Yes, I know that’s not how the song goes, though music afficionados can access the original 1956 song by the Andrews Sisters here.
The song of course must be about a cavalry unit, but we won’t get into that.
I have an affinity for buglers. The idea of someone, frequently someone too young to manage a saber or carbine, brave or foolish enough to ride a horse around a battlefield drawing attention to himself by blowing on a horn is amazing. It is not surprising, then, that the following anecdote by Wesley Merritt from Theophilus Rodenbough’s From Everglade to Canyon with the Second Cavalry is one of my favorites. The incident took place on August 1, 1863, during the ‘second’ battle of Brandy Station.
“There had been for some time “attached” to one of the companies a little waif of an urchin scarce twelve years old, who, by his constant attendance about the company kitchen in camp, as well as his equal fondness for the “front” upon a march, had endeared himself to the rollicking blades of our common Uncle. He had managed to pick up a few bugle-calls on an old battered trumpet, and to mount himself upon an equally battered and diminutive quadruped (another waif). Where he came from or why he was there no one knew – none cared to enquire.
“But the kind-hearted sabreurs asked no questions. They wanted a pet of some kind, and “Johnnie” was adopted by the troop (M).
“On the memorable 1st of August, at Brandy Station, “Johnnie” was cavorting about on his fiery untamed – and ungroomed – mustang, for our upon the skirmish-line, his face a picture of mischief and good-humor, where smiles struggled stoutly with dirt – and won; now stopping to chat with an “enlisted” friend, now rushing to the rear with orders to bring up the Lieutenant’s spare horse to replace one just disabled, or anon dismounting to pick up a trophy in a sabre without any hilt, or to explore the recesses of an abandoned haversack.
“Unconscious of the deadly missiles which whistled by or fell around him, but feeling that he was having a good time, the little Arab suddenly came upon two Confederate soldiers who had lost their bearings, become separated from their comrades, and straggled within our lines. They had evidently just discovered this, and were quietly waiting an opportunity to slip back under cover of the timber.
“To dash upon them with a huge pistol at full-cock, and “the pony” bristling under the solitary spur of his rider, was the work of a moment with this audacious youth. “Drop them guns!” he coolly remarked, and under the influence of the surprise and the undoubted size of “Johnnie’s” revolver, the guns referred to were “dropped.” “Now git right along in front o’ me” – “Quick!” said their captor, as he saw the men hesitate. This was the smallest “Yank” they had yet seen, and – they took one more look at the pistol, and moved sullenly in the direction indicated.
“Whar you tak’n us?” at last enquired one of the twain as they came in sight of the main road. “Down there” was the laconic response, with a nod supposed to designate the division headquarters, where the little warrior triumphantly turned over his prisoners, and was greeted with cheers and shouts of laughter as he came in sight. Scarcely waiting to receive the congratulations of his comrades and the pleased smile of General Buford, the waif hurried back to his favorite spot with the skirmishers. Subsequently he was taken in hand by some of the officers of the Second, and ultimately became a bugler and an excellent soldier.”
There you have it. An amusing tale of no particular consequence, since the young lad in question is not identified. Unless someone were able to find him.
This would be a task for the truly obsessed, if not for the near-requirement by publishers that regimental histories contain rosters to improve their attraction. This requirement, discovered late in the process for my last book, which my co-author superbly assembled, has consumed far more hours than expected in preparations for my next book. Particularly over the last couple of months. Occasionally one must escape the drudgery of endless enlistment documents and look at something else, unless one is Rick Allen, whose herculean roster efforts serve as a standard of measure. So when I re-read the above anecdote while seeing if there was anything I wanted to write about this month from this time period, the thought occurred to me. “There weren’t THAT many buglers in the regiment during the war, and I know who most of them are. Maybe I can find this guy.” Over 30 investigated buglers later, only one seems to fit the criteria for age and enlistment date.
Our lad couldn’t be from Company M. The English-born Whitworth brothers were the only two buglers to serve in the company during the war. James and Nelson, 19 and 18 years old respectively, enlisted on December 27, 1862 and served until December 1865.
By the time the bugler enlisted, Merritt was long gone from the regiment, as was Rodenbough himself. So they can be excused for being slightly off on the eventual company of the young man – given the information available at this point, “boy” doesn’t seem appropriate.
Enter Charles M. Elliott. Charles was enlisted into Company L as a bugler by Lieutenant Blanchard at the regiment’s camp at Point of Rocks, Maryland on March 25, 1865. Born in Philadelphia, his enlistment papers describe him as 15 years old, five feet tall, with blue eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. He stated that he worked as a clerk prior to his enlistment. He was later transferred to the regiment’s Field & Staff, still a bugler. He left the army at the expiration of his term of service on March 25, 1868 at Fort McPherson, Nebraska. Based on the anecdote, I would imagine postwar service wasn’t exciting enough for him.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. From Everglade to Canyon With the Second United States Cavalry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. Page 298.