Perhaps only the good die young. After all, I'm still around.
|Not long ago I went to my niece's wedding up in old Virginia. To make it a memorable trip, my family and I took several extra days to visit with family and to see again some of the great Civil War battlefields.
Needless to say, we went to Harper's Ferry and Gettysburg, spending an entire day at each, then my son and I drove to Antietam. (By this time my wife was tired of climbing hills and ridges, and listening to my endless amateur narration’s on who did what, where, when, why, and how.)
As I regarded my son standing on Burnside's Bridge at Antietam, the location of some very fierce and deadly fighting, I realized how very young he was, and also remembered he was leaving for the US. Marine Corps soon.
His youthful posture brought forth memories of something else. There were literally hundreds of boy soldiers on each sides during the Civil War, many who lie in unmarked graves across scores of blood soaked battlefields.
History records that during the battle of Chattanooga, TN, the barefoot, cold, starving body of a Tennessee boy no more than 13 or 14 was discovered by a Union officer. When the dead soldier's haversack was examined, it was discovered that his entire ration consisted of a hand full of black beans and six roasted acorns. The story also says that the battle hardened Union officer broke down and wept at the sight of the pitiful rations and slim body.
It is not known for certain who the youngest Civil War soldier was, but history does record many who joined the cause at the early age of 10. Confederate records, which have survived list at least 125 enlistees who were 10 years old or younger.
George S. Lambkin of Emona, MS, joined Stanford's Mississippi battery when he was 11. George was severely wounded during the battle of Shiloh before his 12th birthday.
T.J. Bean of Pikensville, AL, was listed as one of the war's youngest recruiters. He organized two companies at the University of Alabama in 1861, at the age of 13.
Also, one of Francis Scott key’s grandsons, Billings Steele, swam the Potomac River in the dead night to join John Singleton Mosby's Rangers. He was a mere 15 years old.
Records note that M.W. Jewett of Oliver Springs, TN, served in the 59th Virginia Regiment at the age of 13, and he was a veteran of the siege of Petersburg, VA.
The University of Virginia had 530 young men enrolled from the southern states when the war broke out. Of these, whose average age was 17 or less, 515 joined the Confederate Army.
There were numerous stories of soldiers too young to climb into their mounts who had to be helped into the saddle before charging into battle.
There were several who reached the rank of colonel and even general, who were not old enough to vote until a year after the war ended.
A young officer recorded that in his company, of the 55th US Colored Infantry, there were some young black soldiers who could not have reached their teens. This unit fought valiantly at the battle of Brice's Crossroads.
There are stories on top of stories about the hardships endured by youngsters during the bleak days of war, from our own American Revolution to modern days.
In Vietnam, at the ripe old age of 22, I was considered old for my position and even called, "The old Man" by most of my men. My platoon's average age was 19.
I guess the saying is true in some respects, which old men make war, and young men die in it. Perhaps only the good die young. After all, I'm still around.