Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/175

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163
FIRST ACTIONS OF WOUNDED SOLDIERS.

Alabama Infantry, meeting a volley of balls. Shortly afterward his riderless horse dashed through the regimental lines. The general had fallen, with five mortal wounds, and when found still clutched his outstretched saber, and bore the appearance of having been unhorsed when dead or dying, much as in the case of Captain Nolan.

In the excitement of such actions as those where the Georgia major and Farnsworth fell, it is not possible for any observer to note the symptoms minutely. The fact that a man is down and out of the fight is about all that friend or foe can take account of for the time being. It is reasonable to suppose, however, that some deaths are instantaneous, the men being literally killed in action. One such case I had an opportunity to study with unusual care at Fort Haskell, in the Fort Steadman battle at Petersburg. The action there was defensive on our part, the scene very small, and the fight prolonged, hence many things were observed that would escape notice on an open field. At one time, just in front of me as I looked toward the enemy, there was a soldier of our garrison firing his musket from a gun-staging that raised his head and shoulders above the parapet. He was the oldest man I ever saw in battle, and for that reason doubtless I observed him closely. His hair was white, and his form had reached the stage of unsteadiness. He fired very slowly, and after each shot would scan the enemy's lines, as though watching the results of his last ball or spying out a target for the next. Finally, when I had my attention almost wholly on him, he half turned to reload, and I saw his cap fly off smartly without any visible help, and the large and bony frame shrink together and sink down into a heap. There was no spasm, no agitation whatever. It seemed to me that he simply sat down slowly until he rested on his legs, bent under the body, his head going down to his knee, or to the trail of the cannon. A little stream of blood ran from his forehead and made a pool on the plank, and this blood reached the plank about the time that his frame settled itself down motionless. From the time that his cap flew off until the blood appeared on the staging, and the motionless body led me to say, "He is dead," could not have been more than thirty seconds, and was probably about twenty. The fatal ball had penetrated the left temple or near it. This was the only case where I noted all the external manifestations of a soldier killed "so quickly that he never knew what hit him," as the saying is.

All that are found dead on the battle-field figure in the lists as "killed in action." Of these quite a percentage may meet with instantaneous death, but the majority show proof that both body and mind were at work after the fatal blow was received. One of the most convincing cases of the kind, and at the same