There were many pathetic incidents that occurred during the war which received only a passing thought at the time and then were forgotten. But as we get farther from those terrible days of strife and bloodshed and the then boys are now growing old and almost ready for the final mustering out officer to call the roll and advance the veterans of the Grand Army to the eternal camping ground, the old stories are hallowed by a sacred light.
There was not much sentiment among the boys of thirty-four years ago, especially the boys in Illinois who were reared and had spent the first years plodding behind the plow or running a cultivator through the corn rows. Life was earnest and real to them, for in those days they had but few of the comforts, and rarely any of the luxuries, that now surround the family in the farm-house. The boys of those days became Republicans or Democrats when they got old enough to vote, following out the political predilections of their fathers and grandfathers before them, and but few of them, if any, became Abolitionists, for Illinois in those days was a Democratic State and a "nigger" was only a nigger. The Southern States were Democratic, so in politics Illinois and South Carolina were in sympathy.
But when the news came in April, 1861, that South Carolina had actually fired on the old flag that floated over Fort Sumter and that men calling themselves American citizens had tried to starve a small detachment of American soldiers who were doing their sworn duty in protecting the old flag, the country boys of DeWitt County and their gray-haired sires came into Clinton to learn if the horrible story could really be true. On that memorable nineteenth day of April, Clinton was intensely patriotic. Republican and Democrat alike were free in their denunciations of the crime of treason, and when after a few earnest speeches Colonel George B. LEMEN led the crowd from the court-room down to the square and asked for volunteers to respond to President LINCOLN's call for seventy-five thousand men, there were as many young Democrats as young Republicans who stepped into line. One hundred strong marched out Co. E, Twentieth Illinois, from Clinton to be mustered into the service at Joliet for three years or during the war, and no braver boys followed the flag for the four long years that many of them served before laying down their arms and returning to the peaceful avocations of home life. War and its dangers made strong and thoughtful men of the boys who stepped into line on that bright, but sad, April day. Almost from the day the Twentieth Illinois crossed the river and entered the Southern States till the time the regiment was mustered out it had its share of the horrors of war; and where every man was a hero, there necessarily were many cases of personal bravery.
Witness the heroic act of Sam DENTON when Martin MORHLE, the color-sergeant of the regiment, fell wounded to death outside of the breastworks. Sam Denton crawled on his hands and knees out into the storm of rebel bullets that were directed at him and carried back the body of the brave Morhle, and also brought with him the regimental colors. In some countries Sam Denton would have been honored by the government and received recognition for bravery, but in our war the citizen soldier thought only of his comrade and not of the act of bravery.
At the battle of Britton's Lane, Tennessee, on the first of September, 1862, James A. SLATTEN, a member of Co E, fell fatally wounded on the field. The Twentieth had to fall back. That night George HULL crawled out to where lay the body of Jim Slatten and he managed to scratch a hole in the ground at the root of a tree in which, rolled in his army blanket, George buried his comrade. George Hull and Jim Slatten were comrades in deed and their friendship was closer than of the ordinary kind. Every veteran of the war knows of just such comradeship that existed between George and Jim, for it was a rare ting not to find such cases. After covering up the remains of Jim Slatten, George Hull started back to camp, when a feeling of tenderness came over him and he could not leave his comrade out alone, so he returned and spent the remainder of the night in a silent vigil at Jim's grave.
The next morning George Hull was telling the story to his comrades and of his remaining by the grave till morning. "Boys, it seemed heartless," said George, "and like deserting an old comrade to leave poor Jim out there alone, so I just sat by his grave till morning to keep him company." It was a little thing, but greater love no man ever bore for a brother. There was no sentiment about brave George Hull. It was the undying affection of one comrade for another.
After the siege of Vicksburg, where the Twentieth had spent forty-four days, the boys were glad to receive marching orders to follow the flag to new victories. In a fight with the enemy, Sam DENTON was wounded and taken prisoner by an old gray-bearded Confederate trooper. ON the old trooper's saddle was a sheepskin. The heart of the old gray-beard went out in sympathy to the boyish Sam, and taking the sheepskin from his saddle, he spread it on the ground and told Sam to lie down on it. Then the kind-hearted old reb divided his rations with Sam, but in all he never forgot his duty. The Union soldiers were thick in the vicinity and every now and then the old man would sight his rifle at a blue coat and the Confederacy had one enemy less. Sam tried to persuade the old man to cease his warfare, but he just cast a benevolent look at Sam and told him to go to sleep and he would look after the blue coats. A Federal lieutenant with a squad of cavalry made a break through the rebel line that surrounded the Union soldiers and Sam Denton was released and his old captor became Sam's prisoner. The old man was taken into the Twentieth camp but was not deprived of his liberty to go where he pleased within the lines. He ate in the same mess with Sam and everything was done to make the old man's time pass pleasantly. The kindness he had shown Sam was returned to him in kind, and there was not a soldier in the Twentieth who would not have fought in defense of the gray-bearded old Confederate. One day the old man was missing from the camp. No questions were ever asked by the officers as to what had become of the gray-bearded prisoner of war.
Now and then the veterans of the Twentieth get to talking of the days when they wore the blue and tenderly they call up memories of the past and pay tribute to the bravery of some comrade. To hear the stories told, there is a pathos in them that is lost in cold type.