The Recruit's Story
By Frank Luther Mott
Last Sunday afternoon I wandered into Smith Park and sat down on a
bench near the fountain. It was a fine day. The sun shone warmly and I
was one of many men who lounged on those benches and luxuriated in the
grateful warmth of the early spring sunshine.
Men of many kinds were there. There were a few old men, but many were
young, or middle-aged. Unless I am a very poor observer, not a few of
them were drifters.
As I sat there I watched the play of the water falling in the fountain.
I observed the bronze figures of women sitting in the center, musing
over who knows what great world problem; and I saw, surmounting all,
the towering figure of a soldier of the Civil War. There he stood in
his quiet power—apotheosis of the common soldier in the war for the
Union. He wore the great-coat and military cape of the old uniform. He
stood at ease, his left foot advanced, and the butt of his gun resting
on the ground in front of him, while he held the gun-barrel with his
left hand and rested his forearm on the muzzle. He gazed a little past
me, steadfastly, toward a corner of the park. On his face was the look
of the man who is ready—the man undaunted by any emergency—the man
unafraid in the quiet strength of soul and body.
"He it was," I reflected, "who leaped to the colors when Father Abraham
called, and by the might of his loyalty and sacrifice saved his country
in the hour of her greatest need."
Glancing across the park, I saw a poster glaring from the great window
of a salesroom. I could make out three words, printed in giant type:
MEN WANTED NOW!
Again I looked about me at the men lounging, as I was lounging, there
on the benches in the sunlight, some of them asleep. I too felt the
soporific influence of the May sun, and might soon have lapsed into
unconsciousness myself had it not been for a strange thing that
happened just then.
I saw the Union soldier turn his head a little and look directly at me.
I am not given to illusions, being generally considered a
matter-of-fact young man. But, as I live, I saw that Union soldier turn
his head! And more than that, I knew just why he did it.
I had read the papers, and knew my country's need. I had read the
flaming posters calling for men to enlist in her armies. I had read
President Wilson's classic-to-be concerning America's purpose in our
greatest war for liberty. I had not meant to be a slacker; but, some
way, I had not been strongly moved. I was letting the other fellow fill
up the ranks, intending hazily to rally to the colors myself when the
need seemed greater. Even now, I was inclined to argue the matter.
I leaned back in my seat and said, in a conversational tone:
"Now look here, Mr. Union Soldier, the need was greater when you joined
the colors. The Union was threatened; the very existence of the nation
was at hazard. I too will answer the call if worse comes to worst in
"Young man," replied the soldier, his eyes fixed on mine and his voice
deep and calm, "young man, your country's call is your country's call.
This time it is no question of union; thank God, the states stand
indivisible forever. But this time the crisis is even greater, the need
of vision and sacrifice even more vital. This time the liberty, not of
the black man alone, but of the world, is in the balance. Are you deaf
to the call?"
"But listen," I answered. "This is not our war. Nobody has crossed the
sea to strike us."
"Have they not?" he countered. "By spies, by intrigue, by a treacherous
diplomacy, by an unscrupulous policy of world subjugation, the enemy
has invaded our shores. Yet it is not that alone. As I have stood here,
I have heard the cries of the people of ravished Belgium; I have heard
the despairing screams of men and women sinking in watery graves; the
wails of perishing Armenia assail my ears. Do you say it is not our
war? It is! Just as the fate of the black man touched the hearts of us
Northerners, just as the misfortune of the traveler to Jericho touched
the heart of the Samaritan, just as the suffering Christ on the cross
has touched the heart of the world—just so must the woeful cry of a
world perishing to-day touch the heart of America…. And yet I look
about me here! These men drowsing in the sunshine! Are these Americans?
From the field I rushed when Lincoln called, scarcely pausing to bid my
mother good-bye; and I braved cold, and heat, and sickness, and
privation, and terrors by day and night, and rain of shot and shell,
and wounds and suffering and death—all because my country called!"
As he spoke his voice rose to a commanding resonance. He raised his
right arm from the muzzle of the gun where it had rested—raised it
high in impassioned appeal. At last I was moved; tears ran down my
I started—awoke. I had been asleep, and the water from the fountain
was blowing in my face. But was it the spray from the fountain alone
that made my cheeks wet?
I looked up at the bronze figure surmounting the fountain. There the
soldier stood at rest, left foot advanced, arm resting on his gun. His
eyes looked steadfastly toward the corner of the park. But did I not
see a glow of passion on that bronze face—a passion for the Liberty of
I turned to my neighbor on the bench at my left. His eyes were half
"Pardon me, brother," I said. "Can you tell me where the nearest
recruiting station is located?"