The Experiences of a Boy Soldier of the Confederacy:
Excerpts from and Comments on My Great-Grandfather O'Rourke's Memoir
Part Two

by

Warren F. O'Rourke
Birmingham, Alabama
December 16, 2010
E-mail: wofo@hotmail.com

Well, my Gentle Readers, if you are seeing this, you must be interested. So here goes!

III. Tom Finally Joins the Army

Once Ann and Tom were back in Montgomery, Father Pellicer stepped into Tom's life again. He arranged for Tom to be employed by the Montgomery-West Point railroad as a vendor. Tom's job was to sell fruit, pickled eggs, matches, cigars, candy, and chewing tobacco to the soldiers on the train. (By this time all the trains out of Montgomery were being used to ship soldiers and their equipment to the battle-front and to return wounded soldiers to the hospitals in Alabama.) He made the trip to Georgia and back three or four times per week. He was allowed to sleep in one of the workshops at the railroad yard.

A quick note concerning Father Pellicer seems in order: Father Anthony Dominic Pellicer attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, studied for the priethood in New Orleans, served as pastor of St. Peter's Church in Montgomery, served as a Confederate chaplain during the war, served on the staff of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile after the war, and finally became the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Antonio, Texas. He knew the O'Rourke family from his days in New Orleans and had helped Ann O'Rourke relocate to Montgomery after her husband Owen died.

Ann and her family were not the only people Father Pellicer helped. He intervened in poor families' lives all through his life. Even when he was the Bishop of San Antonio, he usually gave most of his salary and most of his free time to helping individual unfortunates in his diocese. And, it has been reported, he perfected his knowledge of Tex-Mex Spanish to the point where he could chat on the street with locals or preach from the pulpit to the locals who formed the great bulk of his congregants.

Here's Tom telling us what happened next:

Between my trips to Georgia I often visited with wounded soldiers at the hospital where my mother worked. When the soldiers who had been shot on the battlefield got so they could sit up, they would talk of the war and the battles, of shells, shrapnel, grape-shot, canister, Minie balls, and cold steel. I was a ready, sympathetic listener.

The more they would talk, the more enthused I would become. I breathed war, dreamed war, and was anxious to go to war. Along with other very young boys from Montgomery we soon formed our own "company," some of us with uniforms and some without, but all of us ready to march and drill in imitation of the real soldiers we saw almost daily in Montgomery. We called our group the Capital Guards, and we had marches, parades, drills and fetes -- our younger female relatives and acquaintances imitating the womenfolk of the real soldiers by providing the "eats" at our functions. They were "nice eats."

The idea in those days was flag presentations, so little Miss Ella Montgomery sewed us a flag and formally presented it to us. After that the Capital Guards had a color bearer and a color guard.

I was the company drummer and spent many hours perfecting my knowledge of all the proper drum signals used by the real drummers with the real companies of soldiers passing through Montgomery on their way to the front lines.

We were practicing for real war with all our might!

But a scheme was a-hatching in my brain as I played soldier with the Capital Guards and as I sold stuff to the real soldiers during my trips to Georgia, a scheme born of my "fever to be a soldier":

In November of 1863, the moment arrived. Major Lockhardt's regiment was on my train being sent from Selma, Alabama, to Dalton, Georgia, to oppose Union General Sherman's plans for proceeding from the Chattanooga area southwards to Atlanta. I struck up an acquaintance with James Dusenberry of Loachapoka, Alabama, a fellow about my own age. He was the regimental drummer for Major Lockhardt. James was as eager to get out of the war as I was to get in it. We agreed to "swap places" if the Major would agree. The Major agreed. So James took over the vending business and I took over his drum.

I had just turned 13, and I had run away. . .again!

IV. Tom Describes Religious Activity in a Confederate Army Encampment

During his first four months as a real soldier, Tom's rather small regiment didn't do any real fighting because they were in winter quarters. Major Lockhardt was promoted to Lt. Colonel, and Tom spent the winter doing real marching and real drilling and real drumming. When the fighting resumed in Spring of 1864, Tom got to see a lot of fighting, all the way from Dalton, Georgia, southward down to Marietta, and then eastward to the suburbs of Atlanta.

As everyone who has seen Gone with the Wind knows, the Confederates took a terrible licking in the Battle of Atlanta and ended up retreating towards Gadsden, Alabama. Somehow in the confusion of fighting and retreating leading up to and during the siege of Atlanta, Tom appears to have become an aide and messenger to Colonel Orlando S. Holland, the commander of the 37th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

But Tom had seen real war at last and was familiar with the moods of the soldiers in the camps after the battles, especially their religious sentiments.

