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On The Antietam
Harper's Weekly, January 3, 1863
 
I’ll make you sorry for that! The fighting’s fair enough; but I’m no more a dog than you are, and you shall pay for it if it takes years to do it—see if you don’t!"
It was Jack Middleton who yelled out this, as, bruised and bleeding, he reeled away from Drake Porter, who had let him up with some contemptuous remark about "soiling his hands," seconded by our insulting laughter, for boyish sense of justice is not keen, and I doubt if it ever occurred to any of us that any thing from the "back street" had feelings and passions like unto ourselves. Feud had long existed between what was known in boys’ parlance as the "back-streeters" and "ours;" the "back-streeters" pouring forth from two or three wretched tenement buildings in our rear, and "ours" being represented by the children of the well-do-do row of houses between __d and __th Avenues in __th Street.
Extremes met here indeed, but only with blows; the "back-streeters" evidently regarding overcoats and whole pairs of shoes as so many direct injuries, while we considered their very unkempt existence as an impertinence, and with sticks and fists and stones, at every corner, and in every alley, whenever and wherever we were unlucky enough to meet, fought out Society’s old quarrel. At such times Drake acted as our leader, fighting with an earnest fury that made all fly before him, unless I except Jack Middleton, the back-street leader, and the opposite type of Porter; olive-skinned, black-eyed, squarely built, opposing steady, dogged resistance to Drake’s élan, and dismayed by the fact of being whipped seven times out of nine, coming up to every battle with a cold perserverance that I never saw warmed to fury but on the occasion above quoted.

The threat, however, was but little regarded—hardly remembered, except as a jest; and soon after, being sent off to school, the back street and its brawls were fast being forgotten, when, oddly enough, Middleton turned up in our very midst—no longer as a New York Bedouin, but as the nephew of a wealthy South Carolinian, who had traced, found him out, and adopted him. Rid of his rags and his hang-dog manner, I have really never seen a finer-looking boy; and gradually sprung up between him and Drake a curious rivalry (the result, doubtless, of a nearly equal balance of faculties), developing itself in the lecture-room, the gymnasium, with the girls of the neighboring seminary, wherever they came in contact; and daily growing in bitterness till we were again separated, he going to a Southern university, and we living very much after the ordinary New York fashion, till the war broke out.

Nearly all the __th Street boys were in our regiment—Spaulding, Elliott, Davis, and, best of all, Drake Porter, Captain of our Company, and on the high-road to a well-deserved promotion. It was the 17th of September, the day of the battle of Sharpsburg. Already Monday and a part of Tuesday we had spent facing the enemy, talking to them occasionally with our guns, and answered emphatically by their batteries. As usual, they had the chronic advantage of position, being stationed behind the crest of a hill, and separated from us by the Antietam, sweeping along at their base, and too deep to be forded except in one or two places. The country between was broken, mostly plowed land, sometimes covered with high, growing corn, and terribly cut up with ravines and passes; and, with their usual touching faith in "the strongest battalions," the rebels were assembled in force, having brought troops from Hagarstown and Harper’s Ferry. We had crossed the creek about four o’clock, and after some tolerably sharp skirmishing had fairly carried and taken possession of the woods from whence they had first fired at us. So we were all in famous spirits, with the exception of Drake, who was curiously grave and silent. Before lying down for the night he gave me a little packet.

"There are letters for Belle and mother, a ring, and some other trifles. If any thing happens to me you will see to them."

To which I assented briefly enough, I fancy, being much too careful of my sleeping-time to waste any of it in talking. It was midnight already, and every few minutes there was an alarm of some sort: one time it was the rebels shooting each other—by way of practice, I suppose; at another it was picket-fighting; again they were bringing in half a dozen sulky Confederates; altogether it hardly seemed that we had slept half an hour when the battle began.

As the rebel fire slackened the first line went on to the woods with a cheer and a rush, only to be beaten back by the heaviest volleys with which they had favored us yet; and then out poured the rebels, swarming like bees, in masses, not in columns, flowing out over the field, and forcing back the second brigade by sheer superiority of numbers. We could see it all plainly enough; and let me tell you, reading lists of names and seeing the men with whom you have lived familiarly shot down before your eyes stirs the blood in a widely different way.

