On a cold and rainy day an order came that we should put up three days' rations in our haversacks, and be ready to strike our tents and embark late that evening to sail up the river; but later a second order came that we could retire and sleep about two hours, and that we would be called up to go on board the boats about midnight to run up to Pittsburg Landing, where a great battle was to be fought. To me this was as a summons unto my speedy death.
In the evening the rain was succeeded by a heavy snow-storm, which continued until late in the night. I was so much debilitated that I would become sick and faint at times, and have to lie down on the wet ground to rest. About 8 o'clock at night, while slowly making my way back to my dismal tent, and meditating the fearful perils which shut me in, a peaceful feeling of resignation and quiet trust filled my heart, and in mind I took a tender leave of all at home, confident that I should not live to return and see them; but was comforted with the heavenly assurance that, although I must die thus painfully, yet the Lord would receive me to Himself, and all my sufferings and sorrows should be ended forever.
But before reaching my tent my mind was impressed with a desire to go beyond it to Col. Ross's office-tent, and see if it was possible for him to send me away that night; but my second thought was that it could avail nothing and would annoy him, and I tried to repress this desire; yet it had taken such possession of my mind that I passively walked on, and the guard passed me in the tent. The cololen kindly saluted me, asked me to be seated and warm myself before the cheerful fireplace, and inquired how I felt. His kindness gave me courage to say: "Cololen, I am worse and growing weaker. If I have to go up on this campaign, and be exposed to the weather and the hardships of the camp, I could be of no service, but would only be in the way, and could not survive long." "I know it, doctor," he replied. "You should have been sent away to a hospital some time ago, but you know every effort has failed." I answered: "Colonel, can't you think of any possible way to send me away?" He paused, then said: "I this moment think of one way; if it fails, then there is no chance. This afternoon three sick soldiers were sent from our regiment on board the steamer Tigress, to go down to a general hospital in Paducah. If you could get Dr. Edgar to detail you as a nurse for them, you could there get a sick furlough to go home." I quickly asked: "Colonel, can't you do it? It would be useless for me to appeal to Dr. Edgar, and I can't do so." He answered: "You know the army regulations and that it would be against the rules, for this authority belongs to him." "Yes, I know, colonel; but then, you are the higher in authority than he is, and will you not take the responsibility?" Dropping his head a moment, he raised it and smilingly said: "I will. If I can't give you a sick furlough to go home, I will do the next best thing – send you where you can get one." He quickly wrote the order, detailing me as a nurse for the three sick soldiers from our regiment on board the Tigress; also stating that I was sick and should be sent home – and he laughed at the idea of sending me as a nurse, remarking that I needed a nurse more then they, no doubt. He told me to take the order to the adjutant's tent and have it recorded, saying that I would have to hurry or I might be too late, as it would soon be time for the Tigress to start.
Inspired with renewed spirit and hope, I did hurry; for the possibility of returning to home and life again quickened my movements, and lifted me above my sufferings and weakness. Hastily making ready my valise and roll of bedding, the good-bys were quickly taken, and I set out for the river, a half-mile or more away, the darkness lighted only by the fast-falling snow, which had covered the ground with a white sheet – wondering the while whether there would be any one at that late hour to set me across the first great bayou, a fourth of a mile wide, perhaps. Just as I reached its bank, Lo! John Bartley, a solder from Alton, Ill., whose division was camped on the island beyond, was pushing off his skiff from shore. By the light of his lantern I knew him – having met him before and ascertained that we were fourth cousins. He gladly took me in, saying that I would have been left in a minute more. This seemed a fortunate hap, but it did not then occur to me that the good hand of God was in it; for I had long felt that He had abandoned me to my own way. On the other shore we shook hands, and I hurried on as best I could, on top of the breastworks thrown up across the island. The snowflakes fell thick and fast, adding to my burden, so that I would stop and shake it from my hat and overcoat, wishing that it did not snow so, because it hindered my speed, and I feared my failing strength would not hold out, or that I might be too late; yet but for the light of the snow I could scarcely have made my way for the darkness. Near the river was a narrow but deep bayou, and just as I reached it three or four noisy soldiers walked out on the lower deck of the guard-steamer to put out the lights for the night (about 10 o'clock), and I hailed them with all the voice I could command, but almost despaired of making them hear me – for they were all talking and laughing loudly, and my voice was weak. At last one said, "Hush, boys, isn't some one calling?" Another said, "No; I guess it is the noise of the wind." Then I made a desperate effort and succeeded, to my great relief, for I was in great fear. They crossed the narrow strip of land and came over to me in a flatboat, into which I climbed, and as I did so one said, "Well, comrade, if you had been a minute later you would have been left, for we had come out to put out the lights." They directed me along a line of gangways from one steamer to another (for the river was full of them to carry the entire army up it that night), until I reached the longed-for Tigress, far out and down. At last that most trying march of my life – and for my life – was ended, the goal was reached and I was rescued – mercifully delivered from that awful thralldom. Shaking off the wet snow and ascending to a commodious cabin, I laid down valise and bundle, overcoat and hat, and sank in an arm chair before a red-hot stove, almost completely exhausted, feeling that I could not have been held out but little longer.
In a few minutes two well-dressed men came in and sat down on the other side of the large stove, not seeming to notice me, and one said to the other: "Captain, how soon will you pull out of here?" "Just as soon as this snow-storm blows over a little, so we can see to pilot the boat. If it had not been for the snow-storm we should have been gone two hours ago." Never were words spoken more wonderful to me; for they told me that the merciful God, who rules the storm, had sent down that snow and held the boat, and that He had not forsaken me, as I supposed, but was yet with me and had thus delivered me from so great a peril and death. O how precious the assurance that the Lord cared for me still, and that my life and well-being were precious in His sight! My sweet emotions of love and gratitude to Him who had thus marvelously saved me were too full for utterance in words, and the place seemed a very heaven to me; for I comfortably felt the presence of the Lord, and my meditations of Him were sweet all that night – for I did not lie down to sleep, being on duty as nurse, but rested in that chair. I soon found my three patients and told them I was there to wait on them until we reached a hospital in Paducah – but they needed very little attention.
