Monday, January 28, 2008

Courage at Shiloh

Henry Buckland eased his brother Chester down onto the filthy deck of the crowded steamboat as gently as he could. Henry had carried Chester from the battlefield, stumbling through the smoke, mud, and underbrush to reach the river landing where hundreds of Shiloh’s casualties were being loaded onto boats. Even in the darkness and pouring rain, Henry could see that his little brother’s face had turned deathly white. As the steamboat began to move out into the current, Henry tightened the blood-soaked bandage one last time and then jumped ashore.

Chester Buckland

Henry could not help thinking that only 24 hours earlier, Chester was full of life, fighting valiantly to fend off Rebel troops who had nearly overwhelmed his company. That evening, Chester had proudly written every detail of the fight to their mother, reminding her that “if I die, it is for my country.” And that very morning, Chester had stood bravely on the battle line with his 72nd Ohio comrades as thousands of Rebels came streaming out of the woods directly at them.

Henry believed that their friend Arthur Fitch would care for Chester as the boat steamed its way up the Mississippi River toward Ohio. But it was not to be. When Fremont, Ohio physician Dr. LaQuino Rawson arrived in Cincinnati to help with the wounded, he discovered Chester’s body. He learned that Chester had died before reaching Cincinnati. Locating a metal coffin, Dr. Rawson sent the body to Fremont, Ohio and then telegraphed the sad news to the boy’s parents.

Days later, family, friends, and neighbors gathered at Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont, Ohio, where Chester was laid to rest. The community had come not only to mourn his loss, but to honor his courage and sacrifice. If only a private, Chester was the highly regarded son of one of Fremont’s most prominent citizens. His former employer, the editor of the Fremont Journal, honored the memory of his promising young assistant by publishing a lengthy obituary and his letter describing his heroic actions at the Battle of Shiloh.

Military historians often refer to Shiloh as a “soldiers’ battle.” For it was not military leadership or tactics that brought Union victory in the first, great bloody battle of the Civil War. Rather it was the ferocious fighting of raw recruits like brave young Chester Buckland.

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