Saturday, September 14, 2013

Courage and humanity

From Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion:
...[T]hese were men who could forget almost at once that they were soldiers and revert to being horrified and sympathetic Samaritans. Young Henry Eyster Jacobs looked out on the morning of July 2nd at the Georgians who had camped in front of the Jacobs house on Middle Street and was amazed to see men who had "breathed fire and fury at their foes" the day before, and "were full of what they were going to do to the hated north," quietly "reading from their pocket testaments" after breakfast. Amos Judson never lost his surprise at how the men of his 83rd Pennsylvania "never had any compunction of conscience in their treatment of an attacking foe"—which was, of course, to kill them—"yet the moment the foe were prostrate and helpless at their feet, they would throw away their guns and everything else to render them assistance." A private in the 20th Georgia went down near Devil's Den; a captured sergeant from the 4th Maine was being prodded rearward, and the Georgian "called out to him for help." The Yankee told him to "put your arm around my neck ... Don't be afraid of me. Hurry up, this is a dangerous place." And as they hobbled off, the incongruity of mercy in the middle of battle struck the Yankee, and he said, "If you and I had this matter to settle, we would soon settle it, wouldn't we?" (A half-century later, the Georgian would publish an account of Gettysburg that included a plaintive inquiry about the sergeant: "If he is living, I would be glad to hear from him.")

Robert Carter of the 22nd Massachusetts found a fatally wounded captain of the 5th Texas who had been left behind after the fight for Devil's Den and the Round Tops, and Carter gave him "water in which we had soaked coffee and sugar ... He expressed his gratitude and gave us a partial history of this attack," as though they had all been gathered around a convivial saloon table. What galled Carter was not the Texan's easy assumption that Carter meant him no harm; it was the persistence of rebel skirmishers in firing on "a sergeant and others" who were attempting to rescue other downed men, despite Carter's efforts to hail the skirmishers, "explaining our object." A man in Amos Judson's 83rd Pennsylvania made repeated trips under fire to bring in wounded Confederates. He was finally "shot dead by the comrades of the men he was attempting to succor." But Judson proclaimed it the "most sublime instance of courage and humanity" he had ever seen "upon the battlefield." (Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Chapter Sixteen: "I have never been in a hotter place.")