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From At the Grass Roots, Comprising “The Christmas of 1883,” and Other Vagrant Sketches, by Elmer House (Dodd Gaston), with Cover Design and Frontispiece by Albert T. Reid, Topeka: Monotyped by Crane & Company, 1905; pp. 133-135.
A PILGRIMAGE INTO THE PAST.
One year I spent my two weeks off differently. Mostly, when my loafing-spell came round I had gone main-traveled roads. Sometimes I went to dawdle in the sand at the shore. Again, I cut deep into the north-woods, with no thought other than of my appetite and my fishing-tackle. Sometimes I followed the August incursion to the cities, or paid the price at lakeside or mountain resort.
But on that vacation — the vacation I spent differently — I went to follow for a little while the long since effaced footsteps of a Soldier Boy who crossed the river at Shiloh, stood in the thinned ranks at Stone River, double-quicked across the field of Missionary Ridge, and was a unit in the straggling blue line that planted the flag on Lookout.
We who are under forty are callous to the Boy in Blue. It is a far cry back to 134 Lookout and Shiloh and Stone River. To the generation born in the forty years since the pride in it all is dimming, the glory of it all is fading. I had grown indifferent with the rest, and so I went down to Lookout and Shiloh and missionary Ridge in memory of the Soldier Boy who carried a musket through it all.
The birds twittered in the thickets, and the soft wind of a September afternoon fanned my cheek as I sat on a fallen tree by the wayside and in fancy watched the field of Shiloh grow red with blood again. Standing on a stone on the brow of Lookout I followed the fortunes of the charge across Missionary Ride, and heard again the rattle of musketry and the clank and clash of bayonets in the fierce conflict the blue and the gray had waged two thousand feet beneath my seat. And later in the day I walked up and down the long, serried lines of headstones on the little eminence in the valley, and 135 looked out upon a landscape, peaceful and quiet now and blackened by the smoky finger of commerce, where fifty thousand men, some in gray and some in blue, had laid down their lives at their country’s call.
And then I knew why these things were the Soldier Boy’s pride and glory, and why their light to him never dimmed or faded. I understood, too, his last expressed wish that he might go to his rest under the white stone in the little country churchyard with the flag of his country wrapped about him. I hope he knows of my tardy trip across the present into the past. I hope he knows, too, that I came back with a deeper understanding and a keener appreciation of the faded coat of blue and the empty sleeve swinging in the wind.
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