Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 21.djvu/303

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heroism during the civil war, of equally cool courage, and under cir- cumstances of far greater personal danger, than that for which Hora- tious Codes has been celebrated in song and story for more than 2,000 years, for the soldiers of Lars Porsenna were not armed with modern guns, as were the assailants of this Nineteenth century hero neither was he equipped with shield and coat of mail, as was the brave defender of the bridge across the Tiber.

James Keelin was a member of a battalion of Confederate cavalry, known as " Thomas' Legion," which was afterward, I believe, merged into a regiment commanded by Colonel Love. The " Legion " was composed of hardy mountaineers from Western North Carolina, and was attached to the brigade commanded by General " Mudwall" Jackson (so called to distinguish him from the immortal " Stonewall," and possibly for some other reasons). Keelin was only an ordinary private soldier, without any education, and his military training con- sisted chiefly in being firmly impressed with the fact that his first duty was to "obey orders."

In November, 1862, Keelin was detailed with some six or eight others of his command to guard the bridge at Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, which was threatened by raiding parties of Brownlow's " Tennessee Federals." On the 6th of November, all the guard was withdrawn except Keelin and one other, and the extra guns they had were taken away by the recruiting officer at Strawberry Plains. This information was doubtless conveyed to Brownlow's troops, for on the 8th, at the dark hour of midnight, a party of Federal raiders, num- bering forty men, appeared near the bridge with the evident intention of attacking and setting fire to the structure.

As soon as he saw the armed force making for the bridge, Keelin's companion in arms fled in the opposite direction, carrying his gun with him, leaving Keelin alone with a single gun and a big knife of the " Arkansaw Toothpick " variety, to defend the bridge as best he might. As hopeless as the task appeared, Keelin bravely determined to stand to his post despite the tremendous odds against him, and do his best to keep the enemy from burning the bridge. He posted him- self on the top of a bank underneath the bridge and awaited the at- tack. He held his gun at a "ready," and when one of the party advanced with a lighted torch, prepared to climb up to the woodwork of the bridge, Keelin shot him dead in his tracks. The survivors fired a volley at the solitary guard, and with a wild yell made a rush