Ed. Note: The following document was received by Mark Jaeger of Purdue University Libraries and it is with his expressed permission that I provide it here for you to review. - PC
This was originally published on the Authentic Campaigner website shortly after September 11th, 2001.
Greetings, With the horrible events of this past week in mind, I would like to share the following piece, written by an Indiana veteran of the Civil War, which I recently discovered in the 20 March 1891 issue of the "American Tribune" (a newspaper published for Grand Army of the Republic members). I think, in a number of ways, his observations are appropriate:
TOUCHING ELBOWSWhat is it that causes the nearness between soldiers that is not seen between civilians or men who have not been in the army? Take a man who served in the Army of the Potomac, and another who fought under Sherman or Thomas, or was with Grant at Vicksburg, and the moment each recognizes the other, they are friends. The writer, one day, stepped off a train in Illinois, at a town where all were entire strangers. Immediately two or three stepped up and said "we do not know you but, " pointing to my badge, "we know where you have been." Then there was a smile and a hearty handshake. The badge was enough.
We were old acquaintances at once. Note the parents affection for the child. It is strong. He scarcely waits to count the chances of loosing his own life to rescue it from the fire. He might and probably would exhibit this affection often, if the occasion should arise, but the times that one is called to jeapordize his life, in days of peace for his kindred are few.
During the war, men who had never met each other, till they found themselves touching elbows under the same canopy of smoke amid the hell of battle, gave repeated instances of as great heroism to save each other, day after day and year after year. No matter his age, his size, no question if he spoke English, German, or had just landed from Cork; if he wore the blue, his life was as sacred as if he was a brother. This is what drew men close to each other. As our ranks were thinned we closed up more determined than ever to protect each other and avenge those who had fallen. The writer will never forget the order to "fall in," in front of Vicksburg, how we touched elbows for the fearful charge, how we glanced down the line to see by the faces of the men, better than by words, how much of the determination there was to do or die in the doing. Every man knew that one half of that line would fall, either killed or wounded, within an hour.
These lines were formed and the charges made all during the war. There were made in long lines under Grant at Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, under Thomas at Chickamauga and Nashville, under Sherman at Kennesaw and Atlanta, under Sheridan at Winchester and Cedar Creek, under Meade at Gettysburg and in the Wilderness, and they were made by twos and threes and fours, in thousands of skirmishes. It was by forming these lines and touching elbows in days of danger that the chain of comradeship was welded.
We have never tried to break this chain. We would not have it broken. Only One may do it. We are content to abide, bound by the chain of comradeship; and touching elbows as best we can in our feeble way, wait until He shall break it and order us into final camp.
(William W. Scotton, Company B, 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Brownsburg, Indiana)
Folks, all I can add is that during the past week our ranks "have thinned." But let there be no doubt that WE too will "touch elbows," close the gaps, and march forward, determined to "avenge those who had fallen."
May God Bless America,
Purdue University Libraries
Used with Permission. Requests to reprint or reproduce this document must be directed directly to the author, Mark Jaeger.