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Chapter 57

A FAIR SACRIFICE--THE STORY OF ONE BOY WHO WILLINGLY GAVE HIS YOUNG LIFE
FOR HIS COUNTRY.

Charley Barbour was one of the truest-hearted and best-liked of my
school-boy chums and friends. For several terms we sat together on the
same uncompromisingly uncomfortable bench, worried over the same
boy-maddening problems in "Ray's Arithmetic-Part III.," learned the same
jargon of meaningless rules from "Greene's Grammar," pondered over
"Mitchell's Geography and Atlas," and tried in vain to understand why
Providence made the surface of one State obtrusively pink and another
ultramarine blue; trod slowly and painfully over the rugged road
"Bullion" points out for beginners in Latin, and began to believe we
should hate ourselves and everybody else, if we were gotten up after the
manner shown by "Cutter's Physiology." We were caught together in the
same long series of school-boy scrapes--and were usually ferruled
together by the same strong-armed teacher. We shared nearly everything
--our fun and work; enjoyment and annoyance--all were generally meted out
to us together. We read from the same books the story of the wonderful
world we were going to see in that bright future "when we were men;" we
spent our Saturdays and vacations in the miniature explorations of the
rocky hills and caves, and dark cedar woods around our homes, to gather
ocular helps to a better comprehension of that magical land which we were
convinced began just beyond our horizon, and had in it, visible to the
eye of him who traveled through its enchanted breadth, all that
"Gulliver's Fables," the "Arabian Nights," and a hundred books of travel
and adventure told of.

We imagined that the only dull and commonplace spot on earth was that
where we lived. Everywhere else life was a grand spectacular drama, full
of thrilling effects.

Brave and handsome young men were rescuing distressed damsels, beautiful
as they were wealthy; bloody pirates and swarthy murderers were being
foiled by quaint spoken backwoodsmen, who carried unerring rifles;
gallant but blundering Irishmen, speaking the most delightful brogue,
and making the funniest mistakes, were daily thwarting cool and
determined villains; bold tars were encountering fearful sea perils;
lionhearted adventurers were cowing and quelling whole tribes of
barbarians; magicians were casting spells, misers hoarding gold,
scientists making astonishing discoveries, poor and unknown boys
achieving wealth and fame at a single bound, hidden mysteries coming to
light, and so the world was going on, making reams of history with each
diurnal revolution, and furnishing boundless material for the most
delightful books.

At the age of thirteen a perusal of the lives of Benjamin Franklin and
Horace Greeley precipitated my determination to no longer hesitate in
launching my small bark upon the great ocean. I ran away from home in a
truly romantic way, and placed my foot on what I expected to be the first
round of the ladder of fame, by becoming "devil boy" in a printing office
in a distant large City. Charley's attachment to his mother and his home
was too strong to permit him to take this step, and we parted in sorrow,
mitigated on my side by roseate dreams of the future.

Six years passed. One hot August morning I met an old acquaintance at
the Creek, in Andersonville. He told me to come there the next morning,
after roll-call, and he would take me to see some person who was very
anxious to meet me. I was prompt at the rendezvous, and was soon joined
by the other party. He threaded his way slowly for over half an hour
through the closely-jumbled mass of tents and burrows, and at length
stopped in front of a blanket-tent in the northwestern corner. The
occupant rose and took my hand. For an instant I was puzzled; then the
clear, blue eyes, and well-remembered smile recalled to me my old-time
comrade, Charley Barbour. His story was soon told. He was a Sergeant in
a Western Virginia cavalry regiment--the Fourth, I think. At the time
Hunter was making his retreat from the Valley of Virginia, it was decided
to mislead the enemy by sending out a courier with false dispatches to be
captured. There was a call for a volunteer for this service. Charley
was the first to offer, with that spirit of generous self-sacrifice that
was one of his pleasantest traits when a boy. He knew what he had to
expect. Capture meant imprisonment at Andersonville; our men had now a
pretty clear understanding of what this was. Charley took the dispatches
and rode into the enemy's lines. He was taken, and the false information
produced the desired effect. On his way to Andersonville he was stripped
of all his clothing but his shirt and pantaloons, and turned into the
Stockade in this condition. When I saw him he had been in a week or
more. He told his story quietly--almost diffidently--not seeming aware
that he had done more than his simple duty. I left him with the promise
and expectation of returning the next day, but when I attempted to find
him again, I was lost in the maze of tents and burrows. I had forgotten
to ask the number of his detachment, and after spending several days in
hunting for him, I was forced to give the search up. He knew as little
of my whereabouts, and though we were all the time within seventeen
hundred feet of each other, neither we nor our common acquaintance could
ever manage to meet again. This will give the reader an idea of the
throng compressed within the narrow limits of the Stockade. After
leaving Andersonville, however, I met this man once more, and learned
from him that Charley had sickened and died within a month after his
entrance to prison.

So ended his day-dream of a career in the busy world.

John McElroy