Here are a few of Tom's memories on that subject:

A thing that I observed after the battles was that the men -- as a general rule -- seemed to take on a kind of religious hysteria. After the roll call to see "how many were left fit to kill," we usually had prayers, song services, and preaching.

Of course, we had official chaplains with almost every regiment, and on several occasions I heard Lt. General Leonidas Polk himself preach to large gatherings of soldiers after a battle. He was a very good preacher. Before the war he had been the Episcopal bishop of Louisiana.

It was a sad day when General Polk was killed by Federal artillery fire at Pine Mountain during the Battle of Marietta in June of 1864. Spotted by the enemy as he and his staff were scouting Union positions, he became the target of a battery of 3-inch howitzers. The first two rounds missed, but the third round struck him in the side, passed through his body, and exploded against a nearby tree. Polk was cut in two.

But it seemed to me that almost every third man was a lay preacher. These fellows wandered about the encampment looking for a few men to join them in prayer or to listen to them preach. Failing that, they would hand out religious tracts to any soldier who could read well enough to appreciate the "holy words." (Paper being in such short supply in those days, I often wondered where they got the tracts. Writing paper was so rare in the last year of the war that even offical orders were sometimes written on old envelopes and other scraps of paper.)

Though it was more than half a century ago, I recall most vividly one "camp meeting." One of the lay preachers had gathered about 40 or 50 men around a bonfire built around a huge dead oak tree and made to burn the brighter by piling pine knots and brush around the tree. While the preacher thundered on, the dead tree burned through and fell onto the worshippers. Eight men were burned to death and about twice that number were seriously burned. Though I felt the heat of the fire, I escaped unhurt.

After that, the commanding general issued orders to curtail the activities of the lay preachers. It didn't do any good at all, not at all. These "encampment prayer meetings" continued until the end of the war.

I came off unscathed from that bonfire and all the other chances of war for four months of almost constant fighting during the Georgia campaign of 1864, but my luck ran out in August of 1864 near Ezra Church to the southwest of Atlanta, where we took a terrible beating trying to prevent the Yankees from cutting our only railway supply line.

V. Tom is Wounded

Let's just go straight to the words of Tom about how he was wounded while delivering a message for Colonel Holland during the Battle of Atlanta:

I was returning to headquarters at Jonesboro after delivering a written order from Colonel Holland to one of the 37th Missippi's companies in the front line near Ezra Church when I encountered a Yankee officer and about a squad of his men. It was in this affair that I received my introduction to the feel of a bullet.

It is not a pleasant sensation.

Seeing that the Yankees had blocked my way to Colonel Holland's headquarters, I crawled up to a huge boulder beside the road and tried to get a good position to defend myself. I had just straightened up into the perpindicular when --"ping!" -- something seemed to knock me off my feet, and a burning sensation set up about my knee and took up the whole of my leg and seemed to deaden my foot. That Yankee officer had shot me!

As I was falling, I fired my rifle in his direction, and the Yankee fell too.

As I hastily reloaded my weapon, I looked at him to see if he would move, to shoot him again if necessary. But a hole in his head began to bleed, so I turned my "mad" in another direction where I saw one of the officer's squad members about to fire in my direction.

I shot and hit him and he fell, and then, as fast as I could hobble, I skeddadled through the woods back to headquarters where our surgeon's examination showed that I had been hit just a little below the knee cap and that the bullet had lodged inside the fatty part of the leg, just above the back side of the knee joint. The surgeon also discovered that another bullet had scarred my hip. Referring to my unusally small size and youngish appearance, Surgeon Cochran said that "the fellow who shot you really took your measure for he tried to kill you with only a pea shooter." With that said, he cut out the small .32 caliber pistol ball and gave it to me in my hand.

While the battle for Atlanta raged a few miles away, I spent a few days in the hospital. One day one of the Atlanta ladies who was volunteering as a nurse took a look at my wound and then called out to the doctor.

Nurse: "Doctor Cochran, come here. Look at this!"

Dr. Cochran: "Very well, Nurse. Just a minute! What is it?"

Nurse: "Is it not a sin to send a boy like this to be a soldier? I tell you, sir, he should be sent home right now."

Dr. Cochran: "Indeed he should, and I shall see to it!"

Well, that closed my mouth, and as soon as my wound was freshly dressed, I "discharged" myself from the hospital just in time to join my regiment as we were preparing to retreat into Alabama.
Remember that Tom had to reload his rifle? Well, the rifle was longer than Tom was tall and was a muzzle-loading .54 caliber Mississippi rifle. It must have been a real struggle for such a small boy to reload such a monster weapon, especially when the lad was freshly wounded.

The recoil from such a rifle probably came close to knocking Tom down every time he fired it.

Tom's wound was in the same leg that he had injured on his first runaway. He had a slight limp all the rest of his life.

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