In my post last month, Blood and Treasure at Champion Hill, I wrote about two of my great grandfathers fighting on opposing sides in that horrific Civil War battle near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Several years ago, while at a visitors center at the site of the Champion Hill battleground, my brother Gary discovered a testimonial written by a soldier who'd fought in that conflict. The man had penned it in his later years as part of his memoirs. This written witness, both graphic and poignant, recounts a seventeen-year-old boy's ordeal and survival in the encounter. The account has appeared in several books written about the Civil War, including one published by the Smithsonian. The man who wrote it was known as "Rovin' Bill," a tramp and a vagabond who died in poverty in 1921 at an old soldiers' home in Indiana. He was my maternal grandmother's estranged father. Here is a part of that testimony:
From the memoirs of William Aspinwall, Co. H, 47th Indiana:
The last words I remember hearing before being shot were uttered by some of our officers who were begging our men to fall back as the rebels were flanking us.
|Young Union Soldier|
When I came to my senses, I was inside the rebel line, the bullets falling around me like hail.
It was some little time before I could make out my surroundings. A Confederate officer came and sat down on a little bank of earth beside me. He looked at the wound in my head and said, “My boy, I am afraid you are done for.” He gave me a drink of water out of his canteen, raising my head very gently with one hand, so I could drink. He asked me what state I was from. I replied, “Indiana.” I will never forget his kindness.
After he left me, I got up and started towards our lines, passing the retreating Johnnies, and almost rubbing clothes with them. Prison being constantly in my mind, I preferred death to going there. I succeeded in getting into our lines and finding my captain, who got me in an ambulance and I was taken to the hospital which was in a corn field.
|Artist Depiction of the Battle at Champion Hill|
In the evening some of my comrades brought me blankets, doing without themselves, and made me a bed in a fence corner outside of the hospital. In a little while a Confederate soldier came along. He had been shot somewhere in the bowels and was in great pain. I said, “Here, partner, I will share my bed with you.” And he laid down beside me.
He told me that he was from Savannah, Georgia, and that he could not get well. He wanted me to write to his wife and children and gave me a card with their address.
I was to tell them that I had seen him and what had become of their beloved husband and father. Being weak and exhausted from the loss of blood, I dozed off to sleep and left him talking to me. In a little while I awoke and spoke to him two or three times, but he did not answer. I put my hand over on his face; he was cold in death. My foe and friend had crossed the river.
|"My Foe and Friend..."|
A number of ladies had assembled from the surrounding towns and country waiting on the Confederate wounded and they looked daggers at me, not a one of them spoke to me. They did not like the color of my blood-splattered uniform.
Phil Truman is the author of the award-winning historical western novel, Red Lands Outlaw, the Ballad of Henry Starr; a sports inspirational about small town schoolboy football entitled GAME, an American Novel; and Treasure Kills, a mystery adventure in a small town.