Gateway to the Classics: Good Stories for Great Holidays by Frances Jenkins Olcott
Good Stories for Great Holidays by  Frances Jenkins Olcott

The Little Drummer-Boy


A few days before a certain regiment received 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 réveille, 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 spoke out:—

"Don't be afraid, Captain," said he, "I can drum."

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, said:—

"My little man, can you drum?"

"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 the drum.

When the music ceased the captain turned to the mother and observed:—

"Madam, I will take the boy. What is his name?"

"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 was concealed.

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 retreat.

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 morning call.

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 prisoners.

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.

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