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Echoes From the Battlefield or, Southern Life During the War by Noble C. Williams

From... Echoes From the Battlefield or, Southern Life During the War 
Noble C. Williams


Soon after this, first one, and then another of the Southern States seceded, until at last his own State joined the alliance, all of which was displeasing to him. These States soon formed a compact known as the Confederate States of America. No sooner had this been accomplished than the bombardment of Fort Sumter took place, which ushered into existence one of the most terrible and destructive wars ever known to history, a war in which brother fought against brother, and father was arrayed against son, and continued for nearly four long years; nor did it cease until it had left the South truly desolate. The shrill blast of the bugle, as it called for men good and true as volunteers to sustain its newly created government, did not fail, as it sounded, to penetrate the peaceful home of Doctor C., where it stirred up the warlike spirit of his two young sons, Edward Livingston and Pickens Noble. Edward at once hastened to obey the summons, and was one among the first in his city to enlist for military service, as did also a young Northern man, Robert Clingan by name, who had lived with the family of Doctor C. for more than a year, and was as much attached to them as if they had been his own blood kin. Pickens Noble, the younger son, also wanted to enlist, but as he had not reached his majority, he was by the stern command of his father forced to remain at home. How those days of the long ago, which have slumbered within the walls of my memory for more than thirty-five years, flash forth as brightly before my vision as if they were but yesterday. And in my fancy I can hear the drums beating and the bands playing, and see the glistening bayonets gleaming as they are upheld by men clad in bright uniforms, whose plumes are waving as they begin the march of years. And amid all that brave host of soldiers, as they go forth to battle for the right, none seem more manly or soldierly in their bearing than Edward Livingston and his friend Robert. How well I remember the parting scene as they came in the house to say good-bye; father, mother, sisters, and brother are all assembled, but this assemblage does not seem the joyous one of months ago. A dreadful feeling of unrest, a shadow of sadness is written on the countenance of each as they say good-bye amid caresses and tears; but God alone can only know the heartaches of the fond mother as she showers kiss after kiss upon his cheek and brow and enfolds him in her loving embrace; as she feels it may be for years, and it may be forever, the separation. But one comforting thought to calm her drooping spirit appears, and that is that God in his tender mercy may, when the cruel war is over, restore him to her sheltering arms once more; and then there comes to her a spirit of pride, when she thinks of him as a gallant soldier son loyal to a righteous cause, for which all are praying to succeed. He had gone forth to battle, and if needs be, to die in defense of his country. Not long after his departure the news of battles in which he was engaged came from the front ; his name was to be found neither among the dead, dying, wounded, or captured, which brought to his loved ones a feeling of joy. For nearly two years Edward with his infantry command was to be found in the thickest of many hard-fought battles, but at length the term of their enlistment drew to a close, and they were mustered out of service, each soldier returning to his own home. Edward was truly glad to have the opportunity of returning once more to his dear old home, where the fond parents, sisters, and brother were with out stretched arms anxiously awaiting his arrival; nor did they have long to wait, for Edward was equally as desirous of beholding their dear faces once more as they were to see his. While he was quite a long distance from home when discharged, yet it took him but a short time, as he hastened with all possible speed to reach home. Once home he was for many days the idol of the household, and the grand reception given him was but a gentle reminder of the welcome reception given the prodigal son. For many days he was the center of attraction at home and abroad, for the people never grew tired of listening to this soldier boy as he related his thrilling experiences when on the red fields of carnage, his hair-breadth escapes when so nearly captured, the many ghastly sights he saw; and the acts of bravery and cowardice displayed by men when engaged in battle. 

His stay at home was destined to be of but short duration, for the government had issued another call for volunteers, as the array had been largely depleted, occasioned by the loss of men whose terms of enlistment had expired, as well as the many who were killed in battle. An immense number of troops were now greatly desired to enable the South in some measure to compete in numerical strength with the large and rapidly increasing power of the Union army. When the call came Edward and Robert were not long in deciding to re-enlist for two years longer. But as they had given the infantry their services in the past, they had now decided to enter the cavalry branch of the service; but this time these two young men were to have company, for young Pickens Noble, who had by this time nearly reached his majority, had decided to enter the service. His father, as on the former occasion, vigorously protested, but Pickens firmly insisted on going into service; he informed his father that all young men who remained at home would be termed cowards, and that he would rather fill an honorable soldier's grave than be branded as a coward. His determined argument finally gained for him the consent of his father, and he, Edward and Robert joined Company B, Fulton Dragoons, a cavalry company organized in their city. Edward was an accomplished musician and acted as bugler for his company, which was drilling, perfecting itself in the use of cavalry arms; and when they were sufficiently well drilled they were ordered to go to the front and report for duty. On the morning of the departure it would be hard to depict a sadder scene ; the leave-taking two years before was nothing to compare with it, for at that time only one of the boys was to go, but now the youngest and last was to be sacrificed on the altar of his country. But tears could not continue to forever flow; why should they? Was there not a comforting ray of hope remaining from the experiences of the two who had seen hard service in the past, going through and coming out of many hard-fought battles unscathed not even a scratch or scar to tell of the many hardships they had endured? The boys were soon assigned to serve under that gallant and gentlemanly Southern soldier, General Wade Hampton, then stationed in Virginia, whose command achieved so much praise for their gallantry during the latter two years of the struggle between the States. It was during this campaign that the boys were sorely tried, for the marches were exceedingly long and tiresome, and the duties severely hard as well as dangerous. Battles were a very frequent occurrence, and during one of the most terrible conflicts of the war Edward, who, I have failed to state, was a most skillful physician and surgeon, was placed in charge of an ambulance to drive over the battle-field and bring in the seriously wounded and give them the much-needed medical attention. On this particular occasion, while driving his ambulance filled with wounded soldiers, the enemy charged the Confederates across the field where the wounded soldiers lay. While the rifles were raining their leaden hail, the cannonading was very severe, and one of the exploding shells had the audacity to tear the greater portion of the top of the ambulance off without injury to Dr. Edward; but unfortunately for him he was taken prisoner, but only remaining so for a few moments, as the Confederates, in recharging, gave him an opportunity to escape, which he quickly took, and drove rapidly onward to his own troops, which he soon reached without even receiving a scratch. 


