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Good Stories for Great Holidays by  Frances Jenkins Olcott

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TWO HERO-STORIES OF THE CIVIL WAR

BY BEN LA BREE (ADAPTED)

I. BRAVERY HONORED BY A FOE


[148] IN a rifle-pit, on the brow of a hill near Fredericksburg, were a number of Confederate soldiers who had exhausted their ammunition in the vain attempt to check the advancing column of Hooker's finely equipped and disciplined army which was crossing the river. To the relief of these few came the brigade in double-quick time. But no sooner were the soldiers intrenched than the firing on the opposite side of the river became terrific.

A heavy mist obscured the scene. The Federal soldiers poured a merciless fire into the trenches. Soon many Confederates fell, and the agonized cries of the wounded who lay there calling for water, smote the hearts of their helpless comrades.

"Water! Water!" But there was none to give, the canteens were empty.

"Boys," exclaimed Nathan Cunningham, a lad of eighteen, the color-bearer for his regiment, "I can't stand this any more. They want water, and water they must have. So let me have a few canteens and I'll go for some."

Carefully laying the colors, which he had borne on many a field, in a trench, he seized some [149] canteens, and, leaping into the mist, was soon out of sight.

Shortly after this the firing ceased for a while, and an order came for the men to fall back to the main line.

As the Confederates were retreating they met Nathan Cunningham, his canteens full of water, hurrying to relieve the thirst of the wounded men in the trenches. He glanced over the passing column and saw that the faded flag, which he had carried so long, was not there. The men in their haste to obey orders had forgotten or overlooked the colors.

Quickly the lad sped to the trenches, intent now not only on giving water to his comrades, but on rescuing the flag and so to save the honor of his regiment.

His mission of mercy was soon accomplished. The wounded men drank freely. The lad then found and seized his colors, and turned to rejoin his regiment. Scarcely had he gone three paces when a company of Federal soldiers appeared ascending the hill.

"Halt and surrender," came the stern command, and a hundred rifles were leveled at the boy's breast.

"Never!  while I hold the colors," was his firm reply.

The morning sun, piercing with a lurid glare [150] the dense mist, showed the lad proudly standing with his head thrown back and his flag grasped in his hand, while his unprotected breast was exposed to the fire of his foe.

A moment's pause. Then the Federal officer gave his command:—

"Back with your pieces, men, don't shoot that brave boy."

And Nathan Cunningham, with colors flying over his head, passed on and joined his regiment.

His comrades in arms still tell with pride of his brave deed and of the generous act of a foe.

II. THE BRAVERY OF RICHARD KIRTLAND

Richard Kirtland was a sergeant in the Second Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. The day after the great battle of Fredericksburg, Kershaw's brigade occupied the road at the foot of Marye's Hill.

One hundred and fifty yards in front of the road, on the other side of a stone wall, lay Sykes's division of the United States Army. Between these troops and Kershaw's command a skirmish fight was continued through the entire day. The ground between the lines was literally covered with dead and dying Federal soldiers.

All day long the wounded were calling, "Water! water! water!"

In the afternoon, Sergeant Kirtland, a Con- [151] federate soldier, went to the headquarters of General Kershaw, and said with deep emotion: "General, all through last night and to-day; I have been hearing those poor wounded Federal soldiers out there cry for water. Let me go and give them some."

"Don't you know," replied the general, "that you would get a bullet through you the moment you stepped over the wall?"

"Yes, sir," said the sergeant; "but if you will let me go I am willing to try it."

The general reflected a minute, then answered: "Kirtland, I ought not to allow you to take this risk, but the spirit that moves you is so noble I cannot refuse. Go, and may God protect you!"

In the face of almost certain death the sergeant climbed the wall, watched with anxiety by the soldiers of his army. Under the curious gaze of his foes, and exposed to their fire, he dropped to the ground and hastened on his errand of mercy. Unharmed, untouched, he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised his drooping head, rested it gently on his breast, and poured the cooling life-giving water down the parched throat. This done he laid him carefully down, placed the soldier's knapsack under his head, straightened his broken limbs, spread his coat over him, replaced the empty canteen with a full one, then turned to another sufferer.

[152] By this time his conduct was understood by friend and foe alike and the firing ceased on both sides.

For an hour and a half did he pursue his noble mission, until he had relieved the wounded on all parts of the battlefield. Then he returned to his post uninjured.

Surely such a noble deed is worthy of the admiration of men and angels.


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