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Anthology of Louisiana Literature

E. John Ellis.
Edited by Steve G. Ellis.
Battle of Murfreesboro, 1862.

After losing "the best and bravest of my Company", he could not sleep, so he walked the fields of battle's aftermath. There begins some of my favorite, and most eloquent remembrances of his war experience. From his "Retrospect" written while a Prisoner of War at Johnson's Island, Ohio.

"Federal dead and wounded were everywhere. Our men were busily engaged in building fires, and bringing the wounded to them, for the night was very cold. I was particularly interested in a young soldier, a private in an Indiana regiment, about 17 years old by the name of Bowers, from Indianapolis. His wound was mortal. He was shot through the bowels, and from the matter which his wound exuded, I thought his case hopeless. I lifted him gently as I could to the fire, arranged his blanket and threw my own over him. In the silvery voice of boyhood he told me of his widowed Mother and breathed the hope that he would live to see her. I got a surgeon to dress his wounds, and then assisted in putting him into an ambulance."

He also speaks of others, a large Irishman who "expected to be killed by the Rebel if he fell into their hands." The pervading theme was obvious. He couldn't believe that refugees and foreigners would arrive on our shores, and take up arms against the "Rebels", without having any interest in the struggle. They were simply given some money and told to go shoot at the folks in the Grey Uniforms. "God grant the day may come when the remorseless death wheel of the bloody despot shall send to the front full regiments of 'genuine' Yankees. They will turn pale at the Southern Yell, and the South shall be avenged."

"I continued my melancholy walk amid heaps of dead. I have stood on other bloody fields but never have seen death's harvest so rich as it appeared there. I counted until I was tired, and yet there were more to be numbered. Passing through a growth of underbrush through which patches of moonlight fell upon the ground, I ran up against a man. I saw he was a Yankee from his dress. One hand was clinging to a sapling; the other clutched a vine which was swinging to and fro. His back was to me, nor did he notice my having jostled against him. I spoke but no answer came. I advanced and took hold of his arm. Then he turned and broke into a loud and vacant laugh and at that same moment, the moonlight shone on his face and lit up his fierce, restless eyes. His face was all besmeared with dirt and blood, and his hair was stiff with congealed gore. I never saw a more hideous sight. Surely the face of Medusa, with its crown of hissing vipers, was not more terrible. Yet I had but a man to deal with; that man wounded and a maniac. Calling some men who were passing near, we carried him to a fire, washed his head and face, and examined his wound. A Minnie ball had struck him just between and a little above the eyes. It had nearly buried itself yet could be seen and felt in the wound. Our efforts to extract it failed and no surgeon was near. We had to cover him and leave him in the hands of some of the Infirmary corps. I no longer hated that man, or those dead men who lay stark and stiff, gazing with deathly intensity toward the moon. But I still hated those who escaped and still bore arms for the degradation of my Country. The former were unfortunate men; the latter were deadly and cruel enemies."

One last quote; my favorite.

"As I continued my walk among the dead, there was another. The low forehead, the heavy thick mustache and foreign air which death had not naturalized, bespoke the German. Far away, over the broad Atlantic by the flow of the Rhine, in a smiling valley, an honest old man smoked his pipe and drank his brew, and with much pride, remembered his young boy who had gone to the 'great republic' and would return perhaps with wealth to cheer the hearts of those who loved him. The Rhine still will flow between lordly ruins and ancient ivy wreathed castles; the valley shall bloom and smile, the broad roof of the little cottage will shelter the old peasant and his wrinkled dame, but the boy will not return."


Ellis, E. John. "Retrospect." Ed. Steve G. Ellis.

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Anthology of Louisiana Literature