Pickens Noble was a tall, strikingly handsome young man, well-formed, with large gray eagle eyes, and as brave as a lion; but camp life had not seemed to agree with him from the very first. His brother Edward could with his practiced eye discern that some serious disease was threatening to take away his life, and so solicitous was he for Pickens's welfare that he advised him to get a furlough, go home and take a much-needed rest; where, by the kindly attention of their dear mother and medical treatment of their father, he had hopes of his complete recovery. To all the entreaties of Edward he kindly but firmly turned a deaf ear; he flattered himself into believing that he did not feel so badly as might be supposed; and while he would be glad of the privilege of returning to the loved ones at home, yet as a true soldier he felt that his duty bade him stay at his post as long as he was permitted to sit in his saddle or raise a carbine to his shoulder in defense of his country; for nothing but bravery fired by an ambition to perform mighty deeds could have led him into such a serious error. He gradually but surely faded away, his strength failed, his vision grew dim, his cheeks were hollow, and his attenuated frame told only too truly of the near approach of that unchecked conqueror who was now on the way to transform a soldier of Hampton's Legion to a soldier of the cross. The well-trained eye of Edward had not been deceived, for Pickens grew rapidly worse from day to day; he was removed from camp by his brother to the home of a kind Christian Virginia family, where, by the mother and daughter of that household, he was most faithfully watched, nursed and waited upon as tenderly as if he had been a son and brother, but to no saving purpose, for hard riding and severe exposure had brought on a disease from which he could never recover. Only a few more days of weariness, and the tired body of our soldier boy who had worn a jacket of gray had passed away, and his spirit was to give answer to the roll-call of Heaven, where white robes are gladly given in exchange for gray.

Fold it up carefully, and lay it aside;
Tenderly touch it, look on it with pride,
For dear must it be to our hearts evermore,
The jacket of gray our loved soldier-boy wore,

Can we ever forget when he joined the brave band,
Who rose in defense of our dear Southern land,
And in his bright youth hurried on to the fray?
How proudly he donned it the jacket of the gray!

His fond mother blessed him, and looked up above,
Commending to Heaven the child of her love;
What anguish was her's mortal tongue cannot say,
When he passed from her sight in the jacket of gray!

But her country had called, and she could not repine,
Though costly the sacrifice placed on its shrine;
Her heart's dearest hopes on its altar she'd lay,
When she sent out her boy in the jacket of gray.

Months passed, and war's thunders rolled over the land ;
Unsheathed was the sword and lighted the brand;
We heard in the distance the sounds of the fray,
And prayed for our boy in the jacket of gray.

All vain, all in vain, were our prayers and our tears;
The glad shout of victory rang in our ears;
But our treasured one on the red battle-field lay,
While the life-blood oozed out on the jacket of gray.

His young comrades found him, and tenderly bore
His cold, lifeless form to his home by the shore;
Oh! dark were our hearts on that terrible day,
When we saw our dead boy in the jacket of gray.

Ah! spotted, and tattered, and stained now with gore,
Was the garment which once he so proudly wore;
We bitterly wept as we took it away,
And replaced with death's white robe the jacket of gray.

We laid him to rest, in his cold, narrow bed,
And 'graved on the marble we placed o'er his head,
As the proudest tribute our sad hearts could pay,
"He never disgraced the jacket of gray."

Then fold it up carefully, lay it aside,
Tenderly touch it, look on it with pride
For dear to our hearts must it be evermore,
The Jacket of Gray our loved soldier-boy wore.

Caroline A. Ball,
Of Charleston, S. C.

Noble C. Williams, Echoes From the Battlefield or, Southern Life During the War (Atlanta: Franklin Printing & Publishing Company, 1902), 14-23.


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