Harper's Weekly 01/03/1863


ON THE ANTIETAM.

I'll make you sorry for that! The fighting's
fair enough; but I'm no more a dog than you are,
and you shall pay for it if it takes years to do it—
see if you don't!”


It was Jack Middleton who yelled out this, as,
bruised and bleeding, he reeled away from Drake
Porter, who had let him up with some contemptu-
ous remark about “soiling his hands,” seconded by
our insulting laughter, for boyish sense of justice
is not keen, and I doubt if it ever occurred to any
of us that any thing from the “back street” had
feelings and passions like unto ourselves. Feud
had long existed between what was known in boys'
parlance as the “back-streeters” and “ours;” the
“back-streeters” pouring forth from two or three
wretched tenement buildings in our rear, and
“ours” being represented by the children of the
well-to-do row of houses between—d and—th Av-
enues in—th Street.


Extremes met here indeed, but only with blows;
the “back-streeters” evidently regarding over-
coats and whole pairs of shoes as so many direct
injuries, while we considered their very unkempt
existence as an impertinence, and with sticks and
fists and stones, at every corner, and in every al-
ley, whenever and wherever we were unlucky
enough to meet, fought out Society's old quarrel.
At such times Drake acted as our leader, fighting
with an earnest fury that made all fly before him,
unless I except Jack Middleton, the back-street
leader, and the opposite type of Porter; olive-
skinned, black-eyed, squarely built, opposing
steady, dogged resistance to Drake's élan, and un-
dismayed by the fact of being whipped seven times
out of nine, coming up to every battle with a cold
perseverance that I never saw warmed to fury but
on the occasion above quoted.


The threat, however, was but little regarded—
hardly remembered, except as a jest; and soon
after, being sent off to school, the back street and
its brawls were fast being forgotten, when, oddly
enough, Middleton turned up in our very midst—
no longer as a New York Bedouin, but as the neph-
ew of a wealthy South Carolinian, who had traced,
found him out, and adopted him. Rid of his rags
and his hang-dog manner, I have really never seen
a finer-looking boy; and gradually sprung up be-
tween him and Drake a curious rivalry (the result,
doubtless, of a nearly equal balance of faculties),
developing itself in the lecture-room, the gymna-
sium, with the girls of the neighboring seminary,
wherever they came in contact; and daily grow-
ing in bitterness till we were again separated, he
going to a Southern university, and we living very
much after the ordinary New York fashion, till the
war broke out.


Nearly all the—th Street boys were in our
regiment—Spaulding, Elliott, Davis, and, best of
all, Drake Porter, Captain of our Company, and on
the high-road to a well-deserved promotion. It
was the 17th of September, the day of the battle
of Sharpsburg. Already Monday and a part of
Tuesday we had spent facing the enemy, talking
to them occasionally with our guns, and answered
emphatically by their batteries. As usual, they
had the chronic advantage of position, being sta-
tioned behind the crest of a hill, and separated from
us by the Antietam, sweeping along at their base,
and too deep to be forded except in one or two
places. The country between was broken, mostly
plowed land, sometimes covered with high, grow-
ing corn, and terribly cut up with ravines and
passes; and, with their usual touching faith in
“the strongest battalions,” the rebels were assem-
bled in force, having brought troops from Hagars-
town and Harper's Ferry. We had crossed the
creek about four o'clock, and after some tolerably
sharp skirmishing had fairly carried and taken
possession of the woods from whence they had first
fired at us. So we were all in famous spirits, with
the exception of Drake, who was curiously grave
and silent. Before lying down for the night he
gave me a little packet.


“There are letters for Belle and mother, a ring,
and some other trifles. If any thing happens to
me you will see to them.”


To which I assented briefly enough, I fancy, be-
ing much too careful of my sleeping-time to waste
any of it in talking. It was midnight already,
and every few minutes there was an alarm of some
sort: one time it was the rebels shooting each oth-
er —by way of practice, I suppose; at another it
was picket-fighting; again they were bringing in
half a dozen sulky Confederates; altogether it
hardly seemed that we had slept half an hour
when the battle began.


As the rebel fire slackened the first line went on
to the woods with a cheer and a rush, only to be
beaten back by the heaviest volleys with which
they had favored us yet; and then out poured the
rebels, swarming like bees, in masses, not in col-
umns, flowing out over the field, and forcing back
the second brigade by sheer superiority of numbers.
We could see it all plainly enough; and let me tell
you, reading lists of names and seeing the men
with whom you have lived familiarly shot down
before your eyes stirs the blood in a widely differ-
ent way.