About sunrise we landed at this city and an ambulance carried us to a comfortable hospital, where each of us were taken to neat beds, and I saw the three no more. A kind citizen physician soon came to me, examined me and said: "My friend, I would advise you to go home; for you can't get well here, but with good water and kind attention at home, you might recover. I will give you a sixty days' furlough if you will go home." As I did not like to seem too anxious, I said that I had no money to pay my way home. But he kindly assured me that there would be some way for me to get there; so it was soon settled that I should go, greatly to my joy. That afternoon I was able to walk down to a near store, where I offered a revolver for sale – which a prisoner after the surrender at Ft. Donaldson had begged me to give him a dollar for, and I did so to favor him, having no use for it myself – the only firearm I ever owned. To my glad surprise, a clerk in the store kindly gave me $10. for it, and I heartily thank him; for this would pay my way home, and I felt wonderfully helped.
The next morning I set out, homeward-bound; but as it was Saturday, and the trains did not run on Sunday, I stopped at Jonesboro, Ill, having learned that my friend and brother, Col. True, was there with a new regiment. He very generously lodged me at his headquarters until Monday, and then gave me a free pass on the cars as far as I could go toward home – to Effingham, Ill. He did more; he transferred me to his regiment, and appointed me on his regimental staff as hospital steward, thus rescuing me from the cruel power of Dr. Edgar, who had been bend on sacrificing me – only because he once overheard me condemn the cruelties which some of our marauding soldiers inflicted upon peaceable old men, women and children in the South. Through the merciful hand of God, I was now free from him, and saw him no more. Whether he learned that our humane Col. Ross sent me away from his merciless tyranny, I know not; but I hope that God had mercy upon him, as He was merciful to me.
After my return home I seemed to improve a little at first; so that I made a business trip to central Indiana, near out old home, in the settlement of an estate as administrator – alluded to before. But my diseases again grew worse and brought me very low, insomuch that my recovery was almost despaired of by my friends; and at the end of the sixty days I was barely able to be propped up in bed while I wrote a few lines to Col. True, telling him that I would report in person as soon as able; for I believed the Lord would raise me up again to "preach the preaching that He had bidden me," which I was then willing to cheerfully do.
In the time of this long sickness at home, when the kind neighbors and brethren would come in to visit and sit up with me, they often grieved my spirit by their complaints at the weather and backward spring, expressing fears about raising a crop; for this sounded to me like murmuring against the Lord, who was so merciful, kind and good. And for this I would kindly chide them, and remind them how good He was to us all for which we should thankfully trust in Him, knowing that He would provide and care for us.
As soon as able to ride on a bed in a wagon to Olney, twenty-five miles, where I took a train, I reported to Col. True, then encamped at Paducah, who was gladly surprised on seeing me; for he told me that, after getting my letter, he had expected to hear of my death. I at once made application for a discharge from the army, which he kindly assisted me in obtaining. At the same time he generously offered me the position of second surgeon if I would stay; but I declined it, fearing to go into disobedience again, "lest a worse thing come unto me." I did not tell him this, however, not knowing that he could sympathize with me. But after many years, when he had grown gray, it was my privilege to meet with him as a fellow-preacher, when he told me that he not only understood my troubles in the army and felt a sympathy for me, but that he himself was also troubled then about preaching the gospel, and had been before entering the army, and that he had resisted it for twenty years before yielding. His great kindness and brotherly interest while in the army endeared him to me for life, and I rejoice that the Captain of Salvation and Prince of Peace has made him a true soldier of the cross, to proclaim "on earth peace."
In seeking for a discharge from the war, it was necessary that I should hunt up my former regiment and obtain an official paper from my captain; therefore, I boarded a steamer for Pittsburg Landing, and from there rode on horseback over the fearful battle-ground on the way to Corinth, where Grant's mighty army was again ready for battle, and there, after a long search, I found the regiment and Capt. English, in whose company was my enrollment. It was Sunday afternoon when I found his division and quarters, and as I slowly walked down the long line of tents, fronting westward, they were opened out to the warm sunshine, and it was a sad sight to see the small remnant of soldiers, looking so dejected, as they reclined in their tents, their ranks terribly thinned by the ravages of war and pestilence. The companies were sorrowfully cut down, one having only about thirty left. At the head of the row was the tent of Capt. English, who kindly received me, and as we talked my eyes fell on the noble saddle horse of Col. Ross among others in a grove a little from us, and I said, "Captain, where is Col. Ross?" With emotion he told me that he was mortally wounded in the recent battle at Pittsburg Landing, and died three days after. O, how sad! Humane, generous, noble Ross! Me he saved from such a fearful peril and death, but himself he could not save. I believe he was a Christian (he was a Methodist), and that the Lord took him to Himself, where the inhabitants shall no more say, "I am sick," "neither shall they learn war any more."
At last the time came when, with many tender regrets, I took a final leave of the army, at Kenton Station, Tenn., in July 1862, bade adieu to Brig. Gen. True and my old friends with him, and, with a full and honorable discharge from the army, set out once more for home, now the Lord's freeman, henceforth to serve as a willing soldier in the army of the Captain of Salvation, the all-conquering Prince Immanuel, the triumphant and most glorious King Jesus, until He shall bid me put off my armor, lay down the cross, give me a full and blessed discharge from the good fight of faith, and graciously bestow upon me the blissful and everlasting crown of immortality and eternal life.