Hero-Story of the Civil War
By Ben La Bree
I. Bravery Honored By a Foe
In a rifle-pit, on the brow of a hill near Fredericksburg, were a number of Confederate soldiers who had exhausted their ammunition in the vain attempt to check the advancing column of Hooker's finely equipped and disciplined army which was crossing the river. To the relief of these few came the brigade in double-quick time. But no sooner were the soldiers intrenched than the firing on the opposite side of the river became terrific.
A heavy mist obscured the scene. The Federal soldiers poured a merciless fire into the trenches. Soon many Confederates fell, and the agonized cries of the wounded who lay there calling for water, smote the hearts of their helpless comrades.
"Water! Water!" But there was none to give, the canteens were-empty.
"Boys," exclaimed Nathan Cunningham, a lad of eighteen, the color-bearer for his regiment, "I can't stand this any more. They want water, and water they must have. So let me have a few canteens and I'll go for some."
Carefully laying the colors, which he had borne on many a field, in a trench, he seized some canteens, and, leaping into the mist, was soon out of sight.
Shortly after this the firing ceased for a while, and an order came for the men to fall back to the main line.
As the Confederates were retreating they met Nathan Cunningham, his canteens full of water, hurrying to relieve the thirst of the wounded men in the trenches. He glanced over the passing column and saw that the faded flag, which he had carried so long, was not there. The men in their haste to obey orders HAD FORGOTTEN OR OVERLOOKED THE COLORS.
Quickly the lad sped to the trenches, intent now not only on giving water to his comrades, but on rescuing the flag and so to save the honor of his regiment.
His mission of mercy was soon accomplished. The wounded men drank freely. The lad then found and seized his colors, and turned to rejoin his regiment. Scarcely had he gone three paces when a company of Federal soldiers appeared ascending the hill.
"Halt and surrender," came the stern command, and a hundred rifles were leveled at the boy's breast.
"NEVER! while I hold the colors," was his firm reply.
The morning sun, piercing with a lurid glare the dense mist, showed the lad proudly standing with his head thrown back and his flag grasped in his hand, while his unprotected breast was exposed to the fire of his foe.
A moment's pause. Then the Federal officer gave his command:
"Back with your pieces, men, don't shoot that brave boy."
And Nathan Cunningham, with colors flying over his head, passed on and joined his regiment.
His comrades in arms still tell with pride of his brave deed and of the generous act of a foe.