Saturday, January 25, 2014

'Story from the Civil War relates strange turn of fate'

George 'Buster' Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton wrote a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Story from the Civil War relates strange turn of fate,” was originally published in the Feb. 8, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Since early childhood, I have been an avid reader of Civil War history and have devoted many, many hours to studying the military tactics used on both sides. I have traveled many miles to visit and witness first hand the many battlefields where so many young Americans lost their lives fighting for what they thought was right.

There are many misconceptions about the Civil War. More lives were lost in this great struggle than in all the other wars that this country has been engaged in. Hardly a home existed within the South that didn’t feel the tragedy of losing a loved one on some distant battlefield.

My paternal great-grandfather fell during the terrible battle of Shiloh, Tenn. My great-great-uncle also received serious wounds during the worst years of the war. My maternal great-great-grandfather came home to his family a wounded and very sick man. This wound was to cripple him for the rest of his life. He was never again able to do any kind of manual labor so as to provide for his family. His two brothers, also victims of many of the bloody conflicts, provided the labor to help run the small farm that grew the much needed food for his children to survive.

Stories passed along

During my early childhood, I had many stories related to me about the Civil War. These were handed down by my grandparents on both sides, as they had been handed down to them on chilly winter evenings while sitting around warm fireplaces.

It was during the battle of Chickamauga, Tenn., when a company of Confederate soldiers had overrun a portion of Union skirmishers. The Rebels were in pursuit of the retreating Union skirmishers when a solider in blue was noticed lying on the ground, suffering from a serious gunshot wound.

The Union soldier was asking for a drink of water. A Rebel soldier stopped just long enough to place the wounded soldier in blue’s head on his knapsack and then to take his own canteen and place it in the hand of the wounded Yankee.

As the fighting grew more and more intense, the Rebel forces were beginning to be pushed back over the same ground that they had earlier taken. Again the Rebel soldier who had left his canteen came to the wounded Yankee. As he was about to pass him by, the wounded Federal soldier beckoned him to stop. He spoke these words: “Brother, something tells me that we will live through this battle, and that some day we will meet again.” The Rebel then wished him luck and hurried on to join his comrades.

Had he lived?

Twenty years passed after the dreaded war came to a close. The Confederate soldier thought many times about the wounded Union soldier that he had left lying there in the mud. His thoughts were always on whether the wounded solider had lived.

One day this old Rebel warrior chanced to pick up a newspaper that had arrived from New Orleans by way of the steamboat. As he read through the paper, he came upon this item: “If the Confederate solider who gave a wounded Federal soldier a canteen of water during the battle of Chickamauga will write me at the Hotel New Orleans, he will learn something of interest to him. James Randolph.”

The surprised and amazed Rebel soldier put a letter in the mail that same day. A few days later, a telegram came with instructions to come to the hotel in New Orleans. The Confederate had lost everything in the war – his place and everything of value that could be turned into money that would buy his passage on a steamboat headed in that direction. Feeling that it was his duty to go and see this person, he finally worked his way downriver and on to New Orleans as a deckhand on a large steamboat.

The old Rebel soldier arrived at the hotel at 2 p.m. He inquired about a Randolph who was supposed to be staying there. The desk clerk said this Randolph had been there for some time; he was near death with consumption.

A familiar canteen

The Rebel soldier was shown to Randolph’s room. Upon the bed, lay an old, gray-haired man; the old man stretched out his hand and asked the Confederate to relate to him the circumstances of the Battle of Chickamauga and the story of the water canteen. When the story was finished, the man with gray hair instructed a companion in the room to bring to him and old and worn canteen with the initials, J.W.F., Co. A, 17th Ala. The old Rebel soldier recognized the worn and dirty canteen as being the one that he had placed in the hands of the wounded Union soldier many years back on the bloody battlefield of Chickamauga.

The old man spoke very feebly. “Is this your canteen?” The aging Rebel warrior replied, “It is.” The old man on the bed reached up and shook the hand of the man who had left the canteen that fateful day. He then motioned to his companion, and the man left the room hurriedly. This old man on the bed handed the canteen to its owner and said, “I now return your property.”

Within a few minutes, the man who had departed the room returned. He had brought with him a banker from a bank down the street. The old Union soldier slowly raised his head from his pillow and instructed the banker to draw a draft on his bank for $10,000. The bank was to pay the amount upon presentation of the draft. The banker did as he was told; he then left the room.”

Paying him back

The old man stated that since the war, he had become very rich. He told the old Rebel that he was going to die, and he wanted him to have the money for giving him that drink of water as he lay wounded many years earlier at Chickamauga.

The old Union soldier slowly raised his hand in a feeble salute, and in fading words whispered, “Goodbye, brother.” The old warrior slowly lowered his hand and coughed once. Without a struggle, the breath left his body; he entered the sleep that knows no awakening.

The remains of the old Union soldier were placed in a casket and sent back to Illinois for burial and to wait for that final bugle call that will muster all of those who wait in the many forgotten cemeteries throughout our nation for the final roll call of Eternity.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanished year has flown,
The story how you fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter’s blight,
Nor time’s remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of holy light
That gilds your glorious tomb.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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