A Divided Duty by M. A. Cassidy

The Magill residence was situated near the highways connecting Knoxville and Chattanooga. Encamping armies had burned every splinter of fencing, and so the cleared space was thrown into one great field, encircled by a gigantic hedge of oak and pine. Near the center of the cleared land, on a little eminence, was a farm-house. It was a long, one-story building, running back some distance, its several additions having been constructed as the family required more room. A little to the right, and extending the full length of the house, was a row of negro cabins—there being a passway between the two as wide as an ordinary road. The yard sloped gently to the roadway and railroad; near the latter, another rise began, which extended back to the woodland and commanded an extensive view of the surrounding country.

One afternoon, early in the autumn of 1864, Mrs. Magill and her son Harry, a comely lad of thirteen, sat on the front veranda, and talked of what a happy reunion there would be when their loved ones should return from the war. And on this glorious autumnal afternoon the hearts of the widow and her son were happy in anticipation.

Mrs. Magill had two sons in the war. One wore the Blue, the other the Gray. John, the eldest of three boys, had enlisted in Wheeler's Confederate cavalry, in the second year of the war; and, a year later, Thomas had joined the Federals under General Burnside at Knoxville. Both were known as brave and dashing soldiers, and both had been promoted, for gallantry, to captaincies. This family division was a source of great grief to Mrs. Magill. Dearer to her than Union or Confederacy were her children; and from their youth she had trained them in the ways of peace. And now, in their manhood, two of them, under different flags, were arrayed against each other in a deadly and unnatural strife. She often heard from both her soldier boys, and their inquiries after the welfare of each other were full of tenderness. Harry, as is usual with younger brothers, fairly worshiped both of them. He was no less troubled than his mother when they went away to fight on opposite sides. Their contrary action left him in doubt as to which side he should take. Every boy of his acquaintance was ardent in espousing one side or the other. But what could he do, since he had a brother in each army? Should he become a rebel, Thomas might be displeased; and he loved Tom too well to willfully incur his displeasure. Should he decide to remain loyal to the Union, John might resent it; and he could not think of offending one whom he held in such high esteem. "What shall I do?" he asked himself a great many times a day. The war spirit in him was becoming rampant, and must have scope. He at length took the perplexing question to his mother. She promptly advised him to remain neutral. But somehow Harry got it into his head that neutrality was something very different from manliness. So he made up his mind to be one thing or the other, or—happy thought!—why not be both? And, after puzzling over the question a long time, he settled on the novel idea of making himself half "Rebel" and half "Yankee." In pursuance of this plan, he persuaded his mother to make him a uniform, half of which should be blue, and the other half gray. She made it of a Federal and a Confederate overcoat; and Harry was a queer-looking little fellow as he went about the country, clad in his blue-gray uniform, the U. S. A. buttons on one side, and the C. S. A. on the other. The boys called him a "mongrel"; and neither the Federal nor Confederate commands of boy soldiery would allow him in their ranks. This was a source of great mortification to Harry; but he was seriously in earnest, and fully resolved to carry out his campaign of impartial affection. His being cut by the other boys, who could afford to take a decided stand because they did not have a brother on each side, reduced him to the necessity of playing "war" (about the only game indulged in by Southern boys at this time) alone. When he put up his lines of corn-stalk soldiers, to play battle, it was observed, by his mother, that both sides always won an equal number of victories. Harry was not sure that the war could ever end at this rate of even fighting; but arrayed as he was, in the colors of both armies, his inclination was to be true to both. There were generally tears in his mother's eyes, when she saw that two of the corn-stalk soldiers, the tallest and straightest of them all, representing John and Thomas, were always left standing, even after the most furious of contests, in which all the others had fallen.

Harry had left off playing quite early, on the afternoon of which I write, and had joined his mother on the veranda. They had not been long together when something unusual attracted their attention.

A short distance down the railroad a body of cavalrymen had dismounted, and soon they were as busy as ants, tearing up the track. One squad preceded the others and loosened the rails by drawing the spikes; then came another squad that placed the ties in great heaps; after this came a third that kindled fires beneath them. The ties were rotten and dry, and, in a very few moments, there were scores of bright, hot fires. Soon the rails were at a red heat near the center, the ends being comparatively cool. While in this state a number of men would take the rails and bend them around telegraph poles or any solid objects that were near. The soldiers twisted the rails into fantastic shapes; and when they were through with their work of destruction, they seemed perfectly satisfied that none of the old material could be used in reconstructing the road. Harry and his mother had observed the operations of these men with much interest for some time, when suddenly they saw one of them mount his horse, and ride toward the house.

"He is a rebel!" exclaimed Harry, who stood watching the approaching horseman.

"Surely you are mistaken, Harry. There can be no Confederates here," said Mrs. Magill, "the Federals are too near."

While yet the soldier was some distance from the house, the boy's face lighted up with joy, as he exclaimed:

"Oh, mother, I do believe it's John!"

"John? Where is he?" asked his mother, running to where the boy stood.

"Why, there, on the horse! He's coming home! He's coming home!" And thus exclaiming, Harry danced around the veranda like an Indian lad in a first war-dance. Then he ran to meet his brother in gray. Mrs. Magill was thrilled with sensations of joy and fear: joy, because she was about to see again her eldest son, after a painful separation of two years; fear, because of the nearness of the Federals. When within a short distance of his brother, Harry stopped and waited there, prepared to give the military salute due one of his brother's rank. But that salute was never given; for almost at the same instant that Harry stopped, Captain John Magill reined up his horse quite suddenly, drew a pistol from its holster, and looked suspiciously toward a clump of trees on the hill-top. Harry turned his eyes to learn what had startled his brother. He beheld a score or more of men in blue uniforms, partly concealed by the clump of trees; and it was evident that these were the vanguard of a larger body of Federals. Captain John Magill wheeled as suddenly as he had halted, and galloped back to the Confederates engaged in demolishing the railroad. As fast as he could run, Harry followed. Mrs. Magill comprehended the situation; and, spell-bound, she stood on the veranda, with arms outstretched, a statue of anguish and expectancy.