And it was with a “Thank God!” that we
heard the signal to advance. Down the hill we
went on a run, making straight for the corn-field.
Half way there Spaulding fell; a little further on
Elliott and Manvers. Manvers was Drake's cousin;
Elliott was to have married my sister Jessie—
but there was no time for mourning then. We
were close upon the rebels, fighting hand to hand;
and they fought us like tigers, and held to every
inch of ground with a stubbornness unequaled.
When we took our stand on the ridge they came
at us again and again, with such a dash as seemed
as if it must carry all before them. Our guns
thundered away nobly on our right; but they had
a battery that the archfiend himself couldn't have
planted so as to rake us more effectually, while
their sharp-shooters picked us off from the woods
beyond very much at their ease. We saw no-
thing of the promised assistance, and our ammuni-
tion was giving out, and, tired of waiting, we be-
gan to go down into the corn; and just then Dou-
bleday had stopped that confounded battery, and
the rebels giving back as we pressed on after them
into the woods, and with Crawford and Gordon
coming close behind us, things looked like success.


All this time Drake fought steadily, and, as
usual, in the hottest of the fire, but escaping, as
by a miracle, unharmed. In our downward rush
we had carried all before us, but we found the
woods a perfect hornets' nest. The—th, that had
never faltered once, broke and fell back now; and
Drake, fighting hand to hand, was separated and
carried far on in advance of the rest, but being a
good swordsman, managed before long to give his
quietus to his opponent, who was in a little too
much of a hurry. In the struggle they had in-
sensibly gotten out of the thickest of the fight
into comparative quiet and seclusion; and Drake,
thankful for even a moment's breathing-time, was
trying to wipe away some of the blood and grime
from his face, when his quick ear caught an omin-
ous click. He looked about, behind him, finally
overhead, and there, showing among the leaves, a
rifle-barrel glinted in the sun, and a pair of fiery
eyes glowed above it. To start or run was sim-
ply almost inevitable death, and Drake, unwilling
even to die in a hurry, folded his arms, saying,
coolly,


“My friend, if you are so long in sighting you
will be behindhand in your count.”


“I have been longer in sighting than you think,
perhaps, Captain Porter,” was the reply, in a not
unfamiliar voice, while a series of cautious move-
ments showed from among the leaves a face at
which Drake stared in utter perplexity and amazement.
Suddenly light broke in upon him.


“Why, it is Jack Middleton!”

“Precisely! though your memory is not so good
as mine. I recognized you on the instant, perhaps
because I was so anxious to meet you.”


“I have been fighting since daybreak, and don't
feel too clear-headed. Do you think you could explain?”


“With pleasure. I could have killed you twice
over, only that I was anxious to make this very
explanation. I remember that at school you were
always sharp-set after the reason of every thing.
It would be a pity that you should die without
knowing why.”


Middleton dropped out these cruel words slowly,
watching his victim's face the while for their effect,
but no matter what thoughts of Belle and mother
were trying at his heart-strings, he only answered,


“You are so tedious that I begin to think you
have only a woman's reason, `Because.'”


“You shall see. You remember that some years
ago you called me a dog; that was the beginning
of the debt I owe you. When we were at school
you put it out at interest. You no longer called
me a dog, but you treated me as one. You thought
I would have been glad to crawl to your feet, and
lick your hand, in return for your condescension.
You would never let me alone. You would not be
repulsed. I was not worth your disliking. At ev-
ery step you crossed my path. You took my hon-
ors, you stole the hearts that would have been mine.
I kept account of all these items; and, do you re-
membera Virginia Brush?”


“A little girl with yellow curls—splendid ones?
Yes, I think I do.”


Middleton made a hasty movement, as if to fire,
but checked himself.


“Drake Porter, I loved that girl, and would
have won her but for you. You crossed me there
in sheer wantonness. You cared nothing for her; I
would have given my soul for her. From that time
I swore to have your life. I was sure at last of—”


His hand was on the trigger, waiting the com-
pletion of the sentence, his body bent in the very
act of firing, and Porter was calculating the chances
of a jump at the last moment, when whir! went
something over his head, and Middleton fell crash-
ing through the limbs to the ground dead, shot
through the heart by a chance bullet, if it is not
profane here to speak of chance.


Drake told me the story after, and—

“I tell you what, old fellow,” he concluded, “it
was about as peculiar a predicament as I ever
caught myself in. There wasn't an atom of feeling
in my body, except in the spot that that devil's
rifle covered; and when that blessed bullet sent
him heels over head, I think if there hadn't been a
party of our boys close at hand I should have
knelt down and made a baby of myself. On the
whole, I am not anxious to try it again.”


To which I answered, as in duty bound,

“I should think not.”


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