Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Drummer Boy of Vicksburg

The historical society donated another book to the Sutton Library this week as a part of our build-up to the Civil War re-enactment during Dugout Days on June 30 and July1. One of the two skirmishes will be based on a piece of the Battle of Vicksburg including the ammo run made by Pvt. Orion P. Howe and three of his fellow soldiers as their commander, Colonel Malmborg sent them to get more ammunition from Gen. Sherman. Only Pvt. Howe made it through though he suffered severe wounds in the action. He was a 14-year old drummer boy at the time.

This historical novel by G. Clifton Wisler is based on the story of Private Howe.

In the 1890's President Cleveland provided an opening for Civil War units to nominate additional soldiers for the Medal of Honor, picking up heroes who had been missed during the time of the war. Members of the 55th Illinois Infantry Regiment nominated Corporal Orion P. Howe for the nation's highest military honor. Dr. Howe was notified of this award while he was a practicing dentist in Sutton, Nebraska in 1897.

Colonel Oscar Malmborg, commander of the 55th Illinois Infantry Regiment and his 14 year old
drummer boy, Orion P. Howe, winner of the Medal of Honor and much later, Sutton dentist.

The September, 1864 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine carried a poem by George Boker describing Orion's heroism:


May 19, 1863

While Sherman stood beneath the hottest fire
That from the lines of Vicksburg gleam'd
And bomb-shells tumbled in their smoky gyre,
And grape shot hiss'd, and case shot scream'd
Back from the front there came,
Weeping and sorely lame,
The merest child, the youngest face,
Man ever saw in such a fearful place.

Stifling his tears, he limp'd his chief to meet;
But, when he paused and tottering stood,
around the circle of his little feet
There spread a pool of bright, young blood.
Shocked at his doleful case,
Sherman cried, "Halt! front face!
Who are you? speak, my gallant boy!"
"A drummer, sir, - Fifty-fifth Illinois."

"Are you hit?" "That's nothing. Only send
Some cartridges. Our men are out,
And the foe press us." "But, my little friend-"
"Don't mind me! Did you hear that shout?
What if our men be driven?
Oh, for the love of Heaven,
Send to my colonel, general dear-"
"But you?"-"Oh, I shall easily find the rear."

"I'll see to that," cried Sherman; and a drop,
Angels might envy, dimm'd his eye,
As the boy, toiling towards the hill's hard top,
Turn'd round, and, with his shrill child's cry
Shouted, "Oh, don't forget!
We'll win the battle yet!
But let our soldiers have some more,
More cartridges, sir, calibre fifty-four!"


Steve Brickse said...

CORRECTION - a person does not WIN the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor. HE/SHE is AWARDED it !!

PLEASE amend your wording, in the various places I have seen the reference(s).

I am a descendant of Orion Perseus Howe.

Sutton Historical Society said...

Dear Steve Brickse,

Thank you for your comment and I take your point. I've amended my wording in a couple of places - there may be more and I'll address them as I see them.

However, the use of "winner" in this context is not uncommon. For instance and others. In fact, it may have been the most common term in verbal conversations on the topic that I remember from my many years on active duty, albeit that was not an everyday topic.

But I agree with you that "winner" lacks the appropriate level of respect connoted by "award" etc.

Thanks again, and could you contact me - I'd like to learn anything more about Dr. Howe from family information or folklore. You can contact me via the gmail address found in the "ABOUT US" page on the home page of the blog.

Jerry Johnson