When Captain John Magill reached his comrades, he gave the alarm, and "there was mounting in hot haste." The two hundred raiders had time only to form an irregular line of battle, when twice as many Federals appeared on the hill-top. It was evident that there was going to be a lively skirmish. Harry singled out John, who rode up and down the line giving commands, and running to him, he clasped him around a leg with both arms, enthusiastically exclaiming:

"Howdy, John! Don't you know me?"

The young captain looked down at the joy-beaming face of his little brother, but, as he had never seen the little fellow in his fantastic uniform, for a moment failed to recognize him.

A shade of disappointment flitted over Harry's face as he said:

"I am your little brother Harry; and I'm just as much Rebel as Yankee."

Captain John Magill laughed as he leaned over and grasped Harry's hand.

"Why, Harry! What on earth are you doing here? Get up behind me, and I will gallop home with you before the firing begins," said John, evidently alarmed for the boy's safety. Placing his foot on that of his brother, Harry clambered up behind. By this time the lines were in range of each other, and a lively fusillade at once began. Harry behaved manfully under fire, and entreated his brother to allow him to stay until the fight was over. But the elder brother was intent on taking him to a place of safety, so putting spurs to his horse he rode swiftly toward the house. His plan was to return the boy to his mother, and then rejoin his comrades. But the Confederates did not know his intentions; and seeing their Captain making his way rapidly to the rear, with this strangely-clad boy behind him, they of course thought him retreating, and they followed pell-mell.

Captain John Magill saw the effect of his movement, and, halting, made an effort to rally his men. But the Confederates were thoroughly stampeded, and they dashed madly away. The shouting Federals were now at close range, and the bee-like song of the bullets could be heard on every side. Hastily placing Harry in front of him, to shield him as much as possible from the enemy's fire, he followed his men, now some distance in advance. When they reached the house, Mrs. Magill stood pale and motionless, expecting every moment to see her children fall. Glancing back, Captain John Magill saw that a moment's delay would make him a prisoner; so as he dashed past his mother he cried out, "Don't be uneasy. I'll take care of Harry"; and then he was gone like the wind, his pursuers not a hundred yards behind him. Then a complete change came over Mrs. Magill. Impelled by the great love of a mother, she ran into the yard, and stood calmly in the way of the advancing Federals, whose course lay between the cabins and the house—as if to stop, with her frail form, the impetuous charge.

On they came like a hurricane. The mother did not move. Her eyes were closed and her lips compressed. Very near her sounded the hoof-beats. A moment more and she expected to be trampled to death beneath those hurrying feet; but she hoped—yea, and prayed—that her death might somehow delay the Federals until her sons should escape.

"Halt! Halt!" The command was in thunder tones, and was echoed and re-echoed along the charging line. The soldiers pulled with all their might on the bits, and many a horse was thrown back on his haunches. Opening her eyes Mrs. Magill saw that the Federal captain, bending over her from his saddle, was her son Thomas.

"Oh, Thomas!—would you kill John and Harry!" she exclaimed, and then fell fainting in his arms. Laying her tenderly on the veranda, he directed a surgeon to attend her, and mounting his horse, rode rapidly in the direction taken by his brothers. Soon he saw them a quarter of a mile ahead. Taking a white handkerchief he held it aloft, and digging the spurs deep into his horse's flanks, he rode with increased speed, all the time hallooing at the top of his strong voice. John heard; but, thinking it a summons to surrender, he urged his horse forward, hoping to gain the sheltering wood. But the horse, in attempting to jump across a washout, stumbled and fell; and John found himself rolling on the ground with Harry in his arms. Rising, he placed Harry behind him, and drew his sword, determined to sell their lives dearly. Imagine his surprise when he beheld but one pursuer, and that one holding on high an emblem of peace. In a moment more, he recognized his brother. Their meeting was affectionate. Harry was beside himself with joy. He had really been under fire, with "sure-enough bullets" singing about his ears! This was something of which none of the boys who had scorned his blue-gray uniform could boast!

"Our brother is a brave little fellow. He did not once flinch when your bullets were singing around us," he heard John say to Thomas, and this praise elated the boy very much.

"Let us return to mother. She is very anxious," said Thomas.

John gazed inquiringly at his brother in blue.

"You need have no fear," said Thomas. "I will be responsible for your safety."

So the two soldier brothers, leading their horses, and each holding one of Harry's hands, walked up to the house.

"I see you wear the gray, Harry; that's right," said John, with a malicious glance at Thomas.

"He is true blue on this side," said Thomas, laughing heartily, as the ludicrousness of Harry's uniform dawned upon him.

An affecting meeting was that between mother and sons; and something on the cheeks of the brave men who were present "washed off the stains of powder."

When parting time came, the sun rested, like a great ruby, above the circling wood of crimson and gold; and when the brother in blue stood hand in hand with the brother in gray, all nature seemed to smile in anticipation of the time when a fraternal grasp should reunite the North and South.

This day was the turning-point in Harry's life. Thenceforth all his inclinations were to become a soldier. After the war, he was educated by John and Thomas; and, passing his examination triumphantly over three of the boys who had derided him, he was appointed to West Point. He is now Lieutenant Henry Magill, U. S. A.

His brothers still treasure the little blue-gray uniform as the memento of a "divided duty."