The drummer-boy of the Eighth Michigan infantry.
Charles Howard Gardner
was a school-boy thirteen and a half years old, in the city of Flint, Michigan
, when the war commenced.
His father was connected with a military organization of long standing, and under the first call for seventy-five thousand troops, immediately left for the defence of the national capital.
Soon there came a second call for three hundred thousand more, when Charlie's teacher, S. C. Guild
, a most exemplary young man, soon to enter the ministry, joined the army.
Between Charlie and him there existed a very ardent attachment, and Captain Guild
seconded Charlie's earnest entreaties that he might go with him as a drummer.
He had been famous from his babyhood for his musical ability, and had acquired a good deal of merited notoriety for his skilful handling of the drumsticks.
“If I can go to the war with my drum, and thus take the place of a man who can handle a musket,” was Charlie's persistent plea, “I think it is my duty to go, especially as you, mother, do not greatly need me at home.”
So, reluctantly, the poor mother, who had surrendered her husband, consented that her boy should join the Eighth Michigan infantry.
The regiment was ordered to Port Royal
, and on their way thither, Charlie met his father in Washington
As they were returning from the Navy-yard
where they had been for their arms, he saw his father a little way off, and forgetting military rule, he broke from the ranks, and with child-like joy ran to his father's arms.
It was their last earthly meeting, as the November following Mr. Gardner
died of typhoid fever at Alexandria
Charlie's letters to his mother after this bereavement, written from Port Royal
, are exceedingly touching, and remarkably thoughtful for a boy not yet fourteen. “I am near broken-hearted,” he writes: “I try to be cheerful, but it is of no use, my mind continually runs in the direction of home, a fresh gush of tears comes to my eyes, and I have to weep.
But, mother, if this is so hard for me, what must it be for you?
Don't take it too much
to heart, for remember that you have me left, and I will do my best to help you. I shall send you all my money hereafter, for I do not really need money here.”
This promise he fulfilled to the letter.
Always cheerful, he was a great favorite with the officers and men, for whom he never did a favor, but they would compel him to receive some small compensation in return.
These small gains he carefully husbanded, and increased them by peddling papers and periodicals, making enough for his little extra expenses, and invariably, on every pay-day, he sent his money to his widowed mother.
None of the vices of the camp clung to him, and amid the profane and drunken and vulgar, he moved, without assoiling the whiteness of his young soul.
His teacher and Captain
guarded him like a father; he shared his bed and board with Charlie, and the two loved one another with an affection so unusual that it was everywhere the subject of comment.
By and by we hear of the fearless little fellow, small beyond his years, on the battle-field with the surgeon, where the grape and canister were falling like hail around them, pressing forward to the front, during an engagement, with the hospital flag in his hand, to aid in the care of the wounded.
Only a peremptory order from a superior officer was able to turn him back to the rear, and there, when the wounded were brought in, he worked all night, and the next day, carrying water and bandages and lint, and lighting up the sorrowfulness of the hour by his boyish but unfailing kindness.
Never was he more serviceable than during a battle.
At the terrible battle of James's Island
, in an assault on the fort, his beloved Captain
, always foremost in the fight, had climbed to the parapet of the fort, when a shot struck him, and he fell backward, and was seen no more.
Now was Charlie indeed bereaved — his teacher, captain, friend, father, lover, dead on the battle-field, and even the poor satisfaction denied his friends of burying his remains.
His letters after this event, are one long wail of sorrow — he could not be comforted — and yet, always thoughtful for others, he writes: “Oh!
how I pity his poor mother
Months passed, and the Eighth Michigan was ordered to Vicksburgh
to reenforce Grant
, who had beleaguered that doomed city.
Battle after battle ensued--nineteen of them
--in all of which Charlie more or less participated, often escaping death as by a miracle.
Something of the fierce life led by this regiment may be inferred from the fact that one thousand six hundred and fifty-three men have enlisted in it since it first took the field; of these, only four hundred survive to-day, all but eight of whom have just reenlisted.
Through all battles, all marches, all reconnoissances, all campaigns, Charlie kept with the regiment, crossing the mountains with them to Knoxville
, in Burnside
's corps, on rations of three ears of corn per day, and then for weeks shut up in that city, besieged by Longstreet
's force, and subsisting on quarter-rations.
Yet not one word of complaint ever came from the patriot boy, not one word of regret, only an earnest desire to remain in the service till the end of the war.
At last, there came a letter from the surgeon.
During the siege of Knoxville
, Charlie had been wounded for the first time.
A chance shot that passed through the window of the house in which he was, struck him on the shoulder, and entered the lung.
“He has been in a very dangerous condition,” wrote the surgeon, “but he is now fast recovering.
He is a universal pet, and is well cared for in the officers' quarters.”
The next tidings were more joyful.
The regiment were on their way to Detroit
, on a thirty days furlough, and would remain to recruit.
Now the telegraph notified those interested that they were in Louisville
— then in Indianapolis
— in Michigan City
— at last in Detroit
With a happy heart the good mother telegraphed to have her boy sent to Chicago
as soon as possible, and then she watched the arrival of the trains.
“He will be here to-night — he will be here to-morrow” --she said, and every summons to the door she was sure was her Charlie.
Every thing was in readiness for the
darling — his room — his clothes — the supper-table set with the luxuries he loved — and there sat mother, sister, and brother, waiting for him. A knock at the door — all start — all rush--'tis Charlie!
No, on a telegram.
God help the poor broken hearts, as they read it--“The regiment has arrived, but Charlie is dead
And this was all.