The Little Drummer-Boy
By Albert Bushnell Hart
A few days before a certain regiment
orders to join General Lyon, on his march to
Wilson's Creek, the drummer-boy of the regiment
was taken sick, and carried to the hospital.
Shortly after this there appeared before the
captain's quarters, during the beating of the
reveille, a good-looking, middle-aged woman,
dressed in deep mourning, leading by the hand
a sharp, sprightly looking boy, apparently about
twelve or thirteen years of age.
Her story was soon told. She was from East
Tennessee, where her husband had been killed
by the Confederates, and all her property
destroyed. Being destitute, she thought that if she
could procure a situation for her boy as drummer,
she could find employment for herself.
While she told her story, the little
fellow kept his eyes intently fixed upon the countenance
of the captain. And just as the latter was about to
say that he could not take so small a boy, the lad
"Don't be afraid, Captain," said he, "I
This was spoken with so much confidence
that the captain smiled and said to the sergeant:
"Well, well, bring the drum,
and order our
fifer to come here."
In a few moments a drum was produced
and the fifer, a round-shouldered, good-natured fellow,
who stood six feet tall, made his appearance.
Upon being introduced to the lad, he stooped
down, resting his hands on his knees, and, after
peering into the little fellow's face for a moment,
"My little man, can you
"Yes, sir," answered the boy promptly. "I
drummed for Captain Hill in Tennessee."
The fifer immediately straightened himself,
and, placing his fife to his lips, played the "Flowers
of Edinburgh," one of the most difficult things to
follow with the drum. And nobly did the little
fellow follow him, showing himself to be master of
When the music ceased the captain turned
to the mother and observed:
"Madam, I will take the
boy. What is his
"Edward Lee," she replied.
Then placing her
hand upon the captain's arm, she continued in a
choking voice, "If he is not killed, Captain, you
will bring him back to me?"
"Yes, yes," he replied, "we
shall be certain to
bring him back to you. We shall be discharged
in six weeks."
An hour after, the company led the regiment
out of camp, the drum and fife playing "The Girl
I left behind me."
Eddie, as the soldiers called him, soon became
a great favorite with all the men of the company.
When any of the boys returned from foraging,
Eddie's share of the peaches, melons, and other
good things was meted out first. During the
heavy and fatiguing marches, the long-legged
fifer often waded through the mud with the little
drummer mounted on his back, and in the same
fashion he carried Eddie when fording streams.
During the fight at Wilson's Creek, a part
of the company was stationed on the right of
Totten's battery, while the balance of the company
was ordered down into a deep ravine, at the
left, in which it was known a party of Confederates
An engagement took place. The contest in the
ravine continued some time. Totten suddenly
wheeled his battery upon the enemy in that
quarter, and they soon retreated to high ground
behind their lines.
In less than twenty minutes after Totten had
driven the Confederates from the ravine, the
word passed from man to man throughout the
army, "Lyon is killed!" And soon after, hostilities
having ceased upon both sides, the order
came for the main part of the Federal force to
fall back upon Springfield, while the lesser part
was to camp upon the ground, and cover the
That night a corporal was detailed for guard
duty. His post was upon a high eminence that
overlooked the deep ravine in which the men had
engaged the enemy. It was a dreary, lonesome
beat. The hours passed slowly away, and at
length the morning light began to streak along the
western sky, making surrounding objects visible.
Presently the corporal heard a drum
beating up the morning call. At first he thought it came
from the camp of the Confederates across the
creek, but as he listened he found that it came
from the deep ravine. For a few moments the
sound stopped, then began again. The corporal
listened closely. The notes of the drum were
familiar to him - and then he knew that it was
the drummer-boy from Tennessee playing the
Just then the corporal was relieved from guard
duty, and, asking permission, went at once to
Eddie's assistance. He started down the hill,
through the thick underbrush, and upon reaching
the bottom of the ravine, he followed the sound
of the drum, and soon found the lad seated upon
the ground, his back leaning against a fallen tree,
while his drum hung upon a bush in front of him.
As soon as the boy saw his rescuer
he dropped his drumsticks, and exclaimed:
"O Corporal! I am so glad
to see you! Give
me a drink."
The soldier took his empty canteen,
and immediately turned to bring some water from the
brook that he could hear rippling through the
bushes near by, when, Eddie, thinking that he
was about to leave him, cried out:
"Don't leave me, Corporal,
I can't walk."
The corporal was soon back with the water,
when he discovered that both the lad's feet had
been shot away by a cannon-ball.
After satisfying his thirst, Eddie
looked up into the corporal's face and said:
"You don't think I shall
die, do you? This
man said I should not - he said the surgeon
could cure my feet."
The corporal now looked about him and
discovered a man lying in the grass near by. By his
dress he knew him to belong to the Confederate
army. It appeared that he had been shot and
had fallen near Eddie. Knowing that he could
not live, and seeing the condition of the drummer-
boy, he had crawled to him, taken off his buckskin
suspenders, and had corded the little fellow's
legs below the knees, and then he had laid
himself down and died.
While Eddie was telling the corporal these
particulars, they heard the tramp of cavalry
coming down the ravine, and in a moment a scout
of the enemy was upon them, and took them both
The corporal requested the officer in charge to
take Eddie up in front of him, and he did so,
carrying the lad with great tenderness and care.
When they reached the Confederate camp the
little fellow was dead.