What a Boy Saw in the Army

Feb 18, 2013 by

whataboyWhat a Boy Saw in the Army by James Bowman Young was originally published in 1894 and is the story of a boy, and what he saw in the army…

“In i860, and the first half of 1861, when the storm of war was brewing, Jack was away from home at a boarding school. He had some notion of going to college after he had finished the preparatory course of study at the academy, for he was fonder of books and school than of anything else. He was a thin, pale, delicate-looking fellow, who liked to read an interesting tale better than play townball; who always felt afraid of getting hit when he helped to storm a snow fort, and who did not care for violent romps, outdoor sports, and active games. Indeed, he was so disposed to mope over his book and become absorbed in a story that very often he had to be chased from the house into the fresh air before he could be forced to take any outdoor exercise.

Of course nobody supposed that such a boy ever would make a soldier. There were but few martial influences or heroic surroundings, indeed, in this lad’s neighborhood to develop soldierly inclinations. Once in a long while the people came from the back townships to the place where the militia, with their plumes and old-fashioned accouterments, went through the movements of training day — a great occasion in the young lad’s life. His earliest impressions of “a trainer” left stamped childish vision a vivid picture of a prancing steed and a dashing, befeathred, full-armed creature, of an order higher than the human race, in some strange way permanently united to the animal which he proudly bestrode, the horse and rider making but one magnificent being, which appeared on earth once in a groat delight the assembled people !

The sham battles of that time were frightful to the little lad, and it is within his distinct recollection that on the first occasion when he heard the cannon fired off on the Fourth of July he ran home as fast as his shivering legs would carry him and hid under a bed, ashamed to let anybody know how terrified he was, stifling his sobs as best he could, and striving to stop his ears at the same time and shut out the horrible sound of the big black gun. A standing memorial of one of these national salutes was known through the country in the shape of a ghastly artificial arm, ending in a steel hook, worn by a poor fellow who had been maimed by a premature discharge of the cannon.

Once, it is true, the boy saw some real soldiers, a forlorn, sunburnt, weather-beaten body of volunteers, returning from the war in Mexico. The sight of these brave men, who had actually been in battle, some of them wounded and a few of them very ill, crowded upon a canal boat and greeted with cheers and enthusiasm and tears by the people on the banks, a tough little drummer waking the echoes with his drum, and a torn flag waving proudly overhead — this is one of the boy’s very earliest memories of childhood. There was not much in these things, it is clear, to prompt him ever to become a soldier. But there dawned an hour when the boy became a man, when, although still in his teens, fragile and unmuscular, there was roused within him a love for his country, a spirit of devotion to the Stars and Stripes, an appreciation of the meaning of the words liberty and union, such as belong to full-fledged manhood. How all this came about we shall see in due course of this story.”

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