“We Carved Not a Line, We Raised Not a Stone.”
by Phil Spaugy
It can be difficult at times to come up with a proper blog post on a subject such as Memorial Day. To write with the proper depth of emotion and respect of such a solemn day where we recognize and remember those who, by sacrificing their lives blessed us with the most precious of gifts of liberty and freedom. For those of us with an interest in the soldiers of the American Civil War, there is in my view no better way to try to connect with the feeling of loss and sacrifice of the common soldier during that conflict than to re-visit the story of Si Klegg and his “pard” Shorty as related in the book ” Corporal Si Klegg and His Pard Shorty, How They Lived, Talked and What They Did and Suffered While Fighting For The Flag” by Wilbur Hinman. While students of the war know that this book is a work of fiction, they also realize that the author served during the war as a major in the 65th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and his book is based on his war-time experiences.
So then lets join Si and Shorty as they stand in the ranks after a major battle for their company roll call:
After breakfast Company Q, of the 200th Indiana, was drawn up in line for roll-call, for the first time since the havoc of the fight. One of the lieutenants had been killed and the other wounded. Only the captain remained of the officers. The company looked a mere squad when contrasted with the full ranks with which it went so bravely into battle. There were sad faces and aching hearts as the men thought of loved comrades who had marched by their side, whose familiar touch they would feel no more.
“Call all the names,” said the captain to the orderly, “and let the men answer for their comrades who are not here to speak for themselves.”
“Sargeant Gibson.” …killed; shot through the head!”
“Sargeant Thompson.””Wounded in the thigh while holding the colors.”
“Corporal Brown.” “Mortally wounded; died the morning after the fight!”
Si’s response was clear and full, as if he was proud to be “here.” There was a perceptible tremor in his voice, however, for his heart was full of tender memories of those who had gone down before the storm.
“Private Anderson”….Here !”
“Aultman.” … “Dead… fell by my side and never spoke a word!”
“Barnes.”….”Right arm torn off by a piece of shell; in hospital.”
“Connolly.”..”Killed in the charge when we drove ’em!”
And so it went on through the list. Little wonder that the captain wept, as he stood with folded arms listening to the responses, and looking with feelings of mingled pride and grief upon what remained of his gallant company! Little wonder that tears trickled down through the dust and grime, over the faces of men strong and brave! Little wonder that lips quivered and voices trembled with emotion, and the words, in answer to the call of the orderly, found difficult utterance!After the roll was finished the captain tried to speak a few words of compliment to his men, but heart and voice failed him. Vainly striving to control his feelings he bade the orderly dismiss the company, and turned away with streaming eyes.
Later in the day an order was issued for a detail from each company to go upon the field where the regiment fought, and discharge the last sad duty—that of gathering and burying the dead. As yet the slain of the army were lying where they fell, scattered over miles of field and copse and wood.
The orderly of Company Q called for volunteers, and the necessary number stepped promptly to the front, Si Klegg and Shorty among them. Picks, spades and stretchers were supplied, and the detachment from the 200th. in charge of an officer, started upon its mournful mission.
A suitable spot was selected and a long trench dug, seven feet wide and three feet deep. Then the mangled and stiffened corpses were borne thither upon stretchers. They were wrapped in the blankets which they had carried over their shoulders when they went into the fight, and which still encircled their lifeless bodies, reddened by the blood of those who wore them. The men laid their dead comrades side by side in the trench. Then the earth was shoveled in, and those familiar faces and forms were hidden from the eyes of the living. At the head of each was placed a bit of wood, perhaps a fragment of a cracker box, with his name, company and regiment penciled upon it for future identification.
Few words were spoken during these sad rites. Hearts were too full.
“Shorty,” said Si, as they marched back to the bivouac, that’s the best we could do fer the poor boys, but it’d make me feel bad ter think I was goin’ ter be buried that way, hunderds o’ miles from home ‘n’ friends, ‘n’ ‘thout even anybody to speak a prayer. I think a man’t willin’ly gives his life fer his country as they did—an’ ye know that’s jest all a man kin do—desarvessuthin better ‘n that kind o’ plantin’, like so many pertaters in a row.”
“Ye keep gittin’ sentermental, Si,” replied Shorty. “That’s all well ‘nough, but it don’t matter much what they do with ye after a bullet’s gone through yer head. I’d’s lief be buried one place’s nuther. Anyhow, it’s a part o’ war. Ye git killed ‘n’ they dig a hole ‘n’ tumble ye in, ‘n’ that’s all’t military glory ‘mounts to!”
So this weekend, when you are enjoying the “Memorial Day Holiday” make the time to visit a local cemetery and perhaps prove Shorty’s perception of military glory wrong. Pause to gaze with silent reverence upon the rows of American flags, and if you are so inclined say a prayer of thanks to all the Si Klegg’s and Shorty’s of our history. They will hear you and know that while military glory might be fleeting, they lie not forgotten by those generations of Americans for whom they gave their “Last Full Measure of Devotion.”