather-worn men.
"It's a Louisiana brigade," said Bader.
"Fifty-three, P. V. V. C.," spoke a prisoner,
as if in reply, reading the letters about the little
crossed brass sabres on the Union hats. "Say,
you men from Pennsylvany?"
"Yes, Johnny; we come down to wake up
"I reckon we got the start at wakin' you this
mornin'," drawled the Southerner. "But say,—there's
one of our boys lyin' dyin' over yonder;
his folks lives in Pennsylvany. Mebbe some of
you 'ud know 'em."
"What's his name?" asked Bader.
"Why, Harry—hold on!—you ain't the
only Wallbridges there is. What's up?" cried
Bader, as the boy half reeled, half clambered
from his saddle.
"Hold on, Harry!" cried Corporal Kennedy.
"Halt there, Wallbridge!" shouted Sergeant
"Stop that man!" roared Lieutenant Bradley.
But, calling, "He's my brother!" Harry,
catching up his sabre as he ran, followed the
Southerner, who had instantly divined the situation.
The forlorn prisoners made ready way
for them, and closing in behind, stretched in
solid array about the scene.
"It's not Jack," said the boy; but something
in the look of the dying man drew him on to
kneel in the mud. "Is it you, Jack? Oh, now
I know you! Jack, I'm Harry! don't you
know me? I'm Harry—your brother Harry."
The Southern soldier stared rigidly at the boy,
seeming to grow paler with the recollections that
he struggled for.
"What's your name?" he asked very faintly.
"Harry Wallbridge—I'm your brother."
"Harry Wallbridge! Why, I'm John Wallbridge.
Did you say Harry? Not Harry!"
he shrieked hoarsely. "No; Harry's only a
little fellow!" He paused, and looked meditatively
into the boy's eyes. "It's nearly five
years I've been gone,—he was near twelve
then. Boys," lifting his head painfully and casting
his look slowly round upon his comrades, "I
know him by the eyes; yes, he's my brother!
Let me speak to him alone—stand back a
bit," and at once the men pushed backward
into the form of a wide circle.
"Put down your head, Harry. Kiss me!
Kiss me again!—how's mother? Ah, I was
afraid she might be dead—don't tell her I'm
dead, Harry." He groaned with the pain of
the groin wound. "Closer, Harry; I've got to
tell you this first—maybe it's all I've time to
tell. Say, Harry,"—he began to gasp,—"they
didn't ought to have killed me, the Union
soldiers didn't. I never fired—high enough—all
these years. They drafted me, Harry—tell
mother that—down in New Orleans—and
I—couldn't get away. Ai—ai! how it
hurts! I must die soon 's I can tell you. I
wanted to come home—and help father—how's
poor father, Harry? Doing well now?
Oh. I'm glad of that—and the baby? there's
a new baby! Ah, yes, I'll never see it, Harry."
His eyes closed, the pain seemed to leave
him, and he lay almost smiling happily as his
brother's tears fell on his muddy and blood-clotted
face. As if from a trance his eyes
opened, and he spoke anxiously but calmly.
"You'll be sure to tell them I was drafted—conscripted,
you understand. And I never
fired at any of us—of you—tell all the boys
that." Again the flame of life went down, and
again flickered up in pain.
"Harry—you'll stay by father—and help
him, won't you? This cruel war—is almost
over. Don't cry. Kiss me. Say—do you
remember—the old times we had—fishing?
Kiss me again, Harry—brother in blue—you're
on—my side. Oh I wish—I had
time—to tell you. Come close—put your
arms around—my neck—it's old times—again."
And now the wound tortured him for
a while beyond speech. "You're with me,
aren't you, Harry?
"Well, there's this," he gasped on, "about
my chums—they've been as good and kind—marching,
us, all wet and cold together—and it
wasn't their fault. If they had known—how I
wanted—to be shot—for the Union! It was so
hard—to be—on the wrong side! But—"
He lifted his head and stared wildly at his
brother, screamed rapidly, as if summoning all
his life for the effort to explain, "Drafted,
drafted, drafted—Harry, tell mother and
father that. I was drafted. O God, O God,
what suffering! Both sides—I was on both
sides all the time. I loved them all, North
and South, all,—but the Union most. O God,
it was so hard!"
His head fell back, his eyes closed, and
Harry thought it was the end. But once more
Jack opened his blue eyes, and slowly said in a
steady, clear, anxious voice, "Mind you tell
them I never fired high enough!" Then he lay
still in Harry's arms, breathing fainter and
fainter till no motion was on his lips, nor in his
heart, nor any tremor in the hands that lay in
the hand of his brother in blue.
"Come, Harry," said Bader, stooping tenderly
to the boy, "the order is to march. He's
past helping now. It's no use; you must leave
him here to God. Come, boy, the head of
the column is moving already."
Mounting his horse, Harry looked across to
Jack's form. For the first time in two years
the famous Louisiana brigade trudged on without
their unwilling comrade. There he lay,
alone, in the Union lines, under the rain, his
marching done, a figure of eternal peace; while
Harry, looking backward till he could no longer
distinguish his brother from the clay of the
field, rode dumbly on and on beside the downcast
procession of men in gray.