“Carlton, for sentry duty!”
“Any volunteers to take his place?”
“Me, me,” said Jack Sanderson, eagerly.
“All right,” said the captain and went on with the roll.
It was a very cold night. Jack never quite knew how it came about. He had been wounded in the hand the day before and his gray jacket was stained a bright red where he had been hit by a stray ball. And “number six” was such a long post. From way up by the general’s tent to way down by the lake. He could feel a faintness stealing over him. He was very tired and it was getting very dark—very dark.
They found him there, sound alseep, in the morning, worn out by the fatigue of the march and the fight which had followed it. There was nothing the matter with him save the wounds, which were slight, and military rules were very strict. To the last day of his life Jack always remembered the sorrow in his captain’s voice as he read aloud the dismal order.
Camp Bowling Green, C. S. A.
Jan. 15, 1863, U. S.
For falling asleep while in a position of trust at a sentry post, private John Sanderson is hereby condemned to be shot at sunrise on Jan, 16, 1863.
By order of
Robert E. Lee,
Lieutenant General Commanding.
Jack never forgot the dismal night and the march which followed it. They tied a hankerchief over his head and led him a little apart to a wall which bounded one side of the camp. Never had life seemed so sweet.
General Lee in his tent thought long and seriously upon the matter.
“He is so awfully young and of good family too; but camp discipline must be enforced. Still it was not much of an offense for such a punishment. The lad was over tired and wounded. By George, he shall go free if I risk my reputation. Sergeant, order private John Sanderson to be brought before me.”
“Very well, sir,” and saluting, the orderly left the tent.
Jack was brought in, supported by two soldiers, for a reaction had set in after his narrow escape from death.
“Sir,” said General Lee sternly, “on account of your extreme youth you will get off with a reprimand but see that it never happens again, for, if it should, I shall not be so lenient.”
“General,” answered Jack drawing himself up to his full height, “The Confederate States of America shall never have cause to regret that I was not shot.” And Jack was led away, still trembling, but happy in the knowledge of a new found life.
Six weeks after with Lee’s army near Chancellorsville. The success of Fredricksburg had made possible this advance of the Confederate arms. The firing had just commenced when a courier rode up to General Jackson.
“Colonel Barrows says sir, that the enemy have possession of a small frame house on the outskirts of the woods and it overlooks our earthworks. Has he your permission to take it by assault?”
“My compliments to Colonel Barrows and say that I cannot spare more than twenty men but that he is welcome to charge with that number,” answered the General.
“Yes, sir,” and the orderly setting spurs to his horse rode away.
Five minutes later a column of men from the 3rd Virginia burst out from the woods and ran toward the house. A galling fire broke out from the Federal lines and many a brave man fell, among whom was their leader, a young lieutenant. Jack Sanderson sprang to the front and waving his gun encouraged the men onward. Half way between the Confederate lines and the house was a small mound, and behind this the men threw themselves to get a minute’s respite.
A minute later a figure sprang up and ran toward the house, and before the Union troops saw him he was half way across the bullet-swept clearing. Then the federal fire was directed at him. He staggered for a moment and placed his hand to his forehead. On he ran and reaching the house he quickly opened the door and went inside. A minute later a pillar of flame shot out of the windows of the house and almost immediately afterwards the Federal occupants were in full flight. A long cheer rolled along the Confederate lines and then the word was given to charge and they charged sweeping all before them. That night the searchers wended their way to the half burned house. There on the floor, beside the mattress he had set on fire, lay the body of him who had once been John Sanderson, private, third Virginia. He had paid his debt.
Published in St. Paul Academy Now and Then magazine (March 1910).