And it was with a "Thank God!" that we heard the signal to advance. Down the hill we went on a run, making straight for the corn-field. Half way there Spaulding fell; a little further on Elliott and Manvers. Manvers was Drake’s cousin; Elliott was to have married my sister Jessie—but there was no time for mourning then. We were close upon the rebels, fighting hand to hand; and they fought us like tigers, and held to every inch of ground with a stubbornness unequaled. When we took our stand on the ridge they came at us again and again, with such a dash as seemed as if it must carry all before them. Our guns thundered away nobly on our right; but they had a battery that the archfiend himself couldn’t have planted so as to rake us more effectually, while their sharp-shooters picked us off from the woods beyond very much at their ease. We saw nothing of the promised assistance, and our ammunition was giving out, and, tired of waiting, we began to go down into the corn; and just then Doubleday had stopped that confounded battery, and the rebels giving back as we pressed on after them into the woods, and with Crawford and Gordon coming close behind us, things looked like success.

All this time Drake fought steadily, and, as usual, in the hottest of the fire, but escaping, as by a miracle, unharmed. In our downward rush we had carried all before us, but we found the woods a perfect hornet’s nest. The __th, that had never faltered once, broke and fell back now; and Drake, fighting hand to hand, was separated and carried far on in advance of the rest, but being a good swordsman, managed before long to give his quietus to his opponent, who was in a little too much of a hurry. In the struggle they had insensibly gotten out of the thickest of the fight into comparative quiet and seclusion; and Drake, thankful for even a moment’s breathing-time, was trying to wipe away some of the blood and grime from his face, when his quick ear caught an ominous click. He looked about, behind him, finally overhead, and there, showing among the leaves, a rifle-barrel glinted in the sun, and a pair of fiery eyes glowed above it. To start or run was simply almost inevitable death, and Drake, unwilling even to die in a hurry, folded his arms, saying, coolly,

"My friend, if you are so long in sighting you will behindhand in your count."

"I have been longer in sighting than you think, perhaps, Captain Porter," was the reply, in a not unfamiliar voce, while a series of cautious movements showed from among the leaves a fact at which Drake stared in utter perplexity and amazement. Suddenly light broke in upon him.

"Why, it is Jack Middleton!"

"Precisely! Though your memory is not so good as mine. I recognized you on the instant, perhaps, because I was so anxious to meet you."

"I have been fighting since daybreak, and don’t feel too clear-headed. Do you think you could explain?"

"With pleasure. I could have killed you twice over, only that I was anxious to make this very explanation. I remember that at school you were always sharp-set after the reason of every thing. It would be a pity that you should die without knowing why."

Middleton dropped out these cruel words slowly, watching his victim’s face the while for their effect, but no matter what thoughts of Belle and mother were trying at his heart-strings, he only answered,

"You are so tedious that I begin to think you have only a woman’s reason, ‘Because.’"

"You shall see. Your remember that some years ago you called me a dog; that was the beginning of the debt I owe you. When we were at school you put it out at interest. You no longer called me a dog, but you treated me as one. You thought I would have been glad to crawl to your feet, and lick your hand, in return for your condescension. You would never let me alone. You would not be repulsed. I was not worth your disliking. At every step you crossed my path. You took my honors, you stole the hearts that would have been mine. I kept account of all these items; and, do you remember Virginia Brush?"

"A little girl with yellow curls—splendid ones? Yes, I think I do."

Middleton made a hasty movement, as if to fire, but checked himself.

"Drake Porter, I loved that girl, and would have won her but for you. You crossed me there in sheer wantonness. You cared nothing for her; I would have given my soul for her. From that time I swore to have your life. I was sure at last of—"

His hand was on the trigger, waiting the completion of the sentence, his body bent in the very act of firing, and Porter was calculating the chances of a jump at the last moment, when whir! went something over his head, and Middleton fell crashing through the limbs to the ground dead, shot through the heart by a chance bullet, if it is not profane here to speak of chance.

Drake told me the story after, and—

"I tell you what, old fellow," he concluded, "it was about as peculiar a predicament as I ever caught myself in. There wasn’t an atom of feeling in my body, except in the spot that that devil’s rifle covered; and when that blessed bullet sent him heels over head, I think if there hadn’t been a party of our boys close at hand I should have knelt down and made a baby of myself. On the whole, I am not anxious to try it again."

To which I answered, as in duty bound,

"I should think not."

Harper's Weekly, January 3, 1863

 

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