Devotion for the Week of March 11, 2013 - THE DEATH OF A SOLDIER IN GRAY – A SHILOH STORY



Psalm 6:2, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.”

This story first appeared in the Paducah Herald newspaper date unknown, about an incident at the Battle of Shiloh, author unknown.

At 10:00 O’clock on Saturday night General Breckenridge’s Division had reached its position and was encamped in the line of battle.  It was a clear, beautiful night, and the stars shined down on our sleeping hosts as calmly as though there was to be no harvest of death on the morrow.  Sleep passed from many an aching heart that night, for we all knew full well what fearful sacrifices would be made in freedom’s cause in the great struggle of tomorrow.

With the light of the morning the Confederate column moved upon the lines of the enemy, and soon the battle was raging in fearful earnest.  As the Kentucky Brigade moved forward, I rode up to Captain J. M. Emerson, of the Third Kentucky Regiment of Infantry, who was my particular friend, and said; “Captain, if you are wounded today, let me know of it, and I will take care of you, if I am spared, myself.”  He thanked me very kindly, and said he would do so.

All day long the battle raged furiously, and only closed with the darkness that severed the contending hosts.

About eleven o’clock that night, just as I had finished dressing the wounds of some suffering soldiers, I received a message from Captain Emerson that he was mortally wounded and wished to see me before he died.  I at once mounted my horse and soon found him, lying on his blanket, in a large hospital tent, which the Yankees had left, just beside Shiloh church.  I gave my lamp to the surgeon, who passed on to another part of the field, and I sat down in the darkness beside my suffering friend.  I told him his wound was evidently mortal, and that the few hours that now remained of life he should spend in preparing for the issues that soon must follow. 

He said, with much calmness, “I know it, and wish you to talk with me and pray for me.”  There, in the midst of the dead and dying that were strewn thickly around, I kneeled down by my friend, and with the earnestness of my soul, as he clasped his cold arms around my neck I prayed the Lord God of our fathers, that he would have mercy upon this poor, dying soldier and save his soul from death.  I then urged him to accept at once the salvation so freely offered in the gospel.  He then said to me, with much feeling, “May I dare to hope for mercy, when I have neglected the matter to this late hour, and have but a few minutes to live?” 

I told him invitations of the gospel were still open, and he was yet invited to believe in Christ Jesus for his salvation.  He then said, “If I know my own heart, I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour, and trust in Him alone for salvation.”  I then prayed with him that the Lord would confirm him in his holy faith.  He said he did, but that he wished to be baptized by immersion as his parents were Baptists.  After a moment’s reflection, however, he remarked that this was impossible, for he could not be moved, and the enemy held the river, and he at once accepted the other mode.  I then placed one of my hands on his face-for we were still in darkness, so that I could not see him—and taking water from his canteen, baptized him in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The Captain now seemed calm and reconciled to his dying situation.  He sent many kind messages to the loved ones at home who would see his face no more.  “Tell them,” he said, “how I fell, pressing my column through the thickest of the fight.  Tell them where I fell, battling to the last for my country’s precious rights.  Tell them gently, I have fought my last battle—that my sword lies broken upon this bloody field, and that, tonight, I fill a soldier’s grave.  But of all, tell them, joyfully, of the precious, priceless victory I have won this hour, in my Great Redeemer’s name; and that in hope of the blessed gospel, I am passing to the better land, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary be at rest.”  Receiving these kind messages for his friends, I bade him farewell, and commended him to the mercy and care of a covenant-keeping God.

The remainder of the night I spent looking after other wounded and missing friends.  The next morning just as the conflict was being renewed, I hastily called by the Old Hospital to see if the Captain was still living.  I found him dying.  I kneeled beside him, and whispered a farewell prayer in his hearing, and asked him if all was well with him now.  He faintly whispered, “All is peace.”  I again commended him to the mercy of God, and I saw him no more.  At ll:00 o’clock the Confederates lines were driven back, and he fell into the hands of the enemy.

I have since learned from W. T. Emerson, a brother of the Captain, who was captured with him, that he died a few hours afterward.  Thus fell the noble Captain J. M. Emerson.  He sleeps in a hero’s grave, a willing martyr for freedom’s cause—the cause he loved so well.

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