Stand By the Ship by Unknown
"Do, grandmother, tell us about the little drummer boy whose motto was,
'Stand by the ship.'"
"Grandmother is not used to telling children stories; but, if you will
be quiet, she will try." And this is the story she told us:—
During one of the fiercest battles of the civil war, the colonel of a
Michigan regiment noticed a very small boy, acting as drummer.
The great coolness and self-possession of the boy, as displayed during
the engagement; his habitual reserve, so singular in one of his years;
his orderly conduct, and his fond devotion to his drum (his only
companion, except a few well-worn books),—all these things unusual in
one so young had attracted notice, both from the officers and the men.
Colonel B.'s curiosity was aroused, and he desired to know more of him.
So he ordered that the boy should be sent to his tent.
The little fellow came, his drum on his breast, and the sticks in his
hands. He paused before the colonel and made his best military salute.
He was a noble looking boy, the sunburnt tint of his face in good
keeping with his dark, crisp curls.
But strangely out of keeping with the rounded cheeks and dimpled chin,
was the look of gravity and thoughtfulness, in the serious, childish
eyes. He was a boy, who seemed to have been prematurely taught the
self-reliance of a man. A strange thrill went through Colonel B.'s heart
as the boy stood before him.
"Come forward, I wish to talk to you." The boy stepped forward, showing
no surprise under the novel position in which he found himself. "I was
very much pleased with your conduct yesterday," said the colonel, "from
the fact that you are so young and small for your position."
"Thank you, colonel; I only did my duty; I am big enough for that, if I
am small," replied the noble little fellow.
"Were you not very much frightened when the battle began?" questioned
"I might have been, if I had let myself think of it; but I kept my mind
on my drum. I went in to play for the men; it was that I volunteered
for. So I said to myself: 'Don't trouble yourself about what doesn't
concern you, Jack, but do your duty, and stand by the ship.'"
"Why, that is sailors' talk," said the colonel.
"It is a very good saying, if it is, sir," said Jack.
"I see you understand the meaning of it. Let that rule guide you
through life, and you will gain the respect of all good men."
"Father Jack told me that, when he taught me to say, 'Stand by the
"He was your father?"
"No, sir,—I never had a father,—but he brought me up."
"Strange," said the colonel, musing, "how much I feel like befriending
this child. Tell me your story, Jack."
"I will tell it, sir, as near as I can, as Father Jack told it to me.
"My mother sailed on a merchant ship from France to Baltimore, where my
father was living. A great storm arose; the ship was driven on rocks,
where she split, and all hands had to take to the boats. They gave
themselves up for lost; but at last a ship bound for Liverpool took them
up. They had lost everything but the clothes they had on; but the
captain was very kind to them; he gave them clothes, and some money.
"My mother refused to remain at Liverpool, though she was quite sick,
for she wanted to get to this country so badly; so she took passage in
another merchant ship, just going to New York. She was the only woman on
board. She grew worse after the ship sailed; the sailors took care of
her. Father Jack was a sailor on this ship, and he pitied her very much,
and he did all he could for her. But she died and left me, an infant.
"Nobody knew what to do with me; they all said I would die—all but
Father Jack; he asked the doctor to give me to him. The doctor said:—
"'Let him try his hand, if he has a mind to; it's no use, the little one
will be sure to go overboard after it's mother;' but the doctor was
"I was brought safe to New York. He tried to find my father, but did not
know how to do it, for no one knew my mother's name. At last he left me
with a family in New York, and he went to sea again; but he never could
find out anything about my mother, although he inquired in Liverpool and
elsewhere. The last time he went to sea, I was nine years old, and he
gave me a present on my birthday, the day before he sailed. It was the
last; he never came back again; he died of ship fever.
"But Father Jack did well by me; he had me placed in a free school, at
seven years of age, and always paid my board in advance for a year.
"So you see, sir, I had a fair start to help myself, which I did right
off. I went errands for gentlemen, and swept out offices and stores. No
one liked to begin with me, for they all thought me too small, but they
soon saw I got along well enough.
"I went to school just the same, for I did my jobs before nine in the
morning; and after school closed at night, I had plenty of time to work
and learn my lessons. I wouldn't give up my school, for Father Jack told
me to learn all I could, and some day I would find my father, and he
must not find me a poor, ignorant boy. He said I must look my father in
the face, and say to him without falsehood: 'Father, I may be poor and
rough, but I have always been an honest boy and stood by the ship, so
you needn't be ashamed of me.' Sir, I could never forget those words."
He dropped his cap, drum, and sticks, bared his little arm, and showed
the figure of a ship in full sail, with this motto beneath it, pricked
into the skin: "Stand by the ship."
"When I was twelve, I left New York and came to Detroit with a gentleman
in the book business. I was there two years, when the war broke out.
"One day, a few months afterward I was passing by a recruiting office,
and went in. I heard them say they wanted a drummer. I offered; they
laughed and said I was too little; but they brought me a drum and I beat
it for them. They agreed to take me. So the old stars and stripes was
the ship for me to stand by."
The colonel was silent; he seemed to be in deep thought. "How do you
ever expect," he said, "to find your father? You do not even know his
"I don't know, sir, but I am sure I shall find him, somehow. My father
will be certain to know that I am the right boy, when he does find me,
for I have something to show him that was my mother's," and he drew
forth a little canvas bag, sewed tightly all around, and suspended from
his neck by a string.
"In this," he said, "is a pretty bracelet that my mother always wore on
her arm. Father Jack took it off after she died, to keep for me. He said
I must never open it until I found my father, and that I must wear it so
around my neck, that it might be safe."
"A bracelet, did you say?" exclaimed the colonel, "let me have it—I
must see it at once!"
With both his small hands clasped around it, the little boy stood
looking into Colonel B.'s face; then, slipping the string from over his
head, he silently placed it in his hand. To rip open the canvas was but
the work of a moment.
"I think I know this bracelet," stammered Colonel B. "If it be as I hope
and believe, within the locket we will find two names,—Wilhelmina and
Carleton; date, May 26, 1849"
There were the names as he said. Colonel B. clasped the boy to his
heart, crying brokenly, "My son! my son!"
I must now go back in my story. In the first year of his married life,
Colonel B. and his lovely young wife sailed for Europe, expecting to
remain several years in Southern Europe, on account of the delicate
health of his wife. He was engaged in merchandise in the city of
Baltimore. The sudden death of his business partner compelled his return
to America, leaving his wife with her mother in Italy.
Soon after he left, his mother-in-law died. Mrs. B. then prepared to
return to Baltimore at once, and took passage on the ill-fated steamer
which was lost. Vainly he made inquiries; no tidings came of her. At
last he gave her up as dead; he almost lost his reason from grief and
Fourteen years had passed; he did not know that God in his mercy had
spared to him a precious link with the young life so lost and mourned.
Restless, and almost aimless, he removed to Michigan. When the war broke
out, he was among the first to join the army.
There stood the boy, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Father," he said,
"you have found me at last, just as Father Jack said. You are a great
gentleman, while I am only a poor drummer boy. But I have been an honest
boy, and tried my best to do what was right. You won't be ashamed of me,
"I am proud to call you my son, and thank God for bringing you to me
just as you are."
My little hero is now a grown man; and as the boy was so is the man.
"Stand by the ship," the motto which served him so well while a boy, is
his motto still.