University of Massachusetts Amherst - Index Yearbook (Amherst, MA)

 - Class of 1895

Page 136 of 226


University of Massachusetts Amherst - Index Yearbook (Amherst, MA) online yearbook collection, 1895 Edition, Page 136 of 226
Page 136 of 226

University of Massachusetts Amherst - Index Yearbook (Amherst, MA) online yearbook collection, 1895 Edition, Page 135
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University of Massachusetts Amherst - Index Yearbook (Amherst, MA) online yearbook collection, 1895 Edition, Page 137
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Page 136 text:

I recovered myself, at least in part, and listened, not without awe, as the mono- logue went on : " I ' ve been distinguished for beauty and efficiency, petted, loved, feared. A single service I once performed deserves from the country everlasting regard, yet here I ' ve been stationed for years, a nameless, old Napoleon gun ; toy for an awkward squad of college Sophomores. Even for this ignoble duty I ' m now deemed unfit, and am ruthlessly doomed to banishment and oblivion. Did my retirement indicate the cessation of warfare, the end of bloodshed, the advent of universal peace, I ' d joyfully withdraw, and merge my identity in some monument to heroism or humanity; but, no, they just change me off for some prim, new-fangled breech-loader, untried and unreliable, probably more dangerous to friends than foes. " I ' ve been tried and not found wanting. Though scarred with service, smooth- ness and polish gone, tougher fibre than mine does not exist ; and I ' m not old, January 5, 1863, at the Watervliet Arsenal I first saw the light. I joined the Army of the Potomac, and for two long years duty ' s call ever found me in the wild forefront of a giant time, my voice always heard for the true and the right. Now I ' m forgotten and friendless ; the boys who knew and loved me sleep in nameless graves on Southern battlefields. I recall them now, brave fellows and true, they fell in the swamps of the Chickahominy, at Malvern ' s Hill, Manassas, Centreville, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville. On this disastrous field an act of mine changed the course of history. " In a narrow road of the dense woods, with horses hitched up, we patiently waited, six of us, comrades tried, a battery unattached, commanded by Lieut. Frank B. Crosby, Co. F., 3d U. S. Artillery. The sun declined, the rumble of battle away on our right grew more distinct, nearer. Crosby, just from West Point, a true soldier, but a mere boy, could endure it no longer ; the bugle called ' to horse, ' and we moved rapidly toward the sound of conflict. " Across a small clearing drifted in wildest confusion the broken masses of an army, men, horses, wagons, mules, hopelessly disorganized and fear stricken — a stampede. General Pleasonton, with a regiment of cavalry, was trying to clear ground for his battery. Our horses at full run, we dashed through the fugitives ; and Crosby, saluting, reported in a voice heard above the tumult, ' General, I have a battery of six guns ! Where shall I go ? What shall I do ? ' " ' Take position at once on Captain Martin ' s right. ' " In three minutes we were ready for action, while General Pleasonton, with his cavalry, cleared space and succeeded in placing in line ten more guns — an Ohio battery. Staff officers passed the word, ' Be cool, self-possessed, aim low, make every shot tell ' I was double shotted with canister, and so pointed, my projectiles loS

Page 135 text:

