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"Little Starlight" (44)
Harper's Weekly, October 29, 1864

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Synopsis

1864

An army unit adopts a young black boy who wanders into their camp one day. The boy, during an informal court martial, talks of having stolen all of his master’s pigeons, then making his way to Virginia. The boy is made a drummer boy, which makes him very proud. The company chaplain, the narrator of the story, tells of how the boy had only one bad fault, which was his propensity for stealing. The boy also claims to be willing to kill his master, for only then would he truly be free. In a heated battle one day, the boy cries out to the chaplain that he sees his master, and after grabbing a weapon, takes off after him. After the battle, the chaplain finds the man the boy pointed to, and sees that he is dead, having been stabbed several times. A sergeant comes up to the chaplain and tells him the boy is dying, much to the grief of the entire company. When the chaplain sees the boy, the boy smiles and says he is finally free, then he dies. They bury him and put a board over him with an epitaph scratched on it.

Harper's Text

"Little Starlight"
October 29, 1864, page 702 (1-4)

History

"Scenes at Fredericksburg"
June 11, 1864, page 379 (1-4)

Military Background

"In the Wilderness"
November 5, 1864, page 718 (2)

Illustrations


"The Drummer Boy of Our Regiment"
December 19, 1863, page 805 (1-4)


"About the Size of It"
June 25, 1864, page 416 (1-2)


"The Halt"
October 1, 1864, page 628 (1-4)


"Abraham Lincoln and the Drummer-Boy"
April 27, 1867, page 264 (1-4)

Commentaries

"The Victory"
May 21, 1864, page 322 (1-2)

The earnestness with which the loyal people of this country are sustaining the war had been in nothing more signally shown than the sobriety with which the great news of Grant’s victory was received. Before he moved, every thing that was heard from the Army of the Potomac revealed a unity, an unselfishness, a hearty faith in the cause, a grave resolution to fight to the end, which prepared us for a campaign entirely unprecedented. "My ground of confidence," said one who returned from the head-quarters of Grant a fortnight before he moved, "is in the moral as much as in the physical condition of the army."

In an hour like this comparisons are untimely and vain. We only know that the popular faith in the ultimate triumph of our cause—which no disaster, however grievous, has ever been fierce enough to shake—enables the country to contemplate its success without levity, but with a universal and sorrowful sympathy with the thousands of brave men whose dauntless constancy has saved human liberty, although it could not save themselves from bitter wounds; and with a lasting and regretful remembrance of the dead. The desperate contest upon the Rapidan, the shock of battle through two long summer days, shows upon both sides the qualities which will make the regenerated nation invincible. Lee and his rebels had every prestige in their favor. They stood upon ground which their valor had maintained against us for three years. They were intrenched upon the Rapidan, where they had defeated Pope. They were near Fredericksburg, from which Burnside had been forced to retire. They were flanked by Chancellorsville, where they had worsted Hooker. They had before them Gettysburg, from which they had retreated in good order to recuperate; and Antietam, from which they had been allowed to retire. Far to their rear were the melancholy swamps of the Chickahominy, in which a noble army had been encamped so long within an easy possibility of victory, which had been surrendered with terrible disaster. All around them were the famous places of their triumphs or of their secure retreats. They were confronted with an army whose unwearied bravery they had tested, but which they knew lacked the prestige of success. They saw new toils spreading for the, but they confided in the past, and believed that could secure the future.

Against such men, with such advantages, General Grant organized his army and laid his plans. He knew the key of the military position. The defeat of Lee was the essential blow that must be struck. First of all, therefore, General Grant secured absolute unity of purpose among his Generals. He established that moral discipline which is the source of permanent strength in every army. He brought with him the personal inspiration of vast and continuous success. He assembled a host. He and his officers, filled with the profoundest conviction of the importance of victory, imparted it by all they did and by all they were to the men. And when March and April were passed, when the soft May sun announced steady weather, and all the elemental conditions were ripe, he gave the word to his faithful and indomitable ally, Butler, and the Union armies moved to a battle which they knew must be desperate, and which all men believed would be decisive.

The chapter of our history which opened on the 3d of May is not ended as these words are written. But the first week’s work is of such augury that we have the right to hope for a success which should bring every true American to his knees in religious gratitude—a success which will be a victory for the people of every country, and will mark an epoch in the advance of civilization. The words of the President are echoed instinctively by the popular heart. "While what remains undone demands our most sincere prayers to and reliance upon Him (without whom all human effort is vain), I recommend that all patriots, at their homes, in their places of public worship, and wherever they may be, unite in common thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God."

"Mr. Lincoln and the Drummer Boy"
April 27, 1867, page 257 (4)

We present on page 264 a beautiful engraving, illustrating one of the most touching of the many incidents which have been related of the kindness of heart and affectionate nature of the late President Lincoln. The picture tells its own story, but we append the incident as told by F. B. Carpenter in his book of reminiscences of Mr. Lincoln, published in 1865:

"Among the large number of persons waiting in the room to speak with Mr. Lincoln, on a certain day in November last, was a small, pale, delicate-looking boy, about thirteen years old. The President saw him standing, looking feeble and faint, and said—‘Come here, my boy, and tell me what you want.’ The boy advance, placed his hand on the arm of the President’s chair, and with bowed head and timid accents said: ‘Mr. President, I have been a drummer in a regiment for two years, and my colonel got angry with me and turned me off; I was taken sick, and have been a long time in hospital. This is the first time I have been out, and I came to see if you could not do something for me.’ The President looked at him kindly and tenderly, and asked him where he lived. ‘I have no home,’ answered the boy. ‘Where is your father?’ ‘He died in the army,’ was the reply. ‘Where is your mother?’ continued the President. ‘My mother is dead also. I have no mother, no father, no brothers, no sisters, and,’ bursting into tears, ‘no friends—nobody cares for me.’ Mr. Lincoln’s eyes filled with tears, and he said to him, ‘Can’t you sell newspapers?’ ‘No,’ said the boy, ‘I am too weak, and the surgeon of the hospital told me I must leave, and I have no money, and no place to go to.’ The scene was wonderfully affecting. The President drew forth a card, and addressing on it certain officials to whom his request was law, gave special directions ‘to care for this poor boy.’ The wan face of the little drummer lit up with a happy smile as he received the paper, and he went away convinced that he had one good and true friend, at least, in the person of the President."

 

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