(From the Southern Illustrated News.)
One cold raw morning during the last winter, a hearse, followed by four or five soldiers, passed through the gateway of "Hollywood Cemetery" to that portion of the ground appropriated for the burial of those who had died in the city hospitals, or who were brought in from the battle-field. The open grave was there ready to receive the remains of the youthful sleeper who, far, far away from his bright Southern home, and his fair-haired sisters and brothers, and heart-stricken widowed mother, had fallen in the cause to which his young heart had given its warm affections, and for which his manly hand had battled.
His comrades, who were now following him to his last resting-place, seemed dogged and sullen, or rather sternly silent, as they lowered him into the ground. It was earlier than the hour in which the Chaplain paid his regular visit to the cemetery, and beside themselves and the sexton and his assistants, there was but a solitary female-- a lady, gentle, beautiful, and, above all, good, good as a good woman only can be--standing at the spot.
"Lower him down, Jim," said one of the soldiers, breaking the silence, "and you, Bob, slacken your hold--this infernal cord cuts my hands, and I'm tired, anyhow, of this sort o' work. Ten out of our hospital since yesterday morning. I wish I was dead too, I do."
"Are we going to put him away so?" replied one of his companions. "The old woman, his mother, will ask me all about him when I get back to Mississippi, and where he is buried, and who buried him, and all that, and I do feel as if 'twas mighty hard, when we come fighting and die in the hospitals, that we should be put away like dogs."
"Jim," said the first speaker, " that's nonsense. I don't believe in these things much, anyhow. I'm ready to give up myself, I am. Poor Bill is dead, and there's an end of him--fill up, boys, fill up, I say."
At this moment, the lady, whose presence had not been noticed, approached the last speaker, and in a soft gentle voice, in which seemed mingled pity and sympathy, said, yet in a low, but clear tone, "do not cover him up yet; I will hold the service of the dead over him, so that when your friend sees his poor mother, he may tell her that her boy had Christian burial."
The soldier started back, somewhat surprised, at the unexpected interruption, and replied, "Well, it will do him no harm, anyhow, if it does him no good--and there's no more of him, for that matter."
It was a touching
sight, in the chill raw morning, to see that group around the grave of
the dead volunteer. There stood those sun-bronzed men looking down upon
the coffin of their late companion, tearless and silent; and there also
stood that calm, thoughtful, beautiful woman, one who would have shrunk,
perhaps, from reading aloud in the drawing room the last poem from the
pen of Mrs. Browning, or the brilliant lyric, flung from the brain of a
Byron or a Moore--there she stood, and with clear voice and face radiant
with holy purpose, readó
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
"I know that my Redeemer liveth and that He shall stand at the last day upon earth, and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom mine eyes shall behold for myself and not another."
"Forasmuch as it has pleased Almighty God in His wise Providence, to take out of this world the soul of our deceased brother, we therefore commit his body to the ground--earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust--looking for the general resurrection in the last day and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead, and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in Him shall be changed, and made like unto His own glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto himself."
"I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me write, from henceforth, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors."
When the sublime ritual, read in the reverential and solemn temper and tone suited to the occasion, was over, and the dead man's grave was filled up and the earth patted neatly upon it, they turned to leave the spot, the speaker among them, first referred to, saying,
"I'm obliged to you, ma'am, for your kindness; and if I write to Bill's mother, who shall I say buried him?"
"Simply say a lady read the funeral services of the Episcopal Church at his grave," replied the party addressed; "but before you go, sit down and let us talk a little with you."
"You are young men," continued the lady, "you are far from your homes, in a strange land to you. You have come to fight your country's battles, you are fighting in a just cause, and a just God will sanction this devotion of yours to be the patriotic purposes that brought you hither. But I heard you," addressing this individual specially, 'give utterance to sentiments this morning which, I trust, are not the real feelings of your soul, nor the sober reasoning of your mind You spoke of death as being the end. You said that your dead friend, now lying in that cold, fresh grave, was a thing of naught. You wished to die yourself. The latter was unmanly in you--the coward only wishes to lie down and die; the brave though willing to pour out his life's blood in the battle-field for his country, would rather live to see that country achieve her independence, and to know that his hand had helped to the glorious consummation.--The former was sinful; it was worse, it was profane. I tremble when I hear a soldier speak thus. A Southern soldier, a soldier fighting in a cause so holy, so just as is ours should, of all others, put his trust in God. To deny the future being, is to deny the truth of God's word--to deny that, is to leave the soul in the dark, and to strip even patriotism of its grand incentive, the inquest of posterity.