l e ttr (Bxxn. I HERE had been a late session of the Index Board. We left the close, hot, room, wearily groped our way, hand over hand, along the crooked balus- trade, down the dark stairway into the night. How refreshing was the cool air. The stars shone brightly, and facing the south wind, inhaling the life- giving oxygen, I strode aimlessly across the campus, found myself in front of the drill hall, iri vicinity of the artillery park, and, standing beside the southern- most gun, leaned languidly back against it, resting my elbows on the piece, as the night wind fanned my hot and aching brow. Few lights burned in the silent colleges, their vigorous 3 ' oung life was hushed in repose. Sounds of the night alone came to my ears ; the distant barking of a dog, the querulous notes of a screech-owl, and the cricket ' s faint, frost-burdened lament. From a distant bell sounded twelve slow, quivering strokes — they died away. Another bell, differently toned and nearer, solemnly sounded its refrain — and was silent. Then, from the spire above me, slowly, but with oppressive weight and distinctness, twelve measured, musical strokes, as if in corroboration, told the mystic hour of midnight. The great waves of sound, turned back by Mt. Pleasant, rolled like a deluge over the westward valley, and as the last faint reverberations ceased, I was startled by a low, deep, hollow voice, close beside me, saying, " Republics are ungrateful. " I turned with a start, but, with eyes now grown accustomed to the darkness, could discern no living thing. Meanwhile, the strange voice, such as never came from human larynx, continued, " Old, infirm, superannuated, am I ? Not abreast of the times ! Well, to ingratitude and neglect I ' ve not grown calloused, at least. " The sound, as I have said, was low and deep ; it was not spoken, it issued, like the murmur from a sea-shell, a continuous stream without accent, pause, or inflex- ion ; a deep, hollow roar, in which, however, words shaped themselves distinctly, unmistakably, sententiously, sometimes sharply, like pictures in a flame. I looked, listened intently, bent low over the old gun, and, in defiance of reason, was soon convinced that from its brazen, blackened, throat came the mysterious sounds. Superstitious fears I have always treated with ridicule and contempt, but down deep in all our natures there are inconsistencies of which we ourselves are scarcely aware till some extraordinary mental upheaval brings them to light, and, in spite of ourselves, the flesh will creep and the breath come quicker. 107

Page 137 text:

would strike the ground a hundred yards to the front, midway to edge of the thick wood, from which we expected the enemy ; then, in the gathering darkness, we silently waited the attack. " In the gloom of the forest, at foot of the hill, a strong force deployed and appeared forming for assault ; but, as they carried several U. S. flags, — captured from the 12th Corps, — General Pleasonton, turning to a staff officer, said, ' Major Thompson, ride out there and see who those people are. ' It was Stonewall Jack- son ' s entire corps, Pender ' s Brigade in advance. They had routed the right wing of our army, and were sweeping victoriously down our entire line. As the mounted officer approached, their front delivered its fire with telling effect. My sergeant went down, and number one threw up the rammer and fell against my wheel, the bullet that shattered his arm making the deep dent in my muzzle. Then, with their well-known yell, the enemy ' s dense columns charged toward us. " Fire ! from General Pleasonton ' s bugle, and twenty-two of us, held in leash, belched forth an avalanche of iron. Continued it, as the boys plied us shrapnell and canister. The earth trembled ; the clearing filled with our dense sulphurous breath ; while the darkness, settling over the forest, was illumined by our incessant fire ; and over all rose our chorus, one unbroken, deafening roar. Again and again the enemy, in heavy masses, vainly strove to carry the hill. Flesh and blood could not withstand that storm of iron ; their battalions sank beneath it. Then our fire slackened, ceased. " The forest below was mown and splintered ; the hillside plowed, torn, and heaped with mutilated forms of men. The enemy ' s victorious march was stayed, and the Army of the Potomac saved. " While the fire was hottest, one of my shrapnells burst in a group of the enemy ' s officers ; four went down ; one, pierced with three bullets, was Stonewall Jackson, the Right Arm of the Confederacy. Friends said he was struck by bullets from his own men, and, doubtless, they thought so ; but in that chaos of thunder, darkness, and death, human eyes availed not. My knowledge is not of the senses, and no untruth passeth my lips. " High above me from the chapel tower rang out a single stroke, heavy, sudden, startling almost as a signal gun, and all was silence. The soliloquy, if such it was, had ceased ; and, thoroughly roused from my intense absorption in this old picture of the time when the Nation ' s fate trembled in the balance, yet pondering deeply the strange revelation, I turned my steps toward the now dark and silent dormitories, realizing the necessity of a few minutes ' sleep, and a few hours ' study before the morrow ' s exam. 109

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