"If there be no future, why should men strive to win a good name that shall survive them when they are in the grave? If there be no future--if men live, perish, and turn to dust, only to dust-- if the soul is not conscious hereafter, why, I say, do we almost unconsciously, certainly intuitively, cling to the hope that we will be remembered by those we leave behind? Young man, I call trace in that one sentiment, uttered so sternly, and, I may add, so sadly too, the secret of that despondency, the parent of that apathy which, I am sorry to say, fills the bosoms of so many who meet death, not with the firmness of the patriot, but the indifference of the hopeless. I know that a soldier's life, in the camp, away from the influences of home, the neighborhood of churches, and the recurrence of Sabbath observances, is a dangerous one; and, if left to itself, the mind is too apt to become a prey to other influences fatal to its healthfulness, and permanently hurtful to its improvement in those things which make true men, fearing God and working righteousness. Prayer is often neglected, the word of God is not read, and the heart, instead of being a field in which flowers and fruit, the growth of the seed of righteousness sown therein, flourish and ripen, becomes the corrupt soil where the enemy sows tares, which, when they have brought forth, over-run and choke the good seed planted there, perhaps, by a mother or a father now cold in the grave; and what must the end be?"
The young man looked thoughtful. His companions listened attentively, and one or two could be seen brushing away a stray tear with their coat-sleeves.
"My mother," said he, "used to talk to me so," and his voice grew softer. How the heart will soften at that name!
"Where is your mother?"
"Do you think that she, she who brought you into this world--nursed you, taught you, loved you with a mother's love, and now lies mouldering in her grave in your distant home, is nothing but dust? Do you think she would have sought to instill a falsehood into your mind, and have died with that falsehood on her lip and in her heart?"
"No," replied he, bluntly.
"Then why did you say, 'I don't believe much in these things anyhow. Poor Bill is dead, and there's an end of him?"
"I said so because I felt heart-sick, and tired, and out of sorts; and because I thought that a soldier's life, that of a private, a hard life, and that nobody cared particularly for him; and in the hospital, the attentions to the sick are so general, that one feels, at least I do, that the personal sympathy is a mere sham; and these things have somewhat shaken my faith in every thing, everybody. You have spoken words of kindness to me--I heard every word of that beautiful service at poor Bill Watson's grave there, and I feel now as if I could wish, when I am laid in my grave, for some one to say something like that over me."
"Would you not rather, while you are yet alive, have some one to say to you something that might enabled you to "suffer and be strong?" You listened, you say, to those words I spoke at yonder grave. Do you not remember one sentence in that burial service? It was uttered by Christ, the Saviour of sinners, "Whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."
In the language of a Christian woman, yet with the simplicity of the Scriptures, as she sat at the root of that tree in Hollywood, the soldiers grouping nearer to the fair instructress, did she win their attention while, by an easy and familiar use of terms and illustrations, she pointed out the way of salvation, and with that happy manner which belongs to purity and innocence, would she pause to ask, "Isn't that beautiful?" or "How sweet is that thought!" or, "How comforting that promise!"
"Won't you pray with us before we go?" asked the soldier to whom she had mainly addressed her remarks.
She knelt there in the midst of those fresh-made graves, with those bronzed and rough looking men beside her--knelt on the cold ground, the chill morning breeze upon her cheek and the tear-drops in her eyes. Nor wept she alone. The fountains had been stirred in the hearts of those soldiers, and those eyes, unused to weeping, overflowed, as though they had been touched by a magic wand that compelled the response. The prayer was over-- they warmly, but respectfully pressed the hand of the gentle lady--thanked her for her kindness, and promised they would not forget what they had heard that morning from her lips."
I wish I could give that lady's name, that I might add interest to my story. But I may not. She is one of those rare beings who do
"Good by stealth, and blush to find it fame."
Our hospitals are not unfamiliar with her gentle offices. There she may be seen, day by day, at the couches of our sick and wounded soldiers; to one whispering words of comfort and cheer-- then pressing to the lips of some poor faint and feeble sufferer the reviving cordial, now fanning some pale sleeper, and anon
"Like love o'er a death couch, or hope o'er the tomb,"
moving noiselessly along on her noble mission to the pallet of some wounded soldier upon whose marble brow the grim monarch is affixing his signet. She is, indeed, one of those women who, without obtrusiveness or officiousness, noiselessly yet effectively, are only satisfied when engaged in some mission of good. But to the conclusion of my story.
On Sunday, the 1st day of June, 1862, a day memorable in the annals of the war, ambulances, coaches, spring-wagons and all other vehicles that could be pressed into service, might be seen bringing in their loads of wounded soldiers to the various hospitals in the city. The battle of "Seven Pines" had been fought!
Ours was a glorious victory--yet it was not cheaply bought. Liberty is won only by great sacrifice, and the treasure of blood paid out on that field can never be computed until, on that day of final reckoning, when the recording angel shall present the list at the world's final audit.
About four o'clock in the afternoon of that never-to-be-for-gotten Sunday, the 1st day of June, I received a message from a clerical friend, that a young relative of mine from South Carolina had been brought, with many others, from the battle-field to the "Seabrook Warehouse," (which had been extemporized into a hospital,) and desired to see immediately. I lost no time in hastening thither, and was gratified to find that my young cousin was only slightly wounded, and that a few days' good nursing at home (whither I sent him a day or two afterwards) would, under Providence, soon restore him to the condition of a convalescent.
But such a scene as that hospital presented!--Hundreds of wounded men, some with shattered limbs, some with bloody scalps, others with their bodies cut by murderous balls, and others with their bosoms bleeding afresh from gaping rents, were all around me. Some, with amputated legs and arms; some, white with loss of blood; others, writhing in agony; yet, strange to say, many who were cheerful in the midst of their suffering, and thankful that it was no worse with them, and that we had gotten a great victory, and that they would soon be well again and in the field, to repel the invader, should he insanely make another effort to retrieve his disgrace.
I was standing at the bed-side of Capt.--, of the --th North Carolina, who was mortally wounded and just breathing his last, when I was summoned to the cot of another sufferer, to whom I endeavored, in the discharge of the duties of my mission, to preach Christ crucified, the friend of sinners. He was in great stress of suffering, and begged me to pause.
"I am too ill to talk or to listen," said he. "The doctor says I am dying. I am not afraid to die."
I turned away, feeling very sadly, for I could not tell whether his fearlessness of death arose from apathy, agony, or a well-grounded hope--the latter; I trust.
As I was leaving the quarter of the building where my attentions had been mainly directed, my notice was attracted to a young man who lay apparently motionless, save that his eyes were occasionally glancing right and left as if in quest of some face that he might recognize.
"Do you want to see any one particularly?" I enquired. I saw that he was one of the mortally wounded.
"She is not her--I thought she was--I have been dreaming."
"Who is she of whom you speak?"
"I don't know her name."
I thought his mind was wandering, but it was better to humor his mood. I saw, moreover, from the exceeding pallor spread over his face, that his moments were already numbered and the angle of death counting, as it were, the receding sands in the glass of life.
"Where did you meet her when you really saw her?"
"At poor Bill Watson's grave, last winter."
"What did she do, or say, that makes you remember her?"
"What did she do or say ?" he replied. "She stood by the coffin of poor Bill Watson, and there, on that cold, dark morning, not half so cold and so dark as my mind was then, she read, or rather she prayed that service for the burial of the dead, which contains so much of Scripture, and to one who trusts in Christ, so much of hope. And she prayed with me and my companions, and she taught me the way of salvation, and she set me to reading my Bible, and there that Bible is now in my jacket pocket, all covered with my blood. I wore it near my heart. --She spoke to me words that rung in my ears night and day, and sunk deeper and deeper into my heart, until they wrought out for me a hope sweeter than life and stronger than death, though death is so strong."
"You are not afraid to die, then."
"I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the last day upon the earth; and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom my eyes shall behold for myself, and not another."
"You look forward to your resurrection from the grave--you do not believe that that is the last of man, then," I said.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
"You find much comfort in those Scriptures, and will doubtless realize all that is promised. Relying on Him who has said, 'I will never leave thee, or forsake thee,' you need not fear to die."
"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."
He was prepared. The angel who had stood at the grave of poor Bill Watson had been made the instrument by which the stone had been rolled away from the door of this young soldier's heart. He had cherished the words of this Christian woman--words so fitly spoken--and from being an almost "hopeless dark idolator of chance," he had been won to the truth, and that truth had made him free.
I saw that it would be soon over with him, and determined not to leave him till the mortal change should have taken place. His mind would occasionally wander, and his voice, at first remarkably clear, began very evidently to grow feebler and fainter. The hand of the great Invisible was upon him--he murmured incoherently--"poor Bill Watson's grave"--"my mother used to talk to me so"-- "resurrection and life"--"earth and sea give up dead" --"rest from labors"-- "fought--good fight--kept--faith--crown of glory" --"kind lady"--" Bill Watson"--"mother"
The words died in a faint whisper, the lower jaw fell, the eyes assumed that glassy hue so peculiar in dissolution, and the spirit of the young soldier who received his death wound in the battle of "Seven Pines," but whose ear had drunk in the words of life in "Hollywood Cemetery," had passed away. The setting sun threw its slanting beams just across his pillow, and I could almost fancy it was the "luminous shadow" of the Angel of the Covenant who, faithful to his promise, had come to lead him, unhurt and unscared, through the dark valley, and across the misty waters, and up the hills that lead to the celestial city.
His mortal remains sleep in "Hollywood;" not, it is true, side by side with those of "poor Bill Watson;" for many a worn soldier's wasted frame fills up the space in the dusty bed of the two friends from Mississippi. The ground is consecrated, peculiarly so as "God's Acre"--doubly so by the scenes and circumstances of that wintry morning, that burial service read by woman's lips at the dead volunteer's grave, that prayer of faith at the foot of the tree, those words of earnestness spoken, as it may have seemed, in woman's weakness, but in a God-inspired strength, spoken not in vain.
The morning on which I committed his mouldering form to the earth was in bright and beautiful contrast without, with that on which he had assisted in lowering the body of "poor Bill Watson" down into it narrow cell. Then, earth to him was cheerless, and his vision of heaven material and celestial, obscured by dark clouds.
Now, every tree was glorious in the luxuriance of 'leafy June;' the skies were cloudless, a gentle breeze came stealing over the bosom of the murmuring river, the birds seemed to vie, each with the other, in gay plumage and in gushes of beautiful song; and as I repeated beside his plain, but neat coffin, the same words that his (to him) unknown female mentor had uttered over the clay-cold dust of his friend, my very soul was stirred within me; and while I felt that it was not unmanly to weep, as memory reverted to the past, and hope pointed upward to the future of that poor young soldier, I mentally, but reverently thanked God for having made one, whose representative had lost Paradise to man, the instrument of winning back to the truth a spirit that, but for her timely appearance at the grave of the dead, might have been lost from the shining ranks of those who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
Woman has her mission in this great work to perform as well as man; and when she fulfills it as faithfully and as nobly as did this Christian lady to whom I have referred--and she is a real personage, and not a fictitious character--I can almost fancy I hear that jubilant anthem that is pealed throughout the empyrean from the lips of "angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven," when one sinner, repentant and tearful, has had his name enrolled by the recording seraph or cherub, in the Lamb's book of life.
From http://docsouth.unc.edu/soldier/soldier.html